There's a show at the Oakland Museum about the creation and refinement of Disneyland. It's a love letter to kindly Walt Disney, king of product placement and cross promotion, never mentioning his union-busting activities or other right-wing projects, and certainly skipping over the odd pervasiveness of shaking rodent butts in his cartoons, but it's still interesting if you can discount the hagiography.
Interesting to me, anyway. I was growing up in Southern California when Disneyland was being built, and I followed its progress avidly. I examined the schematics; I tried to envision the rides. (Particularly Tomorrowland, because I was a reader of science fiction and tomorrow was my destination. Tomorrow is all of our destinations; it just took wise little Asimoviacs like me to realize it.) I went within a month of its opening.
It was an overwhelming, if not entirely pleasant, experience. I loved Autopia, which was a sort of fourth-generation-refined bumper car experience. You drove little cars on little highways -- and my, is the portmanteau word "autopia" interesting, combining as it does "automobile" and "utopia" to describe an attraction in Orange County. Kids, can you say "irony"?
I can be scornful now; at the time, I just wanted to ride it as many times as possible. Interestingly, Disneyland was also the site of a monorail, a technology heartily endorsed by train nut Disney. It was the future of transportation! Someday our great cities will be linked by these swift, silent capsules, unless the residents of San Jose vote down the transportation bonds.
Tomorrowland later was the site of a 360-degree surround-view Michael Jackson video -- I assume that's gone now. Michael Jackson; happy little children -- not a great combo.
I liked Tom Sawyer's Island, too, and I disdained the Carousel in Fantasyland, and I was scared witless by the Abe Lincoln robot that held forth at a theater on Main Street. It was supposed to provide patriotic uplift, the improving message at the end of the fun seeking, but it didn't really look that human, and the thought occurred to me that it could be very easily programmed to slice the throats of little children. (Maybe that idea came from reading too much science fiction.) I stayed away from Honest Abe after the first time; he was just too weird.
Later on, when they were built, I liked Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. I had no interest in the Matterhorn or Space Mountain; recreational fear has never been one of my pleasures. But more than either of those rides, I liked the Monsanto ride. It's gone now, since it didn't really fit with anything.
The lobby of the ride was dominated by a giant replica of a hypodermic needle. You rode in a cart and got "shrunk" into a microscopic particle (remember "Fantastic Voyage"? -- like that) and were injected into the bloodstream of a human being and, look, there are red blood cells skimming past and oh, here comes the heart, nooo ... In other words: sort of like trying to understand the drug problem from the point of view of heroin.
When Disneyland opened, the world was so naive that injectable substances suggested nothing more than a penicillin shot. Later on, a new generation of citizens began visiting Disneyland. The Disneyland brass did not like that development -- as the brochures displayed at the museum made clear, Disneyland was a park designed by white people for white people, and employees were forbidden to wear beards, mustaches and a long list of other offensive things that might suggest deviation from the norm.
Which was ironic, because people soon discovered that getting loaded and going to Disneyland meant a day of big fun. It was an endless playground for people who said "oh wow" a lot. You could, you know, shake hands with Goofy. ("Shaking hands with Goofy" would be a pretty good code phrase for any number of proscribed experiences.) The lines were a drag, but the lines were always a drag, no matter what your synapses were doing. Go early on a weekday in winter and take your chances; that was always my advice.
At some point, it is my theory, the folks at the Disney got the idea -- they had a market. How else do you explain the Main Street Electrical Light Parade? At night, floats juiced to the gills with flashing spinning blinking lights and waving Disney characters would go by, and -- well, you know, wow. It went on forever, for longer than forever. And then there were fireworks! Yes, it was the happiest place on earth.
On shaking hands with Goofy, which is not, repeat not, an experience available at the Oakland Museum, unless you're evolved enough to get lost in a Diebenkorn. One through nine, no maybes, no supposes, no fractions. You can't travel in space, you can't go out into space, you know, without, like, you know, uh, with fractions -- what are you going to land on -- one-quarter, three-eighths? What are you going to do when you go from here to Venus or something? That's [email protected].