I don’t know how Uncle Walt does it. Which is surprising because I’ve visited the excellent Disney Family Museum in San Francisco’s Presidio. If you haven’t been there, go, but don’t take the kids. Because the museum is all about the technology and business struggles and triumphs of Walt Disney, who, if anything, was the Steven Jobs of his day. But also the ultimate graphic designer who pretty much invented Deep Branding. One of the things I learned at the museum is that, way back during the Depression, when Walt didn’t have the cash to begin doing it and the world could not even imagine the concept, Uncle Walt wanted to create a clean, family-safe, nurturing amusement and event park. Unless you look at the history, you can’t conceive how revolutionary this was. Back then, amusement parks were tawdry, dubious affairs run by transient carnies and grifters, filled with trash and girlie shows, and not places that decent people went. But Disney prevailed and rolled the dice, largely with his own money, and Disneyland was born.
At least at the original Disneyland, the dream still lives. The cleanliness here is legendary. There are no overflowing trash cans. Surprisingly, on the first day here, I stepped on someone’s discarded gum. It had to have been spit out by the guy just in front of me, because I’m sure it was the only wad of gum that had ever been allowed to land on hallowed Disney soil.
I don’t know what sort of training the workers they call “Cast Members” go through, but there must be a Niceness Gauge and Perk-o-meter somewhere in the vetting process. I guess you wouldn’t work here if you weren’t already drinking gallons of the pink Disney Kool-Aid, but it seems almost everyone from the Monorail driver to the people sweeping the streets to the guy strapping you into the Dumbo ride is smiling, friendly and willing to hear an excited six-year-old tell all about her day’s adventures. The people clearing the street before the parade, even though you know they’ve heard it hundreds of times, start singing and clapping along with the songs when the first float passes by. When you go up a rung to the Princesses and other characters, the Disneytude becomes astounding. There is eye contact and conversation and lots and lots of hugs. The good will is infectious. We’ve had lovely cheering conversations with people in line and made a dozen new best friends. The Disney niceness seems to bring out everyone’s better nature so that, when there is a rare instance of shoving or rudeness, it is horribly jarring because it is so unexpected. But then those of us who are sprinkled with Pixie Dust surge forward and protect each other from the person who has obviously taken a bite out of the Wicked Queen’s apple.
Only on our last full day at Disney did it occur to me that I should have been taking down names of Cast Members who have gone above and beyond the call of Disneyness. I’m drafting a letter to whoever Uncle Walt left in charge to give them kudos and commendations.
But more importantly, I’m wondering how we can get Disney Training into other aspects of American life. Because I want to live in a Disney World. Where everyone has a cheery smile and a neatly pressed uniform. Where everyone has time to talk to a six-year-old or explain the mysteries of the FastPass for the third time (and I still don’t get it), and where everyone’s niceness influences niceness in others.
Yes, I know about the horrible outsourcing evilness at Walt Disney World in Florida. But I’m in deep denial. That’s in Florida. We know the crap that goes on in FLORIDA! Here in California, we have the real, original Disneyland. And we are a kinder gentler place.
Now pass me that pink Disney Kool-Aid.