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.


Brian Sibley said...
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Waterbury said...

I've been reading through your archives and I just love this post. I've never had the experience to work at a theme park, but having worked as a summer camp counselor for a couple summers I can really relate. You do basic training then you go out and interact with the campers and learn as you go and before you know it the summer is over. Then even quicker it's next summer and your back in a familiar territory.

The center of Disneyland really is exactly where ever you're standing.

Looking forward to more of your writing.