Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson is Dead...

...Will be the title of my next short story, even if the plot has nothing to do with Michael Jackson. Seriously, though, aren't we living in a sort of alternate reality now that he's gone? I mean, nothing's going to be quite the same again. Very strange indeed. And to think I heard the news from some kid who was in line ahead of me at the Bur-r-r Bank Ice Cream Shop in Disney's California Adventure. Nutsacks!

My training yesterday went well (I just realized when I typed this sentence that seeing as this will be a many-days-in-the-making entry, my yesterdays/todays/tomorrows might [read: will] become totally skewed as time progresses). I showed up at the Cast Member Parking Lot on Wednesday with no idea what to expect, and left equally baffled. Met up with a fellow CP trainee named Sam (of the female variety), got lost looking for the flagpole behind Space Mountain where we were supposed to meet our trainer Diane, and then hung out awkwardly in the shade. I was geeking out hardcore (and have been ever since) about everything backstage, which made for a surprisingly tolerable working relationship with both my cohorts, who are decidedly blase about anything Disney-related. Diane was a cool trainer, though, and we spent the day sitting at the "Inn Between" (a cast member cafeteria in between Main Street and Tomorrowland) downing curly fries and rice krispie squares. She's a sleek asian in her mid-twenties and spent a lot of down time locating split ends, staring at her fingernails, calling everything "hot," and rolling her eyes/making a disgusted face whenever a visibly dorky cast member tried to interact with us throughout the day. Not what I expected, to say the least, but I have to say the general backstage air is a far less happy one than what I'd been expecting... except for me, of course. I ran around in glee for the entire eight hours and eagerly waved at any other cast members who seemed to be enjoying themselves. Seeing Buzz Lightyear walking around without his head on and Cruella Deville traipsing hand-in-hand with Jasmine does take a while to get used to, though.

When we weren't at the Inn Between, we squirreled away at West-Park Headquarters, which is a cramped mess of offices and hallways that snake their way around the top stories of the Adventureland/Frontierland restaurant buildings. Or we were watching the parade. Or learning how to direct traffic for Fantasmic. Or being forced to wear lanyards filled with collectible trading pins so that avid (read: freaky) guests would swarm us as soon as we walked Onstage, thereby forcing us to interact with adults and children alike and learn firsthand how to honor the SERVICE model (Smile, Eye contact/body language, Respect and welcome, Value the magic, Initiate guest contact, Create service solutions, End with a thank you). At first I was alarmed by the amount of attention a bunch of ridiculous little pins made me receive, but then it got kind of fun because kids would absolutely freak out if I happened to have the one they were looking for. And some adults came up to me with massive books that shelved row after row of carefully organized pins for trading... they weren't so fun.

SURREAL MOMENT #1: At the end of the day, I headed back behind Space Mountain to Disneyland's massive costuming department to check out a second costume for myself. The place was nearly empty, and I walked alone among massive rows of costumes that stretched from floor to ceiling and even dangled from roller-coaster-like moving rails that swooped shirts down from shadowy corners at the press of a button (think: Powell's City of Books combined with Monsters Inc's Door Factory). The warehouse literally had no distinct end that I could see. Anyway, I had to walk around looking for proper costume elements while "My Girl" pumped from the building's sound system. I don't know why, but it was very, very strange.

And then that night Steven threw a rave in our apartment, fell asleep drunk at 3:30, woke up just as drunk at 7:30, shouted in front of a bunch of Disneyland cast members on the shuttle to Team Disney Anaheim about how wasted he was, got detained at security, and is now suspended, awaiting the results of his urine/blood tests. None of us think he's gonna last much longer... especially after LAST NIGHT'S party (I'm writing this portion like four days after I started this post... don't get confused).

I had to be back at Disneyland at six am on Friday to begin actual Splash Mountain training, which required me to get up at four to meet the trainer, Laurenzo. Splash Mountain is basically much, much crazier than it looks up front, and three days later I'm still learning that my initial conception of some cast members guiding the line and a few more pressing dispatch buttons is NOT what it takes to operate the ride. We first had to learn start-up procedures and evacuation routes for all lifts and drops, of which there are four and three, respectively. But it's not as if everything's clearly labeled. While it may seem like common sense as to where the drops and lifts are as a rider, from backstage there's absolutely no telling. A complex series of hallways, tunnels, catwalks, staircases, and dark stretches must be navigated every time entry into the mountain is warranted. And then there's the Merge point, where fastpass and standby lines collide, at which point the standby people are usually more than a little pissed off that I have to allow 45 fastpass holders through before I can allow 6 of them entrance. And then there are a bunch of other really, really confusing things, but I could never hope to type them all and even if I did you'd all read them and go "yeah, yeah, sounds real tough, AJ," and still have no idea about how hard it actually is because lets face it, empathy (and even sympathy, for that matter) is a dying emotion in today's day and age. You'll all just never really know, and I guess I'm gonna have to leave it at that.

