December 31, 2011

2011 heads to Denny's

We'll put another year to bed in about an hour. When you're part of the Disneyland Show, though, time is relative. In the 24/7 world onstage and backstage, landmarks like "midnight" or "morning" don't really apply. Saturday and Sunday might be your Monday and Tuesday, and your "lunch" might be at 6 a.m.

Still, some of the hours that I spent as a Cast Member stand out more than others. The times when being in the Park was better than being just about anywhere else.

Say early enough so that the pavement still has puddles from being washed down as darkness just starts turning to dawn.

Or walking across a hub long emptied of guests and hearing Adriana Caselotti from the wishing well clearly.

Clicking the switch to turn off the lamps on a popcorn wagon as the Main Street Electrical Parade appears.

Posing for snapshots with guests while holding a fresh bunch of Mickey Mouse balloons. Stepping into the Character Shop to use the phone to call the balloon room for more. (The number was "5580." You remember it because you know that you're supposed to drive 55, but you wanna do 80).

Shuffling into X lot at 1:00 a.m. exhausted, then heading over to Denny's or Acapulco's or HoJo's because the people that you work with are all doing the same thing.

Driving the little white Outdoor Vending pickup around behind It's a Small World to stock lemonade at the ice cream train next to the Motor Boat Cruise on a summer afternoon.

Even getting stuck on that train as the sole vendor left on a private party night shift when the Small World clock and the (very) occasional couple of guests are your only company seems not so bad.

Of course, this blog wasn't around back then. And the occasional guests stopping by make now not such a bad time either. Thanks to all of you who enjoy hearing about the Best Possible Job. I hope to spend much more time with you in 2012.

Happy New Year!

December 25, 2011

Being in the present

With the low seniority that I had after becoming a permanent part-time Cast Member in 1983, my Disneyland working hours that year included eight on Christmas day. I lived with a roommate in Anaheim, but home was a couple of hours drive west in Ventura county. I stayed there on Christmas eve before rushing back after a compressed morning with my family to make it to Harbor House in time to clock in.

Heading to work along the nearly empty freeway that early morning probably felt a little bitter. After all, I didn't get to spend the day relaxing or enjoying all my new gifts. I barely had time to open them before I had to run out the door so I could work while others played. That's part of life as a Disneylander, but sheesh, this was Christmas.

After picking up a clean costume, I changed, hefted the canvas bag of rolled coin that my Outdoor Vending supervisor handed me, and headed toward the Plaza, where I worked the popcorn wagon at the far end of Main Street. And the longer that I stood at the hub of a Park that was part of a Christmas tradition for the many who made it a point to visit Disneyland on that particular day—the warmer any cold feelings of losing out on my holiday became.

It wasn't just that I was at Disneyland on December 25. That's always extra special, but by then I'd worked both a summer and nearly a whole holiday season. I'd been to the Park more times than I had as a guest in my life, including on Christmases past.

It was that for the first time I was part of Disneyland on Christmas, a permanent part of the experience that everyone who had paid to be there on that day had wanted to buy. Guests thanked me just for helping the Park to be open. One pair passed out candy canes to me and every host and hostess that they greeted. They said that they considered it their job to cheer us on. Along with the peppermint, we seemed to share a kind of identity; we were somewhat different from everyone who wasn't then working at Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom, and we were somehow better for it.

I started to feel like I should have volunteered for the shift, and I get the same feeling now thinking back on it. It's even making this Christmas warmer.

Quite a present, really. Quite a present.

December 15, 2011

December 15, 1966

Eric Sevareid said it best on the CBS Evening News on this day. Just forty-five years ago, but doesn't it seem like so much longer?

It would take more time than anybody has around the daily news shops to think of the right thing to say about Walt Disney.

He was an original; not just an American original, but an original, period. He was a happy accident; one of the happiest this century has experienced; and judging by the way it's been behaving in spite of all Disney tried to tell it about laughter, love, children, puppies, and sunrises, the century hardly deserved him.

