December 31, 2010

Running out of 2010

One of my 80's friends is hustling into Outdoor Vending's old office behind America Sings. If you've got someplace to be tonight, you'd better hurry, too. Time to get ready for the new year! Be safe!

Here's to a 2011 filled with happiness and more fond memories of Disneyland past. See you then!

December 19, 2010

Just a little bit of pixie dust

Toys for children of all ages, a complete doll shop, and "children's Disney character clothing." All wrapped up for Christmas every day in a pastel-painted box in the courtyard behind Sleeping Beauty Castle. Was there ever a better place to be a child?

As hard as it may be to believe, there was a time when "Disney character clothing" wasn't found all over the Park. Tinkerbell's sold other unique things— a full line of Madame Alexander dolls, a menagerie of stuffed animals (not just Disney plush), and a toy box full of Matchbox cars, toy soldiers, and other things that Geppetto might have made.

It was no "Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique," but I don't feel as if I missed out on anything for not having that "experience" be part of my Disneyland. Even as an adult, the little toy shop was always one of the most fun parts of Fantasyland. I'm not sure if it was there on opening day, but it stood opposite the King Arthur Carrousel since at least the sixties. It's identity seems to be a little inconsistent over the years. In 1966, for example, its sign read "Toy Shop," while my 1979 souvenir guide calls it a "Toy Store." In neither is it a "Toy Shoppe," as the photo atop this post shows.

Whatever it might have looked like outside, Tinkerbell's always packed a huge amount of childhood wonder between its compact walls. I was there once when I was about fifteen, just starting to think about how much I wanted to work at the Magic Kingdom. A hostess pushed on one side of a mirror in the clothing section, and it swung open to reveal a small hidden stockroom. I remember thinking about how amazing it was the way the Park operated, concealing things like inventory right under guests' noses. When I discovered as a Cast Member that merchandise stocking was an entire department working behind the scenes, I was that much more impressed.

Here's to the kind of unplugged, old-world childhood magic that the Tinkerbell Toy Store used to provide for families visiting Fantasyland. May everyone, old or young, have such joy this season.

November 28, 2010

Winter wardrobe

Contrary to popular belief, there were times when it was not much fun to be a Disneyland Cast Member in the 80s.

Say around 22:30 (the Park runs on military time) during a private party in the winter season. Mostly alone at a popcorn wagon on the hub (which could have done with an extra heat lamp). Or running a relief shift giving breaks to vendors up by Small World. Or maybe clutching a balloon bunch in a frozen fist under the PeopleMover track.

During the off-season months, Anaheim got downright cold at night. If I had the good luck to be near the Inn Between behind Plaza Inn, I would scoot in as soon as I could, happy to step off the nighttime stage for fifteen much-needed minutes. If not, spending a break huddling somewhere backstage under a space heater with a paper cup of machine-made hot chocolate offered little comfort.

Fortunately, Disneyland's once-legendary wardrobe department was there with all the help that it could provide in the form of these bright red jackets. Zip-up and lined with white fleece, they were a formidable shield against late November nights. You could still see the imprint of your fingers when you pressed them against the back of your hand, but you could stand up to an eight-hour shift wearing one of these. Add a white scarf, and you could keep your smile genuine till past midnight.

Here's a toast to those toasty coats, and warm winter wishes to all of my Disneyland friends, old and new.

October 31, 2010

Halloween treat

Crypt doors creaked and tombstones quaked around our house tonight as goblins, and ghoulies ascended for a swinging wake. We always turn our yard into a miniature Haunted Mansion, and I'm now exhausted! Tomorrow we start packing it all up for next year.

Our homemade haunt is too big to fit into this wonderful old Disneyland souvenir, but that doesn't make the Secret Panel Chest anything less fun. Inside its sliding pieces lurked an early spirit from a New Orleans Square that had yet to hear of Jack Skellington and company. The little wooden puzzle box comes from a time when things "could only happen at Disneyland." The era may have been Imagineering's pinnacle.

The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean were both still relatively new when I got my Secret Panel Chest sometime in the mid-seventies. The thought of a "secret panel" evoked memories of walking fearfully into the portrait gallery with "no windows and no doors." Finding a way into the hidden compartment wasn't quite as thrilling as having "to find—a way out" of the gallery. But the chest is still a treasure.

If you haven't explored it, you can get a detailed look at the Secret Panel Chest here. Happy Halloween!

October 12, 2010

Classic cars

"Enter The Grand Stand where cars on a big screen discuss life as they know it. They cover big topics like street smarts, the birds and the bees ("There comes a time in your life when bees will fly right into your grill!"), and the challenges of waiting for green lights."

"When the checkered flag is waved, step on the accelerator to start the race in one of the sleek hotrods. Each car has its own personality. The cast of car characters includes Suzy the cute coupe, Dusty the off-road vehicle and Sparky the stylish sports car."

Stop.

Look both ways.

Didn't you have as much or more fun back then?

Didn't you feel just as much excitement and anticipation listening to Jack Wagner, "the Voice of Disneyland," tell you how to drive a real car as you ever have listening to cars discussing life as they know it? Wasn't Autopia enough of an experience for a kid that it didn't need "enhancing" with such features? Why is it that I can type out those instructions word for word, probably close to forty years later:

Attention, Autopia drivers:

To make your car go, press your foot down on the pedal.

