November 28, 2008

Partners

The Disneyland I knew didn’t have a bronze monument to Walt in its Central Plaza.

It didn’t need such a thing. The Park itself was a monument.

It represented the ideals and the dreams of Walt Disney, ideals and dreams that turned out to be the same as those of millions of people.

A better tribute to Walk would have been an image of all of those people, not his own likeness. If you wanted to see Walt’s face in Disneyland, you needed only to look around at people like this. A parent and child having fun together.

Walt was never the king of his Magic Kingdom. Disneyland used to believe its most important partnership was the one it shared with its guests. That’s why as Cast Members when working at Disneyland was The Best Possible Job, “our reason for being was not . . . to park cars, sell tickets, serve food, sweep and clean, maintain facilities, count money . . . or do any of the over 400 important tasks required to produce the Disneyland Show.

We were there to create happiness. That’s why Disneyland was a true reason for being, not merely a job.

It first described that attitude in its 1955 orientation handbook, which I’ve quoted below. The next time you go, see if you think it’s still there:

The most important person in Disneyland is a guest. A guest is a person who enters Disneyland seeking entertainment.

A guest may be white, black, brown or yellow...

Christian, Jew, Buddhist or Hindu...

Republican or Democrat...

Showoff or wallflower, big shot or small...

Rich or poor, healthy or unhealthy...

But, from the moment his car turns into the Disneyland parking lot until he leaves, he is a guest of Disneyland.

How we greet him, how we look, the big and litle things, are all vitally important to the enjoyment of his day at Disneyland.

A Disneyland guest is to us, a King in our Magic Kingdom.

November 19, 2008

There was a lot more to see on Mars

There was imagination.

There was education. (“Earth and Mars are anywhere from 35 million to 240 million miles apart at times. Which used to make a trip to Mars pretty tricky. For example, space ships had to follow a curved path for about eight months to intercept Mars when it reached a certain spot. It was like trying to hit a golf ball in California hard enough, and accurately enough, to make it go through one particular window of a train arriving in Florida that much later.”)

There was even a classic bit of Disney slapstick (remember the albatross who tripped the emergency alert every time he came in for a landing?)

That was Mission to Mars.

Now, there’s this. Seems like there was a transporter malfunction when they were trying to beam in a new attraction to update the original Flight to the Moon. They got something from the local mall’s food court crossed with a Johnny Rocket’s outpost, leaving this hideous result.

Perhaps someone told the excited crowd that their object is actually a time capsule, filled with Peoplemovers, Rocket Jets, and America’s music. Or maybe it’s the nucleus of the atom! Do they dare enter the unknown vastness of its inner space?

No.

It is better that they return to the realm of the marketing for a slice of pizza before they are tempted to go on shrinking profits — forever.

November 16, 2008

Balloon musings

Disneyland’s modern balloons are quite different from the ones that floated above children’s heads as they toddled around the Magic Kingdom in the ’80s.

When I worked in Outdoor Vending back in ’83 or so, balloons were the simple ones Alice is passing out here. Five colors. Two ears. One dollar. Now, you might as well be at Six Flags. Even the strings were simpler. Plain red cords, not rainbow ribbons. They were just strings, after all.

The balloons those strings held were likewise just balloons. Even so, they were more fun, more innovative, more Disneyland than anyone else’s balloons. Carnival barkers and amusement parks hawk the kinds of balloons Disney now sells. None of them have the simplicity that made the old balloons—and the Park they complemented—such a joyful expression of good design.

Among all the Magic Kingdom’s forced perspectives and thematic facades, you used to be able to find a feeling of honest quality. The old balloons had that, and so did just about everything else. Even though it took tremendous effort and nonstop discipline to keep the Show on the road, Disneyland didn’t try too hard the way it does now. It didn’t layer everything with gimmicks over glam coated with hype.

Now that the Park is a Resort, the balloons are shiny mylar or worse. I don’t know what Mickey’s marketeers thought that trapping him inside a hamster ball added to the Show. Maybe once the new guy from Bolt starts rolling along during parades, somebody will connect the two and decide to let the Mouse out.
In my view, these things represent everything that separates what Disneyland used to be from the place it is now. Just look at this bunch of inflated noise. Cars, Incredibles, Nemo, and mylar Mickey. It’s like a helium multiplex, a collision at the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, or Tomorrowland.

