Preserving Old Disneyland

“Remember when there were always people, but never a crowd?”

This saying comes from a calendar whose theme revolves around the past.  It also reflects how I feel about Disneyland.

As a kid, I thought Disneyland was crowded. I didn’t realize how wrong I was.   Now when I go there, it is so packed with people that it is difficult to be happy at the so-called happiest place on Earth.

As much as I still like Disneyland today, it doesn’t have the same feel as it used to due to the crowds.  It doesn’t seem to matter how high the admission is, money has no effect on thinning out the masses.  Multiple hour long lines for rides and bumping into people when walking around do not make a visit enjoyable.

This thought has been running through my mind ever since I visited “That’s From Disneyland!” a 20,000 square foot temporary exhibit of Disneyland artifacts housed at the old Sports Authority building in Sherman Oaks which will be auctioned off this weekend.

For those of us who grew up with the park, this time capsule of Classic Disneyland is an emotional trip down memory lane, a reminder of simpler and less congested times.

Richard Kraft, a talent agent representing famous composers, has collected a massive number of items from Disneyland over the past 25 years and is now selling them all.  For $150,000, you can go home with a Dumbo from the Fantasyland ride.

What impressed me most about the exhibit was its scope. Never again will one be able to walk into one building and view vehicles from defunct rides, menus from bygone restaurants, posters of rides old and new whose bright colors stir anticipation, as well as artist conceptions of attractions never realized.  There are even some animatronic robots including Jose the parrot from the Enchanted Tiki Room and singing children from It’s a Small World.

When I was a child, my family did not have the wherewithal to take elaborate summer vacations so the one big trip each year was going to Disneyland.   We knew we had to make the most out of that one day, arriving at 8:00 a.m. and staying until midnight.  Back then, we were able to get on most of the rides, an impossible task today.

I was allowed to get one souvenir and each year I chose the same one, a large foldout map of Disneyland, which was continuously being updated with areas labeled “future attractions.”   Some of those places such as “Liberty Square” off of Main Street never materialized.  How strange to see some of these maps framed and mounted on display for sale.

It would be hard to believe that anyone else has as immense a collection as Kraft does.  This makes visiting the exhibit bittersweet because once the auction is over with, all these items will be disbursed to who knows how many people.

Funny how Walt built Disneyland as an idealized facsimile of America at the turn of the 20th century, and now his creation has become an idealized version of mid-20th century America.

What a shame that the Disney company can’t or won’t swoop in like Dumbo and buy the entire Kraft collection.  Keep it there in that building, and with the help of the creative folks at WED, re-imagine the displays like a Smithsonian museum, preserving it for future generations to learn the history of the one park Walt Disney supervised and visited.  Include videotaped testimonies of surviving workers and artists who were there from the beginning as well.

With lines outside waiting to get into this exhibit, it is surprising that the marketing marvels at Disney don’t realize the financial potential that could made from such an endeavor, or can’t see how this would continue the legacy of its founder in preserving the past.



Watch Out for the Other Guys

Do you stop at stop signs?   So few drivers do that Glendale posted temporary electronic signs informing drivers to “stop at stop signs.”   What’s next: “breath in and out”?

Maybe I’m a dinosaur, but I actually stop, not slow down, not a California stop, but an honest to goodness full and complete stop.  About the only place where you see this is at the rides at Disneyland.

I do this even when no one else is around to see me do it.  I want to have the muscle memory to instinctively make full stops just in case a police officer may be around.

Because there are so many four-way stops in my neighborhood, I am extra sensitive to drivers who view the stop sign as optional.  Not a day goes by that I don’t observe dozens of motorists brazenly cruising through with barely a decrease in speed.

Last week city workers were putting on a fresh coat of paint on a crosswalk near a school.  There were orange cones all around this four-way stop as they did their work; they were impossible not to be seen.  Yet a truck driver going 30 miles per hour drove through the intersection as if the stop sign was not even there.  All the workers could do was mockingly applaud as he flew by.

About the only time people slow down or even stop is when multiple motorists arrive at the same time.   Then the merry-go-round game begins figuring out which driver arrived first, which one is to the right, etc.

The other day I pulled up to such an intersection.  Cars were at each of the four stop signs.  To my left was a car making a left turn.   The next driver to go was supposed to be me.   Just as I released my brake ready to enter the intersection, the car immediately behind the one that made the turn quickly followed right behind so closely that it appeared one car was towing the other.

It was one of those eye-popping “did that just happen” moments.  There were at least five other drivers who witnessed that illegal and highly dangerous maneuver.

What was going through that man’s mind behind the wheel?   Obviously, he did not give a whit about the rules of the road and was determined to shave off a few seconds from his commute—to hell with everybody else.

More disturbing is to realize he did not care what anybody there thought of his daredevil antic.  He had no shame or embarrassment.

