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.