I was backstage at Disneyland, just behind the backstage entrance near “it’s a small world”. My high school marching band had just finished parading, marching down Main Street USA and beyond Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. With the gates now closed behind us, the band began setting down their instruments, taking off their uniforms, relaxing. I, however, was not. I was crying. I was happier than I had ever been in my entire life. I had just marched down Disneyland, an absolute dream come true. As I sat there backstage, alone and still crying, a hand patted my back, and a voice told me simply… “Walt would be proud.” (That certainly didn’t help stop the tears, if anything it brought on an onslaught of more, but only because it resonated so deeply in my sophomore-age heart.) Certainly, that sentiment seems fluffy and shallow, and if you were to think too much about it, you might be able to disqualify the statement entirely. But such meant so very much to me then, and still continues to mean so very much to me now.
Hello, DisNerds! It’s as great now as it has ever been to be talking with you all today. Midterm-week has tried its mightiest to swallow me up Monstro-style, but this little wooden boy and his water-logged conscience are trying their darned-est to stay on top of it all.
I have hopes to someday write up something a little more historical for you all. That day is not today. No, I’ve been impressed lately by the true genesis of my Disney experience, a topic rather emotionally-driven, less intellectually satisfying. Bear with me, folks, please, as what I’m about to discuss is certainly something we can all relate to.
An experience I had with a professor of mine is going to provide the central theme for today’s article. Most days I’m pretty easy to identify in the midst of the college-crowd; look for the tall kid with his Mickey Mouse backpack. Unless I haven’t done laundry in some time, (which I need to do as soon I finish this up, actually) chances are good I’ll be in some Disney-related wear, Disneyland t-shirts tend to be the weapon of choice. A professor kept me behind after class one day to comment on my shirt, which featured the attraction poster for Disneyland’s Matterhorn Bobsleds. She mentioned how she had just returned from a visit to the Magic Kingdom in Florida, and that her major souvenir purchase was ‘Poster Art of the Disney Parks’, a gorgeous coffee-table book that showcases hundreds of iconic Disney Park attractions’ posters. I asked if she had a favorite poster. She said she loved the early Fantasyland designs, and was hoping of purchasing smaller versions of such to decorate her soon-to-be newborn child’s bedroom with. She asked if I knew anywhere she could find them.
“Disneyland and Walt Disney World sell them at varying sizes and quality all throughout the resorts. I remember the first time I bought one…”
I remembered sitting outside the ‘World of Disney’ store in Downtown Disney, waiting and waiting, with my dad right beside me. I couldn’t have been more than 13 years old. My family’s 5 days at Disneyland had come to an end, and per usual I had forgotten to make a souvenir purchase that could have and should have been made earlier. It gave me and my dad an excuse to lengthen our Disneyland experience just a little longer, though, and we welcomed gladly any reason to keep us from having to leave just yet.
I could sense it then that something had happened that week. Something changed with my family, and something had changed with me. It was palpable. It was tangible. Something was different. I knew then, in a very deep and abiding way, that Disneyland was something entirely special. I knew that the man behind it was a man I needed to know more about. My greatest dream now was to work for this place that had left such an indelible mark on my heart.
I had grown up in a Disney-lovin’ household. Trust me, this trip to Disneyland wasn’t my first exposure to it at all. Disneyland was a once-every-other-year experience. A good portion of our movies were Disney. The kids’ favorites were absolutely Disney. We had a good amount of Disney collectibles. We had Disney toys. We were a family that liked Disney. Ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up when I was bout 7 years old? Not sure exactly what position I had in mind, but I would have told you I wanted to work for the Mouse.
So then what on earth had changed? What had I experienced that trip that I hadn’t before? Looking back on the years that have past since then, and what we’ve done in those years, you can’t help but wonder what went down. Disneyland trips at least 3 times a year (significant, for one of many reasons being it’s a 15 hour drive down from ol’ Idaho). I couldn’t stop reading about Walt Disney. We couldn’t stop day-dreaming about Disneyland. We couldn’t stop buying Disney collectibles. Disney music became to us as much background noise as our heartbeat. (My brother even claims his heart now beats to the bass-line of the Mickey Mouse Club March, a fact I’m only slightly suspicious of.)
There was so many magical moments that trip. I remember so many of them so vividly. When your life makes a definitive turn, you remember those moments, and you remember even the minutest of details. I share with you but a few.
I was about to walk out of the Main Street Opera House. Dusk was falling on Disneyland. Tears were still in my eyes, the lump still high in my throat, after having just watched “Disneyland: The First 50 Magical Years”. At the end of the attraction’s exit corridor hangs a portrait of Walt Disney. I stood looking at it for who knows how long. I couldn’t believe how a man of such humble mind and heart could create a place so magical. I walked out of the room, and onto the sidewalk of a picturesque Main Street U.S.A. The popcorn lights were shining, Mickey was out greeting friends, the music was floating alongside wonderful smells in the air. I saw happy people. I saw my family, together, smiling. I saw then what I think Walt Disney saw in his park. (Though I’m sure he saw things much better than I did; my eyes were still watering, I was still a little ver-klempt, mind you.)
You can imagine the experience I had sitting next to Walt and Mickey on our last night, just moments before we would walk out beyond the gates. (I have always been one to wish on stars, and the stars had never been wished upon quite so intently as they were that night!) I couldn’t stop telling that statue “thank you”. This was probably the instant that meant the most. This was when I knew in my heart that this place had room for me, that I could live a life that would surround me with this magic. I could, if I worked for it courageously and faithfully, even get so far as to leave my handprint in its history right along Walt’s and every other great Imagineer’s. I left the park, sad, of course, that the week was over, but I don’t remember my feet touching the ground.
Such an experience couldn’t be left unremembered. My dad was by my side, and away we went to Downtown Disney, to the World of Disney. I spoke with a cast member, placed an order, paid, and was told I needed to wait for the order to process. My dad and I went outside, sat down on a concrete planter’s ledge, and waited. Hours later, the cast member I had met with before came out with a smile on her face to inform me that my order was ready to go. The store by then was practically empty. She led us to the counter, and there it lay, in all of its 36 x 48 glory.
It didn’t matter how much it cost to print. It didn’t matter how much the framing was going to cost. This poster, as silly as it may seem, represents to me the beginning of my dreams. It hangs in my room still. There are certainly hundreds of other merchandise that accompany it now, but this bad-boy remains the original. My moment will forever be materialized by this print.
I cannot imagine my life without ever having had that moment. It was a founding, a time upon which every passing day of my life only builds upon. I knew then that I loved Disney. Like, LOVED Disney. And so, DisNerds, I turn the time over to you: when was your moment? What finally, dare I say, converted you to the Disney side?