45 rides. 16 hours. One man. Disneyland in a day!
NORMAL JOESWe arrive without incident at 7:18 a.m. Cars are not permitted inside yet, so we sit with the engine off, waiting with a small crowd of other early birds. My thoughts should be on the task ahead, but I can't help but brood upon the particulars of the previous evening, when my wife, Sharon, and I attended a wedding. It wasn't the church or ceremony that preyed upon my mind, but rather the reception, where, during a pause in a fascinating discussion of the bride's dress and makeup, my plan to ride every attraction at Disneyland in a single 16-hour day-the next day-came to the fore. "No, no, no, no, no. There's absolutely no way," said one. "No way. No way. No." "You're a freak," said another, who took time to consider his opinion. The dismissals and taunts continued raining down upon me like so many grains of chucked rice. The discussion turned so virulent that a pool was started-at $5 a pop-with people taking guesses on how many rides I would actually take. "You're going on a Sunday? Seventeen, maybe." The responses were in that general range, though one-God keep you, Neva Simcox-went as high as 39. I said I would like to throw in, choosing the maximum: 43. One of them asked about my methods. When I explained my itinerary, my planning, my walkie-talkie, she said: "Oh, well. That's cheating. That's not what the normal Joe would do. The normal Joe would just stand in line." Exactly, I told her. This is not what the normal Joe would do. The normal Joe would walk from ride to ride; the normal Joe would go directly from Splash Mountain to Space Mountain. I have no interest in the normal Joe. The normal Joe would not dare; the normal Joe looks up at the summit, says something about the weather, and goes inside for a toddy. "I'm not the normal Joe," I said to her, smiling like Clark Kent. Now, sitting in our minivan at the entrance of the parking lot, I'm surrounded by normal Joes: normal Joes whose rear-window decals proudly announce their attendance at ITT Technical Institute; normal Joes who hoot in their rented convertibles, flashing gap-laden grins that bespeak the day's excursion was likely paid for by a Jerry Springer appearance, no doubt on a show titled "You Stole My Husband; Now I've Married Your Dad. Say Hello to Momma, Bitch!" Normal Joes. A pond full of them. "Oooh, yes," I hum. At 7:32 a.m., we leave base camp (Timon 6C) and travel by the day's first tram to the Disneyland park entrance. I step from the tram and walk toward the ticket kiosks. Suddenly, a firm hand is in my back. "You gotta run," Sharon tells me, gesturing to the tram crowd ahead of me. "You have to forget your pride." So I take off, passing the entire pack and arriving at the ticket window first. I buy two adult passports ($76) and head to the lineup at the gate, where we stand behind patrons with annual passes and those who had purchased their tickets earlier in the week. Here is the plan. The park opens today at 8 a.m. and closes at midnight. At some time before 8 a.m., park employees will begin taking tickets and allowing people to go as far as the beginning of Main Street. There, a rope will hold people back until it is dropped at the top of the hour. Sharon and I will head to the Indiana Jones Adventure, no doubt arriving at the ride first, given my tram sprint, and thereby assure myself no wait and a chance to begin the day at breakneck pace. The first two hours are critical to success. If we are able to get on the most crowded rides before the big crowds arrive at 10 a.m., we will have a chance. If we end up waiting in 20- and 30-minute lines this early, the day could be lost before breakfast (which I ate-cottage cheese and pineapple-at 6:15 a.m.). Standing there, I look ahead at lines of school-age Japanese tourists and see myself loping by them on my way to Indiana Jones, which (my Disneyland consultant had assured me) is still the park's most popular ride and the most critical to dispatch early. Sharon snaps me out of it. "If you really want to do this, you're going to have to be rude today," she says in that direct the-Donners-say-it's-this-or-nothing way of hers. "Don't be afraid to look like a geek, and don't be afraid to piss people off." But there is a problem. It is 7:55 a.m., and still no one is set up to take tickets. As the minutes pass, it becomes clear that no one will be getting inside early today. The park will open as they take people's tickets, and there are a few hundred people ahead of me in line. My speed and my wife's ruthlessness will be of no use as we stand helplessly and watch wave after wave of Japanese schoolchildren start ahead of me and no doubt head west to Indiana Jones. And this is how it happens. The ticket takers begin their grim task, and the children in their matching T-shirts take flight, every one of them heading west. One minute passes and then another. My mind races. Perhaps we should change plans right now, head over to Tomorrowland, attack from the back side, and cut our loses. "No," Sharon says. "Stick to the plan." After we hand over our passports ("Have a great day," the ticket taker mocks), we immediately