Yesterday was more of the same... kind of. 4:45 am wake-up call. Breakfast on the way to the car. I had to create my own themed spiel for rear dispatch, as well, and it goes like this: "welcome back, lumberjacks! Go ahead and zip on out. Next group, drop on in! Watch your steps!" It doesn't sound hard, but I also have to open and shut the entry gates, which have to be cleared of people who don't mind the yellow line. And keep my fingers at all times on the red emergency button, in case a kid runs out of nowhere and into a dangerous situation. And I have to screen the front row for riders under five feet tall, which aren't allowed. And I've got to remind people about holding onto their hats and glasses, if they have them. And then I've got to press the green "okay" button within thirteen seconds of all the rest of it happening, so really my little spiel is the last thing I'm concerned about and it's really hard to do when I'm just scared of killing someone somehow by doing something I'm not supposed to.

And then there are all the other positions I'm still learning, but I won't get into those. Some thoughts:
- Michael Jackson music videos have been playing repeatedly in the Splash Mountain break room (which is up inside the mountain), because a lot of the older employees actually consider him a respectable human being. I think I kind of missed out on the stretch of time during which he actually had a music career and didn't just look like a monster who molested kids 24/7. Seriously, though, watching him slowly transform from video to video into a hideous beast is even scarier than all that werewolf bullshit in "Thriller."
- I'm exhausted, Hence a lot of this probably not making sense.
- Disneyland at 6 am is a magically empty place. Except for all the delivery trucks driving around everywhere. Watching them scramble for backstage as an 8 am park opening approaches is crazy. There's lots of honking involved.
- Disneyland has around 10,000 employees working every day and 5,000 every night.
- I had to perform an actual ride evacuation yesterday, which was insane.
- Come visit!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Splash Mountain!

So I found out today (and after eight more hours of [paid] lecturing) that I'll be working on Splash Mountain all summer! The reasons I'm very happy about this decision:

1) Splash Mountain is one of the best rides. And it involves water.
2) There are lots of trees in its surrounding landscape. Trees = shade.
3) Good music. If I could choose any attraction music to listen to repeatedly for ten weeks, it'd be Splash Mountain's.
4) There's a Laughing Place involved.
5) It's in Critter Country, which is pretty much the backwoods of Disneyland. Hardly any guests!
6) My costume consists of: khaki Carhartts, a flannel shirt, and suspenders. Basically, what I already wear every day. Except for the Carhartts. And the suspenders.

The meetings today were fairly mundane. I learned more about how to keep the magic alive during my workday (read: playing a "part" AT ALL TIMES). Also, I'm afraid I'm going to be peppering casual Disneyland conversation from now on with terms like "Backstage" and "Onstage" and all that good stuff. It's like when people come back from studying abroad and call their houses "flats," except this is legit because I fucking love Disneyland and have been waiting to say stuff like this all my life.

This afternoon's highlights included eating lunch with a 70-year-old security guard named Smitty who regaled me and a bunch of other dorky College Programmer's with tales from Disney lore that he personally witnessed. I was enthralled. Smitty has a bit of a hearing problem, though, so the conversation was pretty much one-way. Also, on today's more extensive tour of the park we visited many more backstage locations, including the area right around Space Mountain's backside that houses Disneyland's bomb-sniffing dogs. They're pretty cute.

A few more things:
- I'm not keeping a journal this summer (wow... writing that out made me feel incredibly guilty, and I can already feel my future self kicking my current self. Is this a bad idea? Give me advice...!) so my blog posts will be much more frequent, if not tell-all.
- My first actual shift requires me AT splash Mountain's base by six am. This means I've got to be up at, like, four! And I'll be in the park before anyone else!
- I'm still not tired of Disneyland!
- It seems a lot of you are pretty intrigued by my roommate Stephen's antics, so I'll keep posting about the crazy shit he gets into. Last night's story: he washed his two custodian uniforms (which are required to retain their crisp white color) with a ballpoint pen... that exploded sometime during the dry cycle... and ruined absolutely ruined both of them. For the remainder of the night, he ran around the apartment, screaming in his high-pitched southern accent, "My life's a shambles! My life's a shambles!" It was funny to watch.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Three Things...

