California Screamin'

Last Thursday I was in Disneyland having the time of my life. It was my fourth time there and I was so glad that my parents had agreed to go with my sister and me. I hadn’t been in Disneyland with my parents since I was 12 and it was a blast watching them rediscover a park they have seen grow over the last 30 years. We’d had high hopes that the park would be deserted but alas it was packed with people, some cheerful, some not so cheerful. At the end of our first day my sister and I were in line for the Matterhorn and a grown man behind us was making a total jerk of himself. He was complaining loudly to his family about how he had enough and he was “done.” Many thoughts crossed my mind as I listened to him go on and on (unfortunately he was never quite “done” talking) but one thought stood out in particular: Disneyland can break anyone. I wondered if I would reach a breaking point during our two-day trip.

I had a hard time imagining any of us having a full-on meltdown. We were prepared to get the most out of our time. My parents, sister and I had purchased two-day Park Hopper passes which allowed us to go between Disneyland and California Adventure as many times as we wanted. We rocked the Fast Pass system and got to see most of our favorite things several times. In fact, we spent so much time in Adventureland that after walking through it for the 10th or 20th time I began to think of it as Level 1 of a videogame I could never advance in. (Mist.) We did our best to pace ourselves in the blistering heat on our first day and by the time I found myself in the Matterhorn line I had witnessed many breakdowns so the yeti behind me didn’t come as much of a surprise. I was grateful when the lines divided in two and Mr. Pottymouth & Family didn’t follow us.

The next day I was feeling the pressure to become familiar with California Adventure and see any noteworthy attractions therein. First, however, we had oodles of fun in Adventureland. My parents and I got soaked on Splash Mountain and took the Jungle Cruise ride twice in a row before meeting my sister for our second Indiana Jones journey. Somewhere in all that craziness we managed to sneak in our second ride on Thunder Mountain. At last it was time to go to California Adventure and see what all was going on there. A huge part of the park is designed to look just like a boardwalk straight out of Mickey heaven complete with carnival-reminiscent rides, a larger-than-life Ferris wheel, a gigantic body of water and a snaking, spiraling, gleaming white roller coaster. In the weeks prior to our trip my mom had read that the roller coaster was shut down so we didn’t pay much attention to it until we were practically right under it. My mom said, “Is that roller coaster running?” and when I realized it was and there were people on it I was so excited. I absolutely love roller coasters and when I saw this one actually went upside down I had to resist the urge to run straight to it. I was able to control myself and my dad and I took our time and had fun knocking out some of the tamer rides. I knew the roller coaster wasn’t going anywhere.

I took my eyes off the prize and we continued making our way through the attractions. We noticed there was a huge line for the Toy Story Midway Mania ride and unfortunately there was no Fast Pass offered. My mom learned that it was a ride “not to be missed” but my dad said he just couldn’t wait in a 45 minute line. He decided to head back to Disneyland with my sister. (They planned to stay there until it closed at 7 and then go to dinner.) Finally it was time for me to hit the roller coaster and as soon as I approached it I was informed the ride was broken. I would say that I was heartbroken but that would mean that Disneyland had in some way broken me and I wasn’t willing to admit that yet. Broken my confidence in reliable mechanical engineering? Somewhat. Broken the bank? Definitely. Broken my spirit? Never! I shrugged, pretended it wasn’t important to me and vaguely listened as the attendant told me the ride “might” be back in order later that evening. “Whatever, I don’t care,” I thought. Luckily my mom was listening more carefully and informed me the ride would close at 8 pm for the first “World of Color” show and wouldn’t reopen until the next day. I bookmarked 8 pm as my last possible chance to get on the ride.

Following a tip from a well-informed Disneyland employee, my mom and I made sure to slip in for the last showing of “Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular.” We figured it would be a cute little musical revue of the Aladdin plot. When we entered the Hyperion Theatre we were astounded at the scale of the massive performance hall. The show began promptly at 6:20 and we were swept away by a preview of what must surely be Disney’s next Broadway sensation. As Aladdin discovered friends like Carpet and Genie my mind floated further away from the logistics of our situation. The fact that Disneyland’s 7 pm closure would flood California Adventure with park hoppers never crossed my mind. All I could think about was the fact that when “Aladdin” ended it was going to be cold outside and it would be best to go back to the hotel and get warmer clothes. That would mean we’d still have three hours to enjoy the park until it closed at 11.

