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.