Trip to Tomorrowland

by Carolyn Chase


hat are we building, why, and for whom? This question came to mind recently when five local Sierra Club members and I went on an outing to the new Tomorrowland at Disneyland.

Regular, but not too frequent trips to Disneyland were a regular part of my youth. Walt Disney's folksy introductions to his "World of Color" on our family's television every Sunday night made me think that Walt was my Dad's personal friend. He was there every week talking to us, talking to me, about the future and the past and nature.

I can still remember him spelling out his plans for the "Experimental Prototypical Community of Tomorrow" or "EPCOT" Center.
But closer to home, Tomorrowland in Anaheim, Orange County was a mini-demonstration on how we could build a better future through progress.

Part of the that progress included integrated transportation systems that moved people throughout the community. The beautifully and practically named Peoplemover quietly glided above on unobtrusive elevated platforms. Cruising above all were the powerful rockets providing a thrilling ride and a commanding view. General Electric's "Carousel of Progress" promised "a bright, big, beautiful tomorrow, shining at the end of the every day" as a result of men following their dreams. Walt Disney clearly saw Disneyland as a way to test out men's dreams for a better tomorrow.

So it was with some enthusiasm that we traveled to the latest view of the future from Disney's "Imagineers." What were they up to now, I wondered? What does tomorrow have in store for us?

Well, I'm sorry to have to report that even Disney is coming up against the limits of growth and the use of space.

The Peoplemover is out, and the "Rocket Rods" are in. The leisurely Skyway with a dynamite overhead view is out - and - nothing - is in. The Carousel of Progress, long replaced by simulated, singing, audioanimatronic-animal-like machines is, well, not opened yet. "Innoventions" is behind schedule.

The most mysterious change was the movement of the rockets from their upper-story view-position way above the show, down to ground level. This seem especially strange to me from a land-use perspective. They plotzed the re-designed rockets at ground level right in the entrance to Tomorrowland, where it blocks the flow.

Experimentation with new technologies and innovative design ideas is out and repackaging is in. Or maybe they just want to keep anyone from getting an overhead look as they build their next extravaganza: the "California Experience."

But the most telling upgrade was the Peoplemover replacement: the Rocket Rods. There was a two-hour wait to get on to this two-minute (if that) ride. The only reason I was able to ride on it was a one of those everyday kind of miracles. You know the kind the thing - where it was going to go one way and, inexplicably something happens that is totally unpredictable and changes the outcome? Since I have developed painful bone spurs in my feet, when I am doing any amount of lengthy walking, I must use a cane. As we approached the formidable queue, my husband Chris was already suggesting that we weren't going wait in such a long line and I had my doubts too.

Right at that moment, a Disney employee appeared next to me and asked if I wouldn't have trouble waiting in such a long line. Did I know there was a disabled bypass? I, along with five other members of my group could go right to the head of the line. It was kind of magical - like a "Get Out Of Jail Free" card. Looking back, this was really the only way I was going to go on this ride. The line was truly massive and took up the entire space of the former 360-degree Circlevision theater, and then some. At the end of the ride, as we were routed out past the line, several folks shouted to us: "Is it worth the wait?" A resounding no was all we could muster.

The Rocket Rods are nothing but a souped-up Peoplemover with lots of stylish, plastic decorations on them. It turns out they were doing no major upgrades on the elevated track. With this limitation, all they can do is speed you up on the straight bits, and move along the turns a bit faster. They don't even have the nifty "Speed" tunnels they used to have where you passed through a Circlevision-type movie-projection where it appeared as though you were really on fast racetracks.

No, I'm sad to report that I wouldn't look to Disney anymore as tomorrow's stewards of progress. In the popular "Star Tours" ride, poor C3PO had lost two fingers off of one his "hands." More than anything else, this "new" Tomorrowland reflects the evolution of the Disney culture from the dreams of a man building a better future to that of a corporate enterprise catering to the youth market for entertainment.

But my search for tomorrow's transportation future was not disappointed. The real transportation future is being built in the Orange County section of the I-5 corridor and everyone should really check it out.

What does it look like? Huge, imposing two story road structures running for miles and overshadowing the traffic below. Carpool lanes running in the center of the freeway need entrances and exits, so bridges and ramps fly through the air. Disney's sleek monorail is nowhere to be found, but there are evidently billions to prop roads up in the air.

If you're interested in controlled entertainment, go to Disneyland. If you're interested in the likely future for our I-5 corridor, drive to Los Angeles. But make sure to take some friends along and use the carpool lane, so you don't get stuck in that other L.A. future headed our way: gridlock. We were able to avoid most of it and zip past in the limited-access lanes that travel most of the corridor through Orange County. The only problem is - that these carpool lanes are starting to back up. And there is no passing. It won't be long before they have four lanes of backed up traffic, complemented by a fifth lane of backed up carpools. Then what? When will we call a halt to destructive paradigm and find better ways?