Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Happiest Place in the World

I led a protest several years ago against Disney’s use of sweatshop labor in Latin American factories with a few of my middle school students and their parents. Flash forward to the present and the two days I just spent with family at Disneyland, relieving ourselves of a boatload of money at Mickey’s theme park.

Rosa Parks, Saul Alinsky, and other direct action freedom fighters are turning over in their graves.

With a creeping sense of guilt over abandoning my progressive values, I must admit, though, that the two days at Disneyland were magnificent and fun, fun, fun. Well worth it many times over for a variety of reasons.

The trip was probably hatched shortly after one of Verna’s oncologists said recently, “Make memories now.”

So Verna got her brother and his wife, who live halfway between here and Disneyland, on board and plans were underway in rapid fashion. We drove to their house last Friday night after work and left for Anaheim on Saturday afternoon.

Now it would be easy, very easy, for me to trash so much about Disneyland given my political predilections. But that would be hypocritical of me given that I unloaded my annual salary there in just two days. And enjoyed myself.

So I decided to share a travelogue of our experiences, highlighting a few of the negatives along with the many positives.

The Negatives:

1. The traffic. How does anyone in Southern California not keel over daily from high blood pressure, heart attacks, or strokes? We got into the LA area around 5:30 in the evening and it took us another hour to travel 15 miles. The highways are seemingly packed all day long.

2. Disney and sweatshops. I really can’t say much about this anymore because we bought so many Disney items for Miguel and Maya. But old habits and values die hard. While I still believe it is wrong for Disney to pay workers in its foreign factories less than livable wages, how can I utter even a feeble protest after I supported the machine with my hard earned dollars?

That’s about it for the negatives. I didn’t really mind the near gridlock crowds at the park on Monday. I like people. And even though I felt caught in a massive stream of humanity as we tried to reach Toontown, I enjoyed meeting strangers and hearing their stories and sharing some of ours.

The Positives:

1. Maya. Verna bought her a princess dress on Sunday and then treated her to the kids’ boutique on Monday, where Maya had a complete kiddie makeover—hair, hair extensions, make-up, finger- and toenail polish. Maya pranced around like the benevolent princess she was. She waved at all the characters, asked them how they were doing, and bade them goodbye by saying, “See you tomorrow.”

Maya was nervous at first around the Disney characters after Verna and I brought her to breakfast at the restaurant where you can meet them. There is a fixed price for the buffet and that doesn’t include the photo they take of you at the entrance. We paid $76 for the meal, but Maya got to either meet or wave at Minnie, Mickey, Pooh, Tigger, Dale (from Chip n’ Dale), Goofy, and Papa Gepetto. She hugged a few and beamed at all of them.

Verna and Maya were together the whole time. Verna’s doctor said she could only ride the same ones as Maya, which was fine with Verna. Who doesn’t love It’s A Small World and the Winnie the Pooh rides?

Verna would probably say the highlight for her was the Winnie the Pooh rollercoaster, which several of us rode together on Monday afternoon. After spending most of the morning and early afternoon in the California Adventure Park across the way, Miguel and I joined up with my brother-in-law, one of his daughters, and my father-in-law to track down Maya, Verna, and my sister-in-law so Grandpa Martin could ride the rollercoaster with his granddaughter. Maya sat next to Martin and squealed the whole time, her eyes ablaze with delight and silliness as the ride lurched forward.

The only bittersweet moment came on our walk to the rollercoaster. Verna shared with me that she went slightly overboard with Maya’s princess dress and make-over because “I probably won’t be around to help her pick out a wedding dress.”

I started crying.

2. Miguel. The look of unabashed joy on his face as we hurtled down the Tower of Terror and then popped back up as our stomachs did somersaults was well worth the 40-minute wait. He kept screaming, “This is awesome. This is awesome,” words he’d also offered several times when we’d careened through the dark on the rollercoaster at Space Mountain and on the herky-jerky Matterhorn.

It was a little sad that Miguel no longer appreciates certain rides as he did when he was five. It’s a Small World and Winnie the Pooh don’t hold any magic for him now, but he braved them because his parents wanted all of us to be together before the boys went off and Verna turned Maya into a Disneyland Princess.

3. The motel. We stayed at an Econo Lodge not even two miles from the entrance to the park. The rooms were $56/night, and you could see the nightly fireworks show bold and clear from the balcony. It was clean, inexpensive, and included a Continental breakfast that won over all the kids with donuts and juice. What more could they ask for than an early morning sugar rush?

4. My family. Besides being the memory-creating experience for Verna with her children, the jaunt to Orange County was also about spending time with Verna’s brother, sister-in-law, three of their kids, and my father-in-law. We also got to see my other nephew, his girlfriend, and their almost one-year-old daughter, Lola. I am lucky to have on my in-law side (as in my immediate family) a cast of extremely generous and interesting characters. My father-in-law stands out for his quiet and munificent manner.

5. The gift shops. You name it, we bought it. Christmas gifts for other cousins, our neighbors, friends, the kids. Miguel got a “I Survived the Tower of Terror” hoodie and zippered sweatshirt, a twisty straw cup, a goofy Grumpy winter cap topped with a faux Mohawk, tons of candy, and a Christmas ornament, while Maya scored the aforementioned Princess items, candy, an ornament, and a cup she hasn’t seen yet because Miguel picked it out as a Christmas present.

At one point, as I watched the overflow of people streaming in and out of the various gift shops, I said to Verna, “We should invest in Disney. This place is a goldmine. I am sure we could afford some shares in stock.”

“We could,” she said. “But do you really want to do that given your past protesting?”

OK, OK, I admitted, I was getting carried away by dreams of cashing in our Disney portfolio in several years and paying for Miguel and Maya’s college tuition.

6. Oregon Ducks Nation. Miguel became a Ducks football fan a few years ago when we visited Portland, and now I am one as well. We even flew to Eugene in 2008 to see the Ducks trounce Utah State. Well, the Ducks Nation, almost as ubiquitous as the Red Sox Nation, was seemingly everywhere in Disneyland. We passed and talked with at least a dozen Ducks fans sporting t-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, all emblazoned in yellow and green and the familiar Big O. We even met someone all decked out in Oregon colors in a wheelchair. I guess the Ducks Nation is gearing up early for the Rosebowl on New Year's Day.

What else can I say? The two days were truly glorious and Disneyland is one of the world’s happiest places. We laughed, we cried, we joked, we laughed some more, we squealed, we shrieked, we ate, we drank (mostly water), we walked miles and miles, we laughed, and we embraced the blessings of family and holiday freedom (and a bit of conspicuous consumption where we did our part to fuel the American economy).

Can I get an Amen?

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