The Old Stomping Grounds

Today was Theme Park Day #3, as we polished off the bulk of Universal Studios after only seeing Diagon Alley on Sunday.  Being a Tuesday didn’t matter one bit, as we are now officially in theme park summer, and our last ride of the night still had an hour wait as the park closed.  It was a vivid reminder of why I don’t do this very often.

It was also a reminder of just how much the place has changed since I first started working there back in 1991.  Only three attractions remain substantially untouched from those days (the Horror Make-Up Show, Animal Actors, and E.T., though all three have had tweaks along the way), while the area surrounding the park would be completely unrecognizable to the Richard who walked out of orientation twenty-five years ago.  Yesterday’s parking lot is today’s CityWalk.

I have to admit, I have more than a fair amount of nostalgia for those days, when we were the scrappy upstart, struggling to put our troubled grand opening behind us.  Jaws may have been shuttered for a complete overhaul, but we had Back to the Future on the horizon.  And since we were a smaller park then, there was a real sense of camaraderie, of us pulling together to put that awful summer of 1990 behind us.  We were allowed to be a little cheeky, a little irreverent, and a whole lot not Disney.  I won’t say we were a better park back then, but we were more laid back, and maybe a bit more fun because of it.

Of course, I wouldn’t trade what we’ve become for the world.  Yes, I miss old favorites and haunts like Alfred HItchcock and Jaws, but the energy in the place now thanks to Diagon and Revenge of the Mummy and Rip Ride RockIt is just palpable.  We’re not an underdog anymore.  We’re cool.  We’re hip.  Even though we’re turning twenty-five, it feels like we’re coming out of that awkward teenage phase and are finally all grown up.

Still, it did my heart good seeing that venerable old standby, the Blues Brothers show, still making the crowds dance on the streets of New York, and still with the same Jake that jumped around on opening day a quarter of a century ago.  it’s great to have an eye on the future, but you’ve also got to remember where you came from.


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