...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!