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MousePlanet Mailbag for September 18, 2003

We receive considerable feedback regarding our site. Although we cannot publish all of them, the following may be of interest to other readers.

Feedback for David Koenig

Readers respond to David's “Voice of Thunder,” (September 10) about former Big Thunder mechanic Bob Klostriech, who had been questioning maintenance, and Big Thunder, for years.

Michelle wrote:

As always you are there to make sure that the pot is stirred. You crack me up. You can't tell me that you could not have known that in light of the recent tragedy that there were going to be “I told you so's” coming out of the woodwork. While there may be some type of truth to an extent, I don't know that they need their five minutes of fame. I think that we should let the professional investigators do their job and not try to sway their decisions and deceive the public due to possible disgruntled workers. At the risk of contradicting myself, I thank you for your open mind to others' opinions as well as the opportunity to express them!

Thanks for writing... although I'm having trouble figuring out if you're blasting me or not.

None of us know right now what caused this horrible accident, but I have to think it's at least worth listening to someone who spent more than 20 years as a coaster mechanic/supervisor at Disneyland, witnessed and inspected after previous accidents including on Big Thunder, and predicted that accidents of this type would begin to occur. We don't have to agree with him, but keeping an open mind means, at this point, neither absolving nor condemning all possible culprits.

Michelle replied:

Oh, I am definitely not blasting you! I do apologize for my spur of the moment typing spree if you will! I enjoy your work as well as your insights. It just seems a little odd that it just so happens that now is the time that all this “needed to know information yesterday” info comes out. If the situation was as serious as he made it out to be ( which it seems to be now), why didn't anyone done anything about it? Call me a little naive, as I thought that Disney has always had our safety in mind as Cynthia Harriss had mentioned in her email. I just hate to think that they, they being the coaster mechanics, were right (not that he wanted to be, I'm sure), and Disney just didn't care. The whole situation just saddens me.

You are very correct in your response, and I honestly respect your opinion. I guess I just needed someone to point it out me.

Thanks for clearing that up, Michelle. I did not want to miss out on a good blasting!

Here's why nothing has changed in five years:

Disneyland either didn't think there was a problem or, worse, thought the money they were saving was worth the risk.

The mechanics and supervisors who complained were fired or “early retired,” including all three of the cast members I quoted. Two of them filed lawsuits, one lost, one settled.

I wrote a book on the subject four years ago, which was covered heavily by the Times, Register and other news outlets, but dismissed by Disney.

What else could any of us have done until their predictions seem to come true and somebody actually wants to listen?

And, no, you're not naive. Every public statement from Cynthia Harriss and other Disneyland officials is absolutely true. And every night little fairies clean the park with pixie dust.

A long-time cast member wrote:

Observation: It's not just Maintenance that is a problem. I would say the systematic “saving labor cost” in Operations could be causing problems as well (the Columbia accident definitely falls in this category). It is of course way too early so say what or who caused the Big Thunder Accident, but my primary reaction to hearing it on the news was, “I'm not surprised.”

I have worked there 20 years. Over perhaps the last 10 to 12 years, the “career Ops people” have been pretty much phased out.

Used to be, you would get a “college” job there, you could get to a pretty good hourly rate, like your job and benefits, fun work and end up staying. You also had a pretty good chance of climbing the ladder. A good number of those folks would end up making a career out of it. The great thing about this was you had a solid peer group to “pass the torch” to the new hires.

These career Ops people also really cared about their jobs. They were by far and large smart, caring people. If something was wrong with a ride, they were not just there to “push buttons;” they knew it and reported it. They were adults, they knew the Maintenance guys, they were respected by management.

Now, you can never get there. New Union contracts have very much capped the top rate. Benefits are a mere shadow of what they once were. They don't qualify for retirement at all, and it's just become a miserable place to work. Many won't hang around because they have to live with the new management style, where all cast members are interchangeable, you are just a number. No real chance of promotion, they are too busy going outside for “experts."

The career Ops people are now few and far between. Some have left through attrition, some because they got sick of it, others retired.

I can assure you, what leaves the park quality cast member wise, is very rarely replace by new hires that of the same quality, and with a 40 percent attrition rate of the new hires, many are never there long enough to figure it out anyway.

