If you follow my twitter feed, you might have noticed that I spent today at Disneyland. I’m in SoCal this week doing various things like signing new rental agreements with a tenant but I’m also taking advantage of this to spend some time at the Mouse Park as well.

It is very surprising to me to find I haven’t been to the park in a decade. Growing up near the park, it was always a big part of my young life, and  in fact I worked for the mouse from 1976-80, some of it seasonal, some of it full time, in the warehouse, either picking orders for delivery to the stores, or delivering stuff. Mostly swing or graveyard work, and for one summer I ran the parts crib for the maintenance team on graveyard, meaning I was in and around the park during the closed times and got to know the maintenance guys, so I had some ability to explore inside the rides when they needed some help getting parts delivered on an expedited manner (which occasioanlly got me written up for leaving the crib to do deliveries, not explicitly in my duties. But still… having lunch inside the Pirates of the Caribbean at 3AM? Watching the sun come up from the peak of the Matterhorn? I’ll take the occasional written reprimand…)

One nice thing about working at the park was free access when you weren’t working; I spent a lot of time inside the park, and once simply didn’t go home for three days, working the graveyard shift and then heading into the park for the day, napping either on the train or in the movie theater and showering in the locker room. by the end of day three I was a bit loopy, but man, it was fun.

One fun side effect of easy access to the park was easy access to the entertainment. At that time, Disney had a lot of the touring swing bands coming in and playing at Carnation Gardens off main street, which meant every year I got to sit 20 feet away from groups like both Glenn Miller Orchestras. Most special was that every year, Count Basie loved coming and playing so his touring group always showed up. My appreciation for swing music continues to this day thanks to the park.

So, why disneyland as soon as I start this sabbatical? Not just the commercial, although, why not? Some of it is reconnecting to my past; some of it is that I wanted a chance to really push my limit and where better than there? (for the record, I made it four miles before the knees and feet said enough, which beats my mileage for the last couple of Cisco Live’s, so things are slowly moving forward).

And I love wandering Disneyland and watching people there and seeing how the place changes over time — if you want to study a company that both is strongly rooted in the past but not afraid to update to match present interests and trends, study Disney park operations (another reason to study them: logistics. Just sit on Main street and watch them magically turn it into a parade route and then tear it all down again in five minute once the parade moves through).

Another reason I went: I could. Not only am I not working, but one challenge I had visiting mom the last few years is she really, really wanted me to be with here when I was in town, which meant any time I tried to schedule something else during a trip it tended to turn into a fight. I can’t count the number of lunches and coffees I cancelled or rescheduled with friends down here, until I stopped trying to schedule things. And while I understand completely her feelings and I did what I could to support it, as you might imagine, it wasn’t particularly fun for me. So now, when I get down here, I can start catching up on long-delayed things, like going to Disneyland..

Didn’t do many rides today; I did check out Pirates to see how they integrated Jack Sparrow into it, and I caught the show at Golden Horseshoe (another bit of Disney history for me — the new show has a few echoes of the classic Wally Boag era, but it’s a very different show), but mostly, it was wandering around, watching people and walking. I caught the celebration parade and the flag ceremony — where the 1950’s magically appears at the end of the day to take down the flags for the evening — and after that, my legs told me they’d had enough.

Most amusing thing: the animatronic seagulls in the sub ride lagoon randomly yelling MINE (from finding Nemo), and in general, looking at how Disney is both able to be true to the history of the company and the park while updating itself to modern themes, characters and trends — the Tiki Room (my first stop) is basically unchanged from the 1960s, but other parts, like the treehouse, have been completely redone; not Swiss Family any more, now Tarzan. Part of me wonders how they decide things need this kind of change, but in reality, I think the answer is “butts in seats”, and when something stops being relevant people stop using that ride, and it’s time to update it.

And yes, I geek Disney more than I probably should, but it’s a fascinating place. One other thing I’ll note from my last visit a decade ago is how much they’ve improved their food choices and are now including healthy options. Nice to see…

I have another day on my pass, so, knees willing, I may go back again this trip. I really ought to explore downtown disney, but it was time to head home and sit, so I decided it can wait — California Adventure? I’ve been there once, I was whelmed. I should probably see if they’ve made it more interesting…