head west at a brisk pace. We arrive at Indiana Jones in time to hear a kid say there is already a 20-minute wait. My heart sinks. But we encounter no line. We walk and walk, each step making my outlook that much brighter. We do not reach a line until we are actually in sight of the staging area. In all, just 11 minutes elapse from the time we arrive at the entrance until we are sitting down on the ride. We are off the ride and away to Splash Mountain by 8:19 a.m. "Bullet dodged," I write in my journal. It is at Splash Mountain that I fully expect to wait. We run there. I have allowed 30 minutes for the ride in my itinerary, but I'm hoping for 20. As we reach the ride, Sharon firmly guides my shoulder, pushing me in front of a party of four and then shoving me up some steps past a man in his 60s. God help me, I love this rude woman. I am giddy. No one is here. From the moment we arrive until the time we disembark, our log ride requires just 13 minutes (8:22 to 8:35 a.m.). I am not only happy but also curiously aware of something bigger than myself at work. All along, I had told people this was possible, but their pessimism-I now admit-caused me if not doubt, then pause. As we jog away from Splash Mountain, the speakers singing "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah," I sense, if not something great, something very good. IMPOSSIBLE. ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLEI know exactly where this journey started. I was seated at my desk, my chair turned to face fellow reporters Anthony Pignataro and Nick Schou with Weekly editor Will Swaim to my left. We were talking about the contrived nature of "extreme" sports, how anything qualifies as "extreme"-extreme beveraging, extreme fabric softening, extreme podiatry-as long as it is videotaped in black-and-white and at unusual angles with neo-punk in the background. "You know what would be really extreme?" I asked. "Going on every ride at Disneyland in one day." And, quite suddenly, the whir, laughter and good fellowship of the moment were lost, and I was assaulted with looks of outrage and rebuke. "Impossible," said Pignataro. "Absolutely impossible." "Whoa," Schou said. Swaim laughed. A nervous laugh. A laugh I've learned to distrust. And he played with his hair. "What?!" came from managing editor Matt Coker, who had been listening from across the room. "Every ride in one day? Naw." Coker spoke with the authority of having worked at Disneyland, though I didn't see how eight hours a day of picking up popcorn gravel gave him any real expertise. I would soon suspect, as was confirmed at the wedding, that my proposition was not only unfathomable, but it also frightened people. Years of standing in line, of following the flapping arms of parking attendants, of paying $2 for an apple had beaten them down and taught them not only to suffer their lot but also to pay pretty and be happy about it. The idea that I would somehow turn that on its ear-make Disneyland my bitch, in essence-ultimately said as much about them and their weakness as it did about my temerity, and they hated me for it. I volunteered for the quest immediately. A planning meeting was held on Aug. 7, three days before our attempt. Along with OC Weekly employees was a current Disneyland employee who was intrigued by the notion but said he had never heard of it being accomplished. We agreed upon some basic ground rules. There are 63 "attractions" at Disneyland, but those include flotsam like arcades and shows that I will not be responsible to attend-no rifle shooting, no Golden Horseshoe Stage, no Starcade. We agreed that there are 43 "attractions" that actually count as "rides," even though many of them do not move. Of the 43 rides, we listed 18 as "E" tickets, which has nothing to do with quality but rather with how much time the ride would eat up. So a banal boat ride like the Columbia became an E because it takes nearly 20 minutes to get around its route, whereas the popular Haunted Mansion is not an E because it is relatively quick. I would have to take each one of these 43, though my companion and support person, Sharon, would not. She could ride with me when she wanted and when it was socially pertinent (a single adult male on the Storybook Land Canal Boat is cause for suspicion). Things went well in the meeting until the Disneyland employee dropped a bomb with the drop of his brow. "You're going on Sunday?" he asked. Yes, we had been told it was the best day to go. "Yeah, the best weekend day, but it's still a weekend." He said Monday would be better. An argument broke out. He called his office and found out that although the estimate for Sunday was 54,000 (50,000 is considered crowded), the estimate for Monday was 60,000. "Oh, only 50,000," said Weekly colleague Dave Wielenga. "That's only the entire seating capacity of Anaheim Stadium let loose at once. Oh, that shouldn't be a problem." We developed a strategy, the main points of which are thus: we will do our best to finish one land at a time after the employee tells us the critical mistake most people make is that they run from one desired ride to another, never taking into account the