What you have now, is an employee (purposeful nomenclature) that knows (via their much more limited and paper-driven training) you “put the lap bar down and then push the button.” Making a strange noise? Why notice that? I was busy talking. Really care? No need, “I just work here.”

That, my friend, is the single biggest, but rarely talked about change in the park since the Pressler years. I have been there 20 years now, and they have managed to beat me down to the point that now, for the first time in my career, I have a “job.” What was once a career or a passion, is now just a job. I go in to get a paycheck.

So, now I wait for the tidal management change that I have been expecting for the last few years. It's coming, but I am amazed at how long it's taking the suits in Burbank. I believe they are as clueless as the ones in [Team Disney Anaheim]. It will get better, but so far, no light at the end of the downhill tunnel.

Thanks very much. I absolutely agree with everything you've said.

My closest Disneyland friend had been, until his death, Van France who, in our talks about and trips to the park, would always—though subtlely—stress that it was the cast members—not the rides or the music or the costumes or the cleanliness or the candy or anything else—but the cast members that made the difference. The high caliber of person hired, their length of service/job knowledge, their depth of dedication, their true belief in what they were doing and for whom. It's taken the elimination of that ideal to make me realize just how right he was.

David Wotruba wrote:

I love your work and find it to be very fair, especially after a California park visit. I live near Seattle, but in Disneyland's 35th year, I spent 21 days in the park—a lot for a non-California annual pass holder.

I love Walt, love the park, the memories and the exciting tomorrows. We are very fortunate to have so much creativity in such a small space.

We are also lucky to have your energy to inform us all. Your work is important to me. Thank you very much,

Don't thank me, just continue to work hard.

Your 61-year-old MousePlanet fan.

Kevin added:

Two more older incidents worthy of note in the current situation:

• The Monorail is the more obvious, with its brake shoe drop earlier this year.

• Rocket Rods is less so, unless you remember that the lengthy closure after its introduction was caused by an axle drop suddenly stopping and flipping a car, while empty during testing.

You're right, there have been literally dozens of instances of “equipment failure” on attractions throughout the park. Fortunately, none of those took a human toll.

A reader wrote:

In response to your “Voice of Thunder” article, give me a break. These aren't terrorist attacks, it's a ride at Disneyland. Predicting “major catastrophes” at a theme park because of maintenance issues is a bit dramatic, don't you think? And speculation of a “tragic guest accident within a year” … please.

Chris wrote:

Is it wrong to pray for the death of all lawyers in the world? Why can't Disneyland just have some waiver you have to acknowledge for admittance? “You walk in these gates, you assume all liability.”

You lose a finger because you slip, your fault. You knock your head because you don't know how to watch where you're going? Your Fault.

This is going to be a great country pretty soon, where it will be unlawful to leave your own house without the bubble wrap suit?

Yes, it is wrong to pray for the death of all lawyers—but we can pray for their “conversion”!

Actually, though, are you suggesting that the Big Thunder victims should assume liability for their injuries?

More responses to “Suspended Animation,” about layoffs at Disney Animation:

Reacting to director Will Finn's rebuttal of dire predictions for Home on the Range, one of the crew wrote:

Your article was accurate and true. I think the director doth protest too much. I think the only reason the comparison with The Black Cauldron is off, is that the Black Cauldron was long awaited before its release, no one even knows, nor cares, about Home on the Range. The Greatest American 2-D animation studio will go out not with a bomb, but a whimper.

And for those who are looking to DreamWorks to pick up the 2-D animation torch, dream on. DreamWorks, after Sinbad, said publicly that they will not be making any more 2-D films, period.

Disney meanwhile dumped almost all its American traditional crew and quietly opened a big Australian 2-D studio.

Our feckless, inept, b*ll-less,union said nothing, of course.

Shannon wrote:

Your article on Disney's raping of their 2-D department sickened me. I realized that the situation of traditional animation today was poor, but the extent to which Eisner and his boys have carried this absurd “it's primarily successful because it's 3-D” idea is so maddeningly frustrating! Their own Dinosaur should have dispelled that myth!