He probably did more to heal or at least to soothe troubled human spirits than all the psychiatrists in the world. There can't be many adults in the allegedly civilized parts of the globe who did not inhabit Disney's mind and imagination at least for a few hours and feel better for the visitation.

It may be true, as somebody said, that while there is no highbrow in a lowbrow, there is some lowbrow in every highbrow.

But what Walt Disney seemed to know was that while there is very little grown-up in a child, there is a lot of child in every grown-up. To a child this weary world is brand new, gift wrapped; Disney tried to keep it that way for adults.

By the conventional wisdom, mighty mice, flying elephants, Snow White and Happy, Grumpy, Sneezy, and Dopey—all these were fantasy,, escapism from reality. It's a question of whether they are any less real, any more fantastic than intercontinental missiles, poisoned air, defoliated forests, and scraps from the moon. This is the age of fantasy, however you look at it, but Disney's fantasy wasn't lethal. People are saying we'll never see his like again.

November 9, 2011

Come live it again

Back when Walt Disney Productions prided itself on delivering "The Finest in Family Entertainment," Disneyland reached out to guests to "come live it again." I've searched for promotions using that slogan for quite a while and thought that they were pretty much lost to time.

This late '70s or early '80s commercial was thus as neat a find as some rare item in the One-of-a-Kind shop. This is the Disneyland that I grew up loving—and enjoyed the great good fortune of presenting as an '80s Cast Member.

There were no fast passes or Ferris wheels. But there was a kind of state of mind. Sure, it didn't stop those who were determined to have a bad time from missing the magic in something as dopey as Dopey. Those who were willing to "leave today" when they passed through the outer lobby onto Town Square, though, really could "live it," the happy feeling that Walt's Magic Kingdom made real.

The old commercial's lyrics express as much:

Disneyland is your land.
It lives because of you.
Each time we say, "Welcome back,"
it always feels brand new.
And every great attraction
is a thrill that never ends.
Yes, Disneyland is your land
when you want to be with friends.
Disneyland is your land.
Come live it again.

"It lives because of you." Welcome back." "Friends." A little bit different from today's emphatic commands to let the memories begin in the place where imagination is the destination, etc., etc. When I look at messages from the "Resort," it just feels like someone doesn't really get "Walt Disney's original theme park."

Thanks to all of you for joining me in living it again.

November 6, 2011

Inside Outdoor Vending

If you remember having the lemonade stand that you had as a kid, you'll have a pretty good idea of what it was like to work in Outdoor Vending back in the '80s.

The backstage side of the business was an efficient but decidedly low tech operation. It was, in fact, a "no tech" operation. The walkie-talkies carried by leads and supervisors were the only electronics used. The ODV headquarters is depicted above as it once looked when it was tucked behind America Sings.

If Paul Frees narrated a tour, he might say something like, "We find it delightfully primitive here in this dusty retreat. The only room has wall-to-wall wooden counters for sorting guests' sweaty dollar bills, with cool or cold non-air-conditioned temperatures depending on the season."

Well-used bulletin boards lined the upper walls. Schedules were tacked up on one for the fifty or sixty Cast Members who wore Disneyland's yellows, as well as the various other costumes themed to lands across the Park where ice cream and popcorn carts set up shop. On the other, you would find guest compliments and occasional complaints, announcements about things like canoe races and softball games, and sometimes a postcard from one of our own who had taken some rare vacation time.

Clustered in the center of the room were stacked boxes of popcorn boxes, porch umbrellas that needed cleaning before they could be sent back out with ice cream wagons to protect against the Anaheim sun, and big yellow parkas for spending extended time taking inventory or something in one of the freezers. Tall metal dollies stood around. There were also about four electric coin sorters that might have been there since 1955.

The cramped cubbyhole on the right was where you arrived to find out your daily work location before heading to Wardrobe for the proper attire. The lead on the phone inside looks like he's handling a typical problem. Maybe the dry ice shipment hasn't arrived or extra shifts have to be filled for an after-hours party.