To stop, take your foot
off the pedal.

For your own safety, and the safety of other drivers, please do not bump the car ahead of you

or stop your car in the middle of the track.

Thank you.

Maybe kids today wouldn't enjoy the attraction without talking cars and funny billboards. Or maybe Disney is just playing down. Some of Walt's pictures had cartoon cars, but he must have sensed that kids would get more excited about real ones. And those little racers were really something. Their Kamm tails and clean lines made them seem a lot faster than they actually were. Hopping into one and pulling out onto the quiet track was one of the most thrilling adventures I could have imagined as a kid.

Unfortunately, today's Autopia cars still lack the one feature that the attraction now sorely needs.

Reverse gear.

September 19, 2010

Sentimental journey

The sun didn't set on Disneyland's summer season in the good old pre-Resort days until the last notes had faded from the Plaza Gardens stage. What a world-class venue that red-and-white-striped setting was for Big Band sounds!

That stage was all about entertainment from another time. A free trip back to the Big Band era with some of the most legendary performers ever seen. Since the beginning, Disneyland had used the space just off the Central Plaza to spotlight jazz greats like Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and Artie Shaw. The tradition continued through the 80s, when groups like the Toshiko Akiyoshi/Lew Tabackin Big Band, Harry James and his Orchestra, and Les Brown and his Band of Renown made Plaza Gardens their summer home.

I remember looking forward to a fine day at work when I flashed my yellow ID card at Harbor House and noticed a bunch of names signed in as being with "Aki/Tab" or one of the other bands. It happened just about every night during the summer back then. You don't hear that music jazzing up the hub any longer, but we can pretend we're there (and we'll have to since I couldn't find any video from the actual stage).

Come back to those Anaheim summer nights when the Magic Kingdom was all that jazz and imagine we're sending Summer 2010 off in classic Disneyland style. Here's our lineup:

Count Basie Orchestra

Les Brown and His Band of Renown

Toshiko Akiyoshi/Lew Tabackin Big Band

Harry James and his Orchestra

Lionel Hampton

Glenn Miller Orchestra

Now bop on down Main Street, because Disneyland has now ended its normal operating day. Please drive carefully on your way home—even as you tap your feet.

September 6, 2010

A magical little park

As an Outdoor Vending Cast Member back in the 80s, I could tell when summer was over at Disneyland without looking at a Park operating calendar.

The signs were unmistakeable. You usually worked open to close. If you were on ice cream, you pushed the wagon back in at dusk after bringing it out in the morning. If you were on ice cream and it was your second summer, you knew enough to check out a jacket at Wardrobe when you picked up your costume after clocking in.

Fortunately, wagons were loaded lighter then. Ice cream sales started to come at longer and longer intervals. When guests approached my location, it was as often to ask for a good restaurant recommendation as it was to buy a frozen banana. Try the Plaza Pavilion or Blue Bayou.

A post-Labor Day popcorn shift was still moderately busy. When breaks came, though, the relief was more likely to be a lead than another vendor. With less to do in the ODV office behind America Sings, leads often covered breaks and lunches. If you ever saw a walkie-talkie sitting on the silver counter of a popcorn wagon back then, it was a lead handing you your carton of Orville Redenbacher's finest. The Cast Member who came out to give you a chance to grab a soda or lunch just a week earlier might be back at Cal State Fullerton or Biola. I didn't go to college until I returned my costume for the last time, so I spent a couple of summers at a Magic Kingdom that seemed almost deserted backstage.

As kids went back to school and families finished up their summer vacations, guest numbers lightened. Operating hours too were reduced. An occasional weekend event or private party offered an increasingly rare return to something that felt like Disneyland's busiest season. In the lull between Labor Day and the holidays, the Park took on a mellow, introspective quality.

It was a wonderful time to be at Disneyland and an especially nice time to work there. One of Walt's quotes that I've always liked described that period well. "In the winter time, you can go out there during the week and you won't see any children. You'll see the oldsters out there riding all these rides and having fun." Jimmy Buffett has a nice take on the feeling that was easy to find standing at a spot on Main Street watching guests stroll—not race—around. That's when the place was most like the Tivoli Gardens that inspired Walt or the "magical little park" he once envisioned across from the Studio.

Now that I'm closer to being one of the oldsters than one of the children, I really want to go for a spin on Dumbo or the Mad Tea Party. Maybe find a prancing steed on King Arthur's Carousel or squeeze into a seat on a Storybookland or Jungle Cruise boat. I'd love to climb aboard a Skyway bucket as it swings out onto its course through the Matterhorn and look out over it all. Oh, well.

At least we can look back on it together.

August 31, 2010

Disneyland taboos are still important

Over at Jungle is 101, the terrific blog written by friend and fellow former Cast Member Mike, is a report of a recent Disneyland guest experience. Unfortunately, as he tells it, what should have been the simple purchase of a Dole Whip during a visit to the Enchanted Tiki Room turned into a complicated ordeal and a visit to City Hall after employees displayed anything but Disney courtesy. A number of comments to Mike's post reported disturbingly similar employee behavior on other trips.

