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

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


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.