LOS OLIVOS, California — Michael Jackson's Christmas decorations are still up.
Otherwise, Neverland Ranch isn't looking bad for the kind of month he's had.
Jackson's most dedicated fans got to see a train station adorned with ornaments on evergreens and everything else that is his magnificent estate Friday (January 16) when the singer invited thousands to come over and play after his arraignment in nearby Santa Maria.
"In the spirit of love and togetherness, Michael Jackson would like to invite his fans and supporters to his Neverland Ranch," read the invitations handed out by his staff outside the courthouse. "Refreshments will be served. We'll see you there."
Jackson himself did not actually see his fans there, but he was in his house, according to guards and a couple of lucky guests who made it inside, including a woman dressed as Charlie Chaplin.
"He looked tired," the impersonator said. "He might have me back. Charlie Chaplin is his favorite character. Well, second favorite."
His first, of course, is Peter Pan, obvious by the murals and statues scattered across the many acres. The latest big-screen rendition of the story was even playing in his theater for fans to watch, with all the complimentary popcorn and candy one could wish for.
"I feel like a kid in a candy store," joked a gray-haired man, surrounded by kids with chocolate mustaches and gummy bear fingers.
Snacks were everywhere at Neverland Ranch on Friday. Even just outside the second, more glamorous gates, there were buckets of soda and plates of cookies, and within a few feet inside was one of dozens of ice cream stations.
Outside the golden entrance (not the one off the street), security guards frisked the couple thousand visitors for cameras, cell phones and cigarettes. Even purses were not permitted.
No one really seemed to mind, though. "I just can't believe I'm actually here," a college student told her friends, verbalizing what was on a lot of people's minds.
Neverland Ranch's amusement park was a big attraction Friday, aided by the beautiful weather and friendliness of the other guests and workers, a scene that would have made Walt Disney jealous.
With all the food being handed out, including a dinner with turkey dogs and fried chicken, there was shockingly no litter anywhere. "That'd just be wrong," a girl said as she scouted out a trash bin.
And why was the train only going back and forth between two stops? "So everyone has a chance to ride," the conductor said, smiling.
The elephant trainer spent most of the party, which lasted from about noon to 5 p.m., explaining the rituals of 17-year-old Lindsey and 12-year-old Bubba to captivated kids and their parents.
"Michael and the kids ride her all the time," she said of the older. "We let them run all around the land. It's much better than a regular zoo."
Really, though, this was a regular zoo, complete with giraffes, monkeys, llamas, alligators, snakes and a shy black bear.
The most popular exhibit, though, was Jackson's house, which many thought was smaller than expected. "It's the original house, he's never added on," the elephant keeper said.
Most of the curtains were open, so eyes were glued to windows for minutes at a time. "Oh my God, those most be his kids," one girl said, staring at the many photographs on the walls of his dining room. "They are so cute."
Jackson hired a band to perform in the park, near the outdoor theater, but the fans were happier afterward when only his music blared from speakers that seemed to be everywhere. Even the parades of sharply dressed security guards were grooving to "Smooth Criminal."
More modern music, like Outkast and Snoop Dogg, rocked the festivities in the arcade, where the line for Slurpees was out the door. The room had dozens of games, but the most popular for his crowd — most of whom wore some sort of slogan T-shirt ("Michael Jackson Is %1000 Innocent," "Free Michael," etc.) — was, unsurprisingly, "Moonwalker."
The arcade had a photo booth, but it was out of order. There would be no pictures at Neverland. Security guards even warned that anyone spotted with a camera would be escorted out, although the only man to leave unwillingly was a fan who climbed Jackson's favorite tree, where he supposedly writes his lyrics.
Some visitors drove to Neverland after hearing about the party on the news, begging for admittance. "I shed a tear and showed them my kids," a mom said. Most, though, came from the courthouse, including the so-called "Caravan of Love" buses Jermaine Jackson (who made his rounds at Neverland, signing autographs) organized from Los Angeles.
The fans, however, were much better behaved than in Santa Maria, which seemed like more of a carnival than Neverland. (Must have been the various food vendors outside the courthouse, hawking burritos at 7 a.m., or the gospel singers, or the stand selling teddy bears, or the man dressed like an offspring of Tin Man and Iron Man, or ...)
There, the only intentions were getting a glimpse of Jackson — one woman even risked the safety of her newborn by entering a mob trailing Jackson's car, prompting an officer to scold her — or making money. Fliers were everywhere for restaurants, bed and breakfasts, houses to rent. And T-shirts were available at every corner.
Richard Andrews, who has a T-shirt store in Hollywood, brought 400 "Free Michael" shirts. "I did O.J., I'm going to do Kobe ... this is big business," he boasted.
Even a Michael Jackson impersonator, who handed out business cards, admitted to being there partially to show support, partially for business. "I do all sorts of events," she said. "Corporate functions, etc. I don't do many bar mitzvahs anymore, though."
For full coverage of the Michael Jackson case, see "Michael Jackson Accused."