Those who ignore traffic laws must convince themselves that driving recklessly outweighs the financial penalty of being caught once in a blue moon.

In what little research that exists on the matter, there is no correlation between getting moving violations and changing one’s driving habits.

So, if the law does not alter people’s behavior, the only thing left is for individuals to have a moral responsibility to do the right thing and be courteous of others.   I recognize this is so 1960-ish; however, we all could benefit from more teaching of one’s civic duty both in the home and at school.

One quick fix at four-way stops would be to install speed bumps; at least they would slow people down.

A more draconian solution would be too expensive to implement:  embed spikes into the white lines where cars need to stop.   A computer can detect which car arrives first and if a car makes a complete stop.  Not until that is determined do the spikes recede allowing clear passage.

Until then, it wouldn’t hurt to update defensive driving tip number one: “watch out for all the other guys.”


Fit to be Tied (neck-tied)

File this story under the heading “can’t these politicians think of a more important issue to tackle than this?”

Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris wants to ban companies from mandating that workers wear neckties.

Parris is basing his proposal on a small German study he found online that examined blood flow to the brain in men wearing ties, finding a 7.5% drop in circulation in men wearing the ties compared to the group not wearing them.

First of all, one doesn’t need to have a doctorate degree in scientific methodology to know that a study size of 30 participants is insufficient.  Second, just how tight were those ties tied?

In interviews, Parris expresses a predisposed disdain for ties despite having to wear one as an attorney in the courtroom.  When he came across this shaky evidence that a tie causes harm, he was ready to take a Mission Impossible leap over credulity.

Parris’s law firm focuses on personal injury cases with “over $1.4 billion won” as claimed on its website so it’s not surprising that he is wasting taxpayer time on a nanny state matter such as regulating employers’ dress codes.   By the way, his photo is the most prominent on the website and, yes, he is wearing a tie.

When one looks around and sees how poorly people dress all the time, the last thing we need is a law forcing people to look less dressed up.

We are living at a time when people dress like slobs everywhere they go.  Men’s attire these days often consists of a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops whether at work, attending a theatrical performance or dining at an upscale restaurant.

In “You Are What You Wear: Rude,” Times columnist Meghan Daum wrote that people dress as if everyone else around them were invisible.  They really don’t care what anyone else thinks; “do whatever you want” is the mantra.

Many experts think that dressing up instills confidence and power.  Baltimore clinical psychologist Jennifer Baumgartner told Forbes magazine that “when you dress in a certain way, it helps shift your internal self” similar to actors who by “putting on a costume facilitates expression of character.”   Think of work clothes as superhero outfits.

My wife works from home once a week.   Even though she does not leave the house, she wears business clothes as if she were at her office.  Why?  “It’s a part of my professional attire.”

A 2014 study by the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that when participants wore doctor’s lab coats they not only were perceived smarter, but they made fewer mistakes because of what they wore.  In another example, people dressed in suits negotiated better business deals than those dressed in sweats.

Where I work, I am the outlier wearing sport jackets and ties.  Not even some male administrators wear that attire.  Schools often talk about dress codes for students; there should be one for teachers.

One student teacher I worked with asked me how to dress for Back to School Night.  I told him to wear a tie; he told me that he didn’t own one.  And he was 40 years old.

A much younger student teacher wore concert t-shirts and white sneakers every day to work.  Office messengers would often mistake her for a student and end up giving me the summons.   We would not want to confuse doctors with patients based on how they dressed, would we?

Let’s hope Mr. Parris doesn’t come across a study on the internet concluding that wearing underpants constricts blood flowing to the heart.



Oh How We Could Use Mr. Rogers Today

Summer time is movie blockbuster time, but for those who are searching for a film that doesn’t depict the end of the universe (like any Marvel offering), try “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” the documentary about Fred Rogers, the creator of the long-running “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” children’s show which aired for more than 30 years on PBS from 1968-2001.

How refreshing to see a portrait of a public figure that doesn’t tear apart the image of the person being examined.

Spoiler alert:   It turns out that Mr. Rogers the TV personality was identical to Mr. Rogers the human being.

While I was too old to watch “Mister Rogers” when it first aired, I had a perception of him as a benevolent TV personality who oversaw a little show done with inexpensive sets and sock puppets.  This documentary reveals the thoughtfulness behind his mindset.

Before conceiving his show, Rogers is shown in an old black and white clip talking directly to the camera, musing out loud while on a piano about what he would like to do for children and how he would approach such an endeavor.

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” will make you feel guilty for not appreciating or realizing that Fred Rogers, an ordained minister and amateur child psychologist, was quite talented, writing 900 shows and 300 songs.  He took his job seriously and made it clear that others should likewise be responsible in developing tasteful television shows for children in a comforting and nurturing way; he disapproved of most children’s programming which focused on frenetic and insulting rather than calm and uplifting material.

