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Disneyland and Vegas, haunted by a saffron-faced mook

A sharp pop cracked inside the main cabin and the Boeing 737 tilted left — bump-thump — but quickly swung back into its path. Dozing heads bounced gently along. I happened to see that perfect zigzag of a bolt as it shot from the rainy dark and zapped the wing just outside my window. I was old Will Shatner in that Twilight Zone episode, seeing shit out on the wing.

The kid with short blond hair in a UA sweatshirt seated beside me had that weird energy of an EDM kid who'd been up for three straight days. He witnessed the lightning, too. Shook his head and yanked his earbuds out.

"Let it go down, man," I said to him. "I'm fuckin' ready."

"God, bring it on," he said. His voice lifted. "Bring it down!" Dude was ready.

We didn’t know each other, but for an unsaid bond: The fright of dying was less than the fright of living. The present and future's pretty ugly, tainted by that saffron-faced mook in office. Some of us are the first to cave, ready to go down. To welcome death with such ease is no way to live, man.

The lightning hit us outside of Vegas. We landed there fine. Our Southwest airliner (flight 4451, Tucson to Burbank) was pulled from circulation. We were corralled into the terminal at McCarren International and told by the flight purser that we may or may not get another flight that night.

The bewitching whir and beeps of slot machines and smell of cooked flesh made me ill. No revelers here. Felt like a hangover. This ain’t old self-effacing Dino, this is new new Vegas, intellectually stunted, overtly masculine and militant. The allegorical gag was too easy: Struck by lightning and grounded in Vegas. The new American experience, stranded in a terrifying new era.

My Vegas friends can’t figure why they live there. They know it’s mostly a suicide run filled with aging Republican porn stars turned desperate escorts and disgraced alcoholic surgeons and an economy based on casino tragedies. Its ugliness demands attention; Vegas is Donald Trump. Which means there’s no place for you if you’re poor. Cash'll makes your soul sick. The fake tropics, the bloated hotels and mansions with attendant lakes and golf courses. Forget parks or arts or anything beautiful because 24-hour desires for quick wealth is religion. The same dismal trance of celebrity and greedy desires that drew Trumpies to voting booths. Everything's enclosed and secured, entertainment motivated by fear, suspicion. Feels so damn right wing. The heart dies easy here. And there’s nowhere to walk.

After an hour, Southwest found a plane and assigned us a gate for a flight to Burbank. It was still Friday the 13th and the high winds and cold rain persisted but the storm clouds parted slightly and a full moon shone down. Needless to say, I was happy not to spend the night.

The next night, a Disney baptism. Splash Mountain. A white-knuckled flume ride that sees riders is fake six-seater logs that lift, drop and splash. It's loosely based on the '46 Disney movie, the decidedly un-PC Song of the South, and great old folk tales starring Uncle Remus. Animatronic figures play off southern stereotypes.

Splash Mountain played tricks. I saw a fuzzed out two-dimensional place where bigoted billionaires and Trumps run the land from 30-story hotel pyramids. Dear god, maybe I'll adopt their ways, get stupider. Turn into an anthropomorphized animal, get depicted as hillfolk — a mindless gator, pig, or frog, or a chicken doing the can-can. I’ll shout "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" to mock misery of others, like how they lampooned us as we rode through in water-logged shoes. As we exited they sang, "My oh my, what a wonderful day/Plenty of sunshine heading my way." The January night grew frigid—even for Southern California—and rainy.

Splash Mountain captures the glory and romance of Disneyland, and its punishment. Trump associations sacrilege, asshole me. It’s Disneyland, a kingdom forever filled with sugary hope and tender warmth of recognition. It hasn't changed much since that Christmastime vacation with my father and siblings years ago, a day so beautiful to me as a kid that Disneyland became a myth, a place nearly too painful to revisit.

But I'd never seen Disneyland hopped up on such kindness, its employees and thousands of patrons. Maybe it was the pixie dust? Queues of children and young teens and mad dads neither unruly or frenetic. No stodgy drunks. Saw security folks calmly guide fatigued moms, wheelchair folks and lost kids through thick crowds. A kind of stillness hung over all of it. Wasn’t used to that, not from previous visits, or anywhere crowds gather with children to spend scads of money. It’s because of Trump. People of all ethnicities treat each other with newfound courtesy, as if he'd inadvertently — no, miraculously — brought people together out of fear. It's a Small World, if you will. Sounds quixotic, but Disneyland, a bloated commercial concern if ever there was one, is still filled with possibilities, an air of anticipation and hope, and as far as American pop culture goes, it's downright old world, a sort of anti-Vegas. It's no wonder Disneyland exists — it opened in '55, a refuge from McCarthyism, a front against fear.

The line lasted 25 minutes before we climbed into the Matterhorn bobsleds. This rollercoaster rip through the famed Swiss mountain peak is a childhood fave, and I was happy to learn it hadn't lost any thrills. It pulled and jerked, cut left, cut right, and pushed the stomach to the throat. You’ll recall the ride stars that abominable snowman, the gluttonous beast who comes off all scary and mean. As we picked up speed, the beast appeared, just a shadow behind ice, his growl Metallica-loud. He second appearance shocked because he was full form — tall and white and baring teeth, arms outstretched, claws ready. The third time ... man, we were flying on that track ... and we had his number. Just an ugly old dirty white dumbass with a one-note way of communication, and we laughed at him.

Several days later I watched on streets and screens millions of women protest Donald Trump, and peacefully uphold a forgotten dignity of what it's like to live in America, and remind us all how the universe is female. Anyone with balls should be grateful to be here at all.


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