Chapter 5: FEAR AND LOATHING IN DISNEYLAND
Sunday 2nd September 1984, and after breakfasting alone in the hotel buffet
and checking out the fanroom, I wandered down to the huckster room and over to
the tables provided at one end for the use of various convention bidding groups.
Britain was bidding for the 1987 Worldcon, so throughout L.A.CON II the Britain
In '87 table was manned by various of the British fans over for the con. This
naturally included me, and so I relieved Peter Wareham, who must have risen very
early that morning to have covered the first shift. No sooner had Peter left
than I was joined by fellow-Brit Chris Atkinson and Australian fan Justin
Ackroyd. Chris, impressed by Justin's selflessness in helping us, declared:
"I've never met an Australian fan I didn't like."
"I could introduce you to a few you'd hate." replied Justin,
helpful as ever.
We sold a few memberships but businesss was slow, so at noon I wandered over
to room Pacific 3B and to a panel titled 'SF and Comics -- The Mutual
Influence'. This was chaired by Len Wein and featured Marv Wolfman, Marty Pasko,
Gerry Conway, Mark Evanier, and Sharman DiVono, the last pair doing most of the
talking. DiVono was very beautiful, and presumably reasonably bright if she was
making a living as a writer, but this last was a little hard to believe given
some of the nonsense she came out with. I found myself muttering quiet retorts
to some of what was being said, but not quietly enough that they didn't get an
amused response from some of those near me, that response in turn drawing
irritated looks from the stage. At one point the various writers were talking
about what influenced their writing, which were the sorts of things that
influence everybody's writing, but DiVono was having none of this and claimed
that she wasn't "... influenced by anything except what's inside of me",
"I'm a writer, and I write with my heart!" she explained.
"A typewriter would be less messy." I commented, much to the
amusement of the guy next to me.
"I wish you were up there instead of some of them," he said.
When people start confusing low sarcasm with high wit it's time to leave. So
I did. I'd had enough of the panel anyway. If all this sounds a little
ill-tempered, well it was. I still hadn't recovered properly from
jet-lag and so was grumpier than I should have been.
The TAFF/DUFF Auction held in the fan lounge at 2pm was a bit of an
eye-opener. A few items were sold for TAFF but their number paled into
insignificance against the vast amount of material being auctioned off for DUFF.
This was due mainly to the indefatigable Joyce Scrivner who seemed to regard
DUFF as some sort of pet project and had brought along piles of stuff. However,
what little TAFF material there was fetched decent prices. My stick of
CHANNELCON '82 rock was bought for some ludicrous amount by Jane Hawkins
(possibly my description of it as "this big pink thing" helped the
sale) as was my Welsh-English phrasebook, which was knocked down to Amy Thomson.
Some months earlier, Graham Charnock had given me six assorted issues of
WRINKLED SHREW (none of them the issue I was then missing myself, unfortunately)
and these too went for gratifyingly large amounts with the most being paid, not
surprisingly, for issue #7, which I regard as quite possibly the best single
issue of any fanzine produced in the 1970s. Larry Carmody had deputised Stu
Shiffman to go as high as $15 to get it for him, and in the end he secured it
for $14. Larry later explained that he in turn had been agenting for Alina Chu,
a curious arrangement. I wonder if he got an agenting fee?
With all the TAFF material having sold I left the auction early in the
company of Rich Coad, Stacy Scott, Sheree Carton, Allyn Cadogan, and Carissa
Enzenbacher -- the 15 year-old daughter of Allyn's huckster friend, Dale
Enzenbacher. It was time for us to head over to the Magic Kingdom.
View of Disneyland from Harbour Blvd - really!
Although Disneyland was on the next lot to the hotel it was not as short a
trip from one to the other as I'd have liked since the Disneyland car park lay
between them. Bearing in mind the custom such a place attracts, and the fact
that everyone in Los Angeles travels by car, you can imagine just how
big it was. The heat reflecting off that black asphalt plain was murderous, and
as we trekked across those endless acres I thought I was going to die. Nor were
matters helped by the fact that I was wearing black shirt and trousers and
hefting a heavy tweed jacket. I always wear much the same clothes regardless of
the weather (which doesn't really vary vastly in the UK) but I was beginning to
think that maybe this wasn't such a sensible policy after all. Disneyland was
visible all the while, shimmering through the heat-haze ahead, and -- eventually
-- we reached it. We had an unpleasant surprise waiting for us, however.
