Here’s a thought: Everyone needs a shot of California once in a while–and not only because it’s the best place to see the future. It can also be a good place to see an interesting mixture of the past and the present. At least, it seemed that way to me last week. That’s because I went to speak at a couple of conferences on aging. One was a Boomers business summit in Anaheim on selling products to the baby-boomer market, which is now more than 76 million strong. The other was the joint conference of the National Council on Aging and the American Society of Aging,, primarily for those who are already in the business of taking care of the elderly.
It just so happened that, at the same time as the aging conference was in session, there was a competition for cheerleaders being held at the nearby convention center. Now, most of those in this field are, to put it delicately, no spring chickens themselves. So the elevators at the surrounding hotels were filled to overflowing with an endearing old-new mixture of curvy teenagers in false eyelashes and size two miniskirts and portly social workers in over blouses carrying canvas bags that said “Invest in Aging.”
On the days I wasn’t talking about women in mid-life–one of those topics that is always discussed at such gatherings (and one which I admit I know very well)–I took a couple of only-in-California excursions.
One afternoon I had a meeting in Ontario, California, a burgeoning community to the northeast of Anaheim which is part of the fastest-growing region in the United States. It is part of an area with the very regal name the “Inland Empire,” but why it is called the Inland Empire nobody in the I.E. seemed to know or care. Ontario is growing fast and has an airport that seems bigger than Des Moines’, an impressive town hall, and a lot of exuberance. It is 47-percent Hispanic, 30-percent Caucasian, and almost every sign is in both Spanish and English.
At the meeting I met several young Hispanic entrepreneurs, including a young man named Michael Armijo who has his own small journalism empire. He owns nine small neighborhood giveaway newspapers. Besides selling the ads, he writes an inspirational column that appears in each one. The people I met all seemed very proud of their Hispanic roots, but just as proud of their part of California and the opportunity it was affording them. At one of the conferences, Fernando Torres-Gil, associate dean at the UCLA School of Public Affairs, talked about the growing numbers of affluent baby-boomer Hispanics. In Ontario, you can see the growing number of affluent Hispanics in every generation.
On another day, I went back in time and visited Disneyland, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. I had never been to Disneyland before, though I had visited Disney World many times. I once wrote a piece about Disney World for Family Circle magazine. It was during the theme park’s early years, and I’m sure the article brought in lots of customers. After that my family and I were invited back many times. My sons always loved Disney World from that first visit when, at four and seven, they thought the tombstone inscription outside the Haunted House reading “Rest in Peace / Uncle Huet / We all know / You didn’t do it” was the very height of wit.
Disneyland is smaller and a bit shabbier than its younger sister in Florida, but the crowds there seemed to be having a great time. At the gate I watched a five-year-old jumping up and down with uncontainable excitement, assured by his father that, yes, as soon as their tickets were collected, they really, really, really would be in Disneyland.
I went on one ride, unique to Disneyland, called Soarin’ Over California, which makes you feel you are in a hang glider flying over the Golden State’s most beautiful sites. I went with a Baby Boomer couple who told me that they had spent their honeymoon thirty-three years before at Disneyland and that, even though their kids have grown-up, they still come back all the time. Soarin’ Over California was, they said, their very favorite attraction. They were delighted we got to sit in the first row, which they assured me was “the best.” They walked away, after the ride, hugging each other.
On its opening day, Walt Disney said, “Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts which have created America,” The magic is still there for those who want to see it. And it seemed to me it is there as well in the Inland Empire.
–Myrna Blyth, former long-time editor of Ladies’ Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness–and Liberalism–to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.