March 22, 2009

Part of the magic of Disneyland

As a Cast Member in the early 80s, I found one of the most magical parts of the magic of Disneyland was the sense of being part of something rare and important in the world.

Sure, that sense was sometimes elusive. On a midsummer day with attendance around 88,000 or so and temperatures above 90, for example, it wasn’t necessarily fun to push a dolly fully loaded with frozen bananas from Outdoor Vending's Tomorrowland freezers over to Bear County. Sometimes it wasn’t easy to leave personal problems outside the berm. And the paycheck deposited in the old Disneyland Employees Federal Credit Union every couple of weeks never seemed like quite enough.

At other times, though, the feeling that came from working to create happiness for others was palpable. That’s what made working at Disneyland the best possible job.

I felt it most often on shifts that ended after closing. When you started in the morning and then changed over your work location to another vendor, the Park kept going without you. Although I admit there were times when I was happy to see the next shift, there were also times when it felt like walking out of a fabulous party.

When you were there for the end of Disneyland’s normal operating day, though, it felt as if you’d hosted the entire affair. The sense that this really was your Disneyland was there when one last couple asked you to take a picture for them and then ran off toward Main Street. An hour or so later, after you'd cleaned the location, counted the drawer, and dropped off the money bags at Cash Control, it stayed with you, all the way up to Harbor House.

Even surrounded by the business realities of Disneyland—rolls of coins, bundles of bills, working hours, paychecks, and all the rest—life as a Disneylander was something special.

Whatever made it special didn’t leave when you walked off the property. You’d clock out and slip your timecard into a slot whose location you hoped you’d remember when you came in for your next shift, but you could carry with you as you headed out into the parking lot the sense of playing a part in the lives of those who’d passed through the main gate turnstiles earlier that day. If Arthur was there, he never failed to help by seeing you off with the amazing pride at being a Cast Member that he instilled.

I miss being part of that magic, but I’m glad to know that it was—and is still—part of me.

March 15, 2009

Go back to the drawing board

The New Fantasyland was well off the drawing board when I received this 1983 Cast Member booklet during orientation. It was just about twenty-six years ago this month that the drawbridge would lower for the second time, revealing "the world of imagination, hopes and dreams" that money prevented Walt from making the first time around.

In 1983, the message was that Disneyland had “both the land and the creative spirit” for expansion. As a new Cast Member, you would “fast become a part of an exciting new era as we open the doors to the future."

In my view, it’s a significant understatement to say that something important somehow got left behind. The Magic Kingdom that appeared when the doors to Disneyland's future opened looked and felt more like today's Tomorrowland than yesterday’s New Fantasyland. Should an “exciting new era” really include gutted old attractions left to collect a decade’s dust, painfully clear reminders of all that went wrong?

I think that the booklet above had the right idea:

Now that we have been recognized as a world institution, we must find new ways of developing our guest relations. It is both a challenge and an increased responsibility for us.

We will continue to make a job at Disneyland a professional and respected career.

If the world becomes more troubled, or merely remains as troubled as it now is, we must be dedicated to keeping our national treasure - our Disneyland - the friendly and happy place it is.

Disneyland will never be completed, as we all know. But neither should it ever be compromised.

March 4, 2009

Once upon a dream

I pasted this autograph card into my childhood scrapbook back in 1971, so it’s quite worn. Being packed away in an attic trunk for all these years must have preserved Flora, Fauna, and Merriweather’s magic somehow, because I felt lifted back to the simple pleasures of old Disneyland as soon as I saw it again.

“Sleeping Beauty Days” happened over the first weekend in March, 1971. During those days, Disneyland was open five days a week, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Guests got an extra two hours on Saturday and Sunday when the Park was open from 9 to 7. Seven-day operations didn’t start until the early 80s. Still, there were plenty of attractions back then to fill those few hours. Even without Space, Splash, or Big Thunder Mountain, a ticket book didn’t go nearly far enough. When you added all the shops and show, parades and characters, it was always time to go much, much too soon.

I remember spending many nights after those early days falling asleep in the back seat of the family car as we waited to pull out of the parking lot onto West Street. Through half-closed eyes, taillights turned into beams stretching into the darkness.

Those beams faded away more than three decades ago. Looking back on Sleeping Beauty Days again, though, the gleam in my eyes is so familiar a gleam.