My girlfriend Angie and I recently purchased annual passes to Disneyland, so these last few weeks we’ve probably spent more time in the park than in all my previous visits combined. Each time we go I’m amazed at how many people there are–crowds and crowds of people spilling over every walkway and through every threshold. But every now and then, when we stop and sit and just watch, the crowds part and an individual person emerges.
We were sitting in the back row of a passenger car on the Disneyland Railroad one late afternoon. It was bright and hot, but we were mostly in the shade. We were sitting on the far right of the bench; on my left, a man and a young girl sat quietly, staring into their respective phones. They were already seated there when we boarded at Main Street Station. They said nothing during our entire trip around the park, and remained seated when we arrived back at Main Street Station and disembarked.
The trip to the New Orleans Station seemed to take just a minute or two–certainly far less time than we spent sitting at the station waiting for passengers to board. There were people everywhere, of course, but the row immediately ahead of ours was empty. I was beginning to think the bench would remain that way when I noticed a flash of red hair dart through the station crowd. Beneath it was a teenage girl, 17 or 18, with three friends in tow. She headed straight for the empty row and climbed aboard.
“I’m a genius,” she said, taking a seat. Her voice was clear, almost defiant. She said it like someone who’s been told on more than one occasion that she most certainly wasn’t a genius.
Her friends sat beside her, but didn’t respond to her statement.
I glanced over at Angie, and she looked at me. We didn’t say a word.
The four teens got situated. Beside the redhead a young man, perhaps her age, began staring into his phone. Their two friends, both teen girls, also began examining their phones.
“I am a genius,” the redhead teen said again, though with a tiny bit less confidence.
Again, there was no response.
“Gingers are always geniuses,” I suddenly heard Angie say out loud.
The redhead teen stared at her, first with alarm, but that soon evaporated.
“Redheads are just naturally smarter,” Angie said.
“That’s right,” the teen said, now smiling.
“We gingers have to stick together,” Angie said.
The redhead teen nodded, then glanced at Angie’s little backpack, which still sported a Disney “Happy Birthday” button from a visit years ago.
“Is it your birthday?” the teen asked Angie.
No, Angie said. “I just like this button.”
“Well, Happy Unbirthday,” the teen said.
The teens took photos of each other during the ride to the Tomorrowland Station. At one point, (Angie saw this a lot more clearly than I did) redhead teen’s boyfriend turned to take a photo of her. He asked her to smile, but she didn’t. He coaxed her a bit, and she relented. She smiled, Angie later told me, with depth, but no joy.
For the rest of the ride, redhead teen lightly scratched her boyfriend’s back as he looked down into his phone. When his head did pop up at one point, I noticed a nasty sore on the corner of his mouth.
When we reached Tomorrowland Station, the teens quickly spilled out of the car. The teen’s red hair bobbed a bit in the crowd, but soon vanished, leaving no trace she had ever been there.