Everyone that knows me will tell you that I’ll jump on any opportunity to share my stories from the years I worked at Disneyland when I was in high school and college. This scene The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson made me smile and start to reminisce. Strange to think this story is from a park very much like mine, Elias Disney did work there, and 100 years before I was donning a costume and facing the crowds. Some things never change!
“The fair was so big, so beyond grasp, that the Columbian Guards found themselves hammered with questions. It was a disease, rhetorical smallpox, and every visitor exhibited it in some degree. The Guards answered the same questions over and over, and the questions came fast, often with an accusatory edge. Some questions were just odd.The devil in the white city by Erik larson
‘In which building is the pope?’ one woman asked. She was overheard by writer Teresa Dean, who wrote a daily column from the fair.
‘The pope is not here, madame,’ the guard said.
‘Where is he?’
‘In Italy, Europe, madame.’
The woman frowned. ‘Which way is that?’
Convinced now that the woman was joking, the guard cheerfully quipped, ‘Three blocks under the lagoon.’
She said, ‘How do I get there?’”
And now I present to you, brought up from the deep well of my teenage memory banks, a few of my favorite interactions with guests during my time at Disneyland: Tomorrowland in the early 90s.
Imagine, if you will, a turnstile and podium, a young girl smilingly holding a pair of pale purple 3D glasses toward a park guest, filled with enthusiasm as they approach. He looks at her, looks past her, looks to both sides of her, and then asks:
“What time is the next show?”
This may have been nearly the thousandth time she has heard this question today. Her youth and experience have caused her to become impatient with this guest. Without missing a beat or a ghost of a frown, she looks up at the tv screen above her head, reads the countdown clock, and returns, “Twelve Minutes.”
The guest, more aware than most, laughs at himself. “Duh! I missed it!” Sheepishly takes the proffered glasses and enters with three young children in tow.
I walk the slow-moving circular path that continually rolls beneath me. The cars, connecting with the turntable on their return, open their doors and the peaceful guests, disgorged, move toward the exit stairs and disappear below.
The same cars continue around the turntable to pick up more guests for the next trip around Tomorrowland’s attractions. The guests climbing the stairs, step onto the moving floor, walk towards the open doors and climb inside…usually.
Sometimes they wait. They wait at the step-off for the floor to stop for them. Some stand on one foot and carefully step forward with the other, and when they step down forget to lift the foot they were standing on and are slowly, very slowly, pulled into a split. Still others have no problem leaving the platform for the moving floor. They walk to the car waiting with the open doors and then wait for the car to stop so they can get in.
Throughout the day, I hear quippy things like, “I bet you get your exercise every day!” And my very favorite, “How fast does this ride go?” As if they haven’t watched it trundle by all over Tomorrowland, or for the past ten minutes as they waited in line to board. Occasionally, I can’t help but smile and respond, “I keep telling them to add seatbelts. We lose people every day” as I point to the empty cars returning from the track.
Space Mountain. Winter 1991. I’m standing at the bottom of the ramp that takes the guests up to the concourse area to continue their wait until launch time. This is my favorite position, to be totally honest. It’s the most relaxed and I get the chance to talk to more people. We chat about their day, answer questions, and make jokes. Most questions are about the wait and what kind of a ride it is. Since I’m in an easily accessed space, surrounded by guests either entering the cue or walking toward another, I get other questions like, “Where is?” and “What time?” Those are understandable.
Sometimes guests ask if I like my job, and if I have fun while I work. The answer is yes, always. I loved that job. I’d waited impatiently until the day I turned 16, so I could get a driver’s license. The moment I was able, I drove my little ’79 Datsun 210 down Ball Road, turned left at Harbor Blvd., and right into the employee parking lot. I marched straight into the (then) Admin building, picked up an application and filled it out on the umbrella covered picnic tables out front, and returning it immediately.
I still remember my first interview. I remember the cast member dismissing the other two candidates, and, once we were alone, asking me where I wanted to work. I know…it sounds corny, and I took a lot of crap for it over the years about how much I loved that job and Disneyland. I cannot lie. It was all I ever wanted as a kid and, as far as I was concerned, the day I put the parking lot sticker on my car, I was home. Nothing else mattered. I had arrived!
I cannot remember a bad day at work in Disneyland, ever. If circumstances had not changed things, I would have continued working right there for the rest of my life, completely happy. Things happened, life changed, and it was still good, probably even better than I could ever have planned, but I still get nostalgic and wonder what that life would have been like. Time machine, please! Or at least the ability to explore other timelines! But I digress!
Where were we before I became transported?
Oh, yes! BOTR (bottom of the ramp) Space Mountain!
Bundled up in a coat, scarf, and two pairs of gloves in the plummeting temperatures, nearly 60 degrees, like only a California native can, the evening wears on. The crowds aren’t so crazy as they are in summer, but something about a Saturday evening draws more people out and the queue up the ramp to the concourse is a steady stream of happy guests.
A co-hostess has come to send me on to the next position in the rotation, indoor time! I was just about getting a chill! I’m chatting away for a moment before I go when a gentleman taps me on the shoulder to get my attention. I turn and smile as he asks, “When to the fireworks start?”
Without hesitation I reply, “Around Memorial Day weekend!”
His face drops into a frown as he throws back, “Oh, very funny smart ass.” And walks away.
Some of you reading this won’t understand for a couple of reasons. Depending on your age, or if you’ve never been to the park, you don’t remember a time when Disneyland did not run a nightly fireworks display over Sleeping Beauty’s Castle every night of the year. Here’s where I come in with the cliché, “When I was a kid…!” remark, but it’s true. I swear.
When I was kid the fireworks at Disneyland only ran during the summer months, between Memorial Day and Labor Day. It was a special event, reserved for that high point of any park’s year, the summer tourist months when the park was open late every night and was packed full of families on the biggest vacation of their lives.
When the guest asked “When?”, I assumed he meant what time of year, honestly! I felt terrible that I had misunderstood, to make things worse he walked away so quickly that I couldn’t explain. But therein lies the trouble with the English language, right? To be more precise he should have asked, “What time do the fireworks start?” But “when” would have worked just as well, if it had been the time of year when there are fireworks.
What’s funny to me is that I’ve spent thirty years holding on to that story. It was funny to me, the misunderstanding, but that poor man thought I was being rude and trying to make him look stupid. I felt bad. That’s a testament to how much I value people’s (even complete strangers) opinions of me and my behavior, but that’s blog post of another color.
I have a lot more stories about Disneyland, just ask my friends and family. They’ve heard them all, probably a multitude of times. I love telling my Disneyland stories. I’m not ashamed. I wait eagerly for when I have new people to tell, maybe I get to see my future grandchildren roll their eyes and make excuses to escape as I re-tell of the glory days. But for now, this blog and you, my dear readers, will have to be my outlet.
Thanks for reading, watch your step as you exit the open doors on your right, and enjoy the rest of your day at the Tragic, I mean, Magic Kingdom!
[…] When I started working there, I was seventeen years old. I felt like I was entering the holy of holies, “maybe I should take my shoes off” kind of awe in my whole being. When I was ceremoniously cast outside the gates (fired) at 20, I was a “lost toy,” one of the darkest moments of my life. […]