I don’t know what spurred this feeling in me so suddenly. Maybe it is the fact that I haven’t been back to where I grew up in California in almost a year. Maybe it’s the fact that I have had a completely random urge to obsess and have spent well over a week scouring the internet, searching for something I am almost embarrassingly passionate about. But I feel a sense of longing. My nostalgia is kicking in.
I want to go home.
And no, it’s not just to my cozy house in the suburbs of Los Angeles. It is for “the happiest place on earth”: Disneyland
Recently, I for no real reason at all, I found myself scouring Yesterland (a site that I used to obsessively read back in high school), which compared old Disneyland to new Disneyland. It features pictures and descriptions of the Disneyland of yesteryear and juxtaposes it with how that specific part of the park looks today. You see images of rides from the past, from Disneyland’s opening and how it has grown and changed and expanded. You sigh wistfully when you click through images of rides you will never ride, restaurants you will never feast at, benches that you will never sit on.
At the time, I felt some form of appropriated nostalgia for something I had never known. But when looking at the articles of the newly updated site, I noticed it had virtually run out of old changes. Now, the site’s creator Werner Weiss mainly talks about the changes that Disney’s California Adventure has had over the years, which was totally bizarre to me because it’s a park that I visited since the gates opened back in 2001. Unlike the Disneyland pictures from the 1960s that I would have never known, I recognized each minute detail in these articles. In fact, I remember the park best from the early 2000s, the way it used to be. Those early images exuded a comforting familiarity of home.
Just today I read an article on Pitchfork’s the Pitch, which described artist Aidan Moffat’s nightmarish take on classic Disney songs that ranged from obscure to infamous. But instead of being creeped out or turned off, I felt a tear well up in the corner of my eye. I yearned to go back and experience Disney once again.
I have so many clear memories of Disneyland et al. I would go with different friends and family – each time was unique but comforting. I felt the same rush walking through the gates as I was transported into a world where magic really did come true regardless of the amount of times I’d traversed that path. Each year I bought an annual pass so I could go as often as I could. And I would always get my money’s worth.
You may think I sold out to “the man”. I was supporting a possibly corrupt conglomerate. Trust me, I know. I used to joke with my friends that I sold my soul to Disney. Laughs aside, I think I can’t exactly go against that statement.
But one of the reasons Disney is so ingrained in my heart is not just from my childhood (honestly I don’t remember my first time.) It is because Disneyland will always be tied with bonding with my close friends– especially ones from my old ballet studio Le Studio. We all left Le Studio around the same time, but regardless of how often we see each other, we always had Disneyland. Even when we were not at Disneyland, we still had Disney. We would spend many a night at my friend’s house binging on Disney music, movies, and more. She even had a room dedicated to Disney DVDs and their vinyl soundtracks. To this day, that room is one of my favorite places.
But our undying obsession with the parks was the real kicker. My various friends knew every camera on each ride, and created elaborate poses when as our pictures would be taken. I had inside jokes for each ride. Singing Indiana Jones’ theme song and hissing back at the giant snake. Pretending to be the bluebird on my friend’s shoulder during the Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah segment in Splash Mountain. I knew where each hidden Mickey was located, knew the perfect time to get the utterly sublime Pineapple Dole Whip ice cream at the Tiki Juice Bar outside the Enchanted Tiki Room. I knew where to get the best food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In fact I still crave food from the Mexican restaurant and vegetarian Gumbo from the hole in the wall shop in New Orleans Square. I was the master of Fast Passes. A map? HAH. What a joke. Hell, I even have a favorite bathroom at Disneyland (and possibly of all time.) It’s the Alice in Wonderland themed one right near the teacups and the Matterhorn.
I have lived in New York City for nearly half a decade. It has been so long since I visited my favorite theme park and even longer since I made the hour-long trek once every month or so. But it’s not only the rides I miss. I miss the experience – the bonding with friends, laughing, joking, singing, being the amazingly silly losers that we are proud to be. I miss feeling slightly miserable during the late afternoon before the 4pm slump ended. I miss the excitement that came from boarding our first ride (almost always Space Mountain) and the euphoria that came immediately there after.
To me, Disney will be the ultimate source of nostalgia. I’m sure that will not change for a long, long time. If ever. Because to me, Disneyland evokes warm comforting feelings. Because for a solid part of me, Disney is home.