...My roommate Stephen (a custodian) has (unintentionally) done this week to sabotage Disneyland's established goals of creating magic (presented in order of increasing chaos):

- Letting go of a massive dumpster as soon as he got backstage, then watching it roll downhill into a tunnel and plow over a Mickey who was walking to Fantasyland to sign autographs.

- Throwing a cigarette into a trash bin, which then started a trash fire, which then necessitated the Anaheim fire department's aid. Said aid vehicle then got a flat tire, which necessitated another fire truck to take its place, all of which caused a large crowd and some amount of panic.

- Pulling up massive amounts of green tape off of Main Street, which had been placed there specifically to delineate the afternoon's parade route, and causing half the floats to run into the sidewalk/each other/performers, which forced the parade to stop prematurely.

Needless to say, all other custodians are ashamed.

And I'm very, very impressed.


So the last two days have been all about getting to know the Disney company: learning to point directions with two fingers (because one finger is rude in some cultures), discussing how to bring even more magic to a child's park experience (hint: kneel to their level and treat them like a prince/princess!), chatting it up with all the people I tried avoiding the first day (networking is everything), forgetting to shave and then being forced to upon arrival at the Team Disney Anaheim complex (one's face must remain squeaky clean), and memorizing whether safety, courtesy, magic, or efficiency is more important (for the record, that's the correct order). It's been loads of fun. Loads.

But seriously, it has been loads of fun! The Disney College Program so far is like the study abroad experience I never had. Last night I met my other two roomies, who threw a party for me the moment I walked into our apartment. They're both named Stephen; one is a cool Asian kid from San Diego who kind of flops across whichever seat he's on, and the other is a crazy loud flamboyant southern guy whose voice would certainly induce headaches if everything he said wasn't so funny. Last night at 1 am he marched out pulling a dolly and a massive rubbermaid container to get more beer from down the street. Yes, he keeps a dolly and a massive rubbermaid container in his closet for situations requiring them. He also lost all his money in a madcap, 36-hour trip to Vegas a few days ago, so I have no idea what he's about to do next.

This morning I woke up at 7 am to dress in business attire and attend our Traditions class, the last boring seminar of the college program. Green shards of glass from smashed Jagermeister bottles littered the living room's hardwood floor (I don't know what happened after I fell asleep last night), and there weren't any clean dishes for me to make breakfast with. But I digress. Let's fast forward to 1:30, right after I'd eaten (discounted) lunch at the (backstage) cast member food court, which is filled with old memorabilia from the park's defunct attractions. We split into small groups in order to tour the park. My group leader informed us to pocket and turn off cell phones, spit out any chewing gum, tuck in our shirts, and follow her. We walked several hundred feet from the building I've spent the last three days in to a massive cement wall lined with support beams that held strangely familiar green hills atop them. This was the backdrop for Toontown!

A small mirror next to the gap in the wall we walked through had the slogan "remember to put on your smile... and check your teeth for food!" printed over it. I turned a sharp left, then a sharp right, and exited the turnaround in the middle of Toontown. People milled everywhere. Music was playing. All of a sudden, and without warning, I. WAS. IN. DISNEYLAND.

I'd like you all to take a brief moment and appreciate the magnitude of this milestone in my life. I don't want to toot my own horn here, but I'm 21, and I never actually thought I'd get to walk into Disneyland through any other entrance but its front one. And here I was. In the middle of the park. Wearing business attire. Freshly shaven. As if I'd apparated. I remember having to catch my breath after the shock of it all subsided.

I don't think it's ever going to get any better than that exact moment.

The tour was awesome! And on the way out we took another cast member exit through Frontierland that involved a massive tunnel and a glimpse at the backstage corral where all the horses are kept. Kickass! Plus, I made friends! After I met my family for dinner at Goofy's Kitchen (the menu of which, by the way, is starting to be a little too kid-friendly for my tastes), I met up with some people to go to Disneyland for the evening. I used my snazzy new ID card to get in for FREE (and I later used it for a 20% discount on a soda!). My dad followed me to the park entrance to get a photo of me using the ID for the first time, which was only minimally embarrassing, and then I got to hang around the park all night! And there was no big rush because I'm gonna be here all summer! Kickass!

Anyway, there's a lot more I could say, but I'll sign off with this for now:

- I still don't know what ride I'm working on (but I find out Monday... I think).
- I can see the park's fireworks show every night from my bedroom window!
- One of the guys I got to know today, Jeff, had a bunch of pets when he was younger; a gerbil named Brandy (after the singer), a turtle named Rosie (after Rosie O'Donnell), and a cat named AJ (after the Backstreet Boys singer). I'm definitely not the craziest one here...

