There’s a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out. — Lou Reed
Heading north on the 163, I yawned and blinked my eyes. It was nice to have the road to myself. Few people are crazy enough to be out driving at 5 a.m. on a Saturday. “Remind me why I’m going to Disneyland now?” I said to myself as I scanned the radio for something I could sing along to. “Ah, that’s right,” I said, recalling an image of my father on a cool pre-sunrise morning like this. It was a month ago, when Dad had come to take David and me to the airport. I’d stepped outside to find Dad standing in the middle of the dark street holding a dazzling, spinning Tinkerbell light toy.
“You know, you stand outside at 5 a.m. in this neighborhood with that in your hand, and you’re going to be invited to a party,” I said.
“How do you know that’s not my goal?” Dad retorted.
Dad had spent the previous day in the Magic Kingdom. He knew I’d wanted to go but that I couldn’t pull away from my obligations. When he saw how mesmerized I was by the twirling lights, Dad’s smile faded and he said, “You didn’t think this was for you, did you?” Apparently, the sparkly device was intended for one of his Make-A-Wish kids. I tried to hide my disappointment.
I have a tendency to become obsessed. Once I saw that toy in Dad’s hand, Tinkerbell began to haunt me, and the only way to banish the ghost was for me to go to Disneyland. I wanted David to accompany me, but he’d have none of it. “Don’t even try your bulldog routine,” he said, which didn’t stop me from pestering him daily. He eventually formulated an analogy that pulverized my hope — he said that, for him, going to Disneyland would be like attending a seminar on camera equipment would be for me.
David may have engineered an honorable discharge for himself, but I was not about to abandon my plan to revisit the enchantment of my youth. But it wouldn’t be right to visit Mickey’s estate alone. I refocused my energy on assembling the perfect Disney entourage and immediately thought of Charley and Rebecca. I had met them at their wedding at the Wild Animal Park, where I’d learned that they’d gotten engaged at Disneyland and planned to spend their honeymoon at Disney World. I also remembered seeing a recent tweet from one of them saying that they’d just celebrated Rebecca’s birthday at Disneyland. Who better to guide me through the theme-park jungle?
My dad thought I was deranged for scheduling my excursion on a Saturday at the height of the holiday/school vacation season. And though I suspected he was right, I would not be deterred. I collected my posse near Poway and, from inside my Mini Cooper while heading north, we watched the sun rise over Interstate 5.
While we waited along with hundreds of others for the park to open, I mentioned the lack of positive mother figures in Disney movies. I wasn’t trying to undermine Charley’s and Rebecca’s faith so much as pass the time. “Think about it,” I said. “Nemo’s mom dies, Bambi’s mom dies. Ariel, Jasmine, Belle — no moms. This new one, Tiana in Princess and the Frog, I don’t think she has a mom, either. Cinderella and Snow White — evil stepmoms. The only awesome mom in any Disney movie I can remember is Dumbo’s. I’m just saying, it’s weird.”
Despite my cynicism regarding the company’s family viewpoint, I was giddy with excitement when the gates opened. As the captain of the ship Princess Diva, I suggested we knock out a few of the rides before the crowd got too insane. With his knowledge of the park’s design, our first mate Charley navigated us onto four major rides before 10 a.m.
The first was It’s a Small World, in which the animatronic children sang a mashup of the iconic anthem and “Jingle Bells.” (They call it “Holidays at Disneyland,” though it was obvious the only holiday being represented was Christmas.) We followed up our Small World adventure with Space Mountain, Indiana Jones, and, finally, Pirates of the Caribbean.
I enjoyed the over-the-topness of each attraction. I reveled in people-watching, even when it got so crowded that we were forced to walk at a snail’s pace. I was tickled when Charley and Rebecca gifted me a hat with mouse ears and my name embroidered on the back just before whipping out their own, which they wore for the rest of the day (until it got chilly, at which point they traded the traditional ears for fuzzy plaid Santa hats with the same mouse ears sticking out). I found the one “real” ride I went on, Tower of Terror, to be thrilling and the miniature vineyard in which we lunched, charming. I was having fun, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing.
As I pondered the problem of my subpar enthusiasm, it occurred to me that I was too aware. I didn’t simply enjoy the rides, I thought about them — I considered the organization of the lines, contemplated the machinery beneath the moving parts, and appraised the exhilaration level of each twist and turn. The magic was gone.
Nevertheless, I was having a great time with my crew, refreshing childhood memories of familiar attractions and experiencing new ones. Charley and Rebecca regaled me with Disney trivia and taught me to look for “hidden Mickeys” throughout the park, pointing out all of the ones they’d already found.
As the daylight faded, the park began to twinkle. We were heading down Main Street on our way to the Haunted Mansion when the sound of blowing wind caught our attention. I heard two disembodied voices — a woman and child — that seemed to come from the inky sky above. The child wished for snow; the woman said anything is possible for those who believe, after which the sound of chimes filled the air and white and blue lights blinked on from the top of the Magic Castle down, making it appear as though glistening snow were falling onto the towers.
I was as captivated by this display as I had been watching the lights twirl on the Tinkerbell toy my dad had held. Then, something unexpected happened — in the light of a street lamp, I noticed white flakes cascading down. I turned around to confirm that “snow” was falling everywhere, not just in front of me. The lights continued to wink on and off, and a flurry of white stuff swirled all around, and for the first time I could remember, I was enchanted by something magical. For the moment, the hows and the whats were forgotten, and the little girl inside me beamed.