Remember the days when a guy named Walt Disney squeezed a place most folks called the magical kingdom out of 160 acres of orange groves and a fair number of walnut trees back in the 1950s in a place that was once considered the backwaters of the Los Angeles metro area?
It was a pure Mickey Mouse move.
Everyone that stepped into Disneyland coveted the joys brought by accessing a seat on an E ticket ride. Granted “It’s a Small World” was among the rides the E ticket got you into with its mind numbing reoccurring theme song.
The “It’s a Small World” song could have broken down Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega in half the time to surrenderer than it took the heavy metal music United States troops used to blare at the Venezuelan embassy where he holed up in 1989.
Today Disney has discovered the real world of scorched earth politics practiced with equal zest by those on the hard right as well as those on the hard left.
It just proves you can’t escape reality in a fantasy world.
Personally, I’m kind of neutral on the whole Disneyland gig.
Chalk it up to four trips to Anaheim.
The first was on a vacation I took my mom and sister.
The second was when I chaperoned a Lincoln High senior graduation trip.
The third was through the eyes of newspaper carriers between 10 and 16 years I helped chaperone.
And the fourth was the day after a 15-hour drive from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Ventura to visit some friends who decided it would be fun to spend the next day in Disneyland.
Bruises and 14 rides
on the Matterhorn
The first trip was the summer between my sister’s seventh and eighth grade years.
For whatever reason, I thought it would be nice to pay for a three-day vacation at Disneyland for my sister, my mom and myself.
I wanted to stay at the Disneyland Hotel. It was on the monorail. Plus, back then — and it still might be the case — hotel guests were able to get access to the park a full hour before the rest of the public,
My sister fell in love with the Matterhorn. So, on the second day we took advantage of the early entrance and made a beeline to the ride.
During the next 80 or so minutes we ended up going on it about 14 times. We were the only riders for all but one trip. This meant we were in the front of the front car.
And since I was bigger than she was, she had to sit in front of me.
It wasn’t until an hour later that the bruises where my sisters’ legs kept hitting the safety bar started showing. They stayed with her for a good week.
My vice was Space Mountain. Actually, it was playing an arcade game near the entrance that I don’t recall what it was named. After my mom noticed I dropped $10 in quarters, the next day she made sure I had $20 in quarters to play to my heart’s content. She did the same thing on the third and final day.
Except for a video game on a flip phone that was the one and only time I played an arcade video type of game.
I also made sure to thoroughly embarrass sister. I bought her six stuffed Disney characters including a 48-inch high Pluto that she had to carry on her lap on the airplane ride back home.
‘It won’t cost you anything’
My sister Mary convinced me — against my better judgment — to make my second trip to Disneyland.
A little background.
My sister was 18 and a senior at Lincoln High in Lincoln, Placer County. This was back in 1980.
She also was the senior class president.
Our mom was heading up the senior class Disneyland trip.
I was 25 and in my sixth year on the Western Placer Unified School District board.
By conducting various cleanup efforts, they were paid for, some 80 class members and their chaperones were able to raise all of the money they needed for admission as well as flying back and forth between Sacramento and Los Angeles.
Several weeks beforehand, one of the chaperones wasn’t able to go.
My sister — and a few of her classmates — thought I would be the perfect substitute.
To this day when my sister brings up what I refer to as my Mickey Mouse journey to hell she laughingly reminds me that she told me it wouldn’t cost me a cent.
It cost be $62.50. At one point though I was out $133. And there was a very heart-stopping moment when I agreed to let the PSA ticket counter at Los Angeles International charge me for some 84 one-way tickets to Sacramento that came in at more than $8,000.
At one point after departing Sacramento where we did the prerequisite head count, one of the stewardesses came back to talk to my mom given she was the head chaperone.
I like to tell people this happened when we were flying somewhere above Firebaugh but I honestly don’t know where it was.
I was two rows back and was able to pick up what was being said.
Four guys — Bob Bonynge, Mike Melendez, Ed Shipman and a fourth kid whose name escapes me — had walked off the Air California flight after we boarded supposedly to use the restroom.
The stewardess said the ticket counter agent worked with supervisors and were able to put the four on another flight.
There was one little catch. The flight we were on was the last flight that Friday going to Ontario Airport. The flight the four of them were on was going to Los Angeles International.
My mother said — and these were her exact words — “we should just leave them on their own.”
