NEVER NEVER LAND
I didn't really want to come to Disneyland for the annual science teachers national convention, but now that I'm here, I'm not sure I really want to leave. Everything is perfect. The weather is glorious, pleasantly cool in the early morning and comfortably warm by afternoon. The flora is in full bloom--yellow day lilies, shrub-sized clivia, paperlike California poppies, bougainvillea, azaleas, lantana, hip-tall birds of paradise, camellias and clematis as big as plates, and everywhere everywhere the gentle susserating of palms. Birds chirp high in the trees, a sociable sparrow shares my breakfast scone, and from morning til night, children squeal with a mix of delight and terror as the Disney machines, on their slightly rusted rails, hurl their occupants through space for an all-you-can-ride thrill.
There's not a speck of trash anywhere, no signs of poverty or distress, and at every turn, there's Mickey Mouse to greet you with his goofy grin. He's carved into the soap in the hotel rooms, carefully clipped into the hedges, and perched--ears only--atop the heads of most children under ten, who seem to sprout a Mickey cap within minutes of their arrival.
On the walk back to the hotel from an afternoon of convention sessions, I happened onto a Cinderella theme wedding, complete with golden carriage, white horses, coachmen, giggling bridesmaids all in pink, and a fairy princess bride, perfect in her whiter than white wedding gown and sparkling tiara. I felt an instant pang of envy; that feeling of recognizing before one's eyes a childhood fantasy made real in someone else's life. A beefy bodyguard approached me, asking in an apologetic tone if I would mind bypassing the bridal party, as the entourage was about to make its way to a garlanded canopy tent a few hundred yards away where the bride was to be married in outdoor splendor. The guard and I fell into whispered conversation, and I asked him if Cinderella weddings were common at Disneyland. He confessed that, as an employee of the bride's family, he wasn't sure of the statistics but that theme weddings were not unheard of.
"It's a whole other world out here, " I remarked in awe.
"It's lovely lovely," he grinned in response, raising his eyebrows and cocking his head in a sort of self-mocking acknowledgment of his role in this dreamland production.
Since my arrival at Disneyland, I've been wondering how to explain the appeal of the place. I think of myself as immune to canned reality, far too sophisticated to be seduced this easily. My colleagues must view me in this same light. They've been chuckling at me and my Disneyfied glee.
The monumental effort behind such a carefully manicured vision is a given, yet you don't ever see anyone laboring at it. It all takes place after hours or very discreetly in remote corners. I think it's because the vision is so smooth and tightly controlled that we fall for the fantasy. And, after a weekend of listening to science teachers at wit's end over plummeting student achievement in STEM skills (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), over the lack of meaningful support from the highest levels of government to reverse the trend, and over distorted national priorities, the Disneyland cocoon provides respite. Tinkerbell is there to wave her magic wand to wish it all away, and for a day or two, I believe.