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.


TokyoMagic! said...

Would you have gotten in trouble if management caught you purchasing food in the park while "in costume"? At Knott's, we weren't supposed to do it, but the guys could often get around it by taking their shirt off and just wearing their T-shirt underneath. The restaurant situation was very similar for us...the employee eateries were closer for some, but for others there just wasn't enough time to get over there, order, wait for the order, and then eat.

Connie Moreno said...

Just found your blog - VERY COOL!!! I worked on Main Street and loved strolling around during my breaks, taking pictures for guests. Since I worked nights, I didn't have to escape the heat of the day.

Yellows said...

Tokyo-Definitely a bad idea to be caught eating food onstage. I never had anyone question me about buying a cone at the Wheelhouse, though—probably because it was right next to a backstage door!

Connie-Welcome to another fellow Cast Member! What did you do on Main St.? Custodial, merchandise, foods? Come back and stroll around anytime.