It seems like it might be past time to dust off the original handbook given to Walt's new hires back in 1955. I received a reprint of this manual for creating happiness when I joined the Cast in 1983, and I still use the lessons that it taught today. Here's the text of one of the most important sections, which seems particularly appropriate in light of Mike's Adventureland incident:

Just as every land has certain taboos, we have ours at Disneyland. A taboo is something that is never done under any circumstances. Our taboos are few, but we must all abide by them at all times.

One taboo prohibits drinking by hosts and hostesses within Disneyland, or having the odor of liquor on your breath while at work.

Smoking, drinking of coffee or other beverages, or eating while at our work station is also taboo at any time.

Loud or profane language used within the hearing of guests is prohibited.

Gambling, fighting, or arguing in loud tones also ruin the magic of a Magic Kingdom and are taboo at all times.

Remember...these taboos apply to all of us, at all times. A taboo means there is no second chance.

I know that the stress of working with high numbers of sometimes rude people in Anaheim's August heat can make anyone feel irritable. I've done it, and I've felt it. A Disneyland Cast Member, however, isn't just anyone. He or she is—or should be—a people professional. It is highly disciplined work that is all service to others.

It's not a job that everyone can do, and Walt knew that. Once, for example, he noticed a Disneyland railroad conductor treating guests curtly and told an assistant, "See if your can't give that fellow a better understanding of the business we're in. Try to cheer him up. If you can't, then he shouldn't be working here. We're selling happiness."

Sadly, it sounds like all the people working the tiki juice bar were selling on Mike's recent trip was Dole Whips. If that.

Tangaroa not happy.

August 22, 2010

Around the bend

Summer heat was somehow hotter when you worked in Frontierland. Maybe it was the rugged old West setting that seemed to make temperatures feel like they exceeded those in other parts of Disneyland. It might also have been the fact that Frontierland's location was almost exactly centered between the two Cast Member cafeterias. Other than those two refreshment spots, that side of the Park was pretty short of break areas for those of us in Outdoor Vending.

The Inn Between is the backstage half of the Plaza Inn. A great place to go on break, but you had to be close enough to get there, get served, and get back before your fifteen minutes were up. If you were starting from Frontierland, that could be a challenge on a busy summer day. The Pit was your west-side cafeteria alternative. Buried in the corridors beneath Pirates of the Caribbean, it was a cool respite and a bit closer than crossing the Hub. Even so, it took up time when all you really wanted was just to sit down out of the sun for about ten.

Fortunately, there was one spot that you could count on during those summer months back in the Eighties. The Wheelhouse was a small window located between the Stage Door Cafe and the River Belle Terrace. It was meant for guests, but it's small size often left it unnoticed. You could step quickly up to the window and be on your way with a enormous swirl of soft-serve cone in moments. I remember that it cost about a buck.

I enjoyed quite a few of those cones back behind the buildings facing the Rivers of America. You could usually find a packing crate or pallet to serve as an impromptu bench. Once I took my cone up to an unused conference room in what I think was the Frontierland office. There was nothing better.

Unless you happened to be my good friend "Captain" Mike Schwartz in the photo above. Mike had maybe the only job in Disneyland where it was possible to walk an ice-cream cone back to your work location and have it right there onstage. He spent over ten years as an attractions host and used to take a tall vanilla soft-serve with him back to his own wheelhouse on the top deck of the Mark Twain. As he "steered" the gleaming sternwheeler, he'd wave to guests with one hand while holding a sugar cone in the other. He kept it out of sight to preserve the Show. In an amazing combination of ingenuity, respect, and defiance of authority, however, he figured out a unique way to create happiness for others and enjoy himself a little bit more at the same time.

Once the ship had churned safely past Fowler's Harbor, Mike would sit back and dig in—usually listening to an Angels game on the transistor radio in his pocket. As Vista Advertising's marketing for the Magic Kingdom used to say, "It could only happen at Disneyland!"

I'm glad that I was there when it did.

August 8, 2010

Trip report — Summer 1978

It's August 1978. I'll become a Cast Member in five years. Today, I'm a guest, staying with my mom in the Disneyland Hotel. The Mark III monorail has just glided us into the Tomorrowland station. A great day in the Magic Kingdom is ahead!



The entertainment calendar in our guide tells us that we can look forward to two parades: one for Mickey's 50th and the Main Street Electrical Parade plus Fantasy in the Sky tonight. Maybe we'll even hit the Space Stage and dance to "The Magnificent Music & Motion Machine." As we wander through the Park, we'll hear the Dapper Dans, Main Street Maniacs, Royal Street Bachelors, Pearly Band, All-American College Marching Band, and Bowdie Mountain Express, "a quartet of down-to-earth Blue Grass performers in Bear Country."

Of course, we've also got a long list of adventures and attractions, including still-new Space Mountain! Since we're already in Tomorrowland, let's go! There's the speedramp, just past the gantry elevator up to the Rocket Jets!



Wow! We conquered Space Mountain! Let's come back down to earth and start the rest of our day the traditional way with a walk up Main Street. We can hop aboard the Disneyland Railroad for a quick trip through the Grand Canyon and Primeval World.







Fantasyland next! Let's visit the Matterhorn, our old favorite mountain.



We'll catch our breath walking over to the Frontierland side of the Park. No Big Thunder to take the "wildest ride in the wilderness" yet, but we were still having the best time. I was having so much fun that I forgot to take more photos! A cruise on the Mark Twain around the Rivers of America gave me a chance to snap a shot of the burning settler's cabin, but my Kodak Instamatic X-15 didn't get much use after that.





