One of my very best friends, Lauren, had been aching to go to Disneyland for quite some time.  Our work schedules often conflicted, however, so our best laid plans tended to keep being pushed back.  After what seemed like ages, we found a Monday where we could both escape our retail entrapment, and headed full speed for the Magic Kingdom.

Driving down the 5 is always a conflicting experience for me.  It is a treacherous stretch of asphalt, doubtlessly built for the purpose of ensnaring unwitting drivers and trapping them in a malicious traffic pattern.  But for all the frustrations that freeway holds, there’s nothing quite like coming up on the Disneyland Dr. exit and making your way towards the Mickey and Friends parking structure.  We got there a little after noon, and before our feet hit the ground we were on the tram into the park.

Once inside the park proper, we did as every red-blooded American should, and headed straight for Space Mountain. The line, though long, was not insufferably so. It gave us just the right amount of time to chat, to people watch, and to even get a little sun without feeling as though we were in some kind of twisted Easy Bake Oven.

After disembarking from our epic space adventure, we traveled the park haphazardly, jumping in line for whatever struck our fancy at the moment.  This, I remember thinking to myself, this is how Disneyland is supposed to be done. I’ve been on trips to Disneyland with people who feel the need to plan every last moment, in some misguided effort to “maximize” the experience. In truth, they’re not experiencing it at all.  Disneyland is all about pure joy, pure excitement for the moment. To try and put joy on a itinerary… that’s just missing the point.

After a trip through the twisting turns of Thunder Mountain, we found our way into a daunting line that appeared to be leading towards Pirates of the Caribbean. I realized that it must have just reopened after it’s several month hiatus updating it for the new movies.  You see, kids, Johnny Depp wasn’t always part of the ride.  I know!

We were apparently lucky, as we were only in line for about an hour. Once we got to the ride, it stopped for about five minutes; considering this was the second day it was back open, we weren’t surprised. In fact, the wait would not have bothered us at all, if not for the woman a row behind us incessantly complaining about the wait; I guess she must have had some important business meeting to get to in Adventureland.

While Pirates was still the Pirates I grew up with, the updates were a nice touch, and I was happy to fold it into my ever-growing “childhood” memories of Disneyland. Even as we made our way towards Main St, we were surprised to hear people upset about the line for the ride.  Had these people never heard of Disneyland?

We headed over to California Adventure a little later, to check out MuppetVision 3D (a must every time I go), and then made our way to the line for the Grizzly Bear Run. It was a warm, but not hot day for Southern California, but the idea of a little spray to cool us off sounded good.  About 15 minutes into the surprisingly packed line, the ride broke down, and we had to make our way out, past dozens of people reacting as if Disney had intentionally shut the ride down, merely to torment them. Cast members were being verbally berated, I admit I didn’t see how that was supposed to make the ride get repaired faster, but then I am not an Imagineer.

On the way back into Disneyland, our line to re-enter was held up by a group of about nine people barraging the ticket taker with park questions, and while trying to be polite, she was clearly trying to make the people understand she had other people to help, but they would have none of it. To make things more interesting, behind us, a man insisted on shoving into Lauren, as if simply by leaning on her, he could somehow will the line to proceed.  We began to wonder to eachother if we had somehow stumbled into a “Maniacs get in Free!” day.

A few more smooth rides followed, and we began to forget about the troubles of the earlier parts of the day. We made our way to the Carousel in Fantasyland, where the wait was, as it has been since decades before my birth, less than five minutes. But as we waited, to our amazement, one of the women in line (a grown woman – mind you) was throwing a tantrum over the fact that there was an empty horse still on the carousel when the ride started. This horse, it seemed, belonged to her, and the ride attendant had stolen it from her by not letting her on that moment. Lauren and I, amused, exchanged comments, and the woman, unaware, turned to us to gain our support in some kind of people’s revolt against the operator. Lauren, with her usual tact and charm, told the lady exactly how she felt. Words that would be inappropriate for me to type on a family website.

At any rate, soon we were on our horsies, and although I believe Lauren won the race by a nose, but I’m still awaiting the photo finish.

The fireworks soon followed, and we took advantage of the situation by hitting up Space Mountain one more time (another red-blooded American must). Afterward, we weaved our way through the throngs of families with craned necks to the Jungle Cruise; apparently to-day onlythey were offering free tours! Too good to be true? Hogwash! However, when we arrived, we found the cruise had not yet reopened after the fireworks. A large group had begun to form, and one bright young man, Kyle, was forced to fend them all off alone, his ship-mates long having abandoned him to the natives.