Three hours. You can do a lot in three hours. You can also make a lot of mistakes. Mistake #1: My mom and I made a wrong turn on our way out of the park and took a time-intensive detour through A Bug’s Land. Mistake #2: When we finally rounded the corner for the exit and saw hundreds of people streaming into the park, we didn’t turn around and abandon thoughts of warmer clothes. Mistake #3: After thinking and rethinking our decision we actually left the park. The roundtrip speedwalk to and from the hotel, including clothes changing time, was about 25 minutes. When we got back into the park we decided to make a bee-line for the Toy Story ride and face whatever line we found there. We were in such a hurry I didn’t check the map which led to Mistake #4: We took the LONG way around the water. This one really killed me.

Have you ever been somewhere so crowded you couldn’t run if you wanted to? I really wanted to run. I wanted to leap and fly over the heads of all the stroller pushers, all of the park employees forcing us to stay within their designated boundaries. Even my mom, the speedwalking grand master of crowd weaving, had trouble finding pockets big enough to get around people. I had my eye on my watch. It was 7:55. We walked, bobbed and weaved through everyone in our path and we still couldn’t move fast enough. Minutes later my mom was convinced we had already passed the Toy Story ride but I remembered it was right next to the roller coaster entrance. At 7:58 I wanted to tear my eyes out because I realized I had taken the wrong way around the water. A minute later we were close enough to see the Toy Story line but I walked right past it. I yelled to Mom that I was going to try to get on the roller coaster. I wondered what I would have to do to get on. I had just experienced the most frustrating 10 minutes of my life. I had just cursed the name of Disney for closing his Land early and drawing so many wretched people to this half-completed park. I had counted all of the nickels and dimes I had spent thus far on the trip. I only wanted one thing in return: to ride California Screamin’ and be dangled upside down just long enough to forget it all.

8:00:30. Could I beg my way onto the ride? Should I make myself cry if they tried to turn me away? I caught my breath, walked up to the line attendant and played the only card I thought might work, “Are you taking any single riders?” He annoyingly replied with a complete sentence, “No we are not taking any single riders. We are closed.” I looked over his shoulder and saw the throng of people in line – the ones lucky enough to make fewer mistakes than I had. I wanted to rip their hair out, or at least snatch the first pair of Minnie ears I could see. As the attendant succinctly explained that we could all “check back” to see if the ride reopened at 10:45, the words “murderer of love” rang through my ears. I wondered if this “10:45” wisp of hope was something the workers dangled in front of wearied visitors who dreamed of a few moments of mind-numbing euphoria so they could watch our hopes and dreams be crushed again.

I rolled up my sleeves and pretended not to care. I couldn’t even convince myself. I stood by the nearby carousel and called my mom’s cell. No answer. I called again. No answer. I glanced at the overflowing Toy Story line and knew that it was my impending fate. There were people everywhere but I scanned the crowd for my mom’s distinctive shirt and by some miracle I spotted her purchasing a frozen banana. (How fitting that in one of the most chaotic moments in recent memory, my mom was buying a treat I’ll forever associate with “Arrested Development.”) I recounted my bad luck at the California Screamin’ line and we began our 65 minute wait in the Toy Story line. There were so many people in line we couldn’t even see where the line would lead until we had been standing in it for 10 minutes. When I got a good look at the path we would slowly follow it hit me that I would have to stand in the same spot as every single person in sight before I would be allowed on the ride. The thought of it alone was almost enough to cause me to have an out-of-body experience.

