Okay, here’s the whole beginning for this story. When I was quite young, maybe four, five, six years old, at some point there showed up at our house in the Berkshire mountains of Massachusetts an eight- or sixteen-page color brochure for Disneyland, the theme park in Orange County, California. Along with my brothers, all of whom were older (can’t count the younger brother yet, he was either not born or at least not yet reading), I pored over those pictures and read and re-read all about Main Street USA, Adventureland, Fantasyland, Frontierland and Tomorrowland; the fabulous Teacup Ride, the perfectly safe but utterly realistic Hippos and Elephants and on and on; and of course the lifesize Disney characters you could talk to.
Okay, I read all the words as well as looked at the pictures, so maybe I was all of seven years old. The Alice and Wonderland movie had made its impact on our house, because although we never actually went to the movies, we had Little Golden Books and Little Golden Records, so we knew the stories and the songs. One of my very first Halloween costumes was, believe it or not, an Alice dress and Alice wig. We were allowed to have comic books, so we knew all about Mickey and Donald, Huey, Dewy and Louie, Morty and Ferdie, Minnie and Daisy and Uncle Scrooge. So, in a somewhat secluded, rather religiously conservative family, Disney was a real entryway into popular culture.
But we never went to Disneyland. It was too far, and we didn’t have nearly enough money. An enticing thing was mentioned, though, at the end of the brochure: Disney had bought a large tract of land in central Florida and hoped to open an even bigger and better version of the park there. Sure enough, Disney World opened up in 1971.
By then, of course, my childhood was past, and none of us ever went to Disney World. Heck, I never even got to the circus when it came to town. But I never forgot the magic of that slightly tattered eight-page brochure.
So I guess it’s no great wonder that when I stood in the crowd at the opening ceremonies yesterday, listening to the Mayor of Main Street announce the arrival of Mickey and the gang on the Disney World Train, heard the slogan “Where Dreams Come True” and watched cast members sing and dance, I found myself choking back tears. How silly of me, I thought; but here for one day I was going to get to be a little kid and experience the magic. And so it was.
We were biometrically scanned at the gate (place forefinger here). Then we were in, and of course the great thing you see as you walk down Main Street is Cinderella’s Castle. I walked down the way with a silly grin on my face as we wandered in and out of shops, took pictures of the Castle and then swung right into Tomorrowland. We spent eleven hours in the Magic Kingdom, rode on more than a dozen rides, saw nearly that many shows, took over a hundred and fifty pictures, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I got to ride the boat through Adventureland, climb the Robinson Family Tree, spin around in a teacup, and so, so much more. Had my picture taken with Mickey.
I also gained an appreciation for the engineers at Disney, especially in this one thing: these people are geniuses at keeping large numbers of people moving, and at keeping them entertained while waiting to move. When a line would form at an attarction, a sign outside would announce how long the wait from that point would be: five, ten, twenty, the most I saw was forty minutes: and in our experience the sign was always a high-side estimation, with the actual wait time usually being half, or less, of the announced time.
Now the great thing about fun and pleasant days is that although they are intense and lovely and wonderful as can be, telling the story is not nearly as entertaining as is the case with days of danger, difficulty, tension, or trouble. So I won’t try to give you a blow-by-blow account of all the fun I had…. will just leave it that for one day, fully half a century or more after first seeing that colorful booklet, I saw my Disney dream come true.