The Haj to Disneyland

IMG_1201Disneyland has a small town main street and a little New Orleans on its theme park grounds. It may never build a model of Mecca. And that’s good because the irony would be overbearing. I took my first pilgrimage to Disneyland last week as I headed for Anaheim in a car loaded with kids, wife and expectations that were years in the making.

Disney has been a force in shaping our culture and politics. Would there be an animal rights movement if generations of Americans weren’t raised mourning the death of Bambi’s mother? A former co-worker of mine received her marriage proposal at the Disneyland wishing well. If small town main streets and the city of New Orleans were actually as safe, clean, bustling and friendly as their Disneyland mock-ups they would be better places.

Even so, I didn’t think Disneyland was the happiest place on earth (I’m just not into theme parks). But I was awestruck at the pure efficiency of the place. The theme park was stuffed with people on the Sunday afternoon I was there, yet the lines to the rides moved with remarkable speed as the Disney machine moved people in, gave them a few shakes and dazzles, then filed them out the door.

The whole product was delivered with such good cheer that it seemed the entire staff was drunk on a Disney fiz. From the ticket cashier who bid me a magical day to the popcorn vendors to the people who stuffed you into the rides, they were cheerful. I don’t mean be-cheerful-or-you’ll-lose-your-job cheerful. I mean really cheerful. They kept it up in the face of patrons irked by the weight of the crowds and parents who’d lost patience with their whining kids and were telling them to shut their magical mouths.

The visit to Disneyland reminded me of my trip to Mount Saint-Michel, the island fortress just off the coast of France. True, the French attraction was more authentic in its portrayal of medieval architecture. But once you’ve stood in enough lines and dodged enough visitors in their weary search for fun, an ancient monastery looks about the same as the Disney castle.

It’s a wonder that I held out this long, putting off going to Disneyland while having two kids under ten and living only an hour and half away in San Diego. But I may manage never to go back, knowing that even devout Muslims are required to do the Haj only once in their lives

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