Nothing screams "California!" like street congestion, brown air, crazy detours, noise, parking purgatory and the thrilling prospect of random gunfire. And that is precisely the golden state of affairs at Disney's new Anaheim theme park, California Adventure, which is under heavy, disrupting construction.
Already visible from the streets is the California Screamin' roller coaster, with its huge, gold-plated Mickey Mouse ears serving as a visual centerpiece. A big Ferris wheel is up, too, adorned with a huge, happy sun face in its center. So is a large, phallic tower that resembles one of those ring-the-bell thingies you find on carnival midways—except on this one, it's people who will be getting their bells rung, rocketing skyward in what's basically a redux of a ride atop the Stratosphere Tower in Las Vegas. When the park opens in 2001, these three attractions will be part of a section called Paradise Pier.
Obviously, however, they don't constitute the version of paradise that California residents include in their daily adventure, especially anybody who has ventured anywhere near Disneyland the past couple of years. Traffic conditions along Harbor Boulevard are nightmarish—it's a 45-minute endurance test just to park your friggin' car—pushing drivers to the brink of violence. Clouds of dust are everywhere, kicked up by all manner of earthmovers. Construction crews clang-clang-clang away, their sweaty ass cracks glistening in the warm afternoon sun. Mammoth cranes swing slowly across the sky. Skeleton frames of yet-to-be-completed buildings give the area a certain Beirut-in-the-'80s look.
Clearly, the Disney Imagineers have captured it all. Of course, if they were really smart, they'd call a halt to the chaos they've created and brand their little project complete—a dead-on accurate re-creation of turn-of-this-century Cali.
Granted, it'd be pretty hard to sell tickets to something so amazingly authentic that you can experience it for free just about everywhere. (And then there's the fact that ass cracks haven't been exercising the strong tourist drawing power they used to.)
So when it opens in 2001, the new California Adventure will instead be the same old Disneyized vision of California and its golden history—spotless, sparkling and sanitized for your deception.
Still, that gives us more than a year to enjoy it for free via the California Adventure Preview Center, which is stuffed inside a temporary building near Disneyland's main entrance. Okay, it's not entirely free, since you've got to pay the same parking fee as people going to the Magic Kingdom proper.
The California Adventure Preview Center features loads of colorful computerized illustrations and models, all very nice, neat and proper, all looking far more beautiful than they will when they're finally built. Various California and Cali-associated tunes blare through the entire exhibit—stuff like "California Dreamin'" by the Mamas and the Papas, Scott MacKenzie's "San Francisco," "Good Vibrations" by the Beach Boys and "California Uber Alles" by the Dead Kennedys (okay, we made up that last one). Even the House of Blues planned for the park's Downtown Disney section is likely to be a stylized, cartoony recapitulation of an old Mississippi juke joint, complete with actual rusted, corrugated sheet metal from a dilapidated original in the Delta country.
In the Preview Center, the California Screamin' coaster is described as "a glitzy, flashing, high-energy salute to California's famous 'beach culture.'" We wondered if this will include periodic ride shutdowns to simulate a Huntington Beach-style, bacteria-infested beach closure.
The Hollywood District section will apparently be yet another refashioning of the real thing—maybe a replica of the Universal CityWalk, itself a replica of the mythical Hollywood that never really existed.
The California Workplace will be where "guests can see signature California products in the making, from bread to candies to artwork, in a collection of onstage workshops and 'micro-factories' in the Golden State." We'll assume sweatshops staffed with day laborers (stitching clothes to be sold in the Disney Store?) will not be part of the picture; nor do we think that the United Farm Workers will be involved with cultivating the grape harvest at the Robert Mondavi-sponsored winery, a re-creation of a similar one in the Napa Valley. Since Disney wants to depict authentic Cali agriculture, why not do the obvious and grow their own Humboldt Gold, a tribute to the state's real No. 1 cash crop?
The Bay Area will be represented as well. Park visitors will walk beneath a faux Golden Gate Bridge, which, unlike the real thing, likely won't have anyone taking suicide leaps off its edge (although we long for signs that read MICKEY WILL BE LEAPING OFF THE BRIDGE AND LANDING IN A GLORIOUS, BLOODY RODENT HEAP TODAY AT noon, 12:30, 1, 1:30 & 2). The "San Francisco District" will be built around that city's fabulous architecture—sorry, no gays, lesbians or animatronic Harvey Milks here. But will they try to re-create the old '60s Haight-Ashbury hippie scene and pass out Disney-brand blotter acid with pictures of Mickey as the Sorcerer's Apprentice from Fantasia on them?
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Then there's the Grizzly Peak Recreation Area, a huge man-made mountain of fake rock sculpted into the shape of a roaring bear, with a Bigfoot Rapids-style flume ride running around it. Is this meant as a tribute to the real Grizzly Peak in the hills above Berkeley, which is known mostly as a place where UC Berkeley students go for some surreptitious carnality?
And what about re-creating Disneyland's own back yard, a historically accurate representation of Anaheim itself? What about an army of strolling, costumed pimps and hos, hearkening back to the era 20 years ago when prostitution was rampant along Harbor Boulevard, just across the street? What of old-time, 1920s Anaheim, when the city was a KKK stronghold (they could call it Ku Klux Kland!)? Or how about a Great Moments with Bitter, Defeated Ex-Congressman Bob Dornan, where Animatronic Bob would rail against gays, women, Jews and Loretta Sanchez? Even better—since the guy needs a job, they could hire Dornan himself! And how about paying homage to our ever-free-flowing OC freeways? Oh, wait, they already plan to—just west of the park on Disney Drive (which used to be called West Street), they're building the world's largest parking garage! Now that's authentic!
Whatever Disney's California Adventure eventually evolves into after it opens, it sure won't be anything natives will recognize as home. Probably the most telling image of the place as we left it was a sign on nearby Ball Road, attempting to make us feel better after contending with Disney's extended sprawl: YOU'VE JUST SEEN HISTORY IN THE MAKING, it blared.
But whose history was it?