Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Disneyland - Cold, Damp Nights

A closing shift at the Park during the winter, Christmas season or New Year's Eve can be a cold, damp and wonderful thing.
Let me start by patiently explaining that California's "winter" can manifest itself in an icy moisture that breathes frostily deep into your joints.
It gets your toes cold to the point where only a warm bath will bring them back.
No snow, for sure.
No twenty below.
No windchill worth mentioning.No ice scraper for the windshield.
No plugging in your car so your radiator and battery won't freeze.
No gummy snowboots or galoshes.

But it gets you.

I'm from western Pennsylvania.I have lived in South Bend, January.
I have been on the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago, tiny icebergs at my feet, a ceaseless gust in my face and snow several feet deep all around.I have been in "lake effect" snow.
Freezing rain.
Ice storms.
Winter mornings before dawn when my jeans were stiff from ice.
So were my socks.
Been through a whiteout on a lonely stretch of central Indiana interstate during a blizzard.
Watched a Notre Dame game from the top of the stadium on a day when the sheets of rain turned to sleet and then to mushy snow.
I have stepped off my grandmother's porch as a tiny lad and been swallowed into snow drift there off the porch steps.
I can still feel the fluffy, icy and muffling snow around me.
Good thing my uncle happened by, just as this occurred, to safely pluck me from my predicament.
I am not a California creampuff.
Neither was Mark Twain.He toughed out some of the coldest weather one could imagine and yet he found California to host the most chilling. He famously noted, "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco."
What I am trying to hint at is that I am no stranger to the cold winter thing.

Now, I offer the foregoing for those Easterners and Mid-westerners who swear to high heaven that they can tough out any winter in shirt sleeves and shorts. They smugly smirk at Californians who bemoan a dip into the 40s and a little sprinkle of misting rain.
Yeah, I'm talking to you in Buffalo and up there in Green Bay.
Let me tell you.
California winters are amazingly,
cold and damp.
You see, in Green Bay, or Pittsburgh, or Buffalo or South Bend, when you step into the house or your car from 15-below-zero temperatures, you are instantly warm.You immediately tear off your parka and sweatshirt and long underwear once you are back indoors because otherwise you will die of heat stroke.
This is "dry" cold.
In California, along the shores of the Pacific, an oceanic wetness sets into the winter air.
Especially after about 1o:30 p.m.
It sets a chill that seems to come from the inside out.
It can even get at you indoors.It finds its way through sweaters and most jackets.
It creeps numbingly into fingers, toes, ears necks and noses.
A damp cold.
A reach-for-the-beer-at-the-bottom-of-the-ice-chest kind of cold.

...I think you get a sense of what you face at the Park on a closing shift during a California winter's night.

Over on Jungle, the scarves and gloves come out, along with the jackets. The condensation glistens across your boat's bow. Your .38 revolver chills your hand as you reach to reload it with numbed fingertips. Your breath clouds around the P.A. mike. If you are on the dock, you try to keep your body moving between boats---which are fewer and farther between at night, especially in the winter (after all, a charging African Bull Elephant does not leap into the minds of most guests as an attraction option when the weather gets cold, dark and damp).

On Main Street, if it was a fireworks night, the guest control cast members would be bundled in the most fabulous of Disneyland costume pieces---the heavy wool peacoat---which is modeled perfectly and shamelessly below by a certain member of this blog's editorial staff.You would see these old peacoats on the Mark Twain operators and Disneyland Railroad conductors, too. It was one of the few clothing items that could combat the cold well. The peacoats had not changed for years, though the Park has now gone to a "fleece" version that is no doubt cheaper, but definitely less insulating. If there was one item I wish I could have taken home with me when I left for the last time---it was the peacoat. I dug the "Disneyland" patch stitched into the left breast of the coat.

Since most cast member positions within the Park are of the outdoor variety, standing outdoors in a chilled dampness for six or eight hours can take its toll. Fortunately, we got to move around a lot if we were on guest control. Indeed, the main reason for the coned flashlight on such nights is not so much to direct guests, but more to generate warmth by the constant back-and-forth motion of one's upper extremity.

After closing or the end of your shift, you would trudge back to your exit (which for most of us was Harbor House), stopping by your locker on the way to grab your backpack or whatever you brought with you before your shift began. In the old days, you would walk out into the cast member parking lot along Harbor Boulevard and watch your breath fog ahead of you as you found your car. Its windshield would have a film of dew. You would open your door and sit down (often for the first time in over six hours). The seat would be cold. The inside of the windshield would be fogged. You would start the engine, hit the windshield wipers, and wave a goodbye to fellow cast members walking to their cars. Put it in drive and pull out onto Harbor Boulevard, heading homeward.

About five or ten minutes into your trip, the car would warm up and you could actually turn on your heater. The streets would be empty after a closing shift. You would feel the warmth slowly build around you. Back to the "real world." Still, I miss those quiet, late evening or early morning commutes home from the Park on cold nights. More so, I remember how great it felt to get home to a warm bed or a brandy (or both). Some things, of course, never change.

Let the East Coast versus West Coast "who has the colder winter" debate begin.

I tossed in my two cents.