We were there until Jack Wagner told us that Disneyland had ended its normal operating day. Exhausted, we had one more experience ahead that made this visit the best we'd had. As a sea of guests funneled toward Town Square, our monorail pulled out. Laden with our paper bags filled with things from the Character Shop, Main Street Magic, Tropical Imports, and Tinkerbell's Toy Store, it zipped us through the darkness across the parking lot. Kids in back seats looked up as we glided overhead, part of one last moment of a perfect Disneyland day.

We checked out the next morning and wandered through the hotel shops, adding a few more souvenirs here and there. I don't know where nearly any of it is today, but I've still got that August 1978 trip. Thanks for coming along to relive it. And thanks, mom, for everything.

August 2, 2010

Monorail 78 on hotel dispatch

We checked out August 2, 1978, thirty-two years ago today. I had waited all year for the trip. The first time that my mom and I stayed in the Disneyland Hotel. We never made it back, but the two days we were there couldn't be improved.

We were the first aboard the Mark III monorail as it emerged across Katella Avenue on that morning's run across Disneyland's 115-acre parking lot ("or 'Freeway Retreat,' as many of you have called it.")

Like travelers striding up to a Pan Am China Clipper, we stepped into the cabin, then dashed straight to the bubble—completely bursting any air of sophistication we had. We're talking about the bubble, after all! We skimmed across West Street (not Disneyland Drive) and played in the early morning Park (not Resort). We conquered Space Mountain, then just about a year old, and made it to all of our favorites until we had to come back and check into our Bonita tower room. It cost about $185.00 adjusted for inflation. Parking would have been around $6.50 in today's dollars.

In this modern world of mega-hotels and second gates, it might be hard to understand what an overnight stay in the old official hotel of the Magic Kingdom meant to a kid who came to Anaheim maybe once a year, maybe more if someone else's parents were taking them. Quite simply, it was the best possible trip I could imagine, an almost incomprehensible luxury—actually staying overnight at Disneyland!

Once the overnight bags were dropped off, we skipped back up the stairs to the old hotel station platform—remember those hexagon cut-outs in the steel beams? We were back in the Magic Kingdom in minutes and there long into the night. Unlike all our past trips to Disneyland, there was no sleeping in the back seat on the way home to the San Fernando Valley.

I don't have many of the photos that I snapped with my Kodak Instamatic X-15 on that visit, but I'll post what I've got in a special vintage trip report from 1978 this weekend. We'll ride the beam as it bends right and we accelerate toward Tomorrowland and back to a summer memory that I cherish. Thanks for coming along.

July 26, 2010

Disney on ice

Dry ice, and lots of it, kept Outdoor Vending's ice cream bars, ice cream sandwiches, frozen juice bars, and frozen bananas cool back in the '80s. Although the stuff can inflict a sharp burn if you touch it without gloves, it created a refreshingly cold respite during the summer heat. Reaching into an ice cream wagon definitely beat dealing with hot popcorn oil in July and August!

But the "coolest" job an ODV host or hostess could have was working a relief shift. You'd be assigned about ten wagons, coordinating breaks, lunches, and restocking. Wagons were pushed in and out every day back then. None of the locations had telephones, so stocking involved keeping a rough running tally of each vendor's inventory. You'd finish a block of fifteen-minute breaks, then hustle back to the freezers behind America Sings to fill up the wagons before a block of half-hour lunches tied you down.

As a Relief, the responsibility of being one step below Lead was great—but the perk of being able spend some time in an ice box as heat shimmered off the Anaheim asphalt backstage was awesome.

The two walk-ins were each about as big as a small studio apartment. Dimly lit by incandescent overhead bulbs. Filled with stacks almost ceiling height of aluminum Carnation baskets and cardboard banana boxes. The smell of vanilla tinged with banana drifted around the metal rooms, helped by slow-moving propeller fans attached to the back walls.

Inside, you'd pull your little scrap of inventory notes out of your yellow polo shirt pocket, take out as much as you could carry, and load up a yellow dolly with ice cream crates. You could grab a red windbreaker, but most of us went in without one on really hot days. As you set the frozen novelties outside the big door, a wave of heat rolled over you and you ducked back inside quickly. You usually finished with a load of around eight crates. You might also have a tub or two of popcorn oil. All hoisted up and balanced—somewhat precariously—on the lip of a two-wheeled transport dolly. The pleasant chill dissipated quickly.

You moved this load by yourself though 65,000 to 85,000 guests, creeping through crowds, shouting "Excuse me!" as courteously as you could, and surging forward through any opening in the masses. If you were lucky, most of your wagons were in Tomorrowland and on the hub. If you were heading out to Bear Country, you faced a nearly impenetrable wall of folks looking anywhere but at the rolling, semi-unstable hulk that could take out a rented stroller with ease.

Nothing more than a few near misses ever happened to me, but those Park-wide treks made the temperature seem to climb even higher. There's nothing quite like looking out from near the entrance to Frontierland and seeing a surging river of humanity as wide as the Mark Twain's waterway— knowing that if you don't get to the wagon across from the Haunted Mansion's exit ASAP, you'll be delivering nothing but boxes of floating popsicle sticks.

That's one of my Disneyland memories that sure won't be melting anytime soon.