Part of me knew she was kidding. But part of me was mortified.
I could see the headline in the Sacramento Bee: “Four teens go missing on LA trip chaperoned by school board member”.
I volunteered, as if I had a choice, to rent a car at Ontario Airport and drive to LAX to pick them up.
Fortunately, I had turned 25 making it easy to rent a car. I also had a credit card that I had for my wedding/portrait photography side business at the time with a five-figure credit limit
My luck ran out when I discovered there was only one car rental left. It was a full-sized 1980 Ford Galaxy LTD that the rental firm said was going to cost me the highest rental rate, given it was not previously reserved and it was a Friday night in LA.
The bottom line was the cost was almost $130. I won’t name the car rental company but I never did business with them again as I thought the rate for a 24-hour rental was beyond extortion.
But I had little choice. I had to get to LAX before their 8 p.m. flight arrived.
Making matters worse, I had to cross the Los Angeles Basin near the end of the evening commute on the start of a weekend. And although I had been in LA several times prior, the freeways I was going to take I had never been on before.
This was back in the days before Google, Alexa, and GPS.
Surprisingly, the rental company didn’t charge me extra for a map and advice on the best route to get to LAX.
I consider myself good at reading a map. But I was traveling solo in the land where if a driver hesitates you’re fair game. Plus, I was on a tight time schedule.
The flight crew had relied a message to the LAX bound flight to instruct the four to wait for me in the Air California terminal ticket counter.
Imagine my surprise — or more correct how my suspicions were confirmed — when just a minute or so after getting out of my car in the parking structure directly across from the Air California terminal I heard my name being paged.
Then, seconds later, the four of them came out the front door and start walking away.
As I shouted at them, they turned with several of them having a startled look on their face.
“Scoop!” one of them yelled.
He then proceeded to tell me that they were just looking for me.
“Scoop” is what I was called in high school by more than a few jocks because I was covering high school sports at Lincoln High at the time for The Press-Tribune and Lincoln News Messenger.
Fortunately, they got in the car.
But the drive to Anaheim further conformed by suspicions.
They kept asking me to go to certain locales they had read or heard about. Let’s just say they weren’t dance studios or a Century movie complex and leave it at that.
Between traffic and wrong turns we made it to the entrance of the Disneyland parking lot at about midnight.
Because we arrived in a car and not on a bus in a group for grad night, there was an incredible gauntlet we had to go through.
Eventually they made contact with the right Disney official that was able to track down my mom and confirm we were legitimate even though we had no tickets. By 2 a.m. we were in the park.
Thirty minutes later I was at the Carnation Plaza where chaperones were supposed to stay if there was an issue with a student in their group.
How it worked was chaperones typically “worked” two hour shifts during the 6-hour grad night event. Then other chaperones from their school took their place while they went off and enjoyed themselves.
They decided what I had been through that I should eat and when 4 a.m. rolled around I could enjoy the park.
Doris Flocchini, one of the other chaperones, decided to stay with me.
At around 3:50 a.m., the Lincoln High chaperones were being paged. There was a big fight in Adventureland involving Lincoln high students.
So off we went to Adventureland.
Long story short, after getting there and Disney security officials sorting out the mess, it was determined the culprits were from Lincoln High of Stockton. By the time we reported back to the Carnation Plaza it was almost 5 a.m.
It was suggested I spend the last hour enjoying the park.
At that point I had my fill of fun and stayed put.
The decision was made that Doris would ride back with me as we followed the chartered bus to LAX.
I was not happy at all when the bus was doing 70 mph on LA freeways. It’s not that I’ve never driven 70 mph on a freeway, but we’re talking about a busload of kids that I’m responsible for with the added caveat I’m a school board member.
Then as we came to a stop at the end of an off-ramp, Doris exclaimed that the rear bus tires looked to be bald.
I figured it was the perfect ending for what was a Disney disaster.
I was wrong. Way wrong. There was a worse ending.
As we arrived at the terminal after dropping off the rental car, my mom and other chaperones were in an animated conversation at the ticket counter.
My mom was being told that Air California had no record of the 86 tickets booked through the travel agency that arranged for the grad night trip.
My mom was frantically trying to reach the guy she had arranged the trip with. Keep in mind this is somewhere around 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning back when everyone was tethered to a landline.
