When I was a teen-ager, and still feeling my way in creating fiction, I wrote a story about a group of teen-agers (surprise!) who invade Disneyland one night. It was called, in an over-obvious nod to the contemporaneous film The Night They Raided Minsky’s, The Night They Raided Disneyland. That was so long ago that I don’t even remember what they were seeking in the invasion. Unlike the group of hippies who took over Tom Sawyer’s Island in protest one afternoon in 1970, my guys’ goal wasn’t to stir up trouble. These were kids like me: affluent, clean-cut. It could have been money, although why there would have been money in the park afterhours is one of those plot points lost to time.
In researching this charming caper, I pored over my one map of Disneyland from 1970 (which now hangs framed in my office), trying to discern the best place to sneak in over its famous berm without detection. I of course had no clue at that time of the tunnels that employees used to traverse the park.
I long ago stopped fantasizing about invading Disneyland but not walking in through the front gates. As it happens, I’ll heading back to Disneyland next month with a Southern California native. When she asked which rides I wanted to go on (in order to plan our FastPass strategy for not having to wait in line), I realized that the ones I most preferred were the ones from those early days – and they are diminishing in number. Because I’m not a roller-coaster fanatic, Star Tours, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and the Indiana Jones Adventure just don’t do it for me. “Ah,” my friend said, “so we’re taking the nostalgia tour.”
As I once wrote, “if the Disney Co. wants to make money, they should stop putting parks in Paris and Tokyo and wherever else, and simply reproduce the original Disneyland somewhere. Boomers would go stark raving mad and storm the gates. Hall of Presidents, no!; Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, si! Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, no!; Nautilus, Triton, Sea Wolf, Skate, Skipjack, George Washington, Patrick Henry, and Ethan Allen, si!” (For those who feel as I do, there is a Web site called Yesterland.)
But beyond even my passion for Disneyland (which I wrote about several years ago in Stumbling Down Memory Lane) and that of Yesterland, there is someone whom I discovered only this month who is even more obsessed with Disneyland than I am. Chris Strodder, the author of The Disneyland Encyclopedia (Santa Monica Press, 2008; second edition 2012), puts the rest of us to shame.
There’s an old joke about a little girl who has to do a school report on butterflies, and goes to the library. The librarian directs her to an entire bookcase of volumes about butterflies, to which she says, “That’s more than I wanted to know about butterflies.”
The Disneyland Encyclopedia is a little more than even I want to know about Disneyland. Strodder has forgotten more about Disneyland than I ever knew. A southern Californian who clearly spent way too much time and money there, he knows about rides that lasted for only a few months, plans for areas of the park that never came to fruition (Chinatown?), the names of shops over the years, and oh, by the way, everything else, such as how far a walk it is between certain attractions. This is the guy who should have written about raiding Disneyland – and in fact, he does talk about attempts to both go over and under the berm that surrounds the park.
But he also educated me on the fact that at night, the place comes alive with people who clean, sweep, polish, and replenish, so many that it would practically be impossible to frolic along empty sidewalks in search of whatever it was my characters were searching for.
I’m still not sure what I’ll be looking for when I go back next month, but I do know that if I can’t find it there, all I have to do is come back and look in Strodder’s amazingly comprehensive book.