travel time. "Idiots," Wielenga said. "Taking rides for fun." The employee pinpointed the best times to ride:Early morning. During parades. During the 9:30 p.m. fireworks show and after 10 p.m. Meal times will be kept to a minimum. The employee said the quickest place to eat lunch is the Stage Door Cafe "because the food isn't the greatest." I agree and plan that after gaining time from not sitting, I'll do the E-ticket Big Thunder Railroad. "Oh, you'll be doing Big Thunder after eating at the Stage Door Cafe," said Wielenga, who looks a lot like Jesus-if Jesus had been privy to sophisticated hair-layering techniques. Wielenga believes it will be things like lunch that will test not only our mettle but also our relationship. Eventually, Sharon will tire of this quest, which is, after all, not her own; she'll request such baubles as sitting for lunch and going to the bathroom whenever she wants. I tell him my wife understands the mission, understands that we are partners, that "I'm Hillary, and she's the Sherpa," which I mean in the best possible way. Yes, it's true that when I first told her of my idea, her first reaction was, "Oh, the kids will love that." To which I counseled: "ARE YOU MAD? Did Hannibal have kids? Did Columbus have kids? Was it Lewis and Clark and kids?! NO KIDS!" Swaim and I concur that this trip and the story that would chronicle it will have nothing to do with studying the Disney Co. I have no interest in politics in this regard, I tell him, unless they are the politics of fortitude and courage. He agrees and quotes a military tactician: "You cannot seek revenge and seek territory at the same time." I smile. Easy for him. Like being the MC at a USO show who wishes the boys well in the jungle as he retreats for mai tais with Joey Heatherton. I nod at this frightened man, my "boss." He is full of words, prone to rely on outside forces-mostly his hair-to empower him. And so I do not begrudge him when he abandons me midway through the meeting, chanting: "It can't be done! It can't be done!" I pity him. On Friday evening-less than 48 hours before the planned assault-I began to weaken. I told my wife that I was considering having her peel off immediately when I head to Indiana Jones to deposit some warmer clothes "just in case" in the Main Street "lockers." She listened and offered: "I don't think I want to do this. It doesn't sound like any fun." I stared. "But . . . you must. . . . I'm Hillary; you're the Sherpa." That did not sway her. The next day, she told me she would do it, but she wanted the freedom to "go to the bathroom if I need to." I bolted the room at this clear breach of rank. Later, I allowed that she may go to the bathroom. Marriage is about compromise. When I told her we will have an average of 22 minutes a ride, she shook her head. She was not optimistic. Less than 24 hours before the quest, everyone had abandoned me. No one believed it could be done. Only I. That was enough. ZIP-A-DEE-DOO-DAHIn just a tick over two hours, I have ridden nine rides, concluding with Davy Crockett's Explorer Canoes, a quite literal exercise in lameness where patrons are forced to paddle around Tom Sawyer Island while being taunted by the onboard ride operators. (These operators-or "attractions hosts," in Disneyspeak-are easily the park's most arrogant, which is peculiar, given that each is clad in rubber-soled moccasins and suede Dockers with a coonskin cap shoved in their butt crease for no apparent reason.) I have calculated that we would need to average about 2.7 rides per hour to reach our goal. When we leave the canoes at 10:14 a.m., we are averaging just under 4.5. What's more, our goal of 22 minutes a ride seems absolutely decadent compared with our actual average ride time of 11.3. (The average is no doubt helped by my two-minute power climb up and down the Swiss Family Treehouse, a climb of such fierce resolve that I, regrettably, scare the hell out of a pale German Kind who nervously glances over his shoulder at the oncoming uberAmerican, the boy steadily increasing his pace until, finally, he is taking whole flights of stairs in bounds anxious to return to the loving arms of Mutti.) The plan is working well. Not even the lumbering river boats can slow my pace. As I leave the second of them, the Sailing Ship Columbia, I have ridden 13 attractions, finished off four of the park's eight lands (Adventureland, Frontierland, Critter Country and New Orleans Square), and completed one-third (6) of the E-ticket rides. And I am 45 minutes ahead of schedule. It's my goal to have ridden 13 rides by 1 p.m. When 1 p.m. comes, I have 17 in my pocket as Sharon and I exit the spinning teacups of the Mad Tea Party. Things are going very well, but they're also getting very hot. I had set aside the time between 1 and 7 p.m. to load up on my ride count, to take in as many unpopular rides as possible during these peak hours. We find short lines at Pinocchio's Daring Journey (ride 15-just eight minutes from lineup to leaving) and Snow White's Scary Adventures (16), but we are being pounded by the heat. Much of Fantasyland, where we now concentrate our effort, has its lines exposed. Fourteen