Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Anne’s Home

I had a business trip to Anaheim a few weeks ago and felt some need to document it, since it’s the first time I’ve left the house since Christmas, and it was an unusual journey. But I don’t talk about work here, and 95% of the trip was work, despite its unique location. And I don’t want to sound ungrateful about the opportunity. And I am not a super-fan of the location, but I’m not an anti-fan either. So, there’s a conundrum here, which is why I did not enthusiastically belt out five thousand words of copy while my plane was still in the air on the way home. How do I approach this one?

* * *

OK. I first went to Disney World when I was twelve, on a family voyage where we loaded up the station wagon and drove from Indiana to Tampa for a week at Busch Gardens, then on to Orlando for a week at Walt’s thing and the then-new Epcot center. The plan was to escape the Midwestern cold for Florida sun and heat, but they had a freak storm of the century where it actually snowed while we were down in Orlando. I think I’ve told this whole story before, but anyway, that was my childhood experience with Disney and my first experience with Florida.

Smash-cut to 1997 I went to Disneyland in Anaheim with my then-girlfriend. She was a Disney person and wanted to do the whole deal, so we stayed at a hotel across the street from the park and I spent most of the time shooting with a Hi8 video camera and comparing the much smaller park with the distant memories of the bigger and newer Florida version. Oddly enough, I wrote about this trip in one of the first entries in this blog. Even though it was 15 years after my childhood journey to Orlando, I felt like this 1997 trip was in the same general era, because both of them were in the analog era, and before explosion in size of both parks with all the Pixar, MGM, Star Wars, adventure land, animal kingdom, and whatever else is going on now.

* * *

Semi-related: when I was at a trade show in San Diego in 2000, I drove up to Anaheim for some stupid reason. Actually, I ended up going to Santa Monica to have dinner with a fan and on the way up, I thought it would be interesting to zip up Harbor Blvd and see if my 1997 memories jived with my 2000 feels. I know that’s stupid, but whatever, this was before I could just look at Google Street View to depress myself. I stopped at a McDonald’s there and wrote some thoughts down in a notebook, mostly that it all looked so familiar and yet so run-down and beat, that strip of fast food and aged motels just outside the purview of the Disney corporation. This little run ended up being in another book, probably because it was one of those colliding-worlds thing. That 1997 visit was very wound up with my time in Seattle and my girlfriend in Seattle, and the 2000 visit was very much a New York world thing.

I doubt any of this makes much sense, but it somewhat tees up a 27-years-later visit from yet a different world, maybe.

* * *

I did absolutely zero planning for this trip. I would fly down Monday afternoon and back out Thursday afternoon. I had to schedule the flight and the Uber to the airport, but everything else was arranged by the company as a package deal. They told me to download the Disney app, put in my work email, and I’d magically have everything set up. That was the case.

I flew into LAX, and normally have the usual I-miss-LA flashbacks to 2008. Maybe the 2021 trip down partly cured me of that, but I didn’t think about it at all. I brought a single duffel bag and my usual computer laptop, no camera gear and no personal laptop, just my work stuff. The trip down and back was quick, and nothing remarkable.

The whole deal was at the Grand Californian Hotel, which I think was a parking lot when I was there in 1997. It’s on the west side of the park, and the first thing I noticed was that this side was not near anything. I think I’d have to walk at least a mile to get to anything non-Disney, and that would be just other hotels or the convention center.

I spent almost all of my time at the Grand Californian. My room, the work event, and all the meals were there, so not much to report. Breakfast started at like 7:30am and meetings and dinners lasted until 9 or 10 (or later) each night. It was pretty much the same as if we were in a hotel in San Mateo or Denver or Indianapolis or anywhere else. The only weird thing was that we saw troves of people walking around the hallways wearing mouse ears and with strollers and fanny packs and all the other tourist talismans and gear, which was odd amongst the sales talk of ARR and MAU and everything else. There was such a strange collision between the two worlds, and I wonder what it was like for these people who flew in from the Midwest or whatever to go on vacation and see all these startup people with laptops wandering around their Disney experience.

* * *

I had exactly four hours on Wednesday to experience Disney. We each got a pass for the park and a fifty-dollar gift card to use on refreshments or whatever. Someone asked me earlier that day what my top two rides would be. I said the Haunted Mansion and Space Mountain. Both were closed. I didn’t know what to do, and ended up in a rush to find rides I wanted to ride and figure out some game plan to get on them.

My first observation of the post-analog Disney is that everything is monetized to the point of absurdity. One used to get admitted to the park and then ride everything all day. Now there’s a whole maze of passes and bands and services and tiers and things in the app, where you have to buy Genie+ and find reservations and sign up for slots and get in different lanes and… I don’t even know what. I think you had to wait an hour, or smash a bunch of buttons and put in a strong enough credit card and take the pain. I paid about sixty bucks to get on four rides in four hours.

Having a phone in the park was an obvious plus. I don’t know how I would have been able to find and coordinate with others without it. Also, the app has a map, plus shows all of the wait times, which is half useful and half an incentive to shovel more money at them for the FastPass or EZPass or whatever. Another plus was that while I was standing in line forever, I could play Duolingo and pump Slayer straight into my brain to drown out everything and everyone.

Another thing the phone changed was that nobody had cameras at all. I think maybe I saw someone with a mirrorless here and there, but nobody carted around camcorders or big cameras. That was a fascination of mine, a peoplewatching fixation point, looking at what giant Sony kit people were lugging around to tape their four-year-old dropping ice cream on the ground. Those kids now have kids. I wonder what happened to those old tapes, just like how I wonder what happens to all the video that people shoot on their phone, upload to a cloud service that will go bankrupt in two years, and then forget all about it.

The park closed at 8:00 because of some valentine’s thing. I went back to my room to go straight to bed and prepare for a 04:00 product release the next day, then realized in the mad rush of trying to get on rides I’d totally forgotten to get dinner. I ordered a greasy pan pizza from room service and tried to watch TV. I think they purposely make TVs in Disney properties horrible so you will leave the room and spend more money. The pizza was not bad.

* * *

I said I was not a Disney superfan, and that doesn’t mean I’m an anti-fan. I honestly don’t have any strong feeling either way. I don’t think it really burned in when I was a child, and I was already out of college and working when the first Pixar movie came out. I know people who are Disney superfans, and honestly, I’m slightly envious of those who can have that strong sense of joy wrapped up in a place they can go and see and visit. It’s the same way I feel about people who have a strong sense of camaraderie about sports, where a stadium is “home” and they can be with tens of thousands of people who dress alike and have the same shared experience. I’ve tried, and maybe it’s because sports was not in my childhood, but I’m not wired for it. I wish I was.

I’ve spent a lot of my midlife crisis pondering this, wondering if I just bought a boat or started collecting baseball cards or got a cabin in Montana or went to coin shows if I would find my people, if I would find joy in something I could easily purchase or fixate on. And that’s not the answer. It’s great if it works for you, but for me, I know I can’t get lost in it, and that’s what I need.

And that put me in this unfortunate position, surrounded by people who paid large amounts of money to be at their Happiest Place on Earth, and I’m not exactly there at gunpoint, but I am there to work. So, yeah.

* * *

There was no time to go see LA. I didn’t even leave the grounds of the park. On Friday, I did an Irish goodbye, grabbed an Uber, and had an overly enthusiastic Korean driver who wanted to be my new best friend when I told him I used to work for Samsung. On the loop in to LAX, I did feel a very slight nostalgia/homesickness as we cruised through Hawthorne and El Segundo on the way in. Had a quick flight back, and then a quick Uber home in time for dinner.

I have a much bigger trip in a week. More on that later.


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