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Disneyland After Dark

Last week I chaperoned a graduating high school class of 2009 to Grad Nite, an exclusive all-night party at Disneyland.

Tiny photos taken at night on an iPhone

Last week I chaperoned a graduating high school class of 2009 to Grad Nite, an exclusive all-night party at Disneyland. My teacher friend Antonio requests that I not name the school, but says it is perfectly fair for me to mention that the school serves the same LA County city from where all good rappers come. The trip took place two nights after the graduation ceremony, meaning these kids had no further allegiance to the school, and there was no solid mechanism for disciplining them beyond the legal system. Despite their newfound autonomy, the kids were delightfully appreciative and well mannered. It’s also fair to say that they were the toughest grads in the entire theme park.

Here are 26 observations on the night, listed in strict alphabetical-chronological order: A - Adderall
The night starts at dusk, in a neighborhood I wouldn’t normally go to under any circumstances, with Antonio and his teacher buddies popping Adderall in the school parking lot. I joke that the night is quickly turning into a Bad Lieutenant scene. Secretly, I am angry at myself for being such a wiener that I can’t even enjoy some harmless drugs at Disneyland like everyone else. B - Bus Ride
As the guest of a teacher, I must navigate around an unpleasant truth. I have contributed nothing to these kids’ long years of academic toil, and yet I am going to enjoy the fruits of that toil with a free trip to Disneyland. Antonio silences the bus and reads aloud Mickey’s Grad Nite rules: no gum, no makeup, no liquids, no logos of any kind, including Disney characters. C - Chaperone
I escort grads to the bathrooms. One of the kids asks, sadly, if all the security measures are just for their school. Waiting for him outside the men’s room, a group of yawning parents huddle with their sleeping toddlers, and I suddenly get that drowsy hard-day-at-an-amusement-park feeling. After almost an hour in a bus with no air conditioning, we are let off the bus without further instruction. Seeing no trams, Antonio asks a Disney employee how we get into the park. “Got two legs?” the employee asks to the guffaws of his employee buddies. I vow to reserve D for Dick in my article, but it turns out that letter goes to…. D - Discharging Duties
The long walk on the tram lane indicates how the night will work. There’s no authority, just a murky river of revved-up teens from every social stratum of California. Once in the park, we adults are, more or less, absolved of all responsibility. The Plaza Inn has been reserved for chaperones only, no kids, but we check in only to grab some free snacks and be on our way. E – Eleven-Thirty
I form a small band with Antonio and two other teachers and we step out into the terrific logjam that has been built to get into Tomorrowland. Nearby, the multicolor lights of Klub KIIS swoop across Cinderella’s Castle as thunderous half-jams (a chorus of a Black Eyed Peas song, a verse to a Kanye song) deafen the trapped throng. Curious what a giant teen dance party looks like from inside, I pass through an outer ring of ironic dancing to a core of very unironic sexy dancing. Too late, I realize I am a grown-ass man in a lair of bumping and grinding barely legals. Oops. F - The F Factor
My last visit here, with Antonio, led to a dispute. Where does the public sex go down? He says nowhere. Too many cameras, too much security, it’s not possible. I say everywhere: a grassy nook by Honey I Shrunk the Audience, the bushes near the submarine ride, on the flying bed-boats of Peter Pan’s Flight. What is Tom Sawyer Island if not a moat-ringed cruising park? Think about all the sick adult subcultures surfaced by Craigslist. There is probably now a class of people who can only achieve arousal in the confines of the Magic Kingdom. You think these folks don’t know the sweet spots?
Tonight the entire park looks like Tom Sawyer Island. Since my responsibilities as chaperone include halting public fornication, I make it my job to avoid the shadows. G - God
As I mill through the endless throng of 18-year olds—bezitted, emotionally transparent, enslaved to ugly fashions—I look skyward and offer a brief thanks to the creator of the universe for making me a creepy, celibate weirdo back in 1991. Not a single kid here is mine. H - Honda
Honda sponsors the festivities. It seems odd that Disney, with $62 billion in the bank, would require the assistance of Honda, which has only $45 billion in the bank, but maybe that’s just the sort of thrifty arrangement that got Disney the $62 billion in the first place. At five strategic chokepoints, a Honda Vehicle Photo Location invites young adults to ignore various Honda display cars.
It’s hard to see what use the class of ’09 will have for new cars. The economy has imploded; why not a kiosk handing out sticks and leaves? This seems a mockery of the first class to graduate into the Great Recession. Ease up, Honda; these kids have the rest of their lives to contemplate all the fancy cars they won’t be able to afford. Let them have one last night of fun, for Pete’s sake. I - Innoventions
The adults have a secondary exclusive pit stop at the Innoventions site. This is the California park’s equivalent of Florida’s Epcot—a nerdy corporate pavilion no fun-loving minor would venture to anyway. Tonight this spot offers free back massages and empty tables with Monopoly and Clue and rows of gleaming unmanned Xboxes. This would be a really awesome place to spend some downtime if only it wasn’t LOCATED IN THE CENTER OF THE MOST EXCITING PLACE ON EARTH. J - Jail
Another mystery lingers from my last time here with Antonio. At 17, he was detained by Disney security for being under the influence of pot, speed, and many tabs of acid. But where is the Disney jail? No employee will give him a straight answer. Since he was banned from the park for life, it doesn’t seem prudent for either of us to press the question.
More important, we’ve both heard the rumors that the walls of Disneyland’s jail are covered in the faces of frowning Disney characters. Antonio can’t verify this. “All I remember is that the walls were dripping.” K - Kids
The lack of children is unnerving. There are no public meltdowns, but there is also no public joy. I stand at the head of Main Street looking south, facing back into the endless tide of grads, and I am startled to see not one smile. Is it hormones? Poor nutrition? Iran? The only happy people in the entire park seem to be the chaperones, who exit their privileged compound at the Plaza Inn with huge sloppy grins. To be fair, some of the adults’ joy perhaps comes from knowing that we don’t have to enter the job market in the End Times economy of Obamaland (see H). L - Lord of the Flies
It dawns on our small group that teens outnumber us a thousand to one. I suggest that we may have to resort to prison tactics, i.e., finding the biggest guy in the park and punching him in the face as hard as possible. M - Mister Toad’s Wild Ride
This ride was the Escape from New York of my childhood. Mister Toad gets behind the wheel of an old-timey motorcar, and by the end of the ride he (you) has careened through intersections, walls, pedestrians, and the English criminal court system. The ride ends in hell. It’s a powerful statement against drunk driving. Accordingly, teens shun the place. This was probably the only chance I will ever have to ride this ride over and over again for six hours straight, and I blew it. N - Narcs
Yet another mystery. Antonio has heard that, at any given moment, one out of every 15 guests in Disneyland is plainclothes security. What seems plausible in daytime (I have noticed a lot of suspiciously muscular lone males on the Indiana Jones ride) looks impossible on Grad Nite. There aren’t enough youthful cops in this world to pull off a 21 Jump Street infiltration on this scale. Stopping at the Plaza Inn at 1:30, one of the chaperones tells us she’s heard that every roaming janitor is undercover 5-0. Maybe, but I don’t see that many janitors either. O - Orifice
At 2:06, we find ourselves snared in a queue at Splash Mountain. “This is how I feel right now,” Antonio says, pointing to a sort of H.R. Gigerish hole in the plaster wall. I nod solemnly. Four more hours to go. P - Plaza Inn
My little group cashes in our meal ticket for a high-carb prison breakfast. In just a few short hours, the Plaza Inn has turned into a giant teacher’s lounge. Chaperones have commandeered every table, reading or doing crosswords. What kind of a mixed-up scrooge brings a crossword-puzzle book to Disneyland? Q - Quarreling
No one has seen a single happy teen couple, only lots of early-stage breakups, angry handholding, and assertive, irritated young women actively ignoring their downcast men. Maybe it’s the tension release of graduation. Or perhaps the young women of 2009 suddenly realized that 18-year-old men don’t have much to offer a relationship besides unmanageable libidos and grunts. R - Reality
Reality begins to resemble a badly scripted, brightly lit Sci Fi Channel original movie. I come to understand that my reward for standing in line for Pirates of the Caribbean should be a cot in a dark room and not screaming robot pirates. S - Skunk Weed
I sniff the air loudly in Frontierland. “Is that…” I start to ask before my comrades pull me along, lest we have to intervene on the side of authority.

