I, Constipated Robot

Asimo at DisneylandSomething is horribly wrong. I spent most of the day thinking “I wish I weren’t at Disneyland.” Black is white! Up is down! Actually, I guess it’s more accurate to say: Southern California is hot! Disneyland is really crowded during the summer and even moreso after they’ve opened a new ride! So in other words, the world keeps on spinnin’.

I actually had a bona-fide work-related reason to go today, to check out the Virtual Magic Kingdom stuff. I didn’t see a lot, but as it turns out I’m going back tomorrow with a bunch of people from work to get the official tour. So the remaining time was devoted to Space Mountain, and sweating while being touched by small children.

(It was really hot, and kids have no sense of personal space. That’s all I meant.)

The new Space Mountain is wicked awesome. It’s been closed for two (maybe three?) years and just reopened for th 50th anniversary. I could understand someone’s asking, “this took two (maybe three?) years?” because they didn’t make any monumental changes like adding loops or anything. As far as I can tell, the track itself is exactly the same — but then, it didn’t need to be changed. My take on Orlando Space Mountain versus the Anaheim version is that California has the better coaster, but Florida has cooler effects and an overall better “show.” The changes to Disneyland’s add only what’s needed to knock it over the top.

When I first saw the queue, I thought that the whole renovation was nothing more than a minor face lift. There’s new paint, it’s streamlined for FastPass, more lights and neon, and a new video-screen where a somewhat cheesy mannequintronic display used to be. But it turns out that most of the work went into the ride itself, which is exactly where it should’ve gone. They borrowed my favorite effects from Orlando — in particular the cool blue-light tunnel. What used to be a somewhat cheesy spinning laser-light on the lift hill is now a light tunnel done with projections or video screens that is just plain bad-ass. The inside of the ride is much darker; you can no longer see anything but stars.

And the cars look the same, but you can tell they’ve been significantly redone because the sound system is much cooler. They’re really committed to the soundtrack this time, apparently. And the music is cool — I was skeptical they could come up with anything that rivals Dick Dale playing a space surf guitar version of Carnival of the Animals, but the new music works. It’s like an updated version of the “Lost in Space” and “UFO” themes which actually fits in with the new theme better. Overall, it gets a solid A. Only reason it’s not A+ is because it’s a refurbishment instead of a whole new ride. I rode it three times, even though the wait was never shorter than an hour.

I did go to Innoventions for the first time in a while, which got “Now Is The Best Time Of Our Lives” going through my head for the rest of the day. Apart from the VMK, they were showing Honda’s Asimo robot. That was neat almost to the point of being Skynet alarming. They said it can walk 1 mile an hour, which if today is any indication, is faster than 99% of Disneyland guests. BOOM! And it can climb stairs and kick a soccer ball and dance like a fat awkward white guy.

The only reason I can’t get more excited about the prospect is because as nimble as it is, it still does that weird squat-walk. Like it’s always thinking, “If I could… just… fart!

The Accidental Tourist

For this trip, the company put me up in a pretty swank hotel right smack dab in the middle of Hollywood. (I like referring to Disney as “The Company” because it makes it sound like I’m working for the CIA or something). i’ve always wanted to see more of H-town than just the sign and the Capitol Records building from the freeway, but figured I’d have to take a separate trip.

Driving past Warner Brothers studios and the Hollywood Bowl was kind of neat. And the hotel’s right next to Grauman’s Chinese Theater (showing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and across from The El Capitan Theater (Herbie Fully Loaded) (and the extra “the” bugs the hell out of me, right there on a big neon sign and everything). I got the chance to take some quick pictures, ash on the Walk of Fame stars of celebrities I don’t like, and put my hands in Robin Williams’ cement impression. I lied about that last part. They’ve also got some theater that by the looks of the sign is home to “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” but I didn’t linger around that because it wasn’t worth the wait just to get a chance to point at people with disdain or get a glimpse of Sarah Silverman. So instead I went to the Disney Soda Fountain and Studio Store set up conveniently next to the the theater. I considered having my picture taken with a star, but couldn’t decide between Denzel Washington or Pamela Anderson, so I’ll have to come back for that.

I get the feeling that Real business travel is supposed to involve going to a strip club and then getting drunk in the hotel bar and taking a stranger back up to the room for a night of meaningless sex. But looking at T-shirts in a Hot Topic window, taking pictures of a theater, having an ice cream sundae, and then heading back to the room to watch Cartoon Network and read Harry Potter, is just as bad-ass, I’m sure. Besides I’ve got to keep up to the standards of The Company.

