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Once a Hollywood producer said to me, "You know, it only takes a little uranium to power a submarine. You can't run the sub without it, but it only takes a teeny tiny bit." He was a guy who creates large-scale fantasy films — the submarines of his metaphor, and by the uranium, he meant that little spark of creativity, the small poetic impulse in the mind of the original writer.
Here in L.A., we require very little uranium, but we build huge nuclear-powered vessels. Tourists come here hoping to get as close as possible to our radioactive sources: Grauman's Chinese, the Homes of the Stars, the Finding Nemo sub in Fantasyland.
It's like a mining expedition.
Today, I join the tourists fighting their way down the 5 freeway from Downtown to Disneyland — Earth's ugliest stretch of asphalt leading to the Happiest Place on Earth. As I do, I mention to my 12-year-old how Disney is a global enterprise built on a few really good lumps of uranium: Mickey Mouse, Snow White, The Little Mermaid.
He doesn't seem to appreciate the metaphor, but as we enter the inconceivably huge, multilevel parking lot, descend the gigantic escalators, pass through the shopping mall and run the ticket booths, I say, "Let us seek out the simple tales powering this vast machine."
Meaning, of course, that I want to visit scenes from my childhood — Mr. Toad, Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh — characters held in trust by fierce lawyers, and sold back to me again and again.
I don't know about you, but my childhood gets more expensive every year.
As we wait for the Pooh ride, I explain how A.A. Milne wrote a few innocent books based on his own son's stuffed toys and in 1930 sold the rights for $1,000 and a cut of the profits. By the end of 1931, Winnie was already generating $50 million a year, and now, under Disney, this happy, chubby bear leading a life of simple joy in the "Hundred Aker Wood" brings in about $5.8 billion.
Before we can get on the ride, however, my phone vibrates with a call from an entertainment lawyer, and I start looking for somewhere I can talk — not so easy given the background roar of Disneyland. I run behind a tree in the passage between Fantasyland and Frontierland, but I get some weird looks — so at last I find a bench next to a Midwest family: two hefty adults and two hefty girls who stare at me in wonder.
Because they have paid their money, and want to get close to the source of all things imaginative, I shout tensely into my headset about options and creative control. Before I leave, I want turn to them and say, "Yes, I'm trying to sell uranium — but it's not worth much in its raw state. To become valuable, it requires processing by an advanced facility like this."
Come night, you can see the radioactive glow of Disneyland more clearly: youth, joy, and mystery shining everywhere. Still, around nine, a certain desperation sets in among families who spent hours changing diapers or consuming high calorie foods but somehow never quite accessed the real, high-grade U-235. They go rushing through the dark. Maybe, they think, just one more ride.
My son and I go stand in the central square, with other seekers, to watch for fireworks. In this particular show, the loudspeakers tell bits of the same simple stories, recycled anew, and accompanied by the nuclear glow of rockets: Tinker Bell. The Little Mermaid. This time, however, during some spooky music from the haunted house, the show suddenly stops and the lights come up. Blustery high-altitude winds, they announce, have made the fireworks dangerous.
A disappointed hush falls over the crowd, now left to its own devices. And the Urban Man joins the thousands heading toward the exit. As we go, we look up at the radioactive fallout still glowing in the windows and up on the light poles of Main Street.
Copyright © 2010 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.
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