August 26, 2012

Lightyears beyond Buzz

Neil Armstrong, along with Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins of Apollo 11, was an attraction as at home in 1969's Tomorrowland as at Tranquility Base on the moon's surface.

The Tomorrowland Stage stood about where Space Mountain does today. Disneyland guests stood there on that famous day when Armstrong stepped off the ladder of the Lunar Module and spoke his famous words. What it must have been like to see it broadcast live while surrounded by the Magic Kingdom's "world on the move"!
A vista into a world of wondrous ideas, signifying man's achievements . . . a step into the future, with predictions of constructive things to come. Tomorrow offers new frontiers in science, adventure, and ideals: the atomic age . . . the challenge of space . . . and the hope for a peaceful and unified world.
Neil spoke and was honored at Space Mountain's 2005 "relaunch," receiving a plaque thanking him for the inspiration that his "giant leap" brought to the world. Can you imagine him stowing it a locker after that ceremony and then wanting to ride "Rockin' Space Mountain"? Or go off to "save the galaxy from the Evil Emperor Zurg on Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters"? Or get "accidentally jettisoned into a battle with the Empire" on Star Tours?

Disneyland had the right idea when it honored the first man to set foot on the moon. Honoring his memory should spark a renewed effort to rebuild Tomorrowland in the same spirit that it once radiated and that Neil Armstrong represented.

August 12, 2012

What a day in the Park

Thank goodness for old home movies of our Disneyland. If you were one of those who still feel something when you think back around thirty years to the Park as it was then, these could just as easily be images of your family. A brief record of a simple but wonderful day long ago.

Here is the world of imagination, hopes, and dreams before marketing largely replaced magic or morphed it into the CGI-based surrealism that seems to surround everything new. Movie tie-ins remained subtle at most (how many people have seen "Third Man on the Mountain," the picture that inspired Walt's Matterhorn?) A family's admission didn't cost a mortgage payment.

Plus, just look what you got for your money! Especially after you reached the Hub, climbed down off the old Fire Wagon, and stepped into Tomorrowland. Mary Blair's murals cheerfully salute children of the world. PeopleMover vehicles and silent Monorails glide by overhead. Rocket Jets swirl higher, and Skyway buckets swing above all. A world on the move that we thought would never stop.

In a way, it hasn't. Sure, you can tear down and build over Disneyland, reshape it into a Pixar paradise, strip it of its permanent Cast, and squeeze it until the last dollar dribbles out. But you just can't deconstruct the happiness that it helped create back when happiness was its primary reason for being. The Happiest Place on Earth is always there for those who knew it.

That's the great thing about these old home movies. Most don't even have sound, but the happiness is almost fully preserved. If the only thing you know is the "resort" of today, then you can see just enough to feel a little bit of how it felt to be part of the magic of Disneyland during earlier days. And if, like me, you haven't been to the Magic Kingdom in a long, long time, then the scenes in these movies might have been shot yesterday. You can still feel all of it.

What a day in the Park.

July 15, 2012

Riding on the Metro

One of my favorite blogs, Vintage Disneyland Tickets, has been quiet lately. I know that one of VDT's favorite things is Magic Mountain's old Metro monorail, so I thought that I would share a story from a couple of years before my days as a Disneyland Cast Member. As a high school junior, I worked a summer as a ride operator out there in Valencia (just two gallons north of Hollywood!)

I'd love to say that the Metro was my regular location, but I started in Children's World (pictured in the postcard above under the monorail beam). I next moved over to a Funicular/Sky Tower rotation, then became part of the opening crew on Roaring Rapids. All of those provided truly great times working with fun crews on some of the mountain's most unique rides. One of my best memories, though, happened while I was still assigned to its "parking lot carnival" area.

