WHEN my brother Dave and his family visited us, we wanted to do something special, so we decided to take a trip to Disneyland. It so happened that the day we chose to go was a day of record attendance at the amusement park. As a result, we often found our attention being drawn away from the features of the park and to the patrons, who were trying to make the best of the extremely crowded conditions. The first thing I noticed on entering Disneyland's Main Street was the high incidence of strategic meetings -- huddles being held by the various visiting parties. Questions filled the air, tough questions like ``What ride do we most want to go on?'' and ``Is it better to go on one major ride, or, with the same investment of time, to go on three or four minor ones?'' Were it not for the distracting squeals of delight emanating from the Matterhorn bobsleds, the day might have been spent in heady debate.
Those squeals, by the way, touched off this question from within our group: ``Is it really worth standing in line for two and a half hours to board a bobsled, just so you can feel your stomach sink to your feet?'' I claimed that it was (although I can get that same sinking feeling simply by making myself the recipient of an enormous restaurant tab).
Nevertheless, our group elected the Pirates of the Caribbean ride as a first destination. On the way there, the pedestrian traffic became so congested that forward motion ceased, and we began to wonder if perhaps we had inadvertently become part of a line.
There were lines reaching into all corners of the park, and many were long enough to intersect with other lines. I suspected that some lines were ``ghosts'' that had gotten started somehow but had no real goal at the end.
Attendants tried to ease the confusion by cordoning off lanes, steering the rows of people into tight convolutions. Viewed from the air, I imagined, the rows would resemble those elaborate garden mazes found on certain baronial estates. We eventually committed ourselves to what we believed was the ``Pirates'' line, but none of us would have been too surprised if, ultimately, we had found it leading to something mundane, like a drinking fountain. If so, at least we could splash a little water on our clothing, thereby duplicating one effect of the ride.
During my 130 minutes in that line, I became increasingly impressed by how well those around me handled the wait. Conversation flowed easily among strangers, creating a sense of community. It was as if we were all members of the same club, a club that required for its entry only tired feet and a good-natured, commiserating attitude. ``Well, anyway, it's a proud day for the owners,'' said one man. ``And for the barbers,'' added his wife, who had spent the last 40 minutes with little choice but to stare at the back of his head. ``You really notice their work,'' she said.
One man seemed to view the line with awe, as if it were, in itself, a major attraction. ``I've never been part of such a huge chain of people,'' he said. The camera he had intended to aim at the Mark Twain riverboat and Sleeping Beauty's Castle was being adjusted for the purpose of capturing our line on film. He took his time, knowing he had a good two hours in which to set up his shot.
At night the crowds lined Main Street to watch Disneyland's Christmas parade. Children sat on adult shoulders or stood on park benches to see. Most folks in our vicinity, not being potential basketball centers, had to catch glimpses of the event through the crooks of elbows or between bobbing heads.
In front of me was a woman who could see nothing but the plaid jacket ahead of her. She experienced the parade secondhand, as her altitudinous son attempted to describe all that passed. This was comparable to experiencing a fireworks display via a radio broadcast, yet she smiled contentedly, as if the panorama were laid out before her on that obstructing plaid jacket. I couldn't see much of the parade either, but I enjoyed the sight of her being able to relish the event despite all odds, and somehow we both left with the feeling that it had been a fine parade.
Our trip to Disneyland was not the amusement binge we had anticipated, because of all the people who crowded the park. But it was an interesting and valuable experience in other ways -- because of all the people who crowded the park.