Lauren and I watched for nearly half an hour as he, with wit and compassion, explained the situation to various park goers that the ride would be reopening as soon as the staff had been all accounted for (there were rumors of a Werehippo, but these were unsubstantiated), but some members of the crowd were clearly not satisfied, and apparently felt yelling at this poor kid was somehow the best way to make the ride open quicker. Apparently there must be a correspondence course for this tactic, it being in wide employ today.  To his credit, Kyle never broke for a second, being more polite and witty the more belligerent the guests became.

Obviously, the ride did eventually reopen, and I had my second-best cruise ever (which is saying quite a lot, because I’ve literally gone on the ride more than one hundred times), and afterward I found the “lead” in charge of the Jungle Cruise to compliment Kyle on his superior handling of the angry guests. She profusely thanked me for taking the time to express my compliment, and I asked her how else I might thank him. She mentioned Main St.’s City Hall, the guest relations hub, as a location I could go to express my thanks in writing.

From here, Lauren and I split up, her going to the ice cream parlor to get us a parting snack, and me to City Hall.

When I got there, a large line had begun to snake down the steps and onto Main St. As I approached with some trepidation as this group was clearly a torch and a pitchfork short of a mob, a man looked my way and said with a snarl, “You gonna complain about Pirates too?” I said no, I was here to thank a Cruise attendant who had done a wonderful job; he scoffed at me and turned away. As literally dozens more entered the already bulging line, I learned that Pirates had closed again during the evening this time for the day, due to technical issues, and that many people in line had to be turned away. Incensed, they formed some kind of ad hoc coalition, and decided to demanded reparations for the insult at City Hall.

Next, a young man came up to the line, asking if anyone had found a cell phone, and a middle-aged gentleman behind me flippantly replied “Well, try calling it!” (Oh! Thank you, sir, for your brilliant suggestion! I’m sure NO ONE prior to you had thought of that)

The line at this point had grown to completely block the sidewalk, and was now spreading onto Main St. proper. Other park goers, trying to leave after what was undoubtedly a happier day than these folks, were being forced  to cut through the line to get out. This, however, was apparently too much of an inconvenience for the man in front of me, who refused to move from his place, and began to shout “GO AROUND!” to anyone who attempted to break his self-proclaimed Maginot Line. So I backed up, and allowed others to pass behind him, angering him still.

A couple of places behind me, two young women were complaining about the length of the line into the customer service area of City Hall, after seeing the burgeoning army. Her comment, “Can’t we split the line into people here for Pirates, and people with REAL complaints?” was a real hit with the crowd.

Finally I arrived inside City Hall, now decidedly on a mission of mercy to the poor customer service folks who had been barraged for the better part of the last hour, and likely the day. When I told the clerk my reason for slogging through the line she was shocked; more so when I asked if I could write my compliment, so it could be passed to higher ups.

She obliged me, and in addition to complimenting Kyle’s good handling of angry guests, I thanked the entire City Hall staff for handling such a petty, self-absorbed mob in a courteous, professional manner.

The service rep passed the letter to her superior, who I could tell was almost in shock at receiving a compliment, for literally the first time all day. She promised she would ensure as many people up the chain as possible would see it. Before I left, I stopped to shake the hands of the six people fielding complaints from the line, who were demanding free passes to Disneyland because they had a ride shut down on them.

I met up with Lauren, and as we left the park, she told me a survey taker had come up to her, and she had given a positive review of her day at the park, and the survey taker had, at first, mistaken her praise for sarcasm, and she had to reassure them she was sincere. He broke policy by telling her that, like me, she was literally the first person to take the time to mention their positive experience.

On the speedy drive back up the 5 — only possible between the hours of 1am and 4 — Lauren and I reflected on the day, and how that at every turn when we had faced some kind of setback; a ride delay, a long line, a shutdown, we simply shrugged and enjoyed ourselves. While all these other people took the slightest provocation to send them into a righteous fury, we simply tried to have a good time. It seemed amazing to me that so many people could expect every instant to be perfect, every moment to go flawlessly; and the as soon as one thing does not go to plan, they broke down into a sputtering, bitter, angry mob.

It occurred to me much, much later that it likely was connected to those people who felt the need to plan every experience, as if they could schedule happiness. What made the day so much fun for us, was that nothing mattered beyond simply being there — everything else was just gravy. So, next time you go to Disneyland, or anywhere else for that matter, remember just to enjoy being where you are. Things may not go according to plan, but you have the power to choose to be happy or upset about that. I say be happy, because you’ll never be there, in that moment again.  And I prefer to remember happy places.