I’ve been to Disneyland many times in my life. Living in California you end up going a lot as a kid, then a few times as a young adult, and then there’s a long stretch of years until you start going again with your own kids.
But only one trip can be the most memorable, and now whenever I return I always remember that one visit that qualifies as mine. I’m not saying it was the best trip, but it was the most memorable.
Sometimes I produce TV shows, and if money is left over after a many episode season, instead of having a “wrap” party, I like to host a paid “hooky day.”
I rent a bus or vans and I bring the staff and crew to a baseball game or theme park. It’s cheaper and more fun than renting a nightclub with a DJ and pounding music, silly dancing, cheap drinks and bad hors d’oeuvres, and it’s an all day adventure.
One year on one show we chose Disneyland, and the excitement in the office built to a fever pitch. It was a beautiful spring morning, and as we gathered in the office before loading up, I noticed that it was an even mix of men and women; married and single and people in their 20s and 30s. The field crew was mixing with the office crew, the night crew was mixing with the day crew and we were all bonding. It was nice.
I then noticed other mixing going on: the contents of hip flasks poured into soda cans, and rolling papers and cigarette packages being passed back and forth.
I have a very good grasp of the obvious, while some people don’t, so I decided to speak up.
“There’s no alcohol allowed anywhere in Disneyland, in the park or in the parking lots,” I said. “We represent a TV show, and by extension, a TV network. Most of all do nothing illegal. I am watching you. Understood?”
Everyone nodded, and we all headed downstairs and loaded into vans -- but no one wanted to get into the van I was in. Two full vans loaded and drove away before mine was even filled, and I heard sighing as the final stragglers came on in and sat around me. Someone has to sit with mean old dad.
“I know a place in the park we can go,” someone said to his friend.
Subtext: “Once we get to the park, we can ditch dad and get high in the bathroom by Space Mountain.”
Although we left last, our van passed the other two vans on the 5 Freeway. They seemed to be having fun, but it was hard to see through the smoky windows.
We all got there safely and found the front entrance without injury. With enough cold water and breath mints, everyone was presentable and spoke clearly when I addressed them.
A TV crew and staff is like a pirate crew -- if they feel you’re taking advantage of them, or you’re denying them their grog, they may mutiny on you the next time your back is turned, so I didn’t press the issue. Besides, I knew that bags and pack backs would be examined, so there was little risk from this point on.
So I thought.
We posed for some group photos for the Disneyland photographers, including one where we all looked in amazement at Ben Flood, the assistant editor, as he held his hand out. Tinker Bell would be superimposed into the photo, floating on Ben’s palm. I was excited, and some of our staff was so thrilled they couldn’t stop laughing…ever.
I said “Tinker Bell” sporadically to them throughout the day, and they’d laugh until they lost control and had to run away.
The lines weren’t long, people were well behaved and no one got a sunburn. We split up into several roaming packs that intersected over the course of the day at different rides and at lunch. The day was great. Then, it was time to go home ... but why not have one drink first? In the Disney shopping mall, which sits between Disneyland and California Adventure, there is one outdoor restaurant that has a bar.
I then realized I hadn’t gotten the group photo yet, and I wanted a memento of the day. Everyone wanted to get their drink on, so I told them to go ahead and start without me. I’d pop over to Main Street, hand in my ticket, buy the photos, and then dash over and meet them.
They disappeared, giggling and laughing, arms around each other. Hook-ups were happening, thanks to Mickey Mouse, Uncle Walt and me.
When I got to the photo store, I realize I should have gone earlier. The sun was setting, and a line of 50 people in shorts, T-shirts and flip flops from the twenty Western United States snaked and looped through the brass posts and chains. We rocked on the balls of our feet, nodding at each other.
“Where you from?” one would ask.
“Cincinnati,” he’d answer.
“Long way,” I’d say.
“Got to do it once,” he’d say.
And while we were all staring at each other, my office staff and crew were in some open air restaurant, drinking. A lot.
I got the two photos and they were worth the wait. Like the nerdy Boy Scout I am down deep inside, I was proud of myself for doing my duty and I rushed to the mall to find the bar so I could show everyone.
I could hear them before I saw them. I rounded a corner and found the open-air restaurant and bar in the middle of the shopping mall. It was actually an outdoor pizza restaurant, with a gated metal fence around it, and there just happened to be a small well-lit bar in the middle. Marcus Aguilar, my main field producer, was standing on the bar screaming. I think he was trying to do the French can can dance. Monica Bigler was trying to climb up on a bar stool to join him and she kicked a glass into the restaurant and it smashed on the floor.
The bartender was smiling, but as I got closer I could see he was grimacing. There were a least ten empty shot glasses and beer bottles on the bar. My pirates had made good use of their time. Six of them were singing Thriller, while another six did the Michael Jackson zombie dance. It was twenty-two people crowded in a space suitable for ten. It was like a biker bar had been dropped into Fairyland.
I edged past an outside circle of moms and dads with strollers, hanging back on the edge of darkness and pointing at the crazy young people. I heard disdain in six different languages:
See that? That’s how the Americans behave.