I cannot fathom why the concept of a well done story cannot be drilled into these people's air-filled skulls! As a 19-year-old lifetime fan of traditional animation, I'm angry and terribly saddened by this turn of events. Hasn't Disney had enough of Michael Eisner? Doesn't anyone at Disney want to preserve its legacy?!

Disney deserves better than this. These talented men and women in the 2-D animation department deserve better as well. The saddest thing is, there isn't anything any of us fans can do about it. I'm praying for them.

And Disney classics in CG? I almost threw up.

Hopefully, Brother Bear and Home on the Range will be big money-makers. Nothing else seems to catch Disney's attention these days.

John Palecek wrote:

I'd like to cite an example for why there is yet hope in the future of animation, including Disney animation. Hayao Miyazaki, founder of Studio Ghibli, is my favorite director. His animation studios in Japan were among the last to switch from completely hand-drawn animation to animation incorporating artwork drawn with a computer's help. Much of Japanese animation uses computer graphics because it's cheaper, and it shows. Miyazaki's use of computers is at the same high standard as his 2-D animation, and he has a system at his studios for his 3-D and 2-D animators to work together to make a seamless product that looks completely traditionally animated.

Disney's recent decisions don't seem to bode well for the immediate future of Disney animation, but when Disney is surpassed and made irrelevant by Pixar, Studio Ghibli, Dreamworks, or whomever, maybe it will look to these successful enterprises and see an environment where the artists are thriving. Maybe new Disney leaders will model that key to success in the future. In the meantime, perhaps the animators who have spent years (or decades) building skills at Disney should learn Japanese.

JJ Julian wrote:

Reading the “Suspended Animation” stuff just breaks my heart. The stuff I've come to love from Disney has just been killed off, all in the name of keeping Eisner's bonuses coming.

However, something struck me as I read this latest batch (of responses). Something that made my imagination spark up.

Let's look at what we have: most of the great 2-D talent of Disney, from locations all over the world, are out of work. Disney has pretty much officially bowed out of 2-D, declaring it a dead art form, really.

I'm a big fan of Halloween, and this has happened before. Disney used to do Halloween at Disneyland, used to go all out. They quit and effectively bowed out of the Halloween business entirely. Why? Knott's was starting to kick their behinds, really hard. So, they gave Halloween to Knott's and focused on Christmas.

I think that can happen here. It would take someone with a lot of capital, a great creative staff and environment, and a desire to out-Disney Disney.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

I wonder if Steve Jobs and John Lasseter are interested in adding a 2-D wing to those fabulous offices at Pixar up north...

Here's hoping they (or someone) realizes they now have the ability to basically buy the Disney 2-D creative capability, probably at a bargain rate, then actually kick Disney right out of the animation business by continuing to produce their fantastic 3-D stuff as well as stellar new 2-D projects.

Feedback for Shoshana Lewin

Charlene Z writes:

Hi Shoshana!

My family and I are thinking about visiting Disneyland for our third time in the new year. Unfortunately, one of our favorite rides is Big Thunder Mountain...what is your feeling on how long this ride will be out of commission? We were also wondering when spring break hits in California? Would we be safe to come sometime in the first few weeks of March or would we be fighting huge crowds? Finally, do you know if Disney/CA continues to have fireworks, Fantasmic and the Electric light parade on weekends even during the off-season?

Thanks in advance for your response!

Hi Charlene,

Usually if a ride is involved in investigation, the length of time is totally dependent on those doing the investigating. It will also depend on what kind of structural changes—if any—are needed. In the case of Roger Rabbit's Cartoon Spin, they needed to create new ride vehicles as well as other technical repairs. Some are saying the ride could be down for six months—in which case it would be operational when you and your family visited. Keep checking MousePlanet for updates, spring is a long time from now.

As far as Spring Break goes, many schools in Southern California are on a year-round school system, so Spring Break can hit anytime from the end of February through the end of April. Early March can be a mixed bag. If you want to avoid the crowds, come during the week if you can as opposed to the weekend. On the other hand, you might not have a chance to see as many shows as some only run on weekends.