minutes exposed to the midday sun in line and on the Casey Jr. Circus Train (14) as well as 19 minutes with Storybook Land Canal Boats (19) takes it out of us. After a quick jog through Sleeping Beauty's Castle (20)-no Germans, thank Gott-we head to Main Street, USA, via the Disneyland Railroad (21). Main Street allows us 20 minutes of air-conditioned refuge in Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln. Sharon naps (though she blurts out, "Stone Phillips? Where?" when the ride op-er, attractions hostess-mentions animatronics in her preshow speech). When we leave Mr. Lincoln at 2:45 p.m., the Hercules Victory Parade is in full-swing. Sharon suggests a bold move. "Let's head over to Tomorrowland," she says. She reasons that since Tomorrowland borders the parade route, many patrons will be drawn away. It's a sound strategy, but if she's wrong, we'll have walked a long way to get caught in the usually crowded, newly revamped land, a land so foreboding that we had restricted most of our activity there until late-night. If Sharon is wrong . . . She's not wrong. The Astro Orbiter has a short line, and in 20 minutes-by 3:20 p.m.-I've ridden my 24th attraction and stolen my ninth E ticket. In my journal, I write: "Loading is sloooow. Can't fit [inside rocket]; knees crushed. All else is wonderful." Then the future screwed me. IT'S A GREAT, BIG FLATULENT TOMORROWAs we head to the relatively short lines of the Tomorrowland Autopia, we notice Innoventions, an attraction I had been assured was not yet operational. Housed in the round, rolling space that used to be home to America Sings, Innoventions is very much operational, as the interminable show-tuney whine of Nathan Lane clearly announces. It's 3:21 p.m., and though I'm ahead of schedule with 24 rides-I had planned on having 22 rides under my belt by 4 p.m.-I am very concerned, mindful that monster rides such as Space Mountain, the Matterhorn Bobsleds, Star Tours, Dumbo the Flying Elephant as well as all of Mickey's Toon Town lie ahead. Sharon and I huddle. Should we get on Innoventions? Is Innoventions even a ride? (Intelligence sources had said it amounted to walking through a convention floor full of new technology.) I had struck a deal of 43 rides-a number many people said was unattainable. Why make things even more difficult? Incredibly, I decide to do it. I do not want an asterisk by my name ("*did not take Innoventions"). I have no desire to be the Magic Kingdom's Roger Maris. We get off Innoventions at 3:36 p.m., with 19 rides still to go and having basically given away 15 precious minutes. It means we must average three rides per hour until closing time, something that could be very difficult, considering the aforementioned time eaters. We head to Tomorrowland Autopia and feel good as we wait just four minutes. The good feelings evaporate as, heading over to Fantasyland, I spy that the Fantasyland Autopia is operational. The Disneyland employee had assured me that the Fantasyland cars would be closed. Now here they are, flatulently puttering all over my plans. The ante had been raised again, this time to 45. I improvise, directing Sharon to wait in line for Dumbo while I run over to the King Arthur Carrousel and get in line. The maneuver figures to buy us some time, but there is a price: there are few places an unaccompanied man looks more out-of-place-cum-threatening than at a merry-go-round. I had been so concerned with strategizing my next few moves that it takes me a few minutes to learn that I am a Dirty Harry villain come to life. I endeavor to fit in. Ahead of me is a single mother with her young daughter. I casually get closer, and I begin stealing glances-knowing glances-at the woman. When the child whines that she wants to be on the ride at that moment, I furrow my brow. It seems to work, with the possible exception of the fact that both the woman and her daughter are Japanese tourists and don't speak a word of English. I take care of this by lending a pleasant tone to my countenance and appearing very open-minded. I'll let people decide for themselves what circumstances threw together these people so obviously in love ("Just look at the way he looks at her." "Yes, and he's so good with the child, even though it's obviously not his"). I exit the ride at 4:11 p.m., join Sharon in the Dumbo line at 4:16, get on the ride at 4:29, and we're off by 4:32 with 28 rides in my bag. After a not-so-quick jaunt on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride (29)-4:33 to 4:57 p.m.-Sharon goes off to enjoy some well-deserved rest. I jump aboard a Main Street horse trolley at 5:04. By 6:02, when I meet up with Sharon, I have knocked off the Fantasyland Autopia (32)-12 minutes, what worry?