Looking back, I'd have to say that those seem like pretty good problems to have.

October 30, 2011

Tricks and treats

Merlin knew how to conjure both, but it didn't stop him from being evicted from his old Fantasyland magic shop. Trick-or-treat day seems like a great time to remember the wizard's little emporium that stood in front of King Arthur's Carousel from day one until 1983.

Merlin's was a dark but delightful shop, with an amazing array of genuine magical mysteries—often demonstrated by a highly skilled group of Cast Members, some of whom were also Hollywood Magic Castle members. Unlike its counterpart on Main Street, Fantasyland's magic shop was much larger. Along with standard tricks, and gags like spring-loaded "snakes" in cans of mixed nuts, foam rocks, and spilt soda cans, it stocked professional stage and close-up magic equipment.

The shop also showcased a playfulness nearly entirely absent from Disneyland today. Nickels glued to countertops or nailed to the floor. Rubber bugs strung up and hidden in the wooden beams of the medieval interior so the comedic Cast could unhook them from behind the counter and dangle them on the shoulders of unsuspecting guests.

As nearly everyone knows, the shop's funny CMs included Steve Martin, who worked at Merlin's as a boy. He recounts the experience in his book, which gives a rare perspective on an atmosphere that modern guests will likely never enjoy:

Merlin's was run by Leo Behnke, a fine card and coin manipulator who was the first person to let me in on the inner secrets of magic, and who endorsed a strict code of practice and discipline that I took to heart. But Leo had another quality that transfixed me. He handled cards with delicacy; there was a rhythm to his movements that was mildly hypnotic. He could shuffle the deck without ever lifting it from the tabletop: After an almost invisible riffle, every card was interlaced exactly with the next, a perfect shuffle. Then, with the elegance of Fred Astaire, he squared the cards by running his fingers smoothly around the edges of the deck.

Merlin's never lost that magic touch. What a treat it would be if it reappeared.

September 26, 2011

Disneyland family

The Disneyland Cast was once a family. This fabulous 1979 video clip by a former character focuses on the old Zoo Crew, but these people could have been part of any work location back then. Attractions, Merchandise, Outdoor Vending, Custodial—whatever the department, it was as much group of dear friends as collection of co-workers.

I was part of it all too briefly in the early '80s until things began to change into what they are now. If you were around in those days, you'll recall how special we felt as Disneylanders. We reentered the world outside the berm after our shifts, but we didn't leave the place inside. We worked together, played together, dated, sometimes even married each other.

Our fellow Cast Members were like brothers and sisters, a family presenting family entertainment as if we had invited guests to our own home. It was an era that will never be again. If you never worked for Walt Disney Productions, take a look at the video for a glimpse of how it felt. If you did, watching will feel like a reunion.

Sometimes I miss you, Disneyland—and the friends who were you—so, so much.

September 4, 2011

Only high-class stuff

There were a lot of Country Bears, and each one's song has a story. But yesterday's Disneyland had a lot of stories that I want to remember and share. As Henry used to say, "We've got work to do."

So we'll mosey on out of Bear Country in just a spell. First, though, here's one of the best of the bear bunch. Wendell was a smart-alecky character who made a fine foil for Henry, the Jamboree's amiable host. The two wrestled a little, but then settled down to add a couple of short numbers that characterized the wonderful qualities that you used to be able to find in the backwoods corner of the Magic Kingdom. They were folksy, even corny at times—but so was Walt.

Wendell and Henry channelled Homer and Jethro, "the stage names of American country music duo Henry D. Haynes (1920–1971) and Kenneth C. Burns (1920–1989), popular from the 1940s through the 1960s on radio and television for their satirical versions of popular songs. Known as the Thinking Man's Hillbillies, they received a Grammy in 1959 and are members of the Country Music Hall of Fame."