T - Twilight
The Plaza Inn has itself graduated. What was, at 2:30, a teacher’s lounge is, by 5, a bus-station lobby. Teachers sprawl across tables or slumber huddled in the corners. The sky ominously brightens and the crowd resembles refugees fleeing a calamity. Spooked, I grab a free coffee and myself flee. U - Unreality
The thudding bass from the KIIS party sounds more and more like a torn speaker cone. No one looks good at this hour. I realize; it is J o’clock in the morning and all of us have to be up at queef. V - Victory Lap
One final loop around the park at 5:30. The benches have filled with sleeping bodies and the murmurs of fresh hook-ups, the aftermath of one giant sexy teenage skunk-weed party. W - Withdrawal
Ejected from paradise at 6 AM, the entire parkload of humanity trudges back on the tram road. This time around I can understand Disney’s reluctance to offer us tram rides (RE: vomitus). X - X It (wrong)
The bus ride is silent until Antonio comes to and asks, “Where are we going?” Turns out the driver, being human, needs sleep just like the rest of us. We’ve been heading the wrong way on a highway that would’ve eventually led us to San Bernardino in time for an early lunch. “I must’ve missed the exit,” she mutters to herself over and over, like a mantra. It’s only one hour added to our journey, and I think we all learned a valuable lesson (RE: airhorns). Y - Yawning
I don’t think it’s rude when people yawn in public. It is a tad inconsiderate when the driver of my bus can’t seem to keep her mouth from gaping wide as the bus weaves into and out of its lane. Z - Zzzzzzz
I’m back in my car by 7. It’s another hour home. Then I am piloting my own body into bed, slipping under the covers with a final, scary realization: I’m so tired now, do I have any guarantee that I’m not still at Disneyland, dozing in a bush, dreaming that I made it out safe and sound?