At the moment, the fireworks and the Electrical Parade are only scheduled for “the season” (Fantasmic runs on the weekends now, but that could change) but they could decide to add some shows in the spring (in which case it would probably be on the weekend). Keep your fingers crossed and happy trip planning!

P.S. On an up note, The Tower of Terror at DCA should be up and running when you visit, so if your kids aren't too small, you might want to take the plunge.

Joshua writes about employment issues for Shoshana's Cast Place column:

Hi, my name's Joshua and I'm a former CM. I quit my job at Disneyland in March of this year. I enjoyed it very much—I was a ride operator for the Matterhorn. Since I heard about the new system I was very surprised and thought it wasn't a very good idea because I liked the old system much more. Basically just rotate, stay in your position for a half hour till ya get bumped. I think the CMs wont be too fond of this system. It seems like most CMs have not liked this.

If you would like any stories of my CM days, I'll be happy to e-mail ya back. I have plenty.

I also have a couple questions cause my memory about being a cast member isn't that well. My friend would like to get recruited as a cast member and he was wondering what is the minimum age to be hired as a CM there, if you can choose your position as a job and if the employment center is in Disneyland. I have answered all his questions as best and thoroughly as I can, but he's 19 and I'm 22 so he's decided to not believe me.

First off, we'd love to hear stories from CMs. Please e-mail me.

I'm glad you had a positive expereince even though you left.

Now, to answer your questions:

In order to work at Disneyland you have to be at least 18. Occassionally they hire 16-year-olds, but that is food location only and it is only during certain times of the year. You must be 21 or older to work security or any location where alcohol is served.

You usually can't choose where in Disneyland you want to work, but you can tell the interviewer what department you wish to be with (Attractions, Foods, Guest Relations, Merchandise). There is no guarantee you'll get what you request, but it does give them some idea of where to place you.

The casting office is located in the Team Disney Anaheim building at the corner of Cast Place/Ox and Ball roads in Anaheim (the big green and yellow building). That is where you will go to fill out an application and have your interview. Sometimes, Disney has a job fair at one of the hotels, but you can always go to TDA.

Hope this helped. Tell your friend good luck.

J.K.H. writes:

I was wondering if you know what Disney's take is on hiring disabled employees.

Do they promote it and enjoy doing it, or do they try to find ways around it?

Hi J.K.

Disneyland is an equal opportunity employer, so by law they must not discrimintate. I've seen several CMs who use wheelchairs as ticket-takers/sellers and in other positions around the resort.

Responses for Shoshana's two-part article, “Sitcoms on Vacation” (part 2) in More Mouse:

Jeffrey C. writes:

Can we forget both the Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family went to King's Island in Ohio?

Jeffrey: I also managed to miss the re-broadcast of the “Special Edna” episode of the Simpsons on Sunday with their visit to Epcot.

Hi Jeffrey,

This time I just wanted to touch on the Disney trips. But I am with you—The Bradys and Shirley and her brood were pioneers in the theme park trip sitcoms (poor Jan—can't she ever do anything right?). And who can forget Itchy and Scratchy Land and Duff Gardens?

Jeffrey then wrote again, this time regarding “All Hail Synergy,” Shoshona's coverage of the ABC Primetime Weekend event at Disney's California Adventure:

I finished reading the article.

I didn't see any mention of what's missing from ABC's fall lineup (at least as far as I can tell). The Wonderful World of Disney has been replaced with America's Funniest Videos in the “death spot” opposite 60 minutes.

By the way, in the picture of George and Constance, where is George's arm? Is that just an optical illusion or are those two a little closer than the public thinks?

Hey Jeffrey....

The two biggies are The Drew Carey Show and Whose Line Is It Anyway? Almost everything else that was on ABC at the end of last season carries over to this season—don't forget, ABC was doing a lot of repeats and reality shows (i.e. Celebrity Mole and the Family). WWOD is hoping to gain a larger audience by being moved to Saturday—when even if the parents are out, the kids are home with a babysitter and need quality programming.

As for George and Constance—it is an optical illusion.

