Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Disneyland - For the Birds

I am not a big fan of birds.
To all you adoring keepers of macaws, toucans, cockatoos and parrots out there, sorry.
However, oddly enough, I have always had an affinity for Disneyland's little brown sparrows.
You'll find them all over the park, especially at restaurant locations.
Guaranteed you will meet a few at Rancho Del Zocalo in Frontierland, the Village Haus in Fantasyland, the Cafe Orleans in New Orleans Square and even the Carnation Cafe on Main Street.
To me, they are brown sparrows.
I'm no ornithologist, so you'll get no Latin species name here.
I call the little guy on the right - Jack.
O.K., that was too easy.
Anyhow, for whatever reason, these small birds who flock around the tables at the Park do not irritate me.
I can see why some folks would find them pesky or a nuisance.
They can be bold, no doubt.
Watch your french fries.
My kids have always been entertained by their antics over lunch.
They hop around the ground and tables, skittering after bits of bread or other food.
They are quiet.
They have searching little eyes, neatly outlined in tiny feathers.
At times, you can channel your inner "Snow White" or "Cinderella" as the tiny critters flit around you.
(I swear I saw one wearing a babushka kerchief on its little head).
They are a part of the Disneyland landscape and have been for as long as I can remember.
They had better keep a weather eye out for the feral cats that patrol the Park, too!!


As we return to the dock, if your mother-in-law is still on board...

...you've missed a golden opportunity.

But don't despair!
Be sure to drop by the dock later tonight for our "mother-in-law special."
You drop 'em off, we drop 'em in.
No questions asked.
This really is the Happiest Place on Earth!


Monday, August 30, 2010

Disneyland - Dole Whipped?

My wife and I went with two of our friends to the Park this past weekend. After getting one of our friends his annual passport photograph at the Plaza Pavillion, we turned the corner toward Adventureland to satisfy his request for a Dole whip and a Tiki Room show.

We entered the lanai---which was fairly full---and stood in a line about two or three people deep at the pineapple bar. The show doors opened and my friend waited with his wife in line to order his Dole whip float. As they reached the counter, the show doors were closing and the Disney "employee" at the juice bar abruptly told him that he would not be served, since he was not seeing the Tiki Room show. He objected, noting that he completely intended to see the show and that he had been waiting in line since prior to the show doors opening. There was a woman with three children behind him in line, waiting her turn as well. The Disney "employee" raised his voice and said that neither my friend nor the woman and children behind him would be served their Dole whips because they were not seeing the show.

My friend's wife, a mom herself who had long dealt with snippy teenagers like the young, male "employee," implored him to "bring it down a notch" and listen to what they were saying. The customers WERE going to see the show when they got in line. The lady with the children had JUST SEEN the show and had been advised by the attraction host that she and her kids could come back to the juice bar afterward (since the doors opened before they could order the first time they were in line). The employee just got snippier and was quickly joined by a young female employee, who said they were not going to serve the guests.

My friend said, well maybe we need to speak with a manager. The female employee said, "I'll give you a number to my manager right now!" (but did not, of course). As the voices rose, my wife called me over---as I had no idea this was happening, since I was standing over by Pele (how appropriate---she being the goddess of fire and volcanoes with a violent temper and all). As I approached this bizarrely unfolding scene, I could not believe my eyes or ears. I have never in over 35 years seen Disney employees (these two certainly were not acting in a manner worthy of being called "Cast Members") behave so rudely and in such a directly confrontational manner with Guests.

At this point, both my friends are upset (and amazed) and the lady behind them is clearly upset (almost to tears), while her children are looking on in confusion. Fortunately, the Tiki Room attraction host came over from the turnstile position and intervened. He told the Dole Whip fanatic employees that he had advised the lady and her children that they could get in line after the last show. He also pointed out that my friends had entered the lanai prior to the show start time and had been in line since then.

Everyone was rudely shoved their drinks and whips, with eyeballs rolling and much huffing and puffing. I thought that we had somehow stumbled into France! My friends were treated like ugly Americans by rude waiters at a Parisian cafe. I have not provided all the details, but let me tell you, I was pretty shocked by the whole scene.

