How Disney's Main Street Electrical Parade Can Make You Cry

I'll be starting a new monthly column soon for Orlando Attractions talking about the rides from my childhood that I miss. Some I wish would be re-built, others I simply wish I could find a YouTube video of, and others still I don't feel the need to ride again but think fondly of them often. Jake and I will also resume filming of Park Geeks soon, our webisode series about two geeks giving others helpful tips from their years of experience attending them. (We were even engaged in a theme park.) First up for filming will be the cleanest park in America. Got any guesses?

Anyway, recently I was sent a weird Myspace message that got me thinking. (Is there any other kind?) It was from someone on my friends list that I almost never communicate with, a virtual acquaintance, if you will. It simply said, "Get over it honey, Disney is S*#$!"

I sent her a reply asking her if this was in response to something and even offered the possibility that it was I in error, after all, what if I had posted some kind of status update I didn't remember and this was a reply in jest. I try not to jump the gun. But she replied telling me that I seemed too Disney-focused and that it didn't seem healthy to her and that it was just, and I quote, "some friendly advice". I know. The internet, right?

But I'm never too lofty to really examine something like that when it's thrown out there. Am I too Disney focused? Jake and I have taken a Disney vacation every year since we've been married. (Granted, two of those trips were for work. Once for a magazine I wrote for and again for Park Geeks. But still...) We don't own any Disney cartoons, (They are quite costly.) but I probably spent the better half of my childhood watching them, and I'm not ashamed to say that I love them. I could go on and on, Disney is a source of inspiration to me because of people like Don Hahn and those that use their creative talents behind the scenes for a living there.

But there's something else...something else underneath not only my Disney nostalgia, but my theme park nostalgia in general, and I began to chip away at it last night. Jake and I laid in bed talking, in that way that we do when we know it's Sunday night and we don't really want the week to start. So we put it off by talking about nothing in general for at least an hour. Suddenly, it came to my mind that I had forgotten to tell him something that would be HUGE news for both of us.

Disney World is bringing back the Main Street Electrical Parade. Something that hasn't appeared there on a regular basis since my childhood. That parade represents one of the most vivid visual memories from my youth. Sitting on my Dad's shoulders while my Mom took photographs on the parade line at WDW's Magic Kingdom during one of our most memorable family vacations. To my child's eyes, it really was magical. All those lights in the shapes of so many whimsical objects and it just went on and on and on. It was that time in childhood when I didn't know how anything worked, so it just had to be magic. THIS, ladies and gentlemen, is the sound of my childhood. Those who know me won't be surprised.

(That footage is from a revamp of the parade at Disneyland in 2006.) Jake has heard me sing that song again and again and was never able to see it for himself. Now he'll finally be able to see it.

When I hear that music, I'm on my Dad's shoulders again and life is just beginning. For all of us.

I don't remember much about that day at the park. Just flashes here and there. I remember walking through the parking lot at the beginning of the day hand in hand with my sisters, standing at the Tikis in Adventureland with my Dad, sitting on my Mom's lap during the Enchanted Tiki Room show, and then that moment from the parade.

So you see, when I get misty eyed hearing something as goofy sounding (no pun intended) as the theme from the Electrical Parade, I'm not crying because the song is so moving. I'm thinking about my family. How my Dad probably can't go there with us again to relive that because of his hip problems, how my parents are divorced, how one of my sisters has passed away. There are happy tears too, for how lucky I was to have such a great childhood and how lucky I am still to have such great relationships with my parents and sisters. In this way, nostalgia is a very tricky thing, very tricky indeed with it's unpredictable mixture of happy and sad.

By the way, the meaning of the word "nostalgia"? The short version is that in Greek root word, NOSTOS = Coming Home and ALGOS = Pain or Ache. Seriously. What does that say about us geeks and our near surgical attachments to movies and pop culture?

Maybe that they equal a very real yearning for home, either one that existed for us or one that we wish could've been. Maybe that's not the case for all geeks, but it certainly is for me. When I watch Star Trek and Star Wars, it's my own little way of walking back into my living room in the 1980's, hideous brown shag carpet and all. It's true, I love what I love simply because I enjoy it. I'm a Trekkie for obvious reasons. I love Trek. But it is true that in my case, it will also be a lifelong connection to home. The same way that I'm trying to fold time together when Jake and I spend time in places that were so pivotal in my childhood. He can't see that time in my life, but he can at least be where it took place.

I could dredge up a million theme park memories having to do with my family. The summers at Kings Island with Smurf Ice Cream, the antelopes chewing on my mom's straw hat at Busch Gardens, my numerous trips to WDW with cousins, aunts, and mom and grandma, and even all our trips to so many zoos and museums. (This may call for a litany.)

-Getting stuck on Spaceship Earth with my Grandma.

-Singing Biz Markie songs with my sisters after the rain at Kings Island.

-Taking pictures in the movie museum there with my best friend, sister Heather, a friend who has since passed away, and eventually Jake literally seconds before he asked me to marry him. (In front of a model of the Starship Enterprise, no less.)

-Riding Tomb Raider with my Mom during our only trip alone together, when we were both feeling down and out about love.

-The long shady walk to the Top Gun ride as the sun set the day after my high school prom. That sickly sweet feeling in my stomach the entire time that life was about to change forever as my friends and I, my first love and I, prepared to part ways with goodbyes in the coming months both planned and unplanned. How's that for a run-on packed with feeling?

-Of course, there are all the subsequent adventures filming Park Geeks, where Jake and I are able to enjoy a really fulfilling friendship with one of our best friends, Josh, who at one time we probably thought we would never be able to hang out with again. (Long story.) See? Theme Parks equal redemption too...

-Jake's first time at any Disney park in 2007, his pure joy and elation over the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror as a life-long Rod Serling fan. And there's a moment all about connecting with inspirations and motivations for us creative types.

-Riding the now defunct, "If You Had Wings" ride over and over with cousins Eamonn and Dara. It was dedicated the magic of air travel, no, seriously...

To me, theme parks are a place to spend time with the people you love. Undistracted time for the pure purpose of enjoying each others company and letting go of life's worries and stresses. To me, it's the way that life should be. But we're all so busy and tired, that it rarely happens. So we have to get away to make it happen. And that's how we roll in mi famiglia.

I could go on, but I won't. The point is that when people like me latch onto something as a hobby, or in my case, a career, don't be so quick to brush them off as weirdos. (There are plenty of other reasons to put me in that category.) Know that there's something underneath our geeky devotion, something we want to share with others, some joy or feeling we want to help them recreate, and it likely goes deeper than what may appear on the surface.

For me, it's family. It's about my childhood, and the magic of that time. It's about my family now and how I enjoy looking back at the fun times we've spent together, and now it's about building my family with Jake, however that ends up looking down the road.

And of course, it's about a career. I love travel and tourism, I love journalism, and I like the fact that for me now, sometimes a day at work means a day at a theme park. I've discovered a way to get myself back to my happy place on a regular basis for a practical reason. Before you roll your eyes, ask yourself, what's your happy place and how can you get back there too with the ones you love? People may think you're strange, but you will find that it's worth it for the price of personal fulfillment and that warm squishy feeling of knowing you are working toward a goal related to something you really care about.

And because I know you're just dying to see a ride created in the 1980's and dedicated to air travel, here is a video of, "If You Had Wings". Enjoy.