In Disney World, store nothing bad is allowed to happen. Drop your ice cream cone? It will magically be replaced before you can blink. Lose your keys or your phone? They will not only most likely end up back in your hands unbelievably quickly, tuberculosis but in such a way that almost seems like losing them in the first place made your day even better. This is the magic of the “Disney Moment,” and every Cast Member is on high alert at all times, seeking to preserve the perceived perfection of guests’ experiences. They are a devious, prowling pack of do-gooders. And I was, at least for a short time, proud to be one of them during my four-month stint with the Walt Disney World College Program.
My costume was not the most attractive, but it wasn’t the Goofiest (if you’ll pardon the expression), either. It was, however, one of the only costumes that was not “Land-specific” in that I could, if needed, walk from Tomorrowland to Frontierland and then right down Main Street USA without getting in trouble. Because, while a part of the strict rule-book for Disney Cast Members is that the continuity of each land must be kept at all costs (no futuristic space travelers near Pirates of the Caribbean), I had a neutral Park costume that almost resembled real clothing. This was simply because I was lucky enough to get one of the coolest jobs a College Program kid could hope for: Magic Kingdom Park Greeter.
Everyone who goes through the CP has responsibilities of attending certain Disney seminars–many on marketing, business, and customer (guest) service. They are also assigned a job of the peon-sort for the duration of their enrollment in the program. Said job could be janitorial, ride (sorry… Attraction) operations, food services… Mine? I don’t know how I got so lucky.
As Park Greeter, I worked the turnstiles of the Magic Kingdom. Essentially: your vacation begins, you approach your first park on the first day (It’s going to be Magic Kingdom, just because) and you arrive at the gates. I’d be the first person you would see. Part of the overall first impression. Amazing, if a little daunting. While every guest is excited to finally be THERE, they’ve also carried with them all of their emotional baggage and stress that they stored up right before the well-needed vacation. All the more reason to look out for opportunities to create Disney Moments.
One afternoon in late April of 1998, I experienced–or rather cultivated–my favorite of said moments. I happened across an increasingly distraught family as I reached the Castle-end of Main Street USA. They had pulled off to the side, Mom frustratedly calming the two small children as Dad poorly hid his anger at their broken personal stroller. The hubcap of the back wheel had snapped in two and the wheel was off its axle. They were stuck at a standstill in front of Cinderella’s Castle with so many more adventures yet to sift through the hourglass of their day at the Magic Kingdom. Thankfully, as always, I carried my trusty Swiss Army Knife. A young lifetime of MacGyver-fantasizing was about to reach its pinnacle. (See last week’s episode for greater context.)
Using an unforced smile that stretched my face every day I worked there, I approached the family and assessed their situation. I joked and made faces to pull smiles and giggles from the kids, then asked the parents to wait there for a minute while I ran to the nearby shop for a quick purchase. The magical powers of my Disney name badge (and a rendering of my intentions) instantly delivered an ice-cold bottle of Coke, and I returned to the family to offer the beverage to Dad as I kept the cap for myself. Utilizing the years of growing up around engineers, mathematicians, and physicists (which, to be fair: engineering is essentially applied math and physics) I spent a whopping, intense five seconds designing and another full three constructing a replacement part for the child-transporter. I cut a 3/8″ X in the cap, trimmed the center out, and popped it on the axle, fixing the wheel more securely in place than I frankly expected. Mom and Dad gave the newly functional stroller a bit of a road test, plopped the smaller of the small humans into the seat, and smiled incredulously with watery eyes at the fact that what seemed like a bigger vacation-altering headache was really no problem at all.
I write of the above problem-solving a bit flippantly, as though it were no big deal nor a difficult solution–and it wasn’t, really–but in all seriousness it’s a healthy reminder that problems are contextual. Most times they aren’t that bad and it is often much easier to help solve another person’s troubles than it is our own. The time and effort (though technically part of my job) cost me nothing. The reward of making this family’s experience smoother and more fun was disproportionately fulfilling.
It’s been over eighteen years since I worked for “the Mouse.” It’s not always easy to remember, as the abundance of life’s little problems cloud my vision of others’ around me. But I’ve never lost the desire to seek out those moments when I can, with a little effort and a smile, make strangers’ everyday lives just a little bit better.