John The Ticket