At the gate Sharee was refused admission because her mohawk haircut violated
Disneyland's 'dress code'. We were all outraged by this and decided that if
Sharee wasn't good enough for Disneyland then maybe we weren't either. Sharee
would have none of this however, and insisted we go ahead and have a good time
since she had been half expecting this reaction anyway. As I watched her set off
back across the parking lot, I reflected on how odd it was that a style which
wouldn't attract a second glance in London (if not for the fact that Sharee was
an attractive woman) should be deemed so outrageous in California of all places,
and particularly in Disneyland. Walt may have been a visionary, but it seemed
that his heirs were the product of small-minded middle America. (Some years
after this, Disney bought the Queen Mary and announced that henceforth all of
her crew must be clean-shaven since this too was required by the corporate
dress-code. I have nothing but admiration for those of the crew, many of whom
who had been with her more than twenty years, who resigned rather than knuckle
under to this infringement of their rights. I wonder what the moustachioed Walt
would have made of it all?)
While the attitude of Disneyland may have left a bad taste in the mouth, the
place itself was incredible. The entrance booths opened out onto 'Main St.,
USA', a highly picturesque representation of homey Americana that featured a
series of shops carrying a wide variety of Disney merchandise and other goodies.
The extreme heat made ice-cream our first buy. Croggled by the huge queues for
most every ride (well it was Labor Day weekend after all, the busiest of
the year), we decided to wait in line first for the monorail, all the while
watching the submarines on the adjacent ride that travelled on tracks below the
water. Actually, the monorail turned out to be a good first choice since its
two-and-a-half mile ride out to the Disneyland hotel took in a fair bit of the
park itself. From our elevated vantage I was particularly impressed to note how
the various rides interacted with one another, a feature which added to the
illusion of the park as an organic whole, part of one ride being an element of
the scenery for the next.
The monorail and Disneyland submarine
For our second ride we chose 'Flight to Mars' not, as you might think,
because of its obvious SF connection, but because it was close to the monorail
exit and didn't have a large queue outside. On entering we were ushered into a
room overlooking a full-size replica of NASA's flight control room at Houston
where an automaton called 'Mr Smith' led us through the background to our
'flight'. This was my first look at one of Disney's automata, and I was
impressed. 'Mr Smith' was obviously not a real human being, but he was still a
lot more lifelike than most of Margaret Thatcher's cabinet. The 'flight' itself
involved us being led into a circular room, supposedly the interior of a
spacecraft, and taking our places in the banks of seats that receded,
amphitheatre-style, into its upper reaches. With the aid of a voice-over and
images flashed on various screens, we were taken on a short 'flight' to Mars,
one given a certain added verissimilitude by the way our seats vibrated on
'take-off' and 'landing'.
"This ride is just an air-conditioned, audio-visual bum-massage!"
I commented to Allyn after we'd 'landed'. While entertaining, 'Flight to Mars'
was more in the way of an 'educational experience' than a proper ride, an
accusation that couldn't be levelled at the next attraction we visited.
Back in Britain, both Alun Harries and Linda Krawecke Pickersgill had
recommended I visit Disney's 'Pirates of the Carribean' and when I saw the sign
outside ("See fun-loving Pirates sack and burn a Carribean Seaport") I
knew that this was the ride for me. And Jophan found that it was so. We climbed
into one of the cars and the ride started with a couple of water-chutes before
we floated (actually, our car rode underwater rails) into the area where the
pirates were sacking the port. The effect was total, a large galleon manned by
pirate automata 'sailed' over to to the seaport to engage its automata
defenders, cannons firing and explosions sending water shooting into the air
around us. Overhead, stars appeared to twinkle in a night sky and it would not
have been too difficult to imagine that you really were in the middle of
a ferocious sea-battle. Amazing.
Still a little stunned after the last ride, we wandered along one of the
paths bordering the circular 'river' around which a full-sized galleon and
paddle-steamer rode majestically, even such large craft as these riding on
underwater rails. Disneyland is divided into a number of smaller theme-parks
called 'Tomorrowland', 'Frontierland', 'Adventureland', and 'Fantasyland' with
smaller areas called 'Bear Country', 'Main Street, and 'New Orleans Square' in
between. 'Flight to Mars' had been in 'Tomorrowland' and 'Pirates of the
Carribean' off 'New Orleans Square', but now our wanderings took us into 'Bear
Country' and specifically to something called the 'Indian Trader Shop'. We
stopped to stock up on souvenir junk and I made sure to pick up enough postcards
showing views of Disneyland to both send to people in the UK and to augment the
photos I was taking. Allyn came up and began looking at the cards on an adjacent
rack that featured early photographs taken of various American Indian tribes.
She chose one and went over to the counter to pay for it. Watching her had made
something click into place in my mind, and I turned to Rich.
"Is Allyn part-Indian?" I asked him, contemplating her striking
"No, she's French-Canadian," he assured me.
