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.