The House of Mouse

The House of Mouse
Cast Member for Life

Mike Thompson | 17 May 2011 15:21
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When I was nineteen, I came to a painful realization: I was boring and I was living a boring life. I was a freshman at the local community college, had a part-time job at my town's library, and had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life. One day, while sitting at the library's front desk during a particularly slow stretch, I sat up and thought, "Screw this, I want to work at Disneyland."

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Earlier that year, I had taken a weekend trip to the park with my best friend. We randomly struck up a conversation with an employee (according to the Disney lexicon, the proper term is "cast member") and learned that the Disney College Program would provide students with full-time jobs, housing, and special programs during the summer. We read up on the program, drove about two hours to CSU: Sacramento's campus to sit through an information session and subsequent interview, and suddenly found ourselves with summer jobs.

I had no idea what I was getting into, but I didn't really care - I was excited to be moving out of the San Francisco Bay Area. I drove down to Orange County at 6 AM the morning after I'd finished my last exam, found myself put up in a decent apartment complex about fifteen minutes away from the park, and became an Attractions Host (read: ride operator) on the Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes. I was hesitant about the assignment, but it turned out that being an Attractions Host was perfect because every day was a different experience.

The first - and biggest - lesson about Disneyland is that there's no such thing as "an average day" when you work at the park. There are just too many people that walk through those gates; too many weird, neurotic variables. It wasn't uncommon to have a great discussion with wonderful people and then immediately be confronted with a person or situation so crazy that it felt like it came from a sitcom.

One of the more memorable experiences took place during my first week of training when I was roped into a half-hour of crowd control while Big Thunder Railroad was shut down. It started when an obese woman went on the attraction, which was no big deal at first. However, when the train came back to the loading area, it turned out this lady was so overweight that she couldn't get herself out of the seat even with assistance from other cast members. The entire train had to be brought backstage (read: out of public view) and the woman had to be lifted out by the crane normally reserved for moving cars.

That same day, I ran into a kindly old man walking with some buxom young women and provided them with directions to the nearest bathroom. It was only after I'd sent them on their way that I realized I'd just spoken to Hugh Hefner and a couple of his girlfriends.

Later, I talked to my trainer about all the craziness that had taken place. Before starting at Disneyland, the highlight of my workday had been getting to shelve science fiction books and hoping to find something new. The past few hours had been absurd.

"Are things always this crazy?" I asked her.

She casually waved this question away between salad bites: "Nah, it's Tuesday. Things'll really pick up on Friday night."

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