Arriving for work one afternoon, not quite looking forward to watching kids spin slowly around in various cars, rockets, or motorbikes, I got some very welcome news. My lead told me that the Metro needed somebody to cover a shift. Its first station was just steps away, opposite the Log Jammer, over by the old Mountain Express. Almost all of us in the park's Operations Division wore the same mint green polyester pants and white polo (with stripes in the same mint and yellow), so there was no need to go and check out a new costume. I hurried right over to the station and hustled up the steps.

It was no Alweg monorail system, but the Metro was lovable in its own primitive way. And it was sure easy to operate. There wasn't much to do except sit in the front of the train and spiel as the cars lumbered slowly along the beam. Colossus was the newest thing to talk about, the "world's largest wooden racing roller coaster off the right side of the Metro."

The system is still in place in Valencia as it was back then, but the ride is sadly long gone, never to return. I hope the same isn't true for Vintage Disneyland Tickets! You can see much more of the Metro's glorious past (and far less glorious present) over there. Thanks for coming on this brief departure to Magic Mountain. See you back at the Magic Kingdom.

July 4, 2012

July 4, 1976

What July holiday would be complete without a parade celebrating the best of America? (If we're talking about America on Parade, the answer is every July since around 1976, but who's counting?) Here's an old Super 8 look back at that unique salute to our country.

It's a little bit corny by today's standards.

And historians would probably criticize the way that it glosses over some of the harder facts of the American experience.

But 1976 was a time for cheering a relatively young nation's milestone, and America on Parade did that pretty darn well. Try to watch without feeling just a little bit of what made Walt get red, white, and blue at times.

July 1, 2012

First-rate third gate

Here's an idea for a new theme park experience that would be better than almost any other entertainment in the world.

It's a perfect re-creation of a place that existed from around 1967 to around 1985. "It represents the intangibles of the mind, yet exhibits a logical, physical world. Within its thematic realms are medieval castles and rocket ships, horse-drawn streetcars and streamlined monorail trains, jungle elephants and elephants that fly, a snow-capped mountain and a 'space' mountain."

You might say that such a Park exists already. But this one is different in several ways, some subtle, some more dramatic.

The new Park, for example, encourages young people to think about the past and the future using their imaginations, not just their short-term memories of what they've seen at the multiplex or online. They can enjoy adventures and attractions like traveling through "liquid space" on an exciting cruise to the North Pole, taking a thrilling journey into the world of the atom, and exploring Tom Sawyer's island with its many caves and Fort Wilderness.

At their own pace, guests can also explore a fascinating tree-top home, complete with its own bamboo-and-twine water system. The aerial views are spectacular, but even better is the panorama visible from Skyway buckets. Another panorama takes you on a film tour of the United States through the magic of CircleVision 360.

Many characters from favorite childhood films roam freely, and you can run into these old friends just about anywhere. Other friends can be seen in the many live performances such as the Golden Horseshoe Revue, an Old West vaudeville show featuring singing, dancing, and plenty of laughs. A bunch of bears put on a great show of their own. You can dance, as swinging big bands set the tempo after dark.

Hungry? You will discover a menu to please every palate and pocketbook among the large variety of restaurants and refreshment centers ranging from elegant waitress service to popcorn and ice cream wagons. Once you're refreshed, you'll want to shop for unusual man-made flowers, dill pickles, Guatemalan clothing and jewelry, choice antiques, Pendleton woolen fabrics and clothing, and professional magician supplies. The services of a perfumer to blend unique fragrances to your choice are also available.

When you ready, you can stow your purchases in a locker for .75. You won't want them to weigh you down, because there's a lot more to see. Like Mars, which you can visit after taking a grand circle tour of Tomorrowland aboard the PeopleMover--the first system of its kind in the world.

If you've still got time in your vacation, you can stop in at Carefree Corner for information on other Southern California attractions. Hollywood and the beaches are just about an hour away.

But you'll probably want to stay right here.

June 24, 2012

Popcorn Price Index

I can’t count the number of times that I scooped a box of Orville Redenbacher's Gourmet Popping Corn as a Disneyland Outdoor Vending Cast Member back in the '80s. It was all our popcorn wagons sold. No bottled drinks or souvenir buckets. Just paper cartons of Orville's best. I even met the man himself once.