July 17, 2010

Day 20,090

video
Day 1. July 17, 1955. Fifty-five years ago today.

It was no walk in the Park. The mishaps, miscues, and mistakes of Disneyland's first day are legendary. Ladies got their high heels caught in still-soft pavement. Walt had to choose between restrooms and drinking fountains. But by the end of that day, there was a real live Magic Kingdom, and it really did go on to become "a source of joy and inspiration to all the world."

This is how Disneyland's long-lasting magic was created. Not with pixie dust, forced perspective, or audio-animatronics. But with hard work, dedication, a genuine desire to make others happy. Qualities inherent in people with the ability to make the dream a reality, polished by traditions and training that began all those "normal operating days" ago.

The principles taught to the very first Disneyland Cast made possible everything that came afterward. The more July 17ths that come between Day 1 and the present, however, the easier it is to lose sight of those principles. This video focuses on Walt Disney World, but the lessons aren't different. It doesn't take many slips—a rude employee, peeling paint, lack of value—for the "Finest in Family Entertainment" to fall painfully short of its well-deserved high expectations.

Today's a great day to review these important lessons. After all, when it's your job to create happiness, you can't take your birthday off.

July 12, 2010

Uplifting

Stepping out onstage with a fresh, colorful bunch of Mickey Mouse balloons is definitely up there with my favorite experiences.

I remember pulling those fifty red strings connected to mouse-eared, helium-filled childish delights through one of the doorways separating backstage from the visible parts of Disneyland. Maybe between Mission to Mars and America Sings. If you went among guests through that Tomorrowland gate, you were headed for the balloon vendor under the PeopleMover's straightaway or near the (pre-Nemo) Submarine Voyage. You and your bunch might even walk out to the courtyard of Sleeping Beauty Castle. Main Street vendors were resupplied through the doors by Bank of America.

No matter where you arrived onstage, you would be met by guests wanting balloons. Without any means to handle cash, though, you couldn't sell them. All you could do was lead a little parade to the Cast Member whose balloon bunch had dwindled to single digits. With one arm raised overhead, your red, pink, blue, and yellow cloud was a latex version of a Tour Guide's riding crop.

When you reached the vendor waiting for you, he or she took hold of the bunch, trying to keep the strings from getting hopelessly snarled. There was a surprising amount of pull, especially in anything above a slight breeze. Keeping the strings straight was a constant chore. Once the handoff was made, the balloons settled overhead, and the vendor—usually now surrounded by moms, dads, and kids trying to be patient—could turn to the task at hand.

Then, one by one, fifty Mickeys were introduced to new friends. I remember feeling like it must have felt to be Bert selling kites.

June 27, 2010

Bright summer days

Back in the '80s, a Disneyland ice cream wagon's day started outside the outdoor vending office behind America Sings in Tomorrowland. It's in the middle left of this photo.

Vending was a pretty simple operation then. We had just a few items—ice cream bars, ice cream sandwiches, frozen juice bars (first only orange, then strawberry), and frozen bananas. There were no inventory controllers, no post-mix beverage stockers. You stocked the wagons by putting on work gloves, going into walk-in freezers next to the balloon room, and carrying out metal cartons filled with cardboard ice cream novelties. These once-inexpensive treats went into each wagon, and you stacked dry ice cakes on top to keep things cool under Anaheim's summer heat.

Each wagon was then equipped with a napkin dispenser, umbrella, and wooden cash box. If you were on time for your shift, you picked it up at that point for your push out to Bear Country, Frontierland, Fantasyland, or wherever you were assigned—you had to love the positions next to Adventure thru Inner Space or by where Tomorrowland's Rolly Crump ticket booth once stood!

If you strolled over from the locker room a few minutes early for your day shift, you usually found yourself joining in brass polishing. All of the wagons had brass handles and corner trim, and all of that brightwork had to gleam before rolling out in front of guests. That's what's happening in the photo here.

Wagon polishing wasn't exactly an enjoyable task, but I recall it being a fun time. In Outdoor Vending, you work alone for the most part. Vendors got to work all over the Park, but being dispersed so widely meant that we took our breaks by ourselves. You usually didn't see anyone in the department other than your Relief until the changeover at the end of your shift. So the last few minutes dressing the wagons before stepping on stage were lots of fun, usually full of jokes and making after-work plans with friends.

Then you swung open the big wooden doors around the corner from the old Tomorrowland skyway station and put a shoulder to your wagon wheel. On with the Show and another bright summer day.

May 23, 2010

Every show has its reviews

One of the first things I learned as a new Cast Member was that Disneyland is a Show, not just a job. Producing the Happiest Place on Earth's unique entertainment experience took much more than just the highest levels of skills found in other hospitality industry positions.

In spelling out performance expectations, the annual performance appraisal (this is mine from August 1983) gives a terrific insight into exactly what was required to deliver the finest in family entertainment. The organization that Walt built invested heavily in its employees back then. Training, development, increasing levels of responsibility—casual/seasonal, permanent part time, hostess, relief, trainer, lead—and Cast activities were all focused on building a team of performers expert at Disney showmanship. The annual review was a chance to compare the reality with the dream and praise, adjust, or correct accordingly.