In a tightly compacted 90 minutes, which includes new interviews with his widow and grown sons, a sense of “wow, what a good man he was” overwhelms you. Through a television screen, he made a direct connection to youngsters by emphasizing their uniqueness at the same time acknowledging their universal fears.  Rogers did not shy away from confronting mature issues such as racism, war, and death.

When observing him interact with kids in personal appearances, he always gives his full attention to what they have to say, something few adults do.  Too many parents ignore their children instead of interact with them, leaving them alone to their own devices, literally.

To hear him speak so eloquently and extemporaneously in front of a U.S. senate committee on funding for Public Broadcasting in 1969 is remarkable.  Mr. Rogers was on a mission to ensure there would be at least one decent TV show for kids on the air.

There are many moments in the film when a viewer’s eyes will fill with tears.  The most poignant one comes near the end when you hear Fred Rogers’ voice asking the audience to take a minute “to think about those who have helped you become who you are today.  Some of them may be here right now.  Some may be far away.  Some may even be in Heaven.  But wherever they are, if they’ve loved you, and encouraged you, and wanted what was best in life for you, they’re right inside yourself.”

To ask such a profound question, and to grant permission to have a minute of silence to think of that person encapsulates the soul of Fred Rogers, a humanitarian for all of us.

However, the saddest part of seeing the movie is that you are overcome with a sense of loss that there is no Mr. Rogers for children anymore.  The positive response to this documentary is proof that people crave someone like him especially in these fractured times.  Who is the savior today in the realm of children’s programming?  The void is heartbreaking.


Hath Not a Republican Eyes?

When a driver cuts you off in traffic, the devil inside you wants to catch up with that discourteous motorist and cut in front of him—tit for tat.  One of those “There, how do YOU like it?”

While this might feel good for about a second, what does this behavior say about the so-called good driver?

This is how I view the recent spate of people ambushing Trump administration officials while they are out in public as private citizens with their families.

Last week, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was refused service at a restaurant.  And Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen had protesters interrupt her meal at another restaurant; some shouted outside her home.

These incidents bring a smile to those opposed to President Trump’s administration and its heartless policies; however, they are trading a pound of incivility for an ounce of revenge.

Is that the best way to respond to someone whose views we don’t agree with, berating them as they eat out or yelling at them where they live?

I wouldn’t want someone who disagreed with my views harassing me as I shopped at a market. It’s like the fans in a sports arena interfering with play on the field.   That’s a red line never to be crossed.

In a speech to supporters, Congresswoman Maxine Waters advocated for more below the belt tactics.

“If you see anybody from that cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station . . . you push back on them [that they] are not welcome anywhere.”

Opposed to that strategy, political commentator David Axelrod said on CNN that “a race to the bottom in terms of civility in our politics is [not] the way to go.”

You end up making those who you revile sympathetic, the opposite of what was intended.   Watching a cell phone video of an adult screaming “Shame on You!” makes these Trump employees appear as victims.

Turning away Sanders resurrects ugly memories of America’s past when African-Americans were refused service at restaurants.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama said it succinctly at the 2016 Democratic National Convention:  “When someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is, when they go low, we go high.”  It used to be the American way.

Intolerance of those who are different—be they of another ethnicity, religion, or political persuasion—counteracts values in our country that this upcoming Fourth of July is supposed to celebrate.

Every citizen is entitled to an opinion.  And every citizen is entitled to privacy.

Send emails.  Write letters.  Make phone calls.  March outside the White House and federal buildings.  Vote your opponents out.

But getting in people’s faces is boorish behavior, the type anti-Trumpers accuse the President of exhibiting.

It’s troubling when our emotions rule our intellect.

Four centuries ago, Shakespeare wrote a poignant speech for his Jewish character Shylock who is victimized by Christians in “The Merchant of Venice.”

“Hath not a Jew eyes . . . hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is?”

Now, re-read the same passage only this time replace “Jew” with “Republican” or “Democrat” or any other kind of people for whom you harbor ill will.

Tolerance for those unlike us embodies the soul of this democracy.


Meet tomorrow’s inspirational young people

With so much ugly human nature saturating our senses these days, I wanted to give my students a different life experience.

At the start of spring semester in January, I created an assignment allowing them to explore the goodness that is within themselves.

Called the Decency Project, the months-long endeavor gave them an opportunity to pursue charitable work in any area of their choosing.  Students could decide to work alone or with up to two other people from any of my four English classes.

During the semester, students turned in progress reports.  Their projects covered a wide spectrum, from working with disabled children and the elderly to feeding the homeless and caring for cancer patients.

