With the Michael Jackson/Conrad Murray trial wrapping up (YES, Ive been watching- I love courtroom drama) it's brought to mind a day I spent at Neverland ages ago. Yes, THAT Neverland. The Michael Jackson Neverland. Before the hoopla and scandals, when it was still a place of magical wonder that you couldn't pay to go to- you had to be invited.
Michael invited mostly under privileged or disabled children to the ranch. (Now, however you feel about him (and children) try to set that aside. Michael was not at the ranch when we visited.) In college, I worked at a summer camp for underprivileged girls and a coworker happened to be married to one of the Neverland ranch hands. This is how we were ultimately invited.
I couldn't sleep the night before. Of course this was for the girls but how could I not also be excited?! We took vans through the mountains outside Santa Barbara and finally arrive at a gate. We were let into the gate and it was a long way until we actually reached Neverland. We were there, we were AT Michael Jackson's house. I remember the person who met us said there was no need to lock the vans. It was this totally surreal, secure, bubble.
Train station (Photo from time.com)
We started in the arcade which, if I remember correctly, was attached to his house. The girls played all sorts of arcade games. There was a photo booth and rows of those candy machines that you put a quarter in and turn the knob for candy, only in this arcade- no quarters were necessary. (We quickly put an end to the endless candy eating, envisioning a group of sick girls in an hour)
Im going to forget the order of events, but at some point we took at train (think Disneyland) to the Zoo area. I fed a giraffe. We saw all sorts of animals, reptiles and met a chimp. Honestly, I can't remember if it was Bubbles- I just know we werent allowed to touch him.
We saw a movie in his theater. We walked into the lobby and there was a candy and food counter- just like a regular theater- and 2 people behind it who smiled and said, what would you like? They handed out candy, ice cream, popcorn- whatever you wished. We watched the animated film, The Iron Giant. I believe it was before it was actually available to the public.
Aside from a few kids with their parents that I'd see in passing, we seemed to be the only group at the ranch. They served us a picnic lunch under some trees. We ate and enjoyed the sunshine.
Swing Ride (flickr.com)
The last part of the day was what the girls had been waiting for- the amusement park. Rides with NO lines and really no end-- The ride operator would slow down the ride and shout- "Does anyone want to get off?!?-" No? - he just sped it back up again. You could serve yourself cotton candy and snow cones. We had one girl throw up on the bumper cars, but that was our only casualty.
I have a distinct memory of being on those swinging chairs- the ones that are attached to long cables and you rise in the air and it spins you so your chair floats around the center- and I was thinking- This is AMAZING. The wind was in my face and Michael Jackson music playing across the park. These girls had the most giant smiles on their face that lasted the entire day. Most who would go back to homes where there was violence or where a parent was in jail. All of which could never afford this in the 'real' world. For that time, those moments- it truly was a Neverland. Endlessly magical.