These two employees picked the wrong group of guests to unload upon. Probably not a good a idea to do this in the presence of a former cast member like yours truly. Or to his friends, for that matter.

We immediately took our friends---and their costly Dole whip float (that's right, the order consisted of a single item!)---back out through the Tiki turnstile, made a quick right down Main Street and were very soon marching up the steps of City Hall.

I have never been involved in a formal guest complaint in all my years as a guest and Cast Member. I introduced my friends to the young lady at City Hall and advised her of the situation. I mentioned that I had worked for the Park dating back to 1984 and had a recent stint a year ago and was utterly dismayed by what I had witnessed. My friends described what had happened, what was said, and how badly they were made to feel, but also how badly they felt for the nice lady and her children behind them. I pointed out that we had literally just entered the Park, just purchased my friend's first annual passport and that this was the first attraction we had visited that day. A classic example of the type of "first impression" Disney wants to avoid at all costs!! "It was like an example of what NOT to do from a Disney University training film!" I mentioned. The Guest Relations cast member was apologetic and offered our friends attraction readmission passes as a way of, hopefully, helping to make up for the incident.

A fairly detailed report was prepared and would be passed along to management for further handling, they were advised.

Usually we are pretty light-hearted and "gung-ho" for the Park (and its Cast Members) around here, but this was such a remarkable example of "bad show," that I could not help but share it with all four (4) of our readers.

Word to the wise---step carefully to the bar for a Dole whip when approaching from the Tiki Room lanai side! Hopefully the two "employees" we encountered there will have learned an important lesson after management pulls them aside over this little "incident." To be a Cast Member requires a bit more diplomacy and people skills, to say the least.


Friday, August 27, 2010

Disneyland - Sweeping the Main Gate

In 1985, I worked several shifts as a sweeper at the Park's main entrance or Main Gate.

Long before Disney Walks and California Adventures and such, this area was a sunny gateway from the vast Disneyland parking lot to the Magic Kingdom.

There was also a large display of General Motors vehicles that were being given away as part of the Park's 30th anniversary celebration.

The famed "Gift Giver Extraordinaire" pumped out plush toys, free passes and even free GM cars to lucky guests at intervals ending in 30, 300, 3000, 30,000, etc. My own mother, bless her, won a large plush Mickey that year when visiting the Park. (Not quite a 1985 Pontiac Fiero, but I think the plush Mickey almost certainly had more headroom).

Today we venture back to the 1985 celebration and see Disneyland's own "honorary mayor," Jack Lindquist hosting a promotional ad for the Park.

As for me, I got to meander along the display of cars and check them out while doing my normal sweeping rounds. Before that display went up, Main Gate was a bit of a wasteland as far as a sweeping assignment. You would cruise in the entrance gate and cover the main courtyard (at the foot of the famous Mickey Mouse floral display below the Main Street Station of the Disneyland Railroad). It was obviously important to keep this area in top shape, since it was literally Disneyland's "front porch" and the first thing guests saw as they entered the Park.

But once a sweeper ventured outside the gates, it was hot, with some sparse shade from the planter trees and the Monorail track.

My territory ranged from the Kennel Club at the east side, all the way across the main entrance, to the picnic area, restrooms and lockers at the west side of the entrance. I remember the Disneyland Hotel tram had a stopped there at the west side, just below the Monorail track. A recorded loop would remind guests, that the area was for the Disneyland Hotel tram only, in a variety of languages, including Japanese. That recorded announcement got into your soul, I believe, if you worked more than three Main Gate sweeping shifts in a row---much like the famous "Remain seated please..." recording over at the Matterhorn.

I swear these messages would play in my head as I drifted to sleep when I got home from work.
Sometimes they still do.

It was great to meet and greet guests at the Main Entrance. On day shifts, you would see them coming into the Park, excited and full of expectations. Closing shifts would reveal the tattered, bedraggled masses, toting Mickey balloons, large lollipops, sleeping children, making their way to the parking lot trams and (hopefully) to their vehicles in the 100+ acre parking lot ahead of them. They were still generally in good moods---even after a full day at the Park.