"Mama, don't whup little Buford" was a song on the duo's 1964 LP, "Fractured Folk Songs." So was the title track. Listening to these old recordings will take you right back to setting on one of those long benches as part of the bears' audience. Even the back-and-forth banter between Henry and Wendell ("If ya can't cut it, just lay out") was part of the original song.

I hope you've enjoyed this series on the music behind the bears. The next time you're splashing down Disneyland's version of Magic Mountain's Log Jammer, listen for an echo of the songs that floated through the old Bear Country. And if you step in Pooh Corner, keep your eyes open for the "high-class stuff" that used to be part of the Show.

August 13, 2011

Old growler

Walt said that he didn't "like to make sequels to my pictures. I like to take a new thing and develop something." "Disney," however, now turns out sequels on top of sequels, so I'll go ahead and follow up my last post with another look at one of the original artists behind the songs in Disneyland's Country Bear Jamboree.

Terrance had a short solo in Bear Country's flagship attraction, crooning about a night on the town that didn't turn out as expected:

One night I left the wife at home
and went out with the boys.
I was actin' like a Don Juan
and makin' a lotta noise.
A go-go girl called my hand,
I said, "I can't, I'm a married man."
She said, "If you ain't gonna steal,
ya better not prowl."
"Don't do-si-do with a go go,
if ya can't bite, don't growl."

His twangy vocals carried a tune recorded originally by Tommy Collins, who you can see in an old live performance here. Tommy, who was born Leonard Raymond Sipes and died in 2000, recorded "If You Can't Bite, Don't Growl" in 1965. According to his page on the Rockabilly Hall of Fame website, by the early '70s, his "professional and personal lives were on the verge of collapse, due to his increasing dependency on drugs and alcohol." In 1971, his wife filed for a divorce, sending Tommy into a deep depression.

Tommy's hall of fame entry goes on to note that he "began to recover by continuing to write songs, many of which were recorded by Merle Haggard, including the 1972 number one hit single, 'Carolyn.' In 1976, Tommy moved to Nashville, where he was able to secure a contract with Starday Records. Later that year, he released 'Tommy Collins Callin,'' a collection of his own versions of songs he had provided for other artists. Following the album's release, Tommy turned almost entirely to professional songwriting. In 1981, Merle Haggard had a hit single with 'Leonard,' his tribute to Collins. After the release of 'Leonard,' the spotlight again turned to Collins, who was now sober. Tommy signed a songwriting contract with Sawgrass Music, where his most notable success was Mel Tillis' Top 10 1984 hit, 'New Patches.'

Throughout the '80s, Collins kept a low profile, though his songs continued to be recorded. George Strait recorded no less than two of Tommy's compositions during the decade, taking his new version of 'If You Ain't Lovin'' to number one on the country charts. European record companies like Bear Family began reissuing his recordings, which led to an appearance at the 1988 Wembley Country Music Festival in England. In 1993, Collins signed a new publishing contract with Ricky Skaggs Music and continued to write songs professionally throughout the mid-'90s."

I'm glad to learn that Tommy made something of a comeback, and I'm glad to put a little spotlight on him here. As Melvin the moose used to say as guests headed out after the show, "the welcome mat is always out. Seein' you is fine."

August 7, 2011

Ain't got that swing

A summer shift working the popcorn wagon in Bear Country used to be a delightful way to spend a late afternoon. The little land was a shady, relatively quiet spot in an otherwise bustling Disneyland. On a scorching August day, it offered cool shelter.

Bear Country's singular attraction, the Country Bear Jamboree, though, could be quite a boisterous affair. Inside its two cavernous theaters, guests stomped their feet and clapped their hands as some of the greatest audio-animatronics ever performed some of the greatest country and folk music. It was a far cry from another outlet for plush and a splashier version of Knott's Timber Mountain Log Ride, an innovative flume that pre-dated Disney's by thirty years.

I think that characters like swingin' Teddi Barra are unequaled by anything added to the modern Magic Kingdom, including the unfortunate "resort." One reason is that Teddi and her peers presented an authentic show, a hoedown rooted in America's musical history. The bears were obviously cartoon characters like the cast of America Sings. Thanks to the inspiration of a genius like Marc Davis, however, they had an innate appeal. Their show drew from the past to create something both immediately entertaining and timeless.