As I got to a metal fence that defined the restaurant, I saw couples sitting at tables with plates of pizza and deep fried mozzarella balls, guarding their food against flying glass and staggering human bodies.
I came in through the gate and the waitress said, “I’m sorry, we can’t serve you right now, we are full.”
“I’m with the people at the bar,” I said.
Her eyes lit up. “Really? Can you get them under control? They may cause an accident.”
I was relieved that we hadn’t had any promotional swag made up yet, so no one was wearing hats or T-shirts emblazoned with the logo of the show or the network. We were assholes in Disneyland, but anonymous assholes, thank god. All I had to do was get them to the parking structure and into the vans, and find three sober drivers.
I was able to pull Monica and Marcus down from their perch, I paid for the drinks with my credit card and I herded everyone out into the walking area. I knew if I could steer the ringleaders, Monica and Marcus, others would follow.
“Marcus, help me out, I need everyone walking that way, okay?” I begged.
“Piggy back rides!” Marcus shouted, and Monica immediately jumped on his back, and Marcus went zig zagging around the walkway, slaloming between the families with strollers. Heads whipped around and I heard more confused comments. He looped around and rejoined our group, cackling and encouraging others to join in.
Two more guys lined up with Marcus and then three girls jumped on their backs, so then three drunken men were careening through the crowd with drunk laughing women on their backs, all making zooming World War I bi-plane noises.
I wasn’t happy, but it was working. My staff followed Marcus and his fellow flyboys as we weaved our way up to the parking structure. The loudest bi-plane was Victor, a tall, lanky and quiet editor from Texas. The howling woman on his back was Eleanor, the music supervisor who gives the editors music cues. I wasn’t surprised that they were partners in crime; Eleanor has been spending extra time in Victor’s bay helping him with his cues, enough for people to comment. Everyone on staff sensed a romance brewing.
Then Victor tripped. He was drunk, and his hands were busy clutching Eleanor’s thighs close to his body, so he couldn’t get his hands out in front of him fast enough to block his fall. He hit the concrete face first. I heard the thump and looked over, and I saw Victor convulsing on the ground, face down in a widening pool of blood. Everyone fell silent as I rushed back. The strollers kept going, too wary to approach.
Victor was unconscious for five seconds. He was in pain but mostly embarrassed, and he just wanted to leave, but I encouraged Eleanor and his best friend, Peter, to keep him seated. I looked for someone official to call a doctor, but I saw a security guard was already talking into his walkie-talkie. We pulled out T-shirts and handed them to Victor so he could sop up the stream of blood pouring down his face.
Less than a minute after impact, something amazing happened. Ten security guards appeared and created a phalanx around him so none of the tourists could see.
Then a doctor arrived and examined him.
Victor answered his questions correctly -- name, age, year, president, color, day of the week. His pupils were the same size. He needed stitches, but his bleeding had stopped.
“Who’s in charge here?” the doctor asked.
“I am,’ I admitted.
“Get him out of here,” he said, and pointed towards the exit.
My drunken piggyback pirate biker gang fell silent and was compliant as we trudged for the exits. I looked back and saw that three janitors were already mopping up Victors blood.
We were almost at the trams when someone tapped me on the shoulder.
“You’re in charge of this group?” the official Disneyland rep asked.
“Yes I am,” I said.
“Can I get your name, address and phone number and your birthday?”
“What do you need my birthday for?” I asked.
“So we can send you a Disneyland discount for your next trip here.”
I gave him fake information, just in case I was being put on a watch list for jerks, idiots and drunken morons. Although I was embarrassed and ashamed, I was also impressed - there’s a reason why the Disney Corporation is the number 1 entertainment company in the world and on the Dow Jones. They can handle my hellions and me in less than a minute.
In the van, on the way home I explained to Victor that even though he didn’t like the idea, we were going to go to a hospital. He needed to be examined by another doctor, this was an official company trip, and there were liability risks...
“I’ll take him,” said Eleanor.
Then I had another ten-minute discussion. Eleanor assured me she was sober, she had a car, she would take him the emergency room.
“This isn’t how I wanted to her to know me!” howled Victor.
He’d stopped bleeding, but there was now a bump above his eyebrow that was as big as an egg.
“He could have a concussion. He has to stay awake, and he has to see a doctor,” I explained.
“I’m not going!” howled Victor.
We compromised. Once we all got back to Los Angeles, Eleanor took him in her car to Cedars Sinai, while I followed. In the emergency room, the doctors and nurses looked at him and were unimpressed. It would be an hour wait at least.
“You can go home, I’ll stay with him,” Eleanor assured me.
I left them in the waiting area. He was rolling his head and moaning while she held his hand and stared into space. I left the hospital feeling waves of relief, regret, amazement and amusement sweep over me. Gradually it all turned into affection, which I still hold for that day, especially considering the eventual ending:
Victor and Eleanor fell in love and moved in together a few months later. When the season ended, Eleanor moved on, and sent me a nice hand written note thanking me for the job, the trip and for being a good boss, they’re now happily married and they have two children.
I still have the note, and the group photo.
The names have been changed, and the photo is from a different hooky day trip to Disneyland, at the request of Victor and Eleanor, who don’t want their kids to learn about their parents through this blog. They’ll tell the story their own way.