Almost all of those sales were sixty-five cent transactions. Most guests plunked down three quarters for their box of hot fresh corn. The Eisner/Wells era shrunk the size of the box, raised the price, and began my feeling that the Park was sadly changing. But even then, a popcorn took only eighty-five cents out of guests' wallets and purses.

Now, get ready to barely get change back from a five when you step up to a Magic Kingdom popcorn cart. What was a fun and fast impulse treat that harkened back to childhood now costs as much as a pint of the adult beverage you might need to make the cost of that and everything else in today's Disneyland easier to swallow.

Just getting into the "resort" these days practically means taking out a second mortgage. If the price of popcorn is any example, the expense far exceeds what it should be. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index inflation calculator, what cost $.65 in 1983 would cost $1.40 in 2010. Sure, the price of popcorn has gone up. But it hasn't left orbit. Does everything in the Park have to be an overdone merchandising opportunity? Why not just equip the wagons with shelves for the latest Pixar plush?

Most everyone who reads this blog probably knows that Walt didn't go into Disneyland just with the idea of making money. It would be nice if the company reflected on that and at least brought the price of Disneyland popcorn back down to Earth.

June 16, 2012

Cars land

California Adventure's new addition now has guests racing through, floating over, and being pulled behind the various locations and characters from Pixar's Cars. It's a major investment in the attempted revitalization of the "second gate" and, by most accounts, a nice piece of work.

I just wish that Burbank had put Radiator Springs and the rest of DCA somewhere else. In keeping with the principle that inspired the Park's original layout ("You've got to have a weenie at the end of every street"), the Main Gate once beckoned from the end of a parking lot that was as much a simple frame as an efficient means of crowd management. It let yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy draw you in from the family car and the outside world from which it came.

Wide-eyed in anticipation, you'd take mom or dad's hand and try to hurry them toward the railroad station off in the distance. Jack Wagner's voice would welcome you to the Magic Kingdom of Disneyland. Passing under the berm, your separation would be complete, if temporary. Later, you might look back out at the outside world from a monorail window, trying to spot your car among 15,000 others as you cruised over the futuristic highway in the sky.

If I could, I'd leave today's overpriced and complex complex of garages, amusement parks, hotels, shopping centers, and, now, desert landscapes behind. It would be like escaping a traffic jam to the relative quiet of the surface streets. I think that the revisions made to DCA are fine by themselves. But I liked Disneyland better with the original cars land.

May 20, 2012

I know a place

Donna Summer's recent passing made me want to look back at her joyful performance during Disneyland's 30th Anniversary special from 1985. Unconditional love is what the Magic Kingdom should really be all about, isn't it?

March 11, 2012

Up through the atmosphere

Anyone who knew Disneyland well when Tomorrowland wasn't whatever it is today can tell you where this photo was taken. Can you identify the costume? The white, dark orange, and black color scheme should make it immediately clear.

Back then, you didn't need your souvenir guide to know where you could "pilot your own space craft to optimum speed." As the Rocket Jets swooshed around and around dipping and rising above the PeopleMover's loading area, they were no less a landmark than Sleeping Beauty's Castle. They were Tomorrowland's "weenie at the end of every street," drawing guests from the Hub into the "world on the move" that the right-hand side of Disneyland used to be. At night, their red nosecones lit up a long-exposure path in what must have been tens of thousands of amateur photographers' lenses. By day, they were part of a constantly moving landscape.

I remember the Rocket Jets as creating a feeling that I found only in some parts of the Park. There were lots of places to "lose yourself" in Disneyland then, even in the midst of 85,000 summer guests (some times were easier than others!). Leaning against the railing on the top deck of the Mark Twain as she drifted past the Hungry Bear Restaurant, putting along in a motor boat, or strolling through the Alpine Gardens were a few.