Songs like Teddi's—and the great singers behind them—deserve to be heard again in Walt's own Park:

Well there he goes, he hardly knows
the heart he's breakin.'
I talked to him, but I don't think he understood.
We'll just forget about the plans
that we were makin.'
Heart, we did all that we could.

According to her entry on Wikipedia, "Ollie Imogene Shepard (born November 21, 1933), better known as Jean Shepard, is an American honky tonk singer-songwriter who was a pioneer for women in country music. Shepard released a total of 73 singles to the Hot Country Songs chart, one of which reached the #1 spot. She recorded a total of 24 studio albums between 1956 and 1981, and has been a member of the Grand Ole Opry for more than 50 years. In 1967, Shepard had two top 20 hits with the title track of "Heart, We Did All That We Could" and the single "Your Forevers Don't Last Very Long." Jean is 78 this year and still active in music.

But enough of this chit chat, yak yak, and flim flam. Just refrain from hibernatin.' And we'll all enjoy the show.

July 31, 2011

Backstage pass

Fellow blogger Vintage Disneyland Tickets posted this great aerial view of the Happiest Place on Earth as it appeared when I was an Outdoor Vending Cast Member in 1983. I applied some labels to identify various backstage features, which you can see by enlarging the image.

When you punched in and passed through Harbor House every day, it didn't take long for these areas to become very familiar—maybe even more so than the mundane world outside the berm. If you never stepped offstage from the '80s Magic Kingdom show, the world behind the inconspicuous doorways and passages leading behind the scenes was probably a mystery to you.

This photo doesn't capture some backstage things that were regular parts of my days back then—the locker room, Cash Control, and Outdoor Vending's freezers and balloon room, for example, are just out of the frame at the lower right, as are the Zoo Crew's quarters and Cast Cutters, the backstage barber shop. Hopefully, though, you'll enjoy this little "guided tour" and discovering what some of the hidden places were.

It's amazing how much of those places I remember so well, even thirty years later. If I could, I would save this post now, shut down the computer, park in "X" lot, flash my yellow ID to security, punch my timecard, and head down the hill under the railroad tracks into the back of the Park. They say you can't go home again, but can't you go back to work at Disneyland?

July 24, 2011

Help me if you can, I've got to get

An afternoon shift as a Disneyland Outdoor Vending Cast Member in 1983. An ice-cream wagon in Fantasyland right outside Casey Jr., near what was very briefly the Village Inn and is now the Village Haus.

The calliope music wafted on the July heat, and the brass rail of my red-and-white-striped wagon gleamed in the sun. Inside, protected by dry ice, were orange juice bars, frozen bananas (at 85 cents, the most expensive thing on the menu), and ice cream bars and sandwiches. Outside, protected by a big red umbrella, were me—and a large friend with floppy arms wearing a red shirt and carrying a honey pot on his head.

Winnie the Pooh paused at my wagon for a brief respite. He leaned in as close as his big head allowed, and I asked how he was doing. "Hot!," my Zoo Crew friend Donny replied from inside.

I opened the lid of the wagon. Donny peered in through Pooh's eyes. I pulled out a juice bar, and he quickly reached a hand out of the costume and took the frozen confection back with him. I said that the orange pop would probably melt by the time he got backstage, but he just chuckled. A whisper from inside Pooh's head said, "I'm eating it!"

Unlike the modern Pooh character, which I find quite unappealing, the '70s and '80s version that Donny wore had "arms" that weren't operational. They were on movable sticks, but they couldn't hold anything. The arms usually just flopped around as the character walked and turned, but the way that they worked meant that guests could "shake hands" with Winnie the Pooh while Donny kept both of his own hands free inside. He enjoyed the juice bar right in the middle of the crowd that soon swarmed around him like honeybees at the hive. None of them had any idea that he was cooling off as they hugged him and snapped photos.

