September 27th 2007, the day I and about 200 other excited new hires were standing in a queue waiting to enter the Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) building. It was Traditions Day! For decades Traditions has been an orientation of sorts for new Cast Members of Disneyland and now the Disneyland Resort. In myth it was time to gleam knowledge of the resort, to learn the hidden mysteries, and to understand how Disney works its magic for guests.
In reality the litigious time in which we live has made The Walt Disney Co. change this glorious day into a legal fest. Instead of hearing how Disney has studied how many feet apart each trash can should be, it has become a lecture on how not to sexually harass the gay native american in the wheelchair. The good news is as I was leaving the company in the fall of 2016 they were adding a second day of orientation for new Disney California Adventure Cast Members. This second day focused on the back ground story of each attraction, and the CM's role. A pilot program has begun for Disneyland Park in preparation for the opening of Galaxy's Edge.
Being Disney, of course there were several "we don't suck" moments. The first was as we entered the building we were directed to a large auditorium. Here we had a chance to socialize and get to know one another. We were also shown a great film about joining the magic. Then our instructors split us up based on which department we were joining, so of course you were separated from all the new friends you just made. Since most of the new recruits had "Disney" personalities it was of course easy to become friendly.
We were then re-located to a training room on the top floor. It was colorful as one would expect, and the walls were covered with art work and posters. As an amateur collector I was enthralled with the items on the wall. Old attraction and movie posters, pictures of Walt and contemporaries, photos of events at Disneyland over the last 50 years. This was mecca for me and I couldn't wipe the silly grin from my face.
After a couple of hours in the classroom going over policies, we ventured out for a brief tour of Disneyland. Here we were treated to some information I had not heard before. It was my first chance to see the backstage area beyond TDA. As we passed rehearsal buildings and parade buildings I had to pinch myself several times! As we were to enter the park through Mickey's Toontown, we passed under the million dollar wall. It was a complete thrill to finally see some of the myths and fables I had heard of as a fan-boy.
In the park, our instructor did a nice job of pointing out how every Land was different, from the music and ground color to the trash cans. He also did a great job explaining what a weenie was and pointing out where they were. Unfortunately the young man next to me in the Bugs Bunny tie couldn't stop giggling over the term "weenie".
Our next stop was the Eat Ticket, my first Cast cafe. This one was decorated with old attraction vehicles and posters. I was so mesmerized I can not tell you what I ate. It was also interesting to sit in the quad like area just outside and watch the activity. Cast Member of every type running to and fro going about their Saturday business. The best part of this experience is still one of my fondest memories: We gathered one last time in the auditorium where we were brought on-stage to receive our Disneyland name tags. Once we were all on stage Mickey Mouse appeared and we all took pictures!
As I did not have any real friends in Anaheim, my family was 1,000 miles away, and I had a ton of paperwork to read, I stopped for dinner on the way home. I went to an old diner about 5 blocks west of TDA called Spiers. Since I was alone I took a seat at the counter, a couple of stools down was an older man enjoying his soup. He saw the materials I was reading and asked if I worked at DLR. I answered that today was my orientation. He introduced himself and said "I built Disneyland". He explained to me that he returned from serving in Korea missing a couple of toes due to frost bite. He saw an ad in the LA Times looking for construction workers in Anaheim. He and a veteran buddy stayed in a Streamline trailer for the year of 1954, and helped build Walt's original Magic Kingdom. He spoke about meeting Mr. Disney, he said it was strange but before you met him you called him Walt, after you would always refer to him as Mr. Disney. Not because he asked you to but because you respected him so much. I bought the older man's dinner and made him stay for pie so I could listen to his stories.
That night I laid in bed thinking back on the day. Being backstage for the first time, having Mickey Mouse ,himself, give me my name tag, and hearing about Uncle Walt from someone who really knew him and worked side-by-side with my hero. I slept well that night, excited for the adventure that would get real the next week.