But the Rocket Jets gantry elevator took you even further away from everybody else and did it with a terrific adrenaline-building sense of anticipation. It could only carry a small number of people, and you could see those on the ground getting smaller as you ascended. When you got to the top platform, only the Cast Member at the controls was there. From that perspective, you couldn't see the ground below. It was like Disneyland was all yours.

Now, of course, the Rocket Jets are all gone. Thankfully, youtube can give you a hint of the feelings that flew with them. This video is from the early '90s, but things were still much the same. You even get a great view of riding up in the gantry! So keep your hands and arms inside your rocket at all times, and pull back on the stick to make it climb higher.

February 12, 2012

Pixie dust and carbon paper

It might seem incomprehensible to those who have grown up with fast passes and Fantasmic, but Disneyland was once a pretty primitive operation. A Cast of about 6,000 kept the Park sparkling and operating at peak efficiency with systems about as advanced as a walkie-talkie.

Sure, Audio-Animatronics were sophisticated even back in the '70s and '80s. But operating the Disneyland Show depended much more on really simple things. Carbon-backed shift change forms, for example. Bell telephones. Mechanical coin sorters. Pressure washers and gum scrapers. Sweda cash registers.

Schedules for hundreds of Cast Members were written up on paper forms and revised with correction fluid. In my department of Outdoor Vending alone, thousands of guests' crumpled dollars got hand-counted and reported on little slips that we attached to canvas cash bags with rubber bands. Mr. Johnson and his crew in Mission Control were better equipped, and they were only launching a simulated trip to Mars.

Even so, the Show went on, almost always flawlessly. Guests could trash every flower bed during a New Years' Eve party, but you would never know it by the next morning. You couldn't find a burnt-out bulb on Main Street if you wanted to buy one.

Modern technology is here to stay, of course, so Disneyland will probably have lasers, water projection screens, interactive game attractions, and even more whizzy stuff for a long time to come. That's great as far as it goes. I mean, now we've got blogs, right? Still, I hope that I'm around long enough to see somebody develop the kind of tech that I'd pony up the cost of a hundred annual passes to ride.

A time machine that takes you back to the Park that used to be.

February 5, 2012

Disneyland old-timers

It's the Best Possible Job's one hundredth post! In honor of those who, like me, were part of yesterday's Disneyland, it's dedicated to the Cast Members with whom I had the privilege of sharing time at 1313 Harbor Boulevard. I think that a few are some of my few readers, but many are sadly no longer onstage. Each made Walt Disney's Magic Kindgom a delight to be part of, whether you were a guest or a fellow Disneylander.

Until about the mid-'80s, a person could make a decent living working at the Park. Many great people did just that, earning ten, fifteen, and twenty year pins and giving the Cast its unique family feeling that made the job so wonderful. It was a way of life as much as a source of income.

The 1987 article Conflict at Disneyland: A Root-Metaphor Analysis published in the journal Communication Monographs studied the periods before and after that way of life changed forever. I'll keep this post short in hopes that you'll page through it. It's a terrific time capsule of those days and gives terrific insights into the things that made Cast Members stay as long as some did. A bit more of a scholarly read than my posts but well worth the time, especially if you worked back then.

On to the next 100! Thanks for sticking around.

January 15, 2012

King Arthur

If you were part of Disneyland in the days when it had a parking lot, you probably knew Arthur.

Those of us in the Cast knew him well. He was there nearly every day. We talked with him as he made his regular rounds around the Park, always asking how we were and "How's business?" He spoke in words formed around his few remaining teeth. There weren't many left, but they were almost constantly smiling. And we drove him home after work when we found him waiting at Harbor House for somebody to give him a lift.

Arthur was the closest thing that I can think of to having Walt strolling around the Magic Kingdom. Just his presence renewed any sparkle that might have gotten a little bit dulled by the often extremely hard work of creating happiness for others.

This old Orange County Register article is a great way to meet him and I hope to start a happy new year. Cheers!