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Princess Visits Fiberglass Fairytale Theme Park
In training for some future visit to Disneyland, Daddy waits in long line for uneventful train
When I was a bit younger than Kina, my parents took me to Disney World; it’s one of my earliest fragments of memory, and I wrote a little bit about that visit back in August of this year—specifically about my father waiting in line for the Dumbo ride on my behalf in the hot Florida sun for what seemed, to him, like hours. I am pleased to tell you all that I, too, have now waited in the sun (California) for a ride (the “Jolly Trolly”) for what seemed, to me, like hours, at a theme park on Kina’s behalf.
Just like Disney World, Children’s Fairyland, in Oakland, is a vast metropolis of half-sized buildings and carnival rides. It actually predates Disneyland by half a decade, and was one of the first theme parks in the country, built by a wealthy cabal of Oakland businessmen to spruce up Lake Merritt. Fanciful fiberglass structures featuring slides, mazes, and ersatz aquariums sprawl out over ten acres. There is a trippy little neon carousel, a famous puppet theater where Frank Oz performed with his puppeteer parents, and a train that travels very slowly in a circle with the circumference of a largish apartment.
Walt Disney actually visited Fairyland, apparently, and then built Disneyland a few years later, which says a lot about both Walt and Fairyland, but also about the difference between the two theme parks. Fairyland’s whole theme is fairytales, fantasies, and rhymes—the old lady who lived in a shoe, the owl and the pussycat, Thumbelina, the three little pigs. Walt’s parks share the same structure but are based on his own animated films—Snow White, Pirates of the Caribbean, Frozen. We’ve come to think of the Disney parks as the ur-themeparks, and of the Disney films as our fairytales, which means we’ve forgotten all about Fairyland and most of the fairytales around which it was built. Nobody remembers Thumbelina. Everybody knows Cinderella.
Those forgotten fairytales serve a purpose. Like all forms of religion, they help us make sense of the chaos around us and give meaning to the tedious bits of our lives, like standing in line, alone, for 45 minutes as you wait for a train you get to ride for only five, and that drops you off exactly where you started. Forgotten theme parks, too, like most religions, are a bit corny and littered with opportunities to turn over a fair amount of money, which brings me to the good news about Fairyland: parking’s two bucks for two hours, and you’re not going to spend more than two hours. Entry is thirteen dollars. Walt really knew how to bleed you dry. Oakland and its fairytales are a steal, by comparison. Visit with your kids next time you’re in town.