As Disneyland celebrates 60 years, Southbay’s editor remembers a time when a single E-ticket was worth more than gold.

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    Darren Elms

My first memory of Disneyland was at maybe 3 years old, or at least that was my age according to my family who recount the story annually. The day began with a wide-eyed yet absentminded Darren forgetting his treasured blanket in the car and then insisting my uncle go back to the car and retrieve it. (For those who remember the old parking lot before it was replaced with California Adventure, the yellow VW Beetle was parked in Thumper, so it was really far away.)

The middle of the day consisted of a 45-minute wait in the July heat for a ride on one of Dumbo’s flying elephants. I backed out at the last minute. The day concluded with me howling hysterically as we sailed from land to land on It’s a Small World, a scene that might play back with countless parents who endure that song over and over … and over.

I’m sure there were plenty of delightful moments during that first visit, even if those highlights were less than flattering. I know for certain there were many wonderful years spent at the park from there on—first with my family, then with friends and now with the children of my friends. I’ve enjoyed buckets of popcorn, anniversary bashes, old-school character signatures, dinner at Club 33, the Main Street Electrical Parade (RIP) and many, many rides down the Matterhorn. How many of you still look for the wintery top of the mountain as you head along the 5 freeway?

In 1993, I even spent a summer working at Disneyland—an ambitious, lifelong dream to that moment. Daily I would sport argyle socks for a stint in Toontown or lederhosen for heavy labor on the Skyway (also RIP) from late afternoon to 1 a.m., head out with friends to Denny’s until 3 a.m. and then do it all over again. I made a whoppin’ $5.50 an hour, but you wouldn’t know it from my attitude. I was a Disneyland cast member, and as far as I was concerned, I was the luckiest guy in the world.

Fast-forward 20 years or so, and the park celebrates 60 years. In a few months, I’ll take my niece for her 7th birthday. I wonder, amid the commercial hullabaloo, the Frozen mania and the insane crowds, if she’ll experience a similar spark of imagination and wonderment I once treasured as a kid. If she knows the way to Neverland, I’ll have found my answer.