The appraisal appears kind of strict, and it was. It largely determined whether a casual become a permanent Cast Member. Behind the ratings, though, was a genuine consideration of employees as valuable partners. Until the union troubles and management changes in the mid-to-late Eighties, working at the Park was still as it was explained in Showmanship: Disneyland Style, which I've often quoted:

It is because we work together at being a "show" and not just a business that the special Disneyland magic is not lost. When we say, "Look to the name Walt Disney for the finest in Family Entertainment," we feel that this is a fact...not a boast. We feel we have the greatest pool of creative talent anyplace in the world. We are proud of that.

We realize we are not the "biggest," or "richest," or "oldest" in the field of show business or American industry. We do feel however, that we are the "friendliest" group you'll find anywhere. Creating fun is our work; and our work creates fun—for us and our guests. One needs happy people to produce a happy show. We take our work seriously, but we don't take ourselves too seriously.

It's difficult—if not impossible—to create fun for our guests if you can't find some fun in playing your own role.

I found both an enormous amount of fun and an immense feeling of satisfaction in working at Disneyland. Judging by my review, I'd say that I put on a pretty good performance. Sometimes I sure wish that the curtains hadn't closed.

May 16, 2010

The center of Disneyland

It's Spring 1983, and you've just clocked in at Disneyland for the first time.

As a brand new Cast Member, you completed "Traditions I" at the University of Disneyland yesterday. Now it's time for your first shift.

As you show your ID at Harbor House, you're waved inside. No passport or annual pass. And not only are you in, there's a time card with your name on it. At Wardrobe, there's a nametag to match.

You'll train under someone experienced in performing your role in the Show. You'll learn that what might seem simple—operating a popcorn wagon, taking tickets, sweeping up—is anything but. Once you're stepped onstage behind your engraved nametag, you're no longer just at Disneyland. You are Disneyland.

Whatever the job, you'll train the entire shift, perhaps longer. Learning the keys to the Disney experience: Safety, Courtesy, Show, Efficiency. These keys unlock the center of the Magic Kingdom. You've never known exactly where that was. Even if you were like me back then and could have pointed immediately to the hub or even to the nearest restroom after being led blindfolded to any part of the Park and turned around three times, you never really put your finger on the center of Disneyland.

Now, standing there in your spotless costume for the first time, with guests coming up to you for answers, ice cream, or a bobsled with space for three, you're applying Walt's formula. You're watching as people are having one of the most wonderful times of their lives. You're treating those having less wonderful times with kindness, which is like a smile and a song that makes things a little bit better.

And it hits you.

The center of Disneyland is exactly wherever you're standing.

In the abstract, it's kind of a hard thing to explain. Because you're no longer a guest, you're suddenly the least important person there. Without you at your best, however, there's no magic. Sure, there's a fairy castle. But forced smiles and uncaring attitudes can turn it into a fake carnival facade for whatever guest is on the other end of them. You've got the power to make dreams real or make them evaporate. In that sense, you're the most important person of all. You're at the heart of what makes Disneyland the Happiest Place on Earth.

It's something that you simply can't experience unless you're a Cast Member, no matter how many times you pass through the main gate. I hope it's still feels that way for those working at the resort. Back then, the feeling of being part of the extraordinary family that was Walt Disney Productions was like nothing else.

After what seems like five minutes, your shift is up. You've spent a day getting paid to create happiness for others. Creating the kind of rare quality and value that Disneyland offered before things changed. There's only thing that makes it possible to step off stage from a job like that.

Knowing when you're scheduled to step back on.

May 9, 2010

Your mother and mine

Take your mom to Disneyland today.

If you really want to treat her right, start early. Don't skimp at the Main Gate. Go for the Deluxe 15 ticket book. Then head into Town Square. Catch Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln at the Opera House. Lincoln remembered his mom:

My mother, who died in my eighth year, was of a family of the name of Hanks.

On your way down Main Street, stop off at the Flower Mart and pick up a few blossoms. They'll last forever. Stroll on down to the hub. Stop by and look at the menu outside the Plaza Inn, where you can take your mom to lunch later.

Spend the rest of the day exploring the Magic Kingdom that you knew as a kid with the mother who gave it to you. In New Orleans Square, have Mlle. Antoinette's Parfumerie blend a custom fragrance, find something lovely at Lafitte's Silver Shop or La Boutique d'Or, or maybe set her up with a new hat from Marche Aux Fleurs, Sacs et Modes. Head back this way to the Blue Bayou for dinner.

Cross the drawbridge into Sleeping Beauty castle. Fly over London with your mom, Peter, and Wendy, but try not to cry, will ya? If you held back your tears, hop aboard Dumbo. By the time you land, you're sure to be at least sniffling.

Dry your eyes while you glide over the Skyway to Tomorrowland. You won't want to miss the many musical salutes to moms of the past at America Sings. Yours is sure to remember these:
She may be somebody's mother
Come let her go her way.

Learning new vices all the night long
Tempted to all that's sinful and wrong
Listening to the siren's old song
Down in the licensed saloon.

After dinner, it's time for big band sounds and dancing at Plaza Gardens. Harry James and his Orchestra might be up tonight, or maybe Les Brown and his Band of Renown. Whoever's playing, it's sure to be the perfect end to a perfect day.

That's what your mom deserves. Find some way to give it to her.

May 2, 2010

All a-bored

Here's the "C.P. Huntington," pulling out of Main Street station for a grand circle tour of the Mag--

Not so much.