Guest interaction made being a Cast Member something more than a minimum job in which you spent your day hunting for cigarette butts and popcorn with a pan and broom, or endlessly circling a jungle or a Storybookland as an attraction host. It made it clear you were part of a show. It made each day different. It got the endorphins flowing. It hooked me and kept me hooked, from the day I first met a Cast Member (as a small child) until I became one. That interaction is the two-way connection that turns a trip to a theme park into something much deeper and richer---one small moment at a time.

I truly hope and pray that each of you are able to enjoy a positive interaction with a Disney cast member many times over. For you Cast Members, my prayer is the same.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Disneyland - Banana Ball

In 1986, I believe, I saw a flier announcing the "Banana Ball" while sitting in the break area upstairs behind the Adventure/Frontier offices.

The Westside used to sponsor an off-site party at the Orange County Fairgrounds which involved tent rental, large amounts of beer, and a large number of Cast Members from across the Park.

It was absolutely famous among Cast Members of the era, for reasons most of us are unable to remember (doh!).

Any sort of jungle or tropical-related dress was welcomed. I recall many hats with vegetation sprouting from them and leis and coconuts aplenty adorning most of the attendees.

It was our own not-so-secret, secret get away from the strictures of a summer schedule at the Park. No management. No unruly guests. No rotations.

Just us.

Oh, and there was beer.

I would liken it to a Westside Mardi Gras.

The Banana Ball was shut down years later. Probably for good reason---Disney did not want to even accidentally be associated with such an event, if for liability insurance reasons alone---not to mention the extreme potential for bad press.

I just remember it was fun, a little crazy and filled with people I knew and loved from the Park.
I can't seem to find my Banana Ball '86 t-shirt. Darn.

To all the West-siders who put on quite a party back in the mid-80s---Cheers!


Monday, August 23, 2010

Dinseyland - A Few Favorite Spots for Taking a Break

There are plenty of places around the Park to enjoy some quiet relaxation, set apart from the maddening crowd.
I offer three for your consideration.

First: Thunder Trail.

Located between the exit of Big Thunder and the entrance to Thunder Ranch BBQ, this area is usually quite peaceful most any time of day, no matter the number of folks inside the Park.
The quietude is routinely interrupted by the screeching trains of Big Thunder and the spirited call of coyotes, but the ambiance is tranquil nonetheless.
Go ahead. Lean against the wood railing along the little lake.
Gaze up at the old tunnel across the lake where the little mine trains of Rainbow Ridge headed out for a tour of Rainbow Caverns and Nature's Wonderland.
Sit on a bench and watch Big Thunder's trains come around the final turn into Dinosaur Gap.
Watch the Mark Twain round the bend, bell ringing and steam whistle announcing its arrival at the Frontier Landing.
Enjoy some shade (and some personal space!).

Next: Carnation Plaza Gardens.

You can still grab an umbrella table here, tucked up near the western wall of Sleeping Beauty's Castle.
If there is no performance occurring on the Plaza Gardens stage, this area usually has plenty of seats, peace and quiet.
Of course, you'll have to truck in your own food and drink, since there is no longer a food service location at Plaza Gardens.
But you can get a cushioned seat in the shade, without a very large crowd crushing in on you.
You can gaze out at the Castle or up at the Matterhorn, or across the wooden bridge to the Hub. If you need a restroom, there's one just inside the access tunnel that leads to Rancho de Zocalo Restaurant.
Put your feet up.
If you listen carefully, you can hear Snow White singing from her wishing well to the east.
It's also hard to miss Harold's roars emanating from the icy tunnels of the Matterhorn.

Third: Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.

Had it?
Head to the Main Street Opera House and the air conditioned comfort of Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and the Disneyland exhibit in the front lobby.
The show itself is well done and timeless.
But there is also seating in the nice, cool lobby area and several great exhibits to look at, including a Disney art gallery where you will see some of Kevin Kidney's work on display currently.
Indeed, even if you choose to forego a visit with the Great Emancipator, your time in the lobby will be well worth it.
You can also meander next door to the Mad Hatter and try on some goofy hats or mouse ears.
Once you've cooled down a bit and relaxed, you can stride back out into Town Square and renew your journey through the (original) Magic Kingdom.

