Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Orange Curtain, Among Others

Now that my previous entry apparently has established my bonafides as a racist, let me recount the conversation I just had with the barista at the Corona Del Mar Starbucks:

Him: “Is it cold out there?”
Me: “It’s wonderful.”
Him: “I like it cold. I’m going to San Francisco next week.”
Me: “Why?”
Him: “To get out of Orange County.”

And so it is with my misunderstood semi-hometown. Is it full of silicone-enhanced airheads living in enormous stucco homes hidden behind gates? Is it an endless mob of neo-Rockabilly construction guys in their 20s, casually glancing at this week’s “Cycle Trader” in search of a new dirt bike? Is it a Mexican family at Disney’s California Adventure, waiting in line for the ferris wheel with the kids jumping out of their skin and the dad leaning against a pole with his eyes closed, wearing shiny black dress shoes with his jeans?

Maybe it’s the old white guy waiting for a Coke in Tomorrowland, his plaid shirt tucked into his Wranglers, his sideburns almost touching on his chin, his watch band splattered with white paint.

It’s all of these things, plus the sun-soaked part of PCH, choked with Bentleys and BMWs, running through Corona Del Mar, which I am now staring at from inside this Starbucks.

Whatever it is, I offer you this advice: do NOT waste your money on Disney’s California Adventure more than once. You should do it once, but do NOT take that voyage during President’s Day Weekend, in the midst of a 2 for 1 special on tickets for Southern California Residents.

To sum it up: every single ride at Disney’s California Adventure, beginning with the Ferris Wheel -- which looks harmless enough until you reach a certain point, then your caged-in car slides down a pole and rocks violently back and forth for five minutes – to the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, which drops you down and jerks you up until you’re pretty sure that you are going to lose the pretzel you just ate, completely embarrassing yourself in front of the Rocket Scientist, who routinely experiences mach 2 and so can barely tell that the ride is moving, is designed to make you sick.

They spin, they accelerate, they go backwards. They simulate. They make me sick.

And so it was that I wandered, dazed and ill, through Disney’s California Adventure, taking two steps forward, then three sideways, to avoid the thousands upon thousands of strangers also in the park that day.

At seven o’ clock, we gave up, left the park, thought briefly about having dinner in downtown Disney, then drove to deepest, darkest Anaheim for dinner at a really cool old school Italian place.

Orange County is also this.

The next day, Disneyland, aka the HPOE (Happiest Place on Earth), accompanied again by 50,000 of our closest friends. But there is something about the HPOE that sets it apart from the generic themeparkitis that plagued California Adventure.

For OC kids like myself, Disneyland functions as a stand in for all of the normal places people live their lives. I can walk by a spot in Frontierland and remember where I was sharing popcorn with my ex-Mormon girlfriend in 1983. On the Matterhorn, I stood nervously in line but never said a word, the better to impress my little league friends on the day we went there following our successful season.

After 31 years of Disneyland visits (as I reminded Noodles’ Mom on the Jungle Cruise – our first time there was March, 1976), it’s not quite the HPOE for me, but worth it for ten precious hours of the Jawa holding my hand and demanding that I go on rides with him. He is nine, and my time holding his hand is ticking down so loudly that I can feel it pulse in my chest every day. That there is this place – Disneyland – that can function for young parents and infants, guys in the bittersweet waning days of their omniscience dad-dom, teenagers sharing popcorn and multi-generation Church groups, can only be a gift from Walt himself. The old tyrant.

Something interesting about the crowds at Disneyland. Yes, they are fat. I had to get that out of the way. As Noodles’ Mom said, “When I come to Disneyland, I feel pretty good about myself!” More interestingly, to me, is what they wear. Everyone tries to represent their home towns, either with a t-shirt or a hat, which I really like.

Less interesting and frankly downright disturbing is the trend of buying ridiculous Disney-themed hats, headgear you would never otherwise buy and/or wear, wearing it all day and then undoubtedly stowing it away deep in the back of some closet, behind the old sports gear and Tom Cruise, and never wearing it again. Why do this?

We spent double-digit hours at Disneyland. The Rocket Scientist plotted out our strategy, deftly using Fast Passes on key rides for maximum coverage. The Jawa and his cousins, Noodles and the Artist Formerly Known as Count Burpalot but now, by parents’ request, called “Felix Ungar,” thanks to his mother’s noting that he possesses a commitment to neatness that some might find disturbing in a ten-year-old boy, had a full Disneyland experience, the kind that you refer to repeatedly throughout your life. (“Remember that time we went on Big Thunder Mountain three times in a row? And then it started raining?”)

Back to Orange County. Yesterday, as Noodles’ Mom, the Rocket Scientist, Noodles and Felix returned to the searing nightmare that is Edwards AFB, we drove to Santa Monica for a day with the Rock Stars. As usual, Los Angeles at first thrilled me, then irritated me, then completely creeped me out. Lunch at a nearby “deli” turned out to be a packed, high-energy vibe hamburger place, admittedly only 50% hipster but cool enough to remind me that if I lived in LA my nerves would be shot.

Today I dropped Sandra Bullock and my Jawa at LAX, then drove down PCH, fending off mocking emails and angrily texting Flush Puppy to vent my hurt feelings at the minor firestorm raised by the question: “Why did you notice that the tiny woman in the Toyota Avalon was black?”

There is nothing to add that won’t make me look like more of a schmuck than I presently own up to.

Other than that I was frankly relieved to cross the county line in Seal Beach. “Now Entering ORANGE (county),” and my shoulders sagged. I opened the window and the sun roof, slowed down to 45, watched suburban renewal take place on both sides of the road.

There are two ways to look at places, and even people. You can use your brain and make a list of pros and cons, add them up and make a reasoned, logical assessment. Then you can sift through your brain and your heart for all of the memories, intangibles and meaningfuls that make it whatever shade of color it is for you. No one, however convenient it may be, should throw a blanket over the whole thing or the whole person and say “this is what it is.”

Now if you’ll excuse me. I have a date with some traffic on the Newport Freeway.


Anonymous roger hunt said...

you mean the 55, riverside north? you just passed my office. come on in and we'll tackle every bit of our past.

good to have my friend in town.

czj and i in sf are next. we need some real no cal hospitalty.

7:50 PM  
Blogger moosh said...

my experience of DTD was similar. We seemed to alight upon it the one evening every school teacher and child from the western world was there for some convention. We lasted 30 minutes before escaping to possibly the worst chinese food I've ever had.

2:39 AM  
Blogger Bud and/or Marsi said...

unrelated comment: they have vanilla coke in the fountain at some subway's here, that's right - vanilla coke.

5:28 PM  
Anonymous Zin Gal said...

The happy place does leave lifelong memories. Ask me sometime about being escorted off Tom Sawyer's Island by a disney cop dressed as Dudley Dooright. Good Times.

2:36 PM  
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