Archive for journalism

On Assignment: Disneyland!

I’ve been writing for Alaska Beyond, the inflight magazine of Alaska Airlines, for many years. But unlike some airline magazines, Alaska Beyond, which is published by a company that is separate from the airline, rarely sends writers anywhere. I never got sent on an out-of-town assignment.

Breakfast at Disneyland

Until last week.

I couldn’t believe it when the magazine asked me if I would like to go to Disneyland. What a question. Of course! I love Disneyland!

It was fun writing to friends to report, “I’m in Disneyland. Working.”

In fact, I worked so hard during my three days in Disneyland that I gained five pounds. (I dropped them as soon as I returned to my own Spartan lifestyle, that is, no more appetizers before practically every meal, no more desserts after practically every meal, and no more appetizers between every meal.) Very nice people from Disney’s public relations department took me and a small group of journalists through Disneyland and its sister park, Disney California Adventure, as well as the Downtown Disney restaurant and

Millennium Falcon, Docked

shopping district, to check out all that was new or fairly new.


The last time I visited Disneyland was in 2015, and in just four years there have been a lot of changes and additions. The one addition generating the most buzz is Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which opened May 31. I was perhaps the wrong person to report on this new Disneyland attraction; I’m not really up to date on Star Wars movies, books or video games. Some of the character and place names on the Planet Batuu were lost on me.

Still, I could appreciate the effort put into conceiving and then making this desert-like area inhabited by alien creatures of all sorts. Even the creation of the marketplace required that designers do hands-on research in the ancient souks of Marrakesh, Morocco. They managed to capture the exotic feel of centuries-old shopping bazaars I have visited in Turkey and Iran.

The Marketplace

The various droids–some round, some angular–looked and sounded familiar to me. I even got to make my own pint-sized droid and take it home with me after a visit to the Droid Depot. Another workshop allows visitors to make their own lightsabers.

I got another dose of Star Wars when I tried out The VOID, a new addition to Downtown Disney that offers virtual reality encounters with Darth Vader and his Storm Troopers. With


an oculus rift headset in place, and a blaster in hand, I surely did the rebel forces proud. Afterwards, one of my teammates said, “You were so brave!” What can I say? The Force was with me.

A new restaurant that looked very familiar to me was Portland’s own Salt & Straw, which has spread its fantastic gourmet ice cream beyond Oregon’s borders. There was also a fun restaurant called Splitsville that has 20 bowling lanes. I bought an irresistible Mickey/Minnie purse at the World of Disney

Me (on left) with Disney PR peeps

and got inspired to dust off my sewing machine after browsing at the cute Disney Dress Shop.

The Disney Dress Shop

One evening, when our group watched the World of Color— the light, sound and water show next to Pixar Pier in California Adventure–I confess to feeling a bit emotional. Flashed before us, amid the 1200 gushing fountains and the swirling colors, were scenes from the long history of Disney films, accompanied by music from some of my favorites.

It occurred to me that every American alive today, except for those who have lived as hermits, is fondly familiar with much of that music and many of the movie scenes. We all have that in common. It’s like the soundtrack of our nation. On that night, sitting under a full moon and watching the show illuminate the faces of all the viewers, I felt a real bond with Disney lovers from coast to coast.

I doff my hat (Minnie Mouse ears hat, to be exact) to Alaska Beyond for giving me the opportunity to not only enjoy a wonderful experience, but to write about it. Look for my article in the October 2019 issue.

R.I.P. Packy

Packy as newborn

Packy as newborn

Sad news from the Oregon Zoo. Packy, Portland’s star pachyderm, was euthanized today after all efforts to relieve him of the effects of a drug-resistant form of tuberculosis failed. He was 54.

His birth on April 14,1962 made international news because he was the first elephant born in the Western Hemisphere in 44 years. The fuzzy little fellow (a mere 150 pounds at birth) became every Portland child’s favorite animal and from 1963 on, his birthday party at the zoo was well attended, sometimes by thousands of kids and adults.

Everyone wore elephant ears, including the elephant, and everyone got cake, including the elephant. In fact, Packy’s annual birthday cake was a major production. With carrots instead of candles and made with elephant-healthy ingredients (e.g., peanut butter instead of frosting), the culinary creation was placed in the elephants’ outdoor area by someone who then had to run for his life before the seven-ton bull elephant was released.

As Packy’s trunk made the first swipe across the surface of the cake, a live band would begin to play “Happy Birthday” and all the zoo visitors sang the song.

Packy at 52

Packy at 52

In 1995 I wrote about Packy’s 33rd birthday for the Leisure & Arts Page of The Wall Street Journal. I had proposed the article several weeks before the birthday event, but my beloved editor, Ray Sokolov, didn’t see the humor in an elephant birthday party and he turned me down. What I resorted to was something I had learned as a child: if one parent turns you down, ask the other.

Ray had to go out of town and he turned over the editing of the page to a deputy. I pitched the same story to him and he told me to go for it. By the time Ray returned to the office, my article, “Seven Tons of Birthday Fun,” had already been assigned, written and published.

Fortunately, Ray was pleased that I’d gone around him in order to write the story, which he had really enjoyed. He ended up complimenting me on my trunk, er, nose for news.

(With thanks for the photos and condolences to the staff of the Oregon Zoo.)


When the FlyLady Tried to Squash Me

Fly Lady


Our current Age of Misinformation is distressing to anyone who values the truth. It seems now that if you dare stand up to our president-elect and his version of the truth, you risk having your reputation buried in a mudslide of lies and recrimination. I know this insidious treatment first hand, not from Trump, but from someone who calls herself the FlyLady.

In 2006 I got an assignment from Fortune Small Business Magazine to write about a woman in North Carolina who, using FlyLady as her title, dispenses advice on tidy housekeeping. Her name has nothing to do with her housekeeping (I hope), but was the handle she chose when she first started contributing comments to a housekeeping website.  Next to clutter busting, her favorite activity

Marla Cilley, FlyLady

Marla Cilley, FlyLady

was fly fishing. Hence, the name.

She merited a magazine story because she had built a small empire from the books she had written (one on clutter, one on weight loss) and from sales of the housekeeping implements she featured on her own website. The editor was interested in how she had built up a following of nearly half a million subscribers, who were also customers for her products.

I actually traveled to Brevard, N.C., to interview her and to tour her warehouse. Then I wrote what I thought was a pretty good story. Not only was it well written, but it was quite complimentary of her ability to build a thriving business after attracting what had grown to be a huge army of faithful followers. She had done that through very personal methods, such as sending individual emails to people who needed daily reminders to tidy up.

I thought she’d be pleased with the story and especially with the national exposure in a respectable business magazine. But to my horror, I soon learned that she had turned all her minions against me because she objected to the headline (which I had not written): “Nagging for Dollars.” In mass emails to her subscribers, she whined that I had libeled her with a word she found insulting: nag.

I don’t know if she ever actually ordered her army of messy housewives to tarnish my name. I suspect it was more like what King Henry II said about Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury: “Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?” I’m sure Henry never meant for one of his loyalists to murder Becket. But anyway . . .

The magazine’s website was flooded with critical comments related to my article. One woman railed, “This is the worst example of journalism I have ever read!” Another called my efforts “yellow journalism.” Any reader who might have wanted to comment on the story itself was lost in a sea of vitriol churned out by angry housewives who all fumed about my utter incompetence.

As it turned out, FlyLady’s followers had no impact on my writing career. But now when I see what some people will do to prove their loyalty to a president-elect or cult leader, even if it means trashing the reputation of an innocent person, I just think, “Been there . . . a decade ago with the FlyLady!”