Feedback for Lani Teshima

Regarding Lani Teshima's “Smoker's Guide to Disneyland”:

Mark writes:

Kind of ironic that smoking is no longer allowed in Disneyland since Walt himself was quite a smoker. However, a park map would likely provide similar information and you could have used the Mouseplanet space to discuss something better, such as how to get rid of Michael Eisner so (a) the parks are run by competent people not so concerned about the costs of things like the submarine ride; (b) the parks look better and we don't see elves growing moss; and (c) the stock price goes to where it should be, may somewhere around 50. Quite honestly, it would appear that most, if not all, of the executives with better ideas have left. As park visitors and shareholders, we're stuck with Eisner and saddled with an underperforming ABC. I see a lot of rants about this Cynthia Harris, however, true housecleaning should start at the top. Offer the job to Katzenberg.

Aaron writes:

I don't normally give feedback from articles but you have caught my eye with this smoking one. The mint tin is a great idea and doesn't leave you with the stale smell in your pocket (yuck! I need to quit!) Anyway what a great article thanks again!

Hi Aaron;

I'm glad to hear that you got some good ideas from the article! I didn't even think about the stale smell… mostly, cigarette butts seem to unravel very easily once it's been partially smoked. Back when I used to smoke, I would end up with lots of tobacco bits in my purse or pocket that way.

Mia writes:

Thank you for your article on smoking in the parks. I am glad that you offered some advice to the smokers as well as reminded them of the rules in the park. I have gotten stuck in lines behind smokers one too many times, and there is really nothing worse. From personal experience, I have been belittled and threatened when I have asked the person next to me to step out of line while they smoked. They always have claimed that it was their right, since they paid so much to get into the park. I'm sure this is the reason that many CMs simply look the other way.

Unless it is an elaborate queue area (like Indiana Jones or Pirates) I have seen CMs walk by and not say anything to a smoker. I have even requested the assistance of CMs who said that they would have to locate a manager… who never came. It is also very common to see a smoker, walking through the park, which can be a tricky—if not dangerous—situation.

I think most smokers will agree that smoking in close quarters, like a ride queue, is rather rude and there is no reason why someone couldn't step away to a more open area, however I have encountered this problem several times. Since I often have an asthmatic child in tow, it concerns me that he is exposed to so much smoke. I am thankful for the designated smoking areas and hope that more smokers will be so kind as to be mindful of them and keep from smoking other places in the parks.

James H. writes:

There's one other strategy you forgot to mention for smokers to try when visiting DL: Quit. Use all of the inconvenience of smoking on Disney property as just one more incentive to give up the filthy habit. Let the peaceful, relatively stress-free environment make it easier for you to do without. Let's face it. How many people would take up smoking if it were called what it really is: sucking on a burning poisonous plant?

Hi James;

That's definitely something worth considering. But I also know how difficult it is for some folks to quit, and I wanted to avoid trying to preach that line, as I think most smokers either hear it ad nauseam, or are aware that they need to.

I guess as an incentive, quitting can definitely help boost the travel budget with all the cigarettes you no longer have to spend money on.

Thanks for taking the time to share your tip!

James wrote back:

Dear Lani:

Indeed. According to some experts, nicotine is actually more addictive than heroin.

And let us not forget that Walt eventually realized that smoking was an incredibly stupid and self-destructive thing to do, albeit too late to prevent him from dying from it. And he stopped doing it in view of kids, and started having the cigarettes airbrushed out of his publicity pictures.

Feedback for Mailbag

In our September 4 Mailbag, Joy asked about whether churros were available at Walt Disney World. The bottom line is that—yes—there are churro carts in WDW. But try to get everyone to agree on exactly where, and you get lots of suggestions:

Bruce C. writes:

There is (or at least was) a churro cart at Downtown Disney, near Ghirardelli.

Amy writes:

I saw Joy's question in today's mailbag asking if churros are sold at any of the WDW parks. Last I remember, they do. I believe they sell them at all the parks, as well as Downtown Disney.

Alice writes:

In response to Joy's question about the churros at Disneyland, I went to Disneyland last year and they seem have them everywhere. However, when I went to Disney World last month, I couldn't find them anywhere. The food selection at Disney World is a little different. They seem to have more popcorn and pretzels instead of churros. However, it does have a wider selection than Disneyland does since there are more places to eat. I also noticed that there are more healthy things to eat like whole fresh fruit, steamed vegetables, etc. You can view menus of the restaurants before you go on your trip at WDW at wdwig.com.