-Toon Town's Jolly Trolley (33) and the Omnibus (34) on Main Street. We had weathered a tough stretch, but with six hours left in the day, we still have 11 rides to go. We could average a tick under two per hour and still reach our goal. HOMEPeter Pan's Flight (35) and Alice in Wonderland (36) fall by 7:08, and then it's over to Honey, I Shrunk the Audience, a wonderful new 3-D attraction that nonetheless eats up 38 minutes and includes a preshow lineup that looks like the fall of Saigon. From there it's off to the Submarine Voyage, which Sharon fears not for its notorious wait but (on this 95-degree day) what she calls "the B.O. factor." She is relieved when we get onboard and find generous amounts of vanilla wafting about the cabin. I am not relieved when we step from the vessel and find it is 8:57 and we are at 38 rides. Now the game begins in earnest. The big Mulan Parade has started. Per our plan, we head over to Space Mountain and get in a line that says we are 30 minutes back. But seven minutes into our wait, a Disneyland employee informs us that the ride has broken down and will not be running for another 30 minutes. My mind races. On the one hand, we're fortunate that we are still in the outside lineup-leaving is easy-but it now appears we won't be able to take advantage of the Mulan parade to knock down an E ticket. As she has done throughout the journey, Sharon acts boldly. "Let's go to Star Tours," she says. I follow. There is hardly anyone in line. We are in line at 9:13 p.m. and seated on the ride by 9:18. By 9:23 p.m., we have completed it, No. 39-an E!-and are off to the Matterhorn, where we will leave, 40 rides behind us, at 9:57. So here we stand. Two hours left and five rides to go, but very few gimmes. We head off to Toon Town, which is closed during the parade and then reopened. Though there are still a lot of kids in the park at this late hour-"Oh, just shut up!" says one woman to her stroller-bound child of no more than 4-they are not in Toon Town. The inexplicable Mickey's Movie Barn-where small children are sometimes forced to wait more than an hour for a few seconds of audience with Mickey after being shown a few props and moments from his classic cartoons . . . both of them-falls in just 11 minutes. As we head into our meeting with the Mouse, we have more than an hour and 45 minutes to complete the last four rides, one of which, Minnie's House (43), I will complete in an Olympian minute. As we are brought to Mickey, I whisper into his platter-like ear, "We're going to do it." He says nothing, but his mask is a mask of dejection. He knows he has fallen. We hand a camera to a helper, and Mickey raises our hands above our heads: it is a clear act of capitulation, one that he seems a little too eager to make. "Who's the freak now?" I think to myself as I clutch at the wildly gesticulating tiny person inside the plush costume. So confident are we of our success that Sharon departs for Main Street to pick up some things for our children at the company's expense. I continue. Gadget's Go Coaster (42) takes only 12 minutes. Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin (44) falls in a near-incredible 10 minutes, leaving me with an hour and 20 minutes to again attempt Space Mountain. Sharon is still shopping, so I place a call to Swaim. "The summit is within our reach," I say. "Success is imminent." There's a pause, and I assume he is taking in the grandeur of the thing. "What?" Sharon and I get in line for Space Mountain, which again claims it will only be a 30-minute wait. If I am tense, it's only because I'm watching for another Disneyland employee. For the first time all day, someone in line notices me writing in my journal and says, "Are you making some kind of report?" Yes, I say, and leave it at that. Then the woman and her daughter start to list all their complaints of poor service that day, and it becomes obvious that they think I'm in quality control. I nod dismissively and look away. We climb into our sled at 11:19. At 11:22.37 p.m., Pacific Standard Time, we return to the port bay greeted only by a sign that says "Remain Seated Until You Are Assisted by an Attendant" and a kid off to the right screaming: "No go home! No go home!" We have done the unthinkable, and yet those gathered haven't the slightest clue of the moment's significance. Now I know how Jonas Salk felt. But thoughts of my place in history are soon pushed aside when a call comes from home that my daughter has a rash and can't get to sleep. Sharon and I, who were considering riding Indiana Jones again as a symbolic cutting off of the Mouse's ear, head for home. This proves the longest wait of the day. The 5 freeway is closed at La Palma, and by the time we exit, head north, get on the 91, and find that it has been shut down from three lanes to one, the 40-minute trip has taken 90. Already the glow of what has just gone before has begun to fade. It will fade more when I learn that my work colleagues, informed by Swaim of my success, first ask, "How did he manage to cheat?" Such is life. Greatness may be highly prized, but it is frightful and unknowable to most. And so, my friends, ask not, "Could I have done what Steve Lowery did?" Ask, "Would I dare?" Indeed, more than my success, the fact that I dared comforts and keeps me as I sit on the freeway in my minivan-Sharon asleep-crawling in an ocean of normal Joes. That is enough. That and the knowledge that my job is much better than yours.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Orange County, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.