In Search of Sambo’s

I’ve been to Anaheim before, but it’s been a while.

Aside from weekend fishing and camping trips, I only took two family vacations with my parents. The first, when I was 10, was a three week trip to Windsor and Detroit (via Bemidji Minnesota and Niagara Falls) for my cousin Mary Catherine’s wedding.

The second was to Anaheim and Disneyland.

We came in March, when I was in Grade 7. I remember just how green everything was; from the moment we left the airport I couldn’t believe all the green grass everywhere. Even the school fields were lush and green! We had prairie scrub at Ruth M. Buck school. Mixed with gravel. If you fell on the playground you were guaranteed a scraped knee and quite possibly some embedded stones. And anyway, it was St. Patrick’s Day; my playground at home would be covered in snow for at least a month yet.


ahh, vacations… This way we have room for Granny!

There were five of us on the trip. My Aunty Donna, mom’s youngest sister, was still single and flew down with us. She was the most important person in my 12 year old world; it hadn’t been that long since she’d been living in our basement on Bruce Street and then in her own apartment in Regina. We’d watch the Carol Burnett Show together on TV every Thursday night and laugh like crazy. And she’d let me read her old Mad Magazines and listen to her Donovan and Beatles records. She was so cool. But now she lived in Calgary, which would become the exotic escape for my sister Wanda and me for years to come. So we were thrilled she was coming on this big vacation with us.

Donna had a job working in PR at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, and she brought along a small bag of promotional material about Calgary. Since it was 1978, 10 years before the Winter Olympics would put Calgary on the world map, promotion was a big deal. But also, since it was 1978, it was still funny to roll up a fact sheet about Calgary, written in a tiny font on a small piece of paper, and put it in a clear plastic capsule. The fact sheet was titled “DOPE About Calgary” but all that showed on the capsule was the “DOPE” part.

That’s right, my hip, cool Aunt brought a baggie of white plastic capsules labelled DOPE on our family trip to California. You know what happened: she got picked for a random search at the airport, was asked about the baggie, and said “That’s my dope!” Our time at the airport was a little longer than we planned.

We did everything you’d expect on a 70’s romp through Southern California. We went to Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm and Universal Studios. We took the bus tour to San Diego and Sea World, stopping at the mission at San Capistrano to see the swallows. We took a tour of Hollywood, saw the Walk of Fame and the Chinese Theatre. It was a blast.

Back then, Disneyland was a single park, ringed with tiny motor hotels and there was one big fancy hotel called the Disneyland Hotel. We stayed in a little motor inn, right across the street from the main Disneyland parking lot. The motel we stayed in wasn’t all that different from the Alamo Inn that Robyn and I are staying in now, in fact. Although the this area has changed a lot in 35 years.


Our motel. Good beds, great air conditioner, horrid WIFI

Now there are two Disney parks side by side; the original Disneyland and a park called Disney California Adventure. Between the two parks are at least four huge Disney hotels and a shopping street called Downtown Disney, where you can buy mouse ears and a shirt even if you can’t afford a ticket inside (a whopping $160USD per person per day now!) And while there’s still several classic motor inns around the park, there are also Hiltons and Marriots and Hamptons and all the other chains too.

I think California Adventure is where the old parking lot used to be. The parking lot for visitors is several blocks away now; there is a “Toy Story” bus line that constantly shuttles people to and from the parking lot.

And they do a lot of shuttling! Disneyland is still a massive draw from what I can see. Every morning, the hotels around us empty my 8:30AM. Half the folks head east to the convention centre, wearing their red, purple or blue VidCon badges. But far more people head north one block to Disneyland, in groups of four or six or eight, typically pushing a stroller, often with grandma in tow, and always, always wearing mouse ears.

The fashion is amazing, including the mouse ears. Disney sure has diversified since the 70’s. No more black Mickey Mouse ears; now, everyone is bedazzled! Sequins, fur, sparkly bows, and even leopard prints are the rage. And every type of Disney t-shirt imaginable is being worn too. They even combine logos now. I saw Mickey as a New York Yankee, Mickey as a LA Dodger, a Laker and an Anaheim Duck. Oddly, not as a Saskatchewan Roughrider, but I’m still looking.

Watching the dads and grandpas is my favourite pastime. Dad’s tend toward being sun-conscious or sports-conscious. That is, they either have the largest sun hat of the group (sensible and much needed if a little dorky) or are draped head to toe in the colours of their team. I saw all blue Dallas Cowboy fans, including hat, shirt, pants and socks and Cardinals fans who even had red shoes. It’s awesome.

But my favourite beyond all others is the matching family vacation outfits. I saw a family of six wearing bright orange t-shirts with Snoopy silk screened on the front and “Marshall Family Vacation 2016” underneath. Brilliant! Others wore all pink or all yellow or all green. It reminded me of the stag and stagette crews all around Amsterdam, but these folks were off to Disneyland and good for them. Robyn’s quite disappointed that we didn’t get matching outfits when we did our trips to the Maritimes and Vancouver Island and maybe she has a point.


Go Team Pink!

The other vivid memory of my first trip to Anaheim was the food. My dad is a very fussy eater and that intensified on vacation. On our first vacation to Ontario he insisted on only stopping at Husky House truck stops and ordered the same meal every time. This carried on to California.

I remember walking twice a day, in the morning and evening, south from our motel, alongside the massive Disneyland parking lot, to the southern corner of the park. There, on the corner, was a small family restaurant with the unfortunate name of Sambo’s.

We walked to Sambo’s every day for breakfast and every day for supper and Dad ordered the same thing every single time. Bacon, eggs over easy, white toast and coffee for breakfast and hamburger steak, soup and coffee for supper. When our waitress asked Dad if he wanted ‘the usual’ on Day 3 he beamed. There was no way we were going anywhere else now.

I took a few circuits around the Disney Resorts looking for Sambo’s yesterday but I couldn’t find it. I wanted to take Robyn and order a hamburger steak for old times sake.

I’m sure the name changed long ago but the building might still be there. My best guess is a place called Coco’s which is right beside our motel. It’s the right size and on the southwest corner of the current park, just like I remember.


Sambo’s? Is that you?

If I’m wrong, then the building and a ton of other places have been torn down to make a new employee parking lot. It all depends on whether California Adventure extends further south than the 1978 version of the Disneyland parking lot.


Noooo!!! Hopefully not, anyway

I’m going to pretend that Coco’s the old Sambo’s and will be sure to go there. Gotta keep the old memories alive.

But I’m keeping my mouth shut at the airport.