Seconds later Allyn returned and showed us her purchase: a photo of a
"Look," she said, "a genuine picture of one of my ancestors!"
Chortling, I jotted down this exchange in my notebook. Rich looked
"Are you really gonna write about something that makes me look real
dumb?" he asked.
"Yep." I replied, smugly.
After a round of cheeseburgers (called 'Lumberjacks') at the Hungry Bear
Restaurant we started to tire of the relentless backwoods-style of Bear Country
and so wandered back towards New Orleans Square. On the way we stopped at
'Haunted Mansion' and, after waiting in another huge queue, took a fascinating
ride. It wasn't in the least frightening -- nor intended to be, I imagine, given
the number of infants who visit it -- but some of the effects were very
impressive, particularly the hologram ghost that materialized between you and
the person next to you at one point, or at so it appeared in your reflection in
By the time we emerged it was close to 8pm and we had to decide whether to
rush back to the hotel to catch the Hugo Awards ceremony or to stay on in
Disneyland. Being trufans all we had no real choice of course ... we stayed at
After riding the Mark Twain Riverboat, we realised that the moment of truth
had arrived. It was time to ride one of the two rollercoasters, 'Space Mountain'
or 'The Matterhorn', even though these had the biggest queues of any of the
rides. We chose The Matterhorn, mainly so that we'd be in a good position to
watch the firework display that went off over the 'Sleeping Beauty Castle' at
9pm every night, the same display that had greeted me on my way in from the
airport three days earlier. This was even more spectacular up close than it had
been from Harbor Boulevard, and in the middle of it all 'Tinkerbell' flew
overhead, about 60- 80 feet above us, riding down a wire stretched between the
tip of the Matterhorn and the top of the castle.
The rollercoaster ride, when we eventually made it to the front of the
queue, was exhilarating if -- ah -- violent. I came out with a headache, Rich
with a dislodged contact lens, and Allyn with a sore mouth where Carrissa's head
had been thrown backwards and butted her. A great ride! Nursing our wounds, we
wandered back to Main Street and joined a queue for food.
Rich Coad on Main Street
"This is just like Soviet Russia," grumbled Rich, voicing a
criticism seldom if ever made of Disneyland. I asked him to explain.
"You have to queue for everything!", he wailed.
It was getting late, so Rich and I decided to return to the hotel for some
serious partying. Carrissa was already in line for the Matterhorn again so Stacy
and Allyn elected to stay with her. As we left the Magic Kingdom, Rich and I
bought Donald Duck hats, baseball-style caps with Donald's bill forming the
peak, his eyes peering over it, and a 'tuft' on top.
"Hey, these are really cool!" Rich enthused, looking as ridiculous
in his hat as I probably looked in mine. I'd enjoyed Disneyland, but I couldn't
forget the way Sharee had been refused entry. In its way Disneyland, for all its
high-tech gadgetry, is a temple to the values of 1950s America and to that
period's vision of the perfect family. Given such a rigid and conservative
mindset, I was not surprised when, some months after I returned to the UK, those
who make the fantasy work, the staff of Disneyland, went on strike citing such
real-world concerns as low pay and lousy conditions. "Mickey Mouse is a
Republican!" Roy Disney declared during the 1988 Presidential election. I
rather fear he may be right.
Rich & Allyn in Adventureland
Rich and I parted in the hotel lobby and, having been in Disneyland when
'the word' was passed along the grapevine, I then spent ages wandering corridors
in search of a party. Noticing movement on the fourth floor I investigated and
bumped into Larry Carmody, who furnished me with a list of the night's parties.
Thus armed, I dropped in briefly at the Australian party before settling in at
the Britain In '87 soiree. Collapsing into a chair, I decided to let people come
to me (and they did, too).
After a while a sizeable contingent of those present moved off to Ted
White's room, and soon after we got there Allyn and Stacy returned from
Disneyland. They insisted on telling me how much better a rollercoaster than the
'Matterhorn' 'Space Mountain' was. Yeah, sure.
This was the end of L.A.CON II. Tomorrow everyone would be going home and
some of them, I realised in an uncharacteristic moment of misty-eyed
sentimentality, I was unlikely ever to see again. This trip, and this
convention, would almost certainly be one of the high points of my life, one of
those memories that looms large for the rest of your days. Standing back, I
gazed about the room drinking it all in, taking a mental photograph of an event
that was all too fleeting. Already it was breaking up, and I found myself saying
my goodbyes to those who were flying out early the next day, including Larry and
Alina who wouldn't be returning to New York until after my visit to that city.
I stayed up as long as I could, taking in as much as I could, but the party
like the convention was drawing inexorably to its close. At 2.30am, wistful but
content, I retired to my room for the final time.