Friday, April 30, 2010

Disneyland - Frontierland Shooting Arcade - 1987


I worked the "new" Frontierland Shooting Arcade at a time when Disney Dollars made their debut and a detailed western scene with light sensitive "targets" had been installed in place of the old shooting gallery.

At the time, the Arcade cast member would wear the Big Thunder costume and carry a money sack around the waist, filled with change for those guests whose dollars would not feed into the change machine. It was my only money handling position during my tenure at the Park. I remember the crisp feel and weird look of Disney Dollars. I kept thinking: someone's GOT to counterfeit these somewhere along the way. Some folks loved them. Some thought they were a cheesy money making gimmick: let's see, give us $20 "real" dollars and we will give you $20 Disney Dollars. They can be used the same as cash anywhere within Disneyland. Or, they can end up a souvenir. I wonder how many of those pieces of paper are still in circulation today.

Back to our riveting story.

The main duty of the Arcade cast member was to assist guests whose change was deposited but their gun failed to operate.

"Hey! I just put my money in there and the coin return isn't working!"

"No problem. I will fix it for you and we'll have you blastin' away in no time."

Then I would walk behind the door at the far western end of the Arcade and go to the computer. I would select the gun the guest was using and reset it. Next, I would walk over to the gun and guest and ask them to give it a try. Most of the time, the gun would "fire." The guest would be satisfied and I'd reset the gun again so that they would have a fully "loaded" turn at the gun.

My favorite moments, though, were when I would "test" the guns during those guestless interludes at the Arcade when no one was there. My eyesight was excellent. I loved shooting and was always a good shot. I have to admit, there is an adjustment between a real rifle and one that simply shoots light beams at photo-sensors. Once I got the hang of it though, I could not miss. I got to the point where I could lift any gun along the length of the Arcade, shoulder it and unload it, striking every target effortlessly and in rapid fire succession.

This "handiness" with the guns came from my ability to issue myself as many free rounds as I wanted during the course of my shift. It served a dual purpose of checking the guns for operation and learning how to interface with the Arcarde computer.

But my skill really came in handy for those guests who would demand refunds and insist that their gun was "broken." Don't get me wrong. I'd give them the refund, but as part of the process I would reset the gun and ask them to fire a couple shots. Almost invariably, they would miss (more often than not because the rifle was long, heavy and had the old-fashioned "V" sight that would line up with a round piece of metal at the end of the barrel---you had to hold it pretty still). You also had to know just where to line up the sight on the "target" at which you were aiming so that the light beam would activate the object when you shot at it.

The frustrated guest, feeling vindicated, would hand me the "defective" rifle. I would look down at it for a moment, take a breath, raise it to my shoulder and squeeze off 10 or 15 shots in a row, mowing down every target I came across. The "Ghost Rider" in the sky would rumble across the scene; the cars of the train in the distance would drop---one after an another---as I plucked them off; the crows would set to cawing; the owl would hoot; the dynamite in the old mine would go off---and the mine car would do its little loop from shaft opening to shaft opening; the old bridge would squeak and bend under the footsteps of an unseen "ghost" crossing it; I'd hit the constantly moving shovel (with a light sensor in the middle) and a skeleton would rise from the hole that he was "digging"; the horse in the stable in the tiny town would rear and kick; the bees near the cactus flowers would spring up and start buzzing; the rock balancing precariously in the distance would tilt back and forth; the tin cans would spin and the wagon train wagons would fall.

I would stop and then look back at the guest.

"This gun shoots fine. Here, let me reset it so you can give it another try."

I would hand them back the rifle as they slowly shook their head and blinked in disbelief.

My job here is done, Ma'am. 'Tweren't nothin'. A cast member's gotta do what a cast member's gotta do. Well, Pilgrim, I'm gonna mosey on over to that young feller with the mouse ears. Looks like he's havin' a time with that ol' muzzle-loader. You have yerself a fine day now, y'hear?

In the stillness, the clomp of my Big Thunder boots against the wood plank walkway would fade into the distance as the sun set over Frontierland.

Roll the credits.

---Mike

Monday, April 19, 2010

Disneyland - Where to Eat?

When I think of Disneyland food, my taste memory rarely generates much data. Still, there are some places where I've had food worth mentioning.

The old Carnation Ice Cream Parlor on the west side of Main Street springs to mind. I loved their ice cream sodas. The strawberry soda was served in a tall soda glass with vanilla ice cream, strawberry syrup, whipped cream and a cherry on top. Never had a bad one of those.

