Your Souvenir Guide

Disneyland Ex Machina

What I Talk About When We Talk About Disneyland

This is easily the most popular photo I’ve ever taken. It has thousands of likes on Flickr; it’s made the Reddit rounds; It Could Haz Cheezburger. I snapped this at Off The Page in Disney California Adventure in October 2009, and yes, I moved the figurines together; they weren’t positioned like this when I discovered them.

I have two reasons for posting this image here today. First and foremost is that this shot has found its way into the Tumblr/Pinterest realm of hazy authorship, and I need to assert my claim to this thing before it ends up being credited to some other horny idiot. (At this time I’d like to express my gratitude to Heather at I Can Haz Cheezburger?, who responded to my pissy email with more politesse than it deserved.)

The other reason I’m posting here today is because I think the October 2009 visit that produced this irresistible image was my most recent visit to the parks. Three years ago. I can’t believe it, either. I’ve been to Walt Disney World twice in the last three years, and have enjoyed my visits there–but I haven’t been back to the theme park(s) that inspired the creation of this bl-g for three years, due to financial hardship and simple bad luck.

Obviously I miss it. I miss the ways it feeds, and feeds on, my imagination. Some criticize Disney’s theme parks for being tightly-controlled experiences; they compare it to stuff like Burning Man, where you can pretty much write your own dusty-dicked adventure from start to finish. I’m not criticizing that–in fact, I’ve just agreed to attend my first Burn next year, in spite of my intense dislike of portable toilets. But it’s unfair to criticize Disneyland or Disney California Adventure for telling stories in their own way. No two people hear stories the same way. And where someone else sees a shelf of expensive figurines from Disney’s animated movies, I see the inset photo.

Sophia Loren and Jayne Mansfield at Romanoff's, 1957. Photo by Joe Shere.

Sophia Loren and Jayne Mansfield at Romanoff’s, 1957. Photo by Joe Shere.

In a way, that’s what Disneyland has always been about, to my thinking: It’s whatever you bring to it. If you’re a collector, you see the shopping. If you’re a parent, you see the Park through your children. And if you’re like me, you see the artistry, the detail, and the coincidences. You look for these coincidences, these strange connections, and if you’re lucky, every so often you get a photo of one of them.

I’m happy to say that I’m a full-time working journalist once again. (You can read my stuff at Vegas Seven, a Las Vegas alternative weekly magazine, if you’re into that sort of thing.) And I’m closer to Disneyland, financially and spatially, than I’ve been in years. If I wanted to, I could drive there right now; it’s only three to four hours’ drive from Las Vegas to Anaheim, and a 40-minute walk to the three-hour line for Radiator Springs Racers.

But today, I find it’s enough to want it. In a way, missing Disneyland fills the heart as much as actually being there does. The imagination stretches beyond the berm; you wonder what it would be like to go there with a friend who hasn’t been there yet (I yearn to be the Ray Bradbury-like guide to someone’s Charles Laughton), or you wonder if there’s something there you haven’t yet seen–some strange and wondrous coincidence, waiting to jump in front of you and challenge you to take its picture.




  1. Fabulous post, Geoff! I miss Disneyland too. But for the time being, I’m finding it enough just to want it, as well.

    I salute you for taking credit and ownership of your amazing image…but it’s ridiculous that you should have to. I don’t understand what purpose, or satisfaction, anybody could possibly get from stealing somebody else’s work.

    Thanks for sharing the image that was the inspiration, too. I had never seen that photo before, but it’s pretty priceless. And it definitely adds another facet of interest to your already awesome shot.

    Even if you don’t make it back to Disneyland (which I hope you will, one day), I hope you will keep writing about it, and sharing your kickass photos!

  2. I misread it and I thought you said it “was going to be your last ” trip rather than “was your last trip.” I thought you were breaking up with Disneyland. My world tilted.

    I’m going in October (twice this year, for the first time since moving north) which is almost perfect.

    Uh, I’ve only taken my kid(s) once.

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