Characters work hard, wearing heavy padding and fiberglass heads to create happiness, especially in the heat of Disneyland summer afternoons. On that July afternoon twenty-eight years ago, a frozen juice bar was just the thing to help a "silly old bear" get back to the hundred-acre-wood.

Or at least backstage to the break area.

July 17, 2011

Ten and now

The last birthday that Walt and his greatest dream shared. Disneyland's tencennial celebration was quite a feat back then.

The Magic Kingdom had not only survived, it had succeeded beyond almost anyone's dreams. It had defied the pundits who dubbed Walt's creation "Disney's folly" and stumped the nation's amusement-park owners and operators, who were convinced that without Ferris wheels, baseball throws, and "shoot-the-chutes," the Happiest Place on Earth would never make it.

The "resort," of course, now has all three of those carny mainstays, and more. Even so, "occupancy rates look to be getting incrementally worse, which may prompt DIS to increase promotional activity to sustain attendance momentum," according to Is the economy to blame for all of that? Or is "franchise" pixie dust somehow less magical than the real thing?

Certainly the ten-year birthday celebration would have a tough time competing for attention with today's lavish entertainment offerings. Here's a look back at it through the lens of an apparently out-of-print DVD. It's a time capsule of what probably seems like terribly primitive stuff by modern standards. But it's got a simple charm that I think comes from working hard at entertainment without trying so hard to create spectacle that you end up with nothing but noise.

Look at how proud Walt was to celebrate the accomplishment and how confident he was that he could make things even better without losing what made those things great. He knew that the first ten years would be a tough act to follow, but he was inspired by the challenge. I think that he would have found the right way to do it. I'd rather be at this Disneyland today. Happy birthday to the genuine magic that's still there.

June 19, 2011

Daddy's day

Every Disneylander knows the special place that pops occupy in the Magic Kingdom. As Walt said long ago,

Disneyland really began when my two daughters were very young. Saturday was always Daddy's day, and I would take them to the merry-go-round and sit on a bench eating peanuts, while they rode. And sitting there alone, I felt there should be something built, some kind of family park where parents and children could have fun together.

Happy Father's Day to the men who served as regiment commanders while we explored Fort Wilderness, took us soaring in Rocket Jets and down icy slopes of snow-capped mountains, and showed us that the Happiest Place on Earth was wherever we happened to be. They taught us things about Disneyland and life that we couldn't learn as well anywhere else.

Henry might have said it best when he hosted the Country Bear Jamboree and sang about big Fred, mouth harp player of the Five Bear Rugs, who "never took a lesson,

he just picked it up from dad."

June 12, 2011

Youth may savor

The challenge and promise of the future aren't what are on the minds of most of the young adults who attend Grad Nites. The dress code helps some, but it's probably safe to say that most Cast Members are only too happy to get over the mid-June hump and into the routine of Summer. A Disneyland Line from my era tells the real story about working the infamous all-nighters:

Grad Nights are . . .

when you tell your family you're leaving the house at 10:30 PM to go to work . . . and nobody believes you.

when you walk in from the parking lot and pass all the "A's" and "B's" going the other way. (A's and B's were permanent full-time and permanent part-time Cast Members. Everyone else was a "Casual/Seasonal," without the seniority to avoid Grad Nite shifts. They were definitely a rite of passage. It was good to work at Disneyland back then, but even better to work at Disneyland for a long time!)

when the person next to you in the dressing room (probably an "A" or "B"!) babbles on about the 12,000 half-crazed seniors from 50 local high schools who are waiting out there for you.

when they let the grads in at 11 PM and you and the other six members of your food facility kneel for a moment of silent prayer at 10:59 PM.

when the sophisticated, well-mannered "youths of tomorrow" start throwing packets of catsup at each other.

when some kid, showing off to his date, orders 14 hamburgers (all cut in half), and then cancels the order.

when you and the rest of your crew count the minutes as 5 AM approaches.