See how the simple silhouette mouse stands apart, even surrounded by its bizarre bubble? That’s a glimpse of the uncomplicated magic upon which Disneyland rose before Disney popped its balloon.

November 9, 2008

A honey of a place until ’89

Before the “critters” came, Bear Country was a great place to spend a lazy hour or two of a Disneyland afternoon.

Does anyone spend lazy times at Disneyland anymore? If you’ve never done anything but race from fast pass to fast pass, I wish you could have strolled through Bear Country. You’d have played nickel and dime games in Teddi Barra’s Swingin’ Arcade, maybe sat in Henry’s Vibratin’ Bear Chair (“It’ll shake you up — gently — and wind your watch”), and, if you were lucky, listened to the Big Thunder Breakdown Boys. There was nothing like their rendition of “Pluto Dog,” a Disney variation on “Salty Dog,” an old bluegrass composition:

Standing on the corner with the lowdown blues,
a great big hole in the bottom of my shoes.
Honey, let me be your Pluto dog.

Well, let me be your Pluto dog
or I won't be your man at all.
Honey, let me be your Pluto dog.

Few work locations were more pleasant in the 1980s than Popcorn (“PC”) 8, adjacent to the Country Bear Jamboree. The ice cream wagon next to Bear Country’s entrance sign was opposite the Haunted Mansion’s exit and felt as much part of New Orleans Square as it did of Bear Country. You can just see the edge of the red umbrella standing next to that wagon in this photo at Yesterland. Deeper inside Bear Country at PC 8, it sometimes felt like you weren’t even in Disneyland anymore. You couldn’t hear or see any other part of the Park.

The location was unusual for another reason. Guest traffic in Bear Country didn’t really pick up until about noon, and things thinned out around 1900 hours, or 7 PM. (Disneyland operates on military time). A PC 8 shift took up the whole day and was just about the only wagon that the same Cast Member both opened and closed. Once, on a break, I went wandering around backstage behind the Mile Long Bar to see the sign shop and various other fabrication facilities. Call me crazy, but it was great fun!

There was definitely something about Bear Country worth keeping. Even Magic Mountain tried to install some of the bluegrass flavor of Disneyland’s smallest land. Vintage Disneyland Tickets has this remembrance of Spillikin Corners, an unusual little section of a park famous more for fast rides than slow strolls.

I miss Bear Country’s simple pleasures. Critter Country just doesn’t evoke the same atmosphere. The home-spun musical revue of the Jamboree, the postcards with Marc Davis’s sketches of the Country Bears, even the snoring up in the caves near the entrance. It all came together to create a wonderful part of the Magic Kingdom.

November 4, 2008

Great moments



Walt said that he got “red, white, and blue at times.” I think this would be one of those times. Congratulations to our next President from Illinois.

Photo: Ozier Muhammad, The New York Times

November 2, 2008

Pave Paradise (Pier), put up a parking lot

In 1984, I started biking to work. Leaving my car (I think it was a ’78 MG midget), meant that I could roll right up to Harbor House without having to cross Disneyland’s hundred-acre asphalt desert. Since I didn’t need my parking pass that summer, I still have it as an artifact from the Disneyland that used to be. These stickers went on the rear view mirrors of Cast Members’ cars, so I think that most are probably as long gone as the lot itself.

I had one friend who worked the pavement as part of his duties as a Main Street/Parking Lot attractions host. It seemed to me that the crew had a lot of fun out there. For the rest of us, it was free and generally convenient work parking.

The only time it wasn’t quite as convenient was during the summer months. Unless you had an opening shift, you usually had to park in “X,” the section out near the Toll Plaza entrance off Harbor Blvd. A pretty good hike just to get in to punch your time card, and you couldn’t hop on the tram. You were fine if you allowed enough time, which you probably made sure to do after a couple of sprints to clock in, get to Wardrobe, change, and make it to your work location. After closing shifts, we shuffled out to our cars together and often decided to head over to the Denny’s across the street. Good times.

For a laugh, you can see another interesting “artifact” of 80s Disneyland at this link to some rare footage of “parking lot man,” a seldom-seen being now probably buried in the rubble beneath California Adventure. Be sure to mark your location so you can find your way back!