Stay refreshed, my friends!


Friday, August 20, 2010

Disneyland - Wally Boag

There is one experience I have had in life that I will forever cherish.
I saw Wally Boag perform at the Golden Horseshoe before he retired.
My family and I sat in the front row of tables and Wally came on stage as Pecos Bill.
He squirted us with his squirt gun and I will never forget how it seemed like he would spit out teeth FOREVER!
Wally was a part of the true Disneyland magic, and performed continuously in what remains one of the longest running live performance shows of all time!
He was a master of pantomime, sight gags AND fast talking one liners, all wrapped up into one person.
You can see glimpses of Wally on Youtube, so this is one memory of mine that we can all experience together! Of course, seeing him perform live was a treat that simply cannot translate through video, but you sure get the picture.
Wally, thanks for the laughs!


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Disneyland - Old Co-Workers

Let us take a look at some pictures from old co-workers past.

First off: Sam.

What a loafer.
Never saw him on the dock or on a boat, but he was always hanging out around Jungle.
Ran a head shop in south Orange County for a while.
Kept to himself, mostly.
He described himself as a "people person" nonetheless.
Also fancied himself a "thigh man," whatever that means.
Never wore a name tag (bad show).
Never said a word.
Still, he'd go out on a limb for you (sometimes, twice a week).
Kinda creepy to hang out with during lunch.

Next, are three from my sweeper days.
Piper was a dutiful sweeper and always had a smile. Unlike Sam, she was a people person who liked people for people's sake.
Don, on the other hand, was a fabulous "over the line" softball player. He had a great eye and could place the ball exactly where it needed to go during OTL tournaments. A master of Main Street restrooms, he once threatened to make a sweater from certain hair he swept up from the floor. Gack.
Finally, Curt. A true artist and comic rolled up into one. He had a Fantasyland shift in the summer of 1985. Raybans, perfect form with the pan and broom, and a winning sense of humor.
Went on to have his own TV show.

I'll keep the rest of pictures in the trunk for now, but I'm not afraid to use them if I have to!

Thank goodness for Disney Polaroid pictures!

I'll bet none will surface of a certain sweeper named Mike (circa 1984-85)!

---Adieu, for now!


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Disneyland - Jungle Break Area Blues

One thing has remained the same between my Jungle days of old and my most recent stint on the attraction last year: the break area.

It is at the end of a little corridor behind the old stage of the Tahitian Terrace and the Aladdin show. It consists of a few discarded chairs, a trash can or two, a computer terminal (for accessing the Cast Deployment System - "CDS"), and a walkway next to a railing next to the Jungle boat storage area. You can see the storage area to your right as you round the final bend of the river just past Trader Sam. Two large doors swing open to allow access to the back area. When they open, if you look hard enough and believe strongly enough, several skippers at various stages of ennui will appear, lounging for their break on old chairs or leaning on the railing.

Hey. It was our break area.
Not perfect, but a small oasis in the Jungle.
You bumped there from your rotation. Perhaps you literally ran from there to the Inn Between and back in order to get a quick drink or snack. Perhaps you hit the vending machines located near the "dancing natives" in the access alley behind Main Street.
You would share a quick hello with fellow skippers.
"Any good boats today?"
"Nah. Pretty dead."
"Is that because of your sorry spiel?"
"Shut up. Your last boatload looked like the cast of a George Romero flick."
"Really? The last laugh I heard from one of your boats was YOU laughing at your own jokes."
"Yeah, thanks. Last night I had a great group. They loved me!"
"It's nice when relatives come to the Park, ain't it?"
"Rookie? I've been on this attraction for six months straight! I hear natives chanting in my head at night!"
"Six months? Rookie."
"How long have you been on the Jungle?"
"Well...I started in 1987..."
Shocked silence.
Of course, there are a couple of old skippers who have truly been on the Jungle since the 1980s. If you should see Randy or an old foreman named Gerry on the dock, dust them off because they have literally been working the attraction for more than a quarter century.
Talk about old jokes!


