The magic of Disneyland is not what happens inside the park, but with whom.
For many years, in my parents front room, stood a photograph of me with my grandparents. In it, a smile stretches broadly across my four-year-old face. I proudly hold a melting orangle popsicle. I am wearing a small, white hat with a Mickey Mouse character on the brim. My eyes beam with happiness. It is my first trip to Disneyland and it will be the last trip I will enjoy with my Grandfather Grimes, who died shortly thereafter. Many of my most treasured memories are of events that occurred at Disneyland.
In 1983, at the age of eight, I began my first job as a door-to-door newspaper subscription salesman for The Oregonian. My bright-eyed, innocent face earned me nearly two-hundred newspaper subscriptions, and I was rewarded by the publisher with my second trip to the Magic Kingdom. Early on the frigid morning following Christmas Day I boarded a shiny greyhound bus deep within the dark recesses of the Portland bus station. It was my first journey without my parents, and I felt like an explorer mounting some large and important expedition, forging into the wilds... of Anaheim, California.
In 1987, my mother's participation in the USA National Amateur Bowling Championship brought me back to Anaheim. I had entered my adolescence and, though I had retained my childhood wonder, I noticed that the Magic Kingdom was also metamorphising. Attractions would come and go. Gone was People Mover. In its place, the sparkling new Star Tours! This, my third Disneyland trip, would be the first time I experienced the breathless twisting and churning of the Star Tours attraction. Sadly, it was also the last trip I took with my Grandmother Grimes, but I remember that although her body was uncooperative, her spirit was energetic.
On April 20th 1990, the same day the Hubble Telescope was launched into space, my high school bandmates and I were ushered into the the park aboard the shiny, aluminum monorail that linked the freshly erected Disneyland Hotel to the park. If you could have directed the telescope toward the magic kingdom on that day, and, if you were able to peer through the smog-covered skies, you might have caught a glimpse of us in our teal polo shirts that featured a flowing pink embroidery over the left breast that commemorated Disneyland's 35th aniversary. Beads of sweat rolled down my forehead and anticipation knotted my nerves as we were led into one of the cavernous studios where countless symphonies before us had performed and recorded the classic scores for the films The Jungle Book, Robin Hood, and The Little Mermaid. I was in awe. On a large screen posted above the conductor, we learned to perform the song “Under the Sea” in unison with the scenes from The Little Mermaid. In retrospect, it would be one of the seminal moments in the development of my musical career.
Ten years passed before I was able to find my way back to the Magic Kingdom. In the past I had been the guest of a chaperone, whether they were my grandparents, parents, or instructors; this time I was the host, and my guest was my fiance, who had somehow escaped her youth without ever having experienced the magic of Disneyland herself. For the first time, since I was age four, I experienced the park as a newcomer might, albeit vicariously. I felt myself filled anew with the joy that flooded my senses the first time I'd explored its serene streets and cotton candy covered lanes. It was in that moment, as my fiance and I stood there and held one another as we gazed out over the Rivers of the Americas' dark waters at the festive fireworks that exploded in purples and blues above us on a warm, starry, August night, that I understood the exquisite, ageless expression that had twinkled in my grandparents' eyes within that 1978 photograph.
Disneyland is, was, and always will be a magical kingdom.