At one point we convinced the ticket agent as the boarding had started to see how empty the plane was.
Still, she wouldn’t allow us to board with no proof in her system that we had paid for tickets.
Her supervisor came up with a solution. If anyone had a credit card that could take a charge in the neighborhood of $8,800 they would issue new tickets and the mess could be sorted out later.
When I handed over my credit card I swear that I was about to have a heart attack.
What if the paper work was never found? It would be next to impossible to collect the money from the 86 people who were scattering to the four winds given their high school careers were over.
The supervisor held the plane while the ticket agent was processing the paperwork.
About a minute before she was finished and after they had got authorization from Citibank that I had the credit line to make the charge, Air California officials called from Sacramento and said they found the booking information in their system.
I avoided the $8,800 charge. And — to their credit — the parents of three of the boys paid me for their share of the rental car. The fourth, whose name I actually do remember, stiffed me.
So much for the “fun” trip that my sister said would cost me nothing.
‘Isn’t this great! This is the best thing
that’s ever happened to me!”
The third trip was courtesy of The Press-Tribune in Roseville.
They had a subscription contest where the youth carriers were able to earn a trip to Disneyland.
The circulation manager wanted me to go along as a chaperone as well as to take photographs for a two-page spread in the paper.
This is the trip where I fell out of love with Space Mountain.
I was put in charge of the youngest carriers who were 10 to 12 year old.
And, while some may find this hard to believe, I was required to wear the usual work attire when on the clock for The Press-Tribune — a suit complete with tie.
The youngest was a quiet 10-year-old boy.
I remember him being extremely nervous when the plane took off as it was his first time flying.
Once in Disneyland he loosened up a bit. And because he wasn’t really interacting, with the other carriers, I ended up sharing the same seat in most of the rides with him. That included Space Mountain.
We were lucky to get the absolute front seat of the front car. Anyone who has been on Space Mountain knows what that is like.
There were three other little details I need to mention.
I had my camera bag at my feet. And because I never knew when I needed it, I had a Nikon F2 camera body and lens I had spent close to $2,000 on strapped around my neck. A few minutes earlier a screw had come out of my glasses. I managed to get it back in but the glasses weren’t tight on my head.
As we left the platform the kid had his hands on the safety bar. My hands were pressing my camera to my chest and holding onto the side of my glasses while I was squeezing my camera bag between my legs.
Once we started hitting the whiplash turns and drops in the complete darkness, it felt as if my glasses, camera, and camera bag were all going to fly off into oblivion.
Meanwhile on every turn the kid next to me was shouting at the top of his lungs, “This is the best thing
that’s ever happened to me!”
after a 15-hoiur drive
My last trip to Disneyland came after I returned from a 10-day bicycling trip in New Mexico where I logged just under 800 miles.
On the way home I had made plans to drop by my friends Jack and Gayle Vaughn in Ventura.
It was a 15-hour drive from Santa Fe to Ventura.
Before I hit the air mattress that night, they made plans for us to go to Disneyland.
I actually could have cared less. I just wanted to hang around them. But if they wanted to go to Disneyland, who was I too argue?
The visit was fairly ho-hum until we got in the line slowly snaking into the Pirates of the Caribbean. Did I mention this was in late July and Anaheim can be pretty warm then?
Between bicycling for 10 days, the 15-hour drive, sleeping on the floor and the hot day my feet were killing me.
The three of us were chatting in line when all of a sudden someone kicked my heels.
I turned around and behind us was an Asian couple, with a boy who looked like he was about 7 years old or so.
I turned back around. Then I was kicked again. I looked back. This went on for three or more times before Jack and Gayle said I should say something.
So as the kid went to kick me again in the heel, I turned looked at the parents ands said “your kid is kicking me in the heel”.
Their reply was “sorry, no speak English” but they did smile.
I turned back to talk Jack and Gayle and then I was kicked again.
To this day I’m not particularly proud of what I did next but I had reached my limit.
The kid, as expected, went to kick me in the heels again. Just as he did, I lifted the back of my foot up and then brought it down on his with more pressure than just a causal step.
I then turned and looked his parents squarely in their eyes and said, “sorry, no speak English” and gave them the biggest smile I could muster.
The two parents had a shocked look on the face. The kid, meanwhile, backed away from me as if I was some monster.
That was the end of that.
And it was my last time in Anaheim.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com