The break area is not glamorous, but it suits its purpose.
There you find a few quiet moments during your shift.
You actually get off your feet for a while (heck, between skippering the boat and working the dock, you are on foot for 6-7 hours per shift! No wonder I lost all that weight when I returned. I might have to publish a book: "The Jungle Cruise Diet."---I'll let you know).
Most breaks consisted of a diet Coke and bad vending machine fare.
With the advent of cell phones, most skippers sat and texted or played games. Back in the '80s, we would while away the time by teasing each other or playing practical jokes. Most such hijinks are strictly verboten in today's Disneyland.
Ah, workers' compensation and the Labor Code, such grand enhancements to the modern workplace.
No more cups of water poured down the back.
No more cigarette loads (tiny sticks of white gunpowder strategically inserted into fellow cast member's smokes when they weren't looking).
No lying in wait as a group for the next guy coming off on break (man, we scared the hell out of so many skippers!).
Not so much psychological warfare between skippers (good natured, but devastating nonetheless).
That is not to say the banter died completely.
We still would try to joke around a bit.
But in today's workplace---shackled by political correctness, "hostile work environment" claims, the dangers of a joke being misunderstood or taken wrongly, etc., some of the fun simply had to go to the wayside.
The real fun typically started off site, after one's shift, at "Charley Brown's" or "Acapulco" or the pub or wherever.
This is a family blog, so we will leave the off-site shenanigans for another venue, perhaps.

To the poor old Jungle break area and the skippers sitting there right this moment: Cheers!!

For those of you who did not enjoy your trip with me today, the address and telephone number of our complaint department is right over there on the wall to our right as we approach the dock. Feel free to comment there as often as you wish. (You Jungle Cruise lovers know exactly what I'm talking about---if not, take a look at the writing on the wall over there the next time you come to the end of a cruise through the Jungle).

Now it's time to say goodbye to all our company.



Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Disneyland - Martinis over New Orleans Square

If you do not know about Club 33, you are reading the wrong blog.

If you've never been there, my sincere regrets, but allow me to share a few choice moments from one of my visits.

I made it to the Club as a guest when a court reporting firm my law firm used told us that they had a membership and could get us in whenever we wanted because we were good customers.

I took them up on it as often as I could.

On at least one such occasion, we were seated at a table by the window that overlooked the Cafe Orleans, Haunted Mansion and the Frontierland train station.

I ordered a Ketel One martini (up and dirty, thank you, with three olives) and perused the menu. The food I ordered is not important.

The drink.

The drink came to me on a platter.
A bright young gentleman in a Club 33 waiter's costume gently lifted it from platter to a cocktail napkin on the table to my right.
The classically-shaped glass glistened with condensation.
It had been chilled perfectly.
The contents of the glass sparkled like Monterey Bay.
The olives sat almost frozen in the translucent, syrupy vodka.
They were skewered with a clear, plastic "toothpick" that looked as though it had come straight out of Superman's Fortress of Solitude.
As the waiter left, I was alone with my thoughts for a moment.
Here I was, a guest in Club 33.
The decor was perfect---think Haunted Mansion for the living.
The tablecloth was white (of course).
All my other Disneyland experiences flashed before me: the sun, the colors, the Mickey Mouse balloons, the smell of Pirates of the Caribbean, the exhaust of Jungle boats, the whirl of teacups, the scrape of pan and broom after a cigarette butt, you get the picture.
None came near the bliss of lifting that frosty glass and raising a toast to Walt.
The salty sip of olive juice and the cool bite of vodka mingled in my brain with the view from the window.
I looked down on this area of New Orleans Square that I had so often seen from below.
Yet I still felt a part of it.
I still felt the "Disneyland-ishness" of it all.
All those times in crowded lines, amid screaming children, or dumping trash (or scooping elephant poop), or waving a flashlight at a throng, they all crystallized like the flakes of ice in my Martini.
Here was a moment at Disneyland I never thought I'd see: a cool drink in an elegant venue right in the middle of the Park!
Let me tell you, Jungleteers, THAT was worth the price of admission.
Here's to Club 33!
More importantly, here's to Disneyland!
Many happy returns!