It’s a Downtown Stakeout
by Mark H. Bloom with Jason Scholder
Once upon a time, near an inland empire far, far away, the mouse that roared (and sang and danced) got its own amusement park. The result — Disneyland — changed the face of Anaheim, California, forever. Back then, Orange County was nothing but orange groves and bungalows. Poodle skirts, saddle shoes, and necking were still the fashion.
Over the years, though, Disneyland has aged with the rest of us. Kids still love it, but how many times can a grownup tolerate Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride?
To remedy the situation and boost its flagging receipts, the powers behind The Mouse built an adjacent park called Disney’s California Adventure. For a separate admission, adrenalin junkies can get their fix on rides like California Screamin, Mulholland Madness, and Orange Stinger. The new park lacked only one thing: success. Disney returned to the drawing board.
The result was Downtown Disney, a 20-acre knock-off of Universal Studios’ CityWalk. But while Universal Studios sits near metropolitan Los Angeles, Downtown Disney is located in Anaheim, which is … where exactly? Actually, it’s about an hour south of LA, in the middle of what would otherwise be considered “Nowhere.”
Like CityWalk, Downtown Disney has a pedestrian-only promenade that connects shops, restaurants, and even — contrary to Disney corporate precedent — bars and nightclubs. And Downtown Disney is completely free. Yes, that’s right: believe it or not, Disney does not charge admission.
This didn’t happen to me, but it has happened countless times. Imagine this end to a perfect day. You hit all your favorite rides, you survived a Justin Timberlake concert, your kids think you’re the greatest dad ever, and you actually remember where you parked in a maze of colors, letters, and numbers. Your plush hotel-room bed is just a two-minute drive away. As your kids sink into the backseat, your wife beams at you like the hero you’ve always wanted to be. You ease the car into gear and follow signs to the freeway.
That’s when your animated fantasy spins out of control like a loose reel in the projector. Flashing blue lights appear out of nowhere, fill your mirror, and illuminate the night. Your heart pounds inside your chest like the bilge pump in the Titanic. Inadvertently, you curse out loud.
Your wife shoots you a glare as if it were you who’d hit the iceberg, and the kids bounce upright, suddenly eager to see you arrested.
You cup your hands in front of your mouth to administer the Woody Allen breath test. “This can’t be happening,” you say to yourself, as the scent of whiskey sours fills your nostrils. Faking a smile, you prepare a G-rated exchange with the approaching officer, who side-steps his way toward your door, one hand on his taser and the other wielding a flashlight the size of the wicked witch’s wand.
You’ve been snared, courtesy of The Mouse. Cops descend on the area after dark, lying in wait for unsuspecting tourists. For lawmen, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel because, as it turns out, there’s only two ways out of Downtown Disney: one way onto the freeway and into the waiting arms of the California Highway Patrol or another way onto the streets of Anaheim and into the long arms of the Anaheim Police Department.
If luck is on your side, you’ll get a ticket and an invitation to explain your story to the judge. Say the wrong thing, however — hum the wrong song, skip a letter of the alphabet, lose your balance, or touch your finger to your chin instead of your nose — and you’ve bought yourself a ticket to a very different ride: one that will pull you, spinning and lightheaded, all the way through the justice system. Thanks, Mickey!
Lessons Learned: Driving Under the Influence, a nasty crime with severe penalties, is big business in this land of fairytale castles. Don’t do it. Not in California, not in Michigan, not anywhere in the US. Find yourself a designated driver or call a cab. Honestly, it would be cheaper to hire a lawyer to drive you around all night than to have to pay him after you’re caught. The inside of a jail cell is a small, small world, and just like the Disneyland attraction, the ride seems to last forever.
Mark H. Bloom is a published writer and editor originally from Salem, MA, aka The Witch City, which is a tourist destination without the rides. Mark now resides in the magic mountain town of Asheville, NC. He entertains himself by writing creatively and professionally, editing books, and doing video work. Get in touch with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.