Who’s a great big birthday boy?

While I was getting my annual pass from the Disneyland Bank, the effusively friendly lady behind the counter took my ID and got all excited. “Happy birthday!” she exclaimed while grabbing a sticker and asking me what name I wanted written on it. I tried to point out that Monday was my birthday and wearing a sticker on Thursday felt like cheating, but she said, “That’s your birthday on the outside. From now on, today will be your Disney birthday!”

So she wrote “CHUCK” in big letters with circles on the ends and drew stars all over it, and the rest of the day I got to walk around Disneyland with a big birthday sticker. All day people kept wishing me a happy birthday — cast members and other guests both — and would point out where to get free stuff or just take extra time to be social. What could’ve been a boring day walking around theme parks alone turned into a pretty awesome Disney birthday. And people wonder why I like Disney so much.

The “point” of the whole trip was to check out what had been done for the 50th anniversary and, secondarily but just as important for tax purposes, to see if anything conjured up ideas that seemed applicable to the project. The park looks really nice, and they’ve done a great job of making it feel like a big event is going on. The emphasis is on Disneyland itself, instead of the characters or movies that usually take the focus, and since I’ve always been a bigger fan of the parks than the movies, it all worked for me.

“Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln” has been replaced (I asked the host if it were permanent, but he said that Mr. Lincoln would definitely be back after the 50th) with a display on Disneyland history and a short movie hosted by Steve Martin and Donald Duck. The movie’s very clever and well done; they avoided the schmaltz and corny humor and just went with the “Disneyland is pretty cool” angle. And the display wasn’t just a repeat of all the same stuff they always drag out; most of the pictures and models and such, I’d never seen before.

And the new fireworks show is just great. Again, they kept the “Remember the magic of the dreams of a child’s wishes and imagination” stuff to just the beginning and the end, and kept most of it related to the park itself. They used lots of audio from the original rides and have a segment of the show themed to each of the lands. All of the effects are spectacular, like the huge fireballs for the Indiana Jones segment; and many of them are really clever, like the sparklers and fx going off all around the castle representing the Frontierland shooting gallery.

It was exhausting (I ended up just falling asleep when I got back from the airport & lunch on Friday), but a lot of fun. Now I just have to head back once they’ve re-opened Space Mountain.

Back to School

My first day on the new project is over, and it went pretty well as far as I can tell. I’m really excited about the project itself (which I can’t say anything about because of all the NDA’s and such), although that excitement is probably causing me to show off more of my Disney fandom than I’d like to. Hey, my career strategy so far has been “try to get a job at a company you’re a fan of and then work the hell out of it until you’re burnt out,” and that’s worked out okay so far.

The environment seems to strike a good balance between professional and super-talented, and laid-back. I’m still wary of getting too excited about any job after working for LucasArts, but so far all signs point to yes.

There’s going to be more travel down here to LA than I’d expected, but that’s probably an advantage. The bad side is my anti-LA bias that I’ve already made apparent; the good side is that it’s nice to actually see the people you’re working with. Plus, it should help structure my time better than “wake up, pour Coke, smoke cigarette, turn on computer, begin working.” And of course all that time spent on BART and at airports is life-affirming, in much the same way that people waking up from year-long comas resolve to live more fulfilling lives.

So now I’ve just got to figure out what to do with any down time in LA I might have. I’ve gotten some suggestions so far that I’ll try to check out. I’m not much of a club guy anyway, and going to nightclubs alone in a foreign city seems… well, I’ll probably end up doing it, but not until I’ve exhausted my theme park opportunities. The LaBrea Tar Pits are out because I hate redundancy; I would only go there to use a nearby ATM machine and type in my PIN number. And Santa Monica and the coast are out because I don’t like beaches (so I guess you could say I’m a playa hater)*.

*If you’re here from a link on the SDMB: yes, that’s the second time I’ve used that lame pun. Get your own blog if you think you can do better!

Some Alone Time with Mickey

You’ve just quit your job, spent a month unemployed, and turned old! What are you going to do now?

I’m going to Disneyland on Thursday, which proves that even something as awful as having to go to Los Angeles can have a silver lining. They’ve had a big 50th Anniversary celebration, and I’ve been curious to see what all is going on, but afraid to go because of the crowds. Hopefully on a weekday, it’ll be less insane. (Walt Disney World over the week after Memorial Day was nuts).

Used to be that the idea of going to a Disney park by myself would just seem miserable, but now I’m actually kind of looking forward to it. I hope that’s a sign that I’m just getting more mature, not that I’m getting more creepy anti-social.