When you punch out at 5:15 AM and fall asleep while putting your time card back in the rack.

when you and three friends decide to go out to Denny's for a nice, quiet breakfast . . . and find 87 other casual/seasonals eating there too.

when you drive slowly home as the sun comes up, mumbling over and over to yourself, "never again . . . never again."

May 15, 2011

Spring into summer

You could feel the Park begin to change around this time every year.

I don't mean in the ways that it has since those wonderful days when the Cast was a family, when the company was still close enough to Walt to carry his full name. Subtle things began to happen, signaling a gradual shift into our busiest season.

You didn't need a Summer wallet fact card to know what was ahead. It came after the brief upsurge of Easter activity that followed in Thumper's big footsteps. Things went back into a content lull for about a month or so.

Then the time card racks in Harbor House began to be populated with names you hadn't seen before, and you began to pass groups of wide-eyed former strangers to the backstage side of Disneyland as you headed to Wardrobe. New locks swung on formerly empty lockers, and your schedule began to include shifts training these new casual/seasonal Cast Members.

Onstage, things were almost the same as they were in the off-season. With most kids still in school, guests were still mostly international tourists and older folks. But you started to hear new music, as the All-American College Band began to appear on weekends. Attendance went up gradually. Grad Nites loomed large on the horizon. Once they hit, Spring became Summer.

In late May, Outdoor Vending CMs like me could still chat easily with passing sweepers, even take the time to get out from behind the wagon with a pan and broom of our own to flick stray popcorn off the pavement. The Park was always alive, but it still closed fairly early unless it was a weekend or private party night. The place wasn't yet pumped with the adrenaline that 85,000 people brought in through turnstiles that stayed unlocked until midnight or 1 a.m.

If you look at the drawbridge of Sleeping Beauty's castle in the cover photo of this 1979 souvenir guide, you might get the impression that things weren't all that different from today. Looks like a large crowd pushing its way into Fantasyland. But I remember standing there vending balloons for long stretches when only handfuls of people passed by. It would change just a few weeks later, when guests would start doing a lot more shuffling as they rushed from land to land.

In late Spring, they strolled.

May 9, 2011

A mother's day in the Park

1983. She and her two little boys. Snippets of a beautiful Disneyland day, including a trip through the Matterhorn on a long-ago Skyway to a long-ago Tomorrowland.

It's an amateur's collection of shaky shots, lightning-fast pans, and excessive use of the camcorder's zoom lens. It's also the pure joy of a mother and family enjoying the Magic Kingdom as some of us knew and loved her. Like so much of what's been added to the Park over the last two decades, any further commentary on this video treasure would lessen the wonder of what's there.

Nothing else is needed to make it a fitting tribute to moms everywhere. Here's to yours and mine.

April 17, 2011

Stop-motion animation

In the old days before annual passes, leaving Disneyland at the end of an exhausting but wonderful trip was like carrying an anvil all the way down the middle of Main Street, U.S.A.

Once Jack Wagner intoned that the Magic Kingdom had ended its normal operating day, a slow tide of humanity began sweeping you along toward Town Square and the parking lot beyond. No more time to scramble around Tom Sawyer's Island, explore liquid space, or sail with the wildest crew that ever sacked the Spanish main. Step by step, you moved along, the distance between you and the family car decreased, and the time until the next visit seemed too vast to comprehend.

As a balloon vender in the 80's on Main Street while the current of guests flowed slowly around me, I was one stopping point before the portals leading back into the "real world." Like drifting leaves against a rock, guests would collect, asking for a red one, blue, two yellows and a pink—whatever colors of helium-filled Mickey Mouse magic appealed most. With the transaction completed, the current swept them away, outside the berm and into the Anaheim night.

The other stopping points were called Guides I and II, the souvenir stands at either side of Town Square. These little places were less than shops, but they were stocked with all kinds of Disneyland items. If balloon venders were rocks in the river of humanity draining out of the Park, the stands were more like fallen logs. Eventually the drifting flotsam swept by, but it took longer to get around the obstacle.