It's apparently the C. P. Huntingdon, with a nameplate apparently intended to invoke comparisons to the railroad circling its distant neighbor in Anaheim. but this is most definitely not the Magic Kingdom. This is Oaks Park, a "historic amusement park" in Portland. I wandered around there yesterday and took this postcard shot. The little train is a (very) narrow-guide attraction of the typical carny design. Love the truck mirrors topping the locomotive cab.

Oaks Park covers 44 acres of grounds, mostly lawn used for company picnics and birthday parties. There's a midway and collection of rides: Tilt-a-Whirl, Scrambler, and versions of some that I rode often at old Magic Mountain, like the Himalaya, Electric Rainbow, and Jolly Monster. There's a dark ride based on the adventures of Lewis and Clark, which is about as close to a theme tied to its Pacific Northwest location that Oaks Park gets. It does have some history, most notably in the form of a vintage roller skating rink and dance pavilion.

According to Wikipedia, the park was built by the Oregon Water Power and Railway Company and opened on May 30, 1905, during a period when trolley parks were often constructed along streetcar lines. By 1985, the park was donated to a not-for-profit corporation. It celebrated 100 years of continuous operation in 2005, making it among the oldest in the US.

If you accept it for what it is, it's a OK way to spend an hour or so. Its most impressive feature, however, might be one that was never planned: A demonstration of the true genius displayed by Walt when he looked at similar parks and thought that there must be a way to make something better. "A family park, where parents and children could have fun together."

I find little difference between Oaks and California Adventure, but a world between the Disneyland that I knew and this typical, albeit historically charming, permanent carnival. Take the "C.P. Huntington." You might need more imagination than most people have to pretend that you're riding back to the turn of the century in these little cars. Walt thought families might enjoy and learn something on such a trip—so he gave them a genuine railroad, a genuine station, genuine engineers.

Disneyland is at its best when it retains that "genuine" quality. Whether it's rooted in the worlds of yesterday, tomorrow, or fantasy, it's an authenticity that can't be duplicated without tremendous effort. Oaks Park and its peers are nice, but they fall so far short that comparison is really impossible. And that's the way that "Disney" should keep it.

February 21, 2010

Disneyland family

I read a review of the experience of working at Disneyland posted by someone who had been part of the Magic Kingdom during the "Resort" era. The former attractions host had what sounds like an quite an unpleasant time on Davy Crockett's Explorer Canoes,

His experience contrasts sharply with mine. I was a Cast Member in Outdoor Vending, not Attractions, but only part of what seems to have made the Disneyland show a failure for the reviewer apparently stemmed from his role.

Paddling canoes full of guests around the Rivers of America must be at least as strenuous as pushing dollies fully weighted down with popcorn oil and frozen bananas through 65,000 guests spread from Tomorrowland to Bear Country, which was a major part of working a vending relief shift when I was there back in the 80s. It wasn't just strenuous labor for pay barely above minimum wage, however, that disappointed this guy.

He wrote that maybe the most frustrating aspect of Disneyland employment was what he perceived as elitism:

"Despite the fact that most of us were earning just above minimum wage, I felt very unwelcomed, as if because I had not been there long enough, I was not a valuable member of the Disneyland team. There was a sense while I was there that you had to earn yourself a place in the upper strata of Disneyland employment’s social sphere. I didn’t enjoy having to compete like this for such a menial job."

I hope that this former Disneylander's experience is not at all typical of those working at the "Disneyland Resort." When Disneyland was still a family, this sort of thing didn't happen. We were all in it together then, whether we wore fifteen-year pins, ten-, five-, or one-year pins, or just our own names. My Area Stage Supervisor, responsible for Foods throughout Tomorrowland, started as a fry cook. Leads loaded wagons alongside new Casual/Seasonals.

Disneyland made distinctions then because of pay grades, but nothing else separated permanent full-time, part-time, and "red card" Cast Members hired in at the start of busy seasons. Perhaps the only "strata" was the one between those of us who had traded our laminated red IDs for the yellow cards identifying permanent employees. The only folks I recall caring about seeing any of our cards, however, were those working security at Harbor House. And they didn't care which was which as long as you had one.

Once we were inside the berm, we were part of the Disneyland family. There was certainly a competition between us, and it most definitely involved the canoes. Fortunately, it usually ended over pancakes before we went back to clock in.

February 13, 2010

We were the luckiest people in the world

We worked together in a Disneyland that will never be again.

We created smiles and shared laughs, usually at some guest's unwitting expense. We worked while others played, but we also played together before and after work, in canoe races, softball games, late-night Denny's sessions, Magic Mountain trips. Looking back on it now, it seems like we were always together.

Some of us thought that we would be "lifers", but few are still with the Disney company. Even so, as Cast Members when the Park was a family, not a resort, we share a common heritage that can be recalled with a fondness few other jobs can match. Most of us can probably remember even trivia like our old department numbers, our spiels—even whether we preferred the Inn Between or the Pit. If we've lost touch in the thirty years since I last clocked out, I'm certain we would pick up right where we left off if we happened to meet again. The experience of being part of that Park just stays with you.