When we made it to the boarding platform we could barely stand up anymore. The ride involved shooting at 3D targets and I unleashed some major aggression. It was a good feeling. My poor mom might have been a little too numb to really enjoy the shoot ’em up madness which the game offered. When I got off the ride I still wanted to shoot stuff – or at least scream my lungs out. The hunger for the roller coaster thrill, the long wait in line and the tame motion of the Toy Story ride left me with one viable option: I had to take another ride on the Hollywood Tower of Terror. My mom and I had two valid Fast Passes for the ride in our possession and I must believe the insanity of the situation was affecting her too because she actually agreed to go on the ride with me. We walked to the opposite end of the park and by then she was having second thoughts. When we reached the entrance she dug in her heels in hesitation just long enough for us to spot my dad and sister. We were so surprised to see them! We thought they would have been relaxing far, far away but here they were. They weren’t at all surprised to see us because they had in fact called us and told us to meet them so Dad could use Mom’s Tower of Terror Fast Pass. We never checked our phones or heard the message but Mom was more than happy to turn over her Fast Pass.

At this point, 9:20 pm with 100 minutes of Disney madness to go, things turned around. Here was my dad, newly dubbed 66-years-old, itching to get back on the Tower of Terror – just like me! He was willing to walk all the way back into California Adventure, look for me and Mom, and wait in one more line just for the thrill of being dropped 13 stories in total darkness. Somewhere between the elevator lobby and the post-ride photo gallery my outlook changed. I didn’t have to worry about doing everything the park had to offer, I only had to worry about the things which were most important: spending quality time with my family, enjoying the company of complete strangers, soaking in the Disney magic and maybe, just maybe, squeezing in one more attempt to get on that blasted roller coaster.

Fast forward a few dozen magical moments and here I am, crossing over the shortcut bridge that leads straight to California Screamin’. To my right the 10:15 performance of “World of Color” is well underway. I can’t help but stop and watch for a few seconds before I continue my pilgrimage to the Russian mountain. When I reach the pinnacle of the bridge I see a beautiful site – a quickly forming, highly organized line full of people who know something I have only dared to hope for: the roller coaster will reopen at 10:45.

After several restless minutes hoping and praying the roller coaster won’t break down again it is finally my turn to board. I slide into the seat and eagerly pull down the shoulder guard as it click-click-clicks into place. I look to my left and my right and smile at all the people who made it in behind me. The roller coaster begins to move forward smoothly. I check my watch and see it’s 10:59. We slowly turn left and catch sight of a straightaway that rises up to form a giant hill. We come to a complete stop as a loud recorded voice tells us to get ready to scream. I look left and see my mom standing with the small crowd ready to watch us freak out. We give each other looks of pretend panic. The recorded voice breaks my trance as it counts, “3-2-1…”


Fall of Fortune

Fortunes rise, fortunes fall. This fall I’m going to make sure my fortune rises. Specifically I have a goal to have $______ in my bank account by New Year’s Eve. “How much was that?” Let’s just say I hope to save up enough money to pay for a few months of rent as well as my car insurance and/or health care deductible. I have been very lucky in that I’ve never gotten into a car wreck or had to go to the hospital as an adult. My car (which I paid off in August!) has been reliable and I have never had a problem with it that couldn’t be attributed to user error.

My most recent mechanically-related reality check happened three weeks ago. I took my car in for its 80,000 mile check-up and found out that I needed new four new tires. Ouch. (This was largely due to the fact that I hadn’t rotated my tires once in the last two years.) I had anticipated the mechanic visit would cost about $150 (actual cost $170) but I did NOT anticipate buying four new tires (estimated cost $650). Some of you may be thinking, “I hope you didn’t buy the tires! The mechanic was just trying to rip you off!” but I was planning to take a day-long road trip four days later and I didn’t want to take any chances with blowing out a tire and messing up the undercarriage of my car. Plus, cars with minimal damage tend to explode in movies and I really didn’t want to have to deal with being blown up or having to look for a new car if I survived.

Thanks to a warrantee and an instant rebate at Costco, I was able to buy all four tires and have them installed for $550. I considered myself lucky. I would much rather learn a $700 lesson than a $7,000 lesson. What is the $700 lesson of the day? ROTATE YOUR TIRES EVERY 6,000 MILES. Got it!