Postcards (five cents each) spun in racks out front. Stuffed characters lined the back walls. The counters held pinback buttons, charm bracelets, pencil cases, suckers, push puppets, key chains, spoons, ash trays, salt and pepper shakers, thimbles, playing cards, bumper stickers, those liquid-filled pens that had the monorail, or a Skyway bucket, or the Mark Twain gliding along on a piece of clear plastic, pennants...

and flip books like the one above, in which Pluto chases his tail as the pages fall. I think that it cost about a dollar. A classic little handful of Disney animation. It stopped me on the way home, nearly forty years ago, then drifted out of the main gate turnstile with me.

I probably fell asleep watching it in the back of the car on the long freeway ride home. I'm about to do almost the same thing now—with the same happy feeling as I watch the drawings start to come alive.

February 13, 2011

Full circle

I remember my favorite part of the "grand circle tour of Tomorrowland" that you used to be able to take as coming toward the end, as the PeopleMover—"the first system of its kind in the world"—emerged into the sunlight after passing through CircleVision and looped back toward the Rocket Jets:

As we pass above Tomorrowland's entrance, you can see the heart of Disneyland. It's the Plaza. Gateway to the themed lands in the Magic Kingdom.

Such vistas are largely absent from Disneyland today. Even if the PeopleMover were still go-go-going Goodyear along its track, you couldn't see the same panorama because of the blockage separating Tomorrowland from the Hub. There's no real way to get an overview of the Park, to take in the whole of the Magic Kingdom like you once could. The best vehicles for presenting that experience, as well as for the achieving the practical detail of moving large numbers of guests relatively large distances, were the Skyway and the PeopleMover.

It's been a long time since anyone called Disneyland “probably the best example of an urban environment where people are treated in a humane way." We had that with the PeopleMover—a transportation system that suggested possibilities that locations outside the berm seemingly couldn't imagine. It delivered more than entertainment—but it's been decades since WED innovation powered anything like a working system for moving people cleanly and efficiently through cities.

If Hyperion days are in full Silly Symphony swing across the way, why can't we look forward to one of the best parts of our yesterdays in Tomorrowland? I mean, come on. Why not take all of that Jules Verne stuff and put it where it belonged in the first place—Discovery Bay? Can you imagine how excited you'd be to see a proper new land and Tomorrowland restored to present an even brighter vision of the future?

One of the days, of course, the old track will probably vanish like the cables did. Until then, I'll still hope to hear the PeopleMover's jazzy little soundtrack bouncing along again.

January 9, 2011

Royal Street revisited

Working as an Outdoor Vending Cast Member on Disneyland's west side during the 1980s meant that you had to move fast on breaks and lunches. The only cafeteria on the Frontierland side of the Park is the Pit, located in the somewhat dank underground beneath Pirates of the Caribbean (hence the name). Getting there in time to order, eat, and make it back to an ice cream wagon near, say, Big Thunder wasn't easy.

There's a lot of onstage to traverse. All the while, you're visible to guests and subject to time-consuming questions. Even silent guests are still obstacles when the clock is ticking. You develop a Disney way of walking through a large group of people toward your objective. Even so, time passed all too quickly on those periods of temporary relief.

That's why the classic Royal Street Bachelors were so amazing.

Their music never failed to slow the pace. Even though I knew that if I didn't move it, I'd be limited to whatever daily special the Pit had ready to go, I always walked a little slower past those three players. Jack McVea, Herb Gordy, and Harold Grant graced New Orleans Square for around 25 years. This early video dates from 1985.

Watching these guys play and hearing their sounds again makes me feel like I know I've got to get back to my work location--but also that I'm risking being a couple of minutes late. Maybe you've got to get back to work, too. Right now, though, you're a guest of this blog.

So "set awhile" at the Royal Street Veranda. Let the Bachelors carry you back. And enjoy the rest of your revisit to Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom.