My family and I have spent many of our vacation hours and dollars making regular trips to "the happiest place on Earth," Disneyland. These pilgrimages have been pleasant reminders of the simple joys of theme parks. For me, it is the comfort of being in that controlled Disney environment that makes waiting an hour for a two-minute ride worthwhile. It is a distinction I have made over the years between a "theme park" and an "amusement park."
When I was a kid growing up in Colorado, I had access to a pair of well-established amusement parks: Lakeside and Elitch Gardens. It was widely discussed and generally agreed that Elitch's was the "safe alternative," since there was always something a little shady about the folks who found themselves at Lakeside. Bad things happened there. Scary things. It could just as easily have been Urban Legend Land. That's not to say that Elitch Gardens didn't have its own ugly secrets. Anyone who spent any time waiting in line for Mister Twister would at some point be reminded of how local sportscaster Star Yelland's son had died while standing up in the back car. Or was it the front?
Speaking of "Waiting In Line To Die," I remember taking guilty pleasure in walking around Disneyland on one of my early "grown-up" visits, reading a booklet of that title as we wandered from this attraction to that. It felt naughty, but it was all in good ironic fun. Or was it simply good press management and a vast conspiracy to keep the truth from reaching all those mouse-eared tourists?
There was no hiding last night's bad news. Two monorail trains crashed early Sunday morning in the Magic Kingdom section of Walt Disney World, killing one train's operator. Five guests were treated at the scene. Those of us in the know recognize that Disney World is still running the Mark VI trains on their system, compared to the newer, flashier Mark VII trains in Disneyland. We even made a point of asking about the new trains when we were there. The driver grumbled, and made some un-Disney remarks about the way the new machines handled. It seemed strange that the accident occurred with the time-tested and dependable Mark VI. My family and I have made special effort to sit in the nose of all those trains, up there with the driver. Seeing the wreckage gave me pause. Like twenty-two-year-old Danielle Williams, of London who witnessed last night's tragedy. "It's a bit shocking," she said. "Disney seems so perfect." Perfectly deadly.