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Eating Quiznos by Myself, or: When Dreams Come True.

So it's 7:36 pm on Thursday evening, my first of sixty in Anaheim, California, during which I'll experience the Disney College Program. I've already learned to refer to myself as a "CP," and I've heard rumors I'll receive zero respect from full-time Disneyland cast members (employees, for the layman) because that's just the way things go. Right about now I'm realizing I could be much more clever with all this, but I've been up since 5 am and my eyes are burning, so bear with me.

The first thing you'll probably want to know is how fast I made it from San Francisco (where I spent the last two nights at Simone's - hey, Simone!) to Los Angeles, and I'll tell you right now: five hours. I heard rough estimates and hard-edged assertions from friends, family members, and drunk members of other people's families that I'd be on the road anywhere from four to eight-point-five hours, and I can now claim that five hours is the appropriate time frame. My left arm is very, very red and sore right now because it was hanging out the window for the duration of the drive, and I didn't account for early morning sunburns - one of the worst kinds of sunburns, if you ask me.

If anyone wants to visit me, here's what you do: drive down I-5 until you reach exit 111 in Los Angeles. Take it. Turn left onto Lincoln Ave, then right on Anaheim Boulevard. You've found me! I'll be waiting in room 208 of Carnegie Plaza. It's just off of an enormous living room/kitchen, complete with hardwood floors and granite countertops. My room could be a bit snazzier, but I think a lot of what's detracting from the "oomph" is my (as yet unseen) roommate's half of the land. He's got a pillow and a single white blanket wadded up together on top of a bare mattress. And there's a wrapper for a vibrating condom in his garbage can. I know because I look at such things.* He also seems to have had one of New Orleans Square's street artists paint a picture of himself... for himself. It's sitting just behind his desktop computer, and he looks like he might be alright. We shall see.

The other two roomies are located on the other side of the living room. I don't know anything about them, except for that they're both guys and one has DVDs of the musicals "Cats" and "The Phantom of the Opera" out by the television... You do the math.

Orientation so far has included a lot of puzzled maneuvering inside a cramped apartment that's been converted into an office building of sorts. I sat alongside a dozen other confused individuals on beanbags as we watched "Cars" on an enormous flat screen and waited our turn to run the gauntlet. I provided the small talk because I'm way less terrified of this whole situation than I was with my Great New Zealand Adventure. I mean, my plane to Dunedin landed in a field occupied by sheep and cows. I felt isolated and depressed almost immediately. And it was cold. So, so cold. Here, the happiest place ever is literally two miles away, and you can see the tip of the Matterhorn and the Tower of Terror from a decent vantage point right down the street. I'm in my element and I don't care who knows it. Plus, for once I enjoyed not being the one who looked seconds away from tears as the brutal reality of the next few months blossomed.

A few more things:

I kinda made some friends(!)... But then botched it up during an awkward hallway goodbye after one of the orientation meetings.

There's a dishwasher in our apartment!

I'm almost positive I'll be working in Critter Country (I peeked at my on-screen information during initial registration). This means I'm either manning Splash Mountain, Winnie the Pooh, or the Davy Crockett Adventure Canoes. Here's hoping for Splash...

My cell phone is totally busted! And I need it to live!

Until next time...

*Though, to be fair, it could just have been a gag gift from what I assume may have been his birthday (there's a huge cake in the fridge).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"X Conference" full of XXXX!

As my one avid reader may recall from a blurb posted in late April, the annual "X Conference," consisting of a panel of UFO researchers and aficionados, was held and recorded live by on the morning of April 20th. The researchers declared they held proof that our world's governments were in contact with extraterrestrials, and that the Obama Administration had until the end of May to admit to the public what was going on or else they'd be taking the information elsewhere (possibly to the French, but exactly how or why remained vague).

Anyway, I'm posting now to state the obvious: these people did NOT live up to their word, and I'm very disappointed. It's June 10th, and I want me some aliens! The level of embarrassment involved for all "X Conference" attendees right now must be through the roof. I mean, they seemed pretty adamant about what was going on. How much longer do they think they can keep making annual declarations before the public just stops paying attention? Poor show, guys. Seriously.

^^This is what a room full of fools looks like.^^

I promise this: next time these crackpots hold a public forum, they won't convince me... again. Unless it's held on the morning of April 20th... again.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Toilet thought #2: my neighbors are having such a party that their music is vibrating the very water i'm perched over! lousy 8 am final...

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Toilet thought #1: god, i love my bathroom time.