Mike writes:

In response to Joy's question about cinnamon churros I would suggest that she head to the Mexico pavillion at Epcot. There is a small stand there that serves the churros she is looking for (as well as delicious mango margaritas!). I seem to remember having a churro in Frontierland at the Magic Kingdom but that was years ago.

Tammy writes:

Just got back from WDW this week. Yes there are churros. I know for sure at Magic Kingdom and Epcot.

Even our own Mark Goldhaber piped in:

Hmmm… Well, if you check the menus on Deb Wills' site, you'll find churros in three of the locations that I mentioned [Studio Catering Co. at the Studios, Cantina de San Angel at Epcot, and El Pirata y El Perico]. I can't find it at the snack sites in Animal Kingdom, despite the fact that I know that we purchased one at the wagon in Africa on our February trip.

Feedback for MousePlanet

Finally, we got some responses regarding our coverage on the September 5 Big Thunder Mountail Railroad accident:

Brian S. writes:

Kudos go out to you and your Mouseplanet staff for the excellent and unbiased coverage of the accident today (September 5) on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Your coverage is better than any news outlet I have seen and the reporting is top notch.

I have a hard time believing that an accident such as being described here and in such a location could have resulted in a fatality. Certainly lots of bumps and bruises, but unless something flew off with force (i.e. the dolphin breaking loose on the Rivers of America several years ago), it just doen't make sense. I just have to think back to the fact that most Disneyland fatalities occur when a rider doesn't follow simple instructions, but it is way too early to jump to conclusions—and this also goes to those folks that are screaming about maintenance—until the final reports come out, we can only speculate. Big Thunder is my wife's favorite ride and one that we have enjoyed at 2 Disney parks (California and Tokyo). We are probably looking at some serious downtime here and more than likely modifications—if even just to keep people in the seats! My hat goes off to Eisner for showing the corporate face quickly and to Disney for taking care of everyone even without all the facts. At a time when tragedy strikes, we Disneylanders need to stand together, find the problem, work the problem and fix the problem so Big Thunder returns.

Julia Elzie writes:

My thanks to MousePlanet and especially, Lani and Adrienne, for the excellent, excellent coverage on the tragedy at Disneyland and Thunder Mountain Railroad on Friday. The details and hard work were much appreciated; the coverage is the absolute best and most detailed available to the public. I have been searching the major media for these kind of details and the information was sorely lacking. I should have come to my fellow Disney enthusiasts at the beginning. Thank you for the great work in such a heartbreaking situation.

All the best.

Julia Elzie, MouseEarVacations.com

Keith writes:

The Big Thunder track layout is a very nice addition to your coverage. I've only been on WDW's version of this ride (and even that's been quite some time), so it helped a lot to be able to visualize it. Two thoughts, though: 1) it would be nice if the image could be clicked, to display the full-size image. I found the original image on Scott's site (which looks like a great site, by the way; I'll definitely be back to look at what else he has to offer), and I found it much easier to read than the reduced version. 2) Since the location of the accident has been reported now (originally we just had “in a tunnel,” but the tunnel has since been identified), can someone point it out on the layout drawing?

Thanks for your excellent, and continuing coverage of this tragedy. I am very impressed with how MousePlanet has handled this!


GENERAL QUESTIONS

Do you have specific questions about an upcoming trip to Disneyland, Walt Disney World or another park, or do you need help with your trip planning? While you can contact one of the columnists, we encourage you to join our special MousePlanet community on our MousePad discussion board. There, you will find like-minded Disney park fans who can try to help answer your questions.

VOICE YOUR OPINION

Did you read something interesting (good or bad) on MousePlanet, or here in the Mailbag? We'd love to hear from you! Send your comments to the Mailbag here.

We welcome your questions and comments, but keep in mind that all questions submitted to MousePlanet become property of this Web site. Letters of interest to the readership may be published, and may include your full name unless you specifically request that your last name not be published. They may be edited for length or style and in consideration of a family readership. Questions may also be quoted on other parts of the site as well.

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