Since I have never done this before, I was not sure how I was going to evaluate their work in terms of a grade.  That is why I asked them to answer this question at the end:  How would you feel if I told you that after all your work on this, I decided not to award any points for it?

I was so impressed with their responses that I shared several of them with all my classes so that the students could see how the decency project impacted their peers.  And I listened to them—no grades were given.

It was one of the most powerful moments in my 29 years as a teacher.

While a few students wrote that they would be very disappointed if they did not receive points for this project, over 95 percent of the 135 students said they would be fine without.  Here’s what they said:

“If this project was graded, it would defeat the whole purpose of being a decent person.”

“Soon after beginning my work, I began to not really think of this so much as a school assignment, but an incredible opportunity for me to give back to my community and grow as a responsible, hard-working citizen.”

“Rewarding someone for doing something diminishes the values behind volunteering, turning what should be a selfless act into a selfish one.”

“I would feel very proud and glad if you decided not to reward any points.  Kindness should not be rewarded.”

“It was more of a life lesson than a project.”

The last question students answered in their final report was this:  Looking back over your efforts, was it worth it?

Here are their responses:

“It was absolutely worth it, and I am willing to do it again.”

“This project was an eye-opener as we wouldn’t have normally aided others in such an impactful way.”

“It helped me to become focused on others rather than self-focused, which is a thing we all need to do.”

“We have seen how those that are less fortunate than us live, and we are able to see the world through their eyes now.”

“I felt like I actually put my time, dedication, and hard work on something that became useful at the end.”

“Since the people we were helping were cancer patients, it was quite sobering and it made our complaints of homework seem irrelevant.”

“I am thankful that this project was assigned because of how much freedom was granted.  Students do not get many opportunities to be so creative and self-dependent in projects.”

“Nowadays, there isn’t a lot of kindness going around in the world.  I hope this project motivates other students to do this.”

“This project has shaped me into a humanitarian.”

“I feel more humbled as a person.”

“I have become a better person.”

What a breath of fresh air in today’s times.  I learned how lucky a teacher I am to work with such inspirational students who will be leaders in our society one day.  I am proud of their accomplishments, and I hope the public is, too.


The Not so Great American Read

Ask professional basketball fans to name the best player ever and chances are LeBron James, Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan would appear at the top of that list.  Meanwhile, Wilt Chamberlain, who put basketball on the map, recedes further into oblivion.  People who remember him playing are dying off; footage of him playing is usually in blurry black and white film clips.

Too often people don’t consider history before they were born.  This pitfall can be seen with PBS’s The Great American Read, an eight-part series which encourages viewers to vote for their favorite book of all time based on a pre-selected list of 100 books.

Last week in the opening episode, host Meredith Vieira informed the audience that the list was based on a survey by YouGov that accounted for “gender, ethnicity, age, and region.”

It is that pre-selected list that is problem-some.

Here are some eye-openers about the Yelp-ized list.

While 16 out of the 100 books were published before the 20th century, 18 were published in the 21st century, seven in the past nine years (one from 2016).

Many recent titles were made into movies including the Twilight and Hunger Games series.   So, did those who listed these books actually read them or did they just see the films?

The most dubious selection:  Fifty Shades of Gray.

Surely, the producers could have set some ground rules for the list such as a book has to have been published at least 50 years ago to ensure the title has lasting power.

While Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer made the list, the more adult The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn did not, though it is often referred to as the greatest American novel ever written.

One could argue that as long as people read, it doesn’t matter what the book is.  But it actually does.

If all we wanted was to get people reading, they already do that via tweets, Yahoo headlines, and Facebook posts.   However, the physical act of looking at words is not the same as reading well written books that require concentration and often re-reading, works whose authors took time to craft.

The Pew Research Center survey in January revealed that 24% of all U.S. adults did not read a book in any format in the past year.

Usually the only opportunity for people to read classic books is when a teacher assigns one for a class.  And even then, too many young people bypass the actual text for websites which provide short summaries of chapters.

On the show, many people interviewed said that a book meant something special to them because a character or situation mirrored their lives. Women gravitated towards books written by women about women.

However, one does not have to find a book that is an exact replication of one’s life in order to find it relatable.

When I first read To Kill a Mockingbird, I connected with Atticus Finch even though I was 15 years old, not a father and not from the South.  It was his moral core that resonated with me.

In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, I was with Maya Angelou emotionally when she described the pain she felt when a dentist refused to treat her because she was black even though I am not African-American, female, and have not felt the indignities of racism.

If we all just choose to read books written by people with the same race, religion, and age, we are just like those who only watch and hear programs that espouse their own political views.

Not long ago, Angelenos participated in a Big Read of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.  Such a city-wide undertaking united people in the goal of reading the one book.

And that is truly the power of a writer when you can see yourself in an Oliver Twist or a Ma Joad, a person unlike you who is human like you.