The French Market in New Orleans Square and the famous mint juleps at the Mint Julep Bar.

The Plaza Inn seems to offer consistently good food.

The Rancho del Zocalo over in Frontierland has decent Mexican dishes, with good portions. You can almost always find a table, too.

Village Haus in Fantasyland has pretty good turkey sandwiches and salads. You can always get a hamburger. Even the veggie burger isn't half bad. There are usually plenty of tables available, too. Plus, being a holdover from the Pre-Eisner era, it is actually themed well (though, the same can be said for the Rancho del Zocalo, I must admit).

Don't forget the River Belle Terrace---but not just for breakfast! It is actually a great location for a lunch or dinner. Often it is less crowded than you would expect. I think this is because it kinda gets "forgotten," located as it is between two major walkways (Frontierland's riverfront to the north and Adventureland's walkway to the south). They serve great sandwiches and salads, too. Try their New York roast turkey or pulled pork sandwich and I think you will agree.

And in Tomorrowland...

Well, stick to the other lands if you want to eat, let's leave it at that.

While strolling by the remains of the old Motor Boat Cruise in Fantasyland, in the shadow of the majestic Matterhorn, you turkey leg aficionados will find yourselves at home with a relatively new food service location there that specializes in Disney's now famous turkey legs. These are a perfect option for those who want to make like Henry VIII and eat a big leg of meat barehanded while making the rounds of the world's most famous theme park.

Best advice: leave the Park and hit Storytellers Cafe over at the Grand Californian or, if money is no object, throw in the towel and luxuriate in the amazing entrees and elegant, but relaxed atmosphere of the Napa Rose, a Zagat Survey No. 1 choice for four years in a row. Even Guy Fieri dines at Napa Rose---he and his family were seated in the private dining room not far from our table the last time we were there. I don't know if Napa Rose qualifies as a "Diner, Drive-In or Dive," Guy, but the food is simply amazing.

Thank you and we hope you have a wonderful and memorable stay in Walt Disney's Magic Kindgom of Disneyland!

---Mike

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Disneyland - Crowded Adventureland - The Treehouse - and A Dry "Rivers of America"

video
Today I will share with you (again) one of my favorite water elements in Adventureland---the flowing stream under the Swiss Fam...er, uh...Tarzan's Treehouse. The short video snippet above was shot on April 6, 2010 during a recent run to the Park with my fabulous (and patient) family. They have put up with me through many a trip to the Park and to Walt Disney World. Only true Disneyophiles (and their spouses, children or significant others) can understand what that is like.

Anyway, to truly understand the connection I have to the Treehouse waterway (pictured below), you must place yourself, circa 1985-87, at the turnstile to the old attraction (long before that enormously out of place extra tree stump and rope suspension bridge had sprouted up in the midst of perhaps the tightest walkway in all Disney parkdom---see photographic proof of what I mean below).

First, here is a a photo taken on the bridge in front of Pirates, photographed facing directly toward what would have been the "old" Treehouse entrance:
The opposite (or left) side of this pedestrian walkway (as shown in a photo taken again from the Pirates bridge looking eastward into Adventureland toward Main Street) is an equally mangled traffic jam of a pedestrian "pinchpoint," to wit:A photo alone does not do justice to the issue, so here is a short video to aid in your understanding:

video
Simply put, the crowds in this area are enough to send one to the old infirmary (if you know what I mean):
Anyway, as usual...

I digress.

My point is that, as evening fell over the West Side, the pedestrian traffic in front of the Treehouse and throughout Adventureland would dwindle as folks headed over to Main Street to get seats for the Main Street Electrical Parade and Fantasy in the Sky fireworks show.

The lone cast member standing at the Treehouse turnstile, became an early version of the "Wal-Mart greeter" of the West Side---waving to and chatting with guests and fellow cast members passing by, including sweepers, managers, other attraction operators and outdoor vending types.
An earlier post on this blog shows fellow 80's cast member Jackie Lacey manning (or womanning?) the turnstile position. It is from this position that I spent many an hour greeting, chatting, waving, b.s.-ing, and generally just getting paid to be at Disneyland.
Rough gig.
Doesn't come close to a day behind the desk as a litigator, let me tell you.

Did you know that the Swiss Family Treehouse was based upon a real fig tree that grew along West Street in Anaheim back when Walt decided he wanted a treehouse attraction for the Park? Take a moment to view this link: Forgotten Orange County, The Original Swiss Family Treehouse.

