You've Got a Friend in Me (The Dude Abides)

by Todd Pickering, contributing writer

In 1992 Moose's restaurant opened in San Francisco's Washington Square in North Beach and I met Tom Ferguson. He found out that I loved Disney, especially Disneyland and it turned out so did he. He said we should go together that spring and I was pleased to find out that he had looked into hotel rooms and was planning the trip. We asked off for some days during the mid-week (a difficult task at a top restaurant in San Francisco in the 1990s) and the plane tickets were bought. Then he started bringing me lists and ideas for itineraries. These lists got updated and changed and my input was always appreciated.

I was sure it was going to be a disastrous trip and I would never tour the park with him again. (No Disney California Adventure in those days) As it turned out his anticipation of the trip made him giddy and he loved to plan as a way to pass the time. I was afraid I would have to say, "Dude, you are way too particular for me," but once in the park he let loose of his daily schedule, we had a fantastic trip, and a lifelong friendship was made. His habit of using the word "Dude" all the time made me dub him "The Dude" in all my trip reports. The dude is clearly from California and I picked up that trait from him. I hope you all get a chance to tour the park with a best friend; here are some keys to success that I highly recommend for anyone.

Todd and Tom with breakfast anticipating a long day in Disneyland. Miss the old sign. Photo by Michael Hofacre.

Seven Reasons Why Our Trips Worked So Well

Tom looking sad that we didn't get to go to the opening. So we bought a ticket for the grand opening. Photo by Todd Pickering.

Up For Adventure

One of our best trips was attending the opening of Indiana Jones Temple of the Forbidden Eye. When we were three months out to the opening at Christmas we decided to attend the grand opening in the spring. We arrived early on Wednesday and the attraction was slated to open on Friday. We were prepared to wait in very long lines, but they had soft openings on Wednesday and Thursday.

We rode it four times (remember that smart phones and social media weren't big at all in those days so the news didn't spread to all of those Annual Passholders). The days prior to the grand opening were slow due to rain and the park was at low record attendance. On the big Friday opening there was a four-hour wait and a line that went down Main Street, so we opted for lots of musical groups and lots of cocktails.

Tom posing with the Dapper Dans. Music is a great way to spend your Disney day. Photo by Todd Pickering.


Tom played in a band and I studied classical music. My interest in musicals and standards meant we found ourselves completely in sync when it came to visiting Disneyland Resort; we visited all the musical groups on each trip. Both The Dapper Dans and Billy Hill and the Hillbillies were personal favorites of ours. The musicianship and amazing stage presence of this group was fun. Taking the time to sit back and relax and listen to the great entertainers is a great way to take the edge off of running around the parks and soaking in the magic.

Tom, Laura and Todd enjoying the new version of Storybook Canal Boats. Photo by Carolyn Terry.

Sense of Humor

Tom always could take my ribbing. When we went one summer with my cousin and his wife and our pals Carolyn and Laura a group of six seemed a bit much. But we managed very well. When I mentioned that they were allowing women on the Jungle Cruise and men on The Storybook Canal Boats, Tom was incensed. He was fine with women on Jungle Cruise but thought only young women could magically deliver the spiel of the Fantasyland attraction. He truly thought that I was messing with him and gladly pointed out while we were waiting that the only people working at the attraction were women.

When our boat pulled up there was clearly a shift change or lunch break and our guide was Monte. Tom was mortified and it was hard to keep from laughing during that trip. I truly hope our guide was not offended, but it was Tom we were laughing at. We always teased him about that moment. Some of the best guides now in my humble opinion are young men and when an older gentleman narrates it's like Grandpa reading a story for you. Sorry, Dude.

Love of Food and Wine

We both had restaurants in our background, and we enjoyed taking time for sit down meals (not to mention an adult beverage). In the old days it was the Monorail Cafe that was so easy to get to from the park. A cold beer was always welcome on a hot day. Catal's outdoor bar was also a treat for San Franciscans where al fresco is usually too chilly to enjoy. Of course in our twenties and early thirties we probably drank too much, but we were always behaved in the parks.

Tom enjoying a tour around Disneyland on the Disneyland Railroad. Photo by Todd Pickering.

Trying New Things

As our amount of trips grew, we began looking for new things to enjoy. Instead of rushing to Space Mountain on rope drop, (remember that?) we would be the first to Pirates of the Caribbean or ToonTown, or get a ticket to the Lilly Belle. We also rode on the tinder box in the front of the train. Changing up a touring plan or trying new restaurants is always a great way to change up your visit.

Same Size

Fantasmic! is a piece of cake when you are six-feet, four-inches tall. I'm ony 6-feet, two-inches and have to stand on my tip toes a wee bit to see over the crowd but we could just approach the show at around 10 minutes before it started and enjoy it. We attended the first summer of World of Color and were in complete agreement that Fantasmic! is far superior. I think the live action elements just push it over the top in comparison. I love the finale on the Mark Twain and Tom's Peter Pan complex makes the battle between Pan and Hook a Dude favorite.

Alone Time

Taking alone time is always recommended, and always worthwhile. I can remember a time when I went back to the hotel to take a nap and Tom stayed behind to catch another set of the 49er Band that played near Grizzly River Run. He actually got to sing with them and I was very jealous, but sometimes being alone leaves you uninhibited. I also once was tired of the crowds and passed on Fantasmic! I went to the Napa Rose's bar for a cheese plate and a glass of wine; right when the doors were closing, he rushed in saying he was over the crowds too and just needed a quick glass of wine.

Rejuvenated we headed back, and I got the last picture I would take with him at Disneyland. After missing Fantasmic, we went back to the parks and hit rides to end the night with Splash Mountain. When we returned to the beginning the cast members told us that the park closed in two minutes and if we wanted one more ride we could take it. I started to exit but Tom said we should do it again and get the picture at the end. He commented what if it was our last trip ever. I was very sad that what he said would come true.

The Dude Abides

Finding a dude as great as Tom to go to Disneyland with explains to those people who always ask, "How can you go to Disneyland so much?" One of the main answers is that we really had such a solid friendship, and that makes it our happy place in the sense that we were both so comfortable there. I use the past tense because Tom was struck and killed by a car exactly five years ago this month right before his birthday and a trip planned to Disneyland.

The day that we were supposed to fly to Disneyland was the day I ended up giving a eulogy for my buddy, and of course I ended it with saying that I was going to Disneyland. True to my words I went down south but stayed with my cousins for a few days and then ended my trip with one day in Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. It was tough walking into the park that time, but the memories were strong and good, and still are I am happy to report. I am so grateful for all those great memories; it's a way to be close to a great friend. I miss you, Dude.

One of the first pictures we ever took and our very last picture and attraction together at midnight. Ride Photo by Disney.



  1. By MermaidHair

    Todd, Thanks for your lovely article. Great tips and an even better story.

  2. By missm

    So many emotions in that article got me smiling and crying at the same time. Thank you so much for sharing the story of your friendship.

  3. By petesimac

    Dude, that was such a sweet story. The sad beauty of your relationship and its untimely ending is that you will always see him and feel him when you visit Disneyland. Not to steal your story, but I lost my wife and love of my life in 1998. I grew up in Orlando, so we went to WDW several times while dating. Every visit I feel her presence. It hurts, but it also makes me very happy. And it will last forever! So too will it for you. Thanks so much for sharing your remarkable story.

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