We were there at the best possible time, and we had a ball. The Magic Kingdom was still a sparkling jewel, a national treasure. We were its ambassadors, guides, hosts, and hostesses. We offered guests both peerless show and real value. As part of Walt Disney Productions, we got the kind of proud feeling that you get when you are part of a world-class institution. It was an extraordinary time, and we were fortunate enough to spend it together.

A happy valentine's day to every Disneylander. I love you all.

February 6, 2010

We were people on a mission

A couple of years ago, news reports said that Americans hated their jobs more than ever before in the past 20 years, with fewer than half saying they were satisfied.

If whatever survey produced those statistics had been taken at 1313 Harbor Blvd. in the early 1980s, the figures would have been strikingly different. When I worked as a Cast Member then, I loved being at Disneyland, and most of the people that I knew felt pretty much the same way.

I'm not saying that things were fun all the time. When attendance hit around 80,000 on a hot August afternoon, for example, the Park could be feel like far less than the Happiest Place on Earth. But those times couldn't last. The Disneyland show back then just wasn't like a typical job, where days are consumed by quotas, meetings, ongoing projects, and often constant stress. When Jack Wagner announced that the Magic Kingdom had ended its normal operating day, whatever tensions might have built up evaporated along with the guests headed down Main Street. If our job involved money, we dumped it into mechanical sorters, tallied up our bills, and dumped it at a Cash Control window. It wasn't our reason for being there. In the pre-Eisner and Wells days, Walt Disney Productions didn't need to stress over it. Had corporate raiders not launched a takeover attempt, those days might well have continued.

Our mission then was creating happiness. Whether we pursued it by taking guests to Mars or just pointing them to the nearest restroom, we worked hard to get our visitors to the place they had come to visit. I think that even on the hard days, most of us really did believe in the values—and the value—that Walt believed in bringing to people. That's what made us who we were then, and who we have become thirty years later.

January 30, 2010

It took people to make the dream a reality

If you clocked into a role in the Disneyland show during the 1980s, you were a part of something extraordinarily special. Something that exists now only in memories and old photos, images of a time when a job at Disneyland meant being part of a huge extended family, all working together in a showplace of beauty and magic. The next few posts will salute some of those family members.

All of us knew that the work we made look easy was anything but. It could be awfully hard to create happiness for others, especially when something in your life wasn't going right. Once you passed through Harbor House, though, you could start leaving whatever the problem was behind, at least for an eight-hour shift. As you headed to Wardrobe to sign out your costume and back to the locker room to change, getting ready to go onstage took over. And as you stepped through one of the many doors or passages connecting the backstage world to the Magic Kingdom, Disneyland transformed negative thing might have been taking up space in your mind.

As a Cast Member then, you were as much icon as employee. You were Disneyland. Sure, you faced irate guests, rude teenagers, people who resisted giving in to the happy feelings that permeated our beautiful Park. But they were in the minority. Most people sought Disneyland magic eagerly, and they expected it to emanate from you as soon as you emerged, in the form of smiles, laughter, and uncommon courtesy.

You had to make that happen regardless of personal circumstances. There's nowhere to hide unhappiness onstage, so you were forced to leave it outside the berm. And that was when the magic really occurred. As you worked to create happiness for others, you created it in yourself. If you went to work happy, you ended up feeling even better.

As guests looked "to the name Walt Disney for the finest in family entertainment," they were looking at us. Whether we stood on the PeopleMover's loading platform like these two, worked in Outdoor Vending like I did, or performed any of the myriad other roles in the Show, we looked back from behind smiles, vented behind the scenes, and finished off at Acapulco's, Denny's, or HoJo's. Then did it again on the next day or night shift.

Maybe the real proof that those days at the Park were something else is that writing about them now has almost the same effect on me as working during them did. As I recall those memories and look back at those old photos, I feel almost as happy as I did standing in Town Square holding a bright new bunch of Mickey Mouse balloons.

If this blog creates a similar feeling for you, I feel even better.

January 1, 2010

Tune out, turn on, get with it

The Best Possible Job's very first post featured the University of Disneyland's Showmanship...Disneyland Style. When I was a Cast Member in 1983, I learned the principles that Walt, Van, and the rest set out as they were explained in that booklet. Disney training enhanced both my Park performance and my life outside the berm, making those years a wonderful time to recall.

The Disney way as it was then is still valuable today. In some ways, it's even more so. So as we all step onstage into a fresh 2010, here are some good old words from Showmanship. I hope that they help my fifteen(!) loyal readers and everyone else have a happy new year:

Take a look at this morning's paper...at least six stories of bad news. This...and other personal and world troubles are what we want to tune out when we get ready to play our roles in the show. This is why our "stage" is surrounded by an earthen berm...to tune out the outside world.

And then, we have to turn on to the atmosphere...the fun...the magic of the show. It's a fresh show every day for our guests...and this requires fresh attitudes on our parts. We're not saying it won't be hard work...it will also be exciting and challenging work. After all, that's what show biz is all about.

To "get with it" is a show business term. It means getting in the mood of the show...the feeling of the play...or the "theme" of the play...or the "theme" of the area. This is no place for a Grouchy Gus...a Sad Sam or a Harried Harriet. We don't want these type people in our cast. Disneyland is a fun show...not a sad story.

If you tune out the outside world...turn on to Disneyland and get with it, you'll find that you'll be helping to create a very important thing in life.


I'm looking forward to this year, and to sharing more Cast memories with you all. Cheers.