Permit me to close with some shots of the "Rivers of America" as they looked on April 6, 2010. Hmmm. Perhaps these amount to some sort of metaphor for the current state of America?
Oops, as the great Spears was oft to posit, I did it again.
Digression.
Sorry.
I hate it when that happens.
Here you see the "riverfront" by the River Belle Terrace:
And here: is the Mark Twain's landing---absent a few million gallons. See? It is not that deep.
Here is the general area pictured above---only with water. Makes a difference thematically.
Lastly, here is a view of Tom Sawyer's Island from over on Thunder Trail---looking southwest toward New Orleans Square there in the distance.
I hope you have enjoyed today's "Jungle Is 101."
This blog has been brought to you today by the letters "E" and "R" and the letters "A,D,O."
This program has been made possible by the Carolyn Ahmanson Foundation, by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and by readers like you.

All four (4) of you.

Love,

---Mike

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Disneyland - The Folks at Disney Notice Us?

Oh for goodness' sake! Word on the street is that certain higher ups in Disney have taken a liking to this feeble little blog. Seems there's a longing for some "old school" cast member types and attitude.

To these fine people we say: hi! Thanks for stopping by. We're always ready to chat.

Oh yeah, and Mike's free if you ever need him! Feel free to drop him a line.

To the rest of you Jungle devotees, carry on! You are four (4) of the finest people I know (hi, Mom).

Just got back from a trip to the Park today. Crow-ded! I mean like the upper queue in Jungle was STILL going at 6:30 p.m.

Good to see so many folks enjoying the Park.

Buy Disney stock folks.

: )

---Mike

Monday, April 5, 2010

Disneyland - Jungle Cruise - Bumping Into Load - 1981-82

A fivesome of fine lads fearlessly stand their post at front and rear load on the Jungle Cruise dock circa 1981-82 (thanks to old skipper Ed Cunningham for originally sharing this one).

In addition to showing off the snazzy thatched confines of the old main entrance queue, this photo also depicts why Jungle skippers must be nimble of foot as well as lip. When a boat slips from the load dock into the jungle and there is a gap between it and the boat coming up behind it, there is precious little real estate between your friendly boat loaders and over four and a half feet of churning, green, gross jungle river.

I won't say I ever saw a skipper summarily bumped into the water at this position by a devious fellow skipper---or that I was the one doing the bumping (or being bumped). I will say that sloshing back to wardrobe to get a dry set of pants and socks was a long, moist trek. Working the rest of one's shift in wet Red Wing work shoes was no proverbial picnic either.

There have been more than a few guests who were prepared to stroll from the dock into a boat that was no longer there. Thankfully, we dockhands were alert for such wayward folk and---usually---got to them before they obtained a jungle baptism. The most potentially drenching time for guests and skippers was during a "bump" in the rotation, when one skipper would replace another at either load position. As two skippers tried to switch positions at the load station, an overly anxious guest might step past the famous "yellow line" and precipitously near the edge of the dock. This would result in three bodies trying to occupy space meant for only one. The laws of physics dictated that somebody would be going in---or dancing along the edge of the dock like a chimney sweep on the rooftops of London (Coo...what'a sight!). I have often waltzed with a fellow skipper during a bump as we tried to switch places on the tiny dock.

This process was made all the more interesting back in the days when tomfoolery by one's fellow cast members was not merely a remote possibility, but an immutable law of nature.

Rookies and skippers who were generally obnoxious (or woefully late returning from their breaks or lunches) were often targeted for these "accidental" bumps.

The bumper would approach the victim at the load position and say, "Bump." This meant, "I'm taking over, you can rotate to your break." The bumpee would then try to move along the dock while the bumper stepped into the load position. While both bumper and bumpee were making this transition, the bumper would literally bump his fellow skipper (who was invariably on the "outside" edge of the dock) toward the river's edge. As the victim lost their footing, the bumper would grab the handrail at the load position with one hand and the plummeting skipper's arm with the other, catching them just in time. Well, in time enough to let at least one of their legs dip into the river up to the knee.

Then the bumper would act profusely apologetic.

You know, some guys who were so good with the apology, it wasn't until maybe my third trip back to Wardrobe for new pants and socks that I realized maybe, perhaps, I had been the victim of an intentional act.

Today's "Jungle is 101" lesson comes in two parts:

1. Be careful on the dock.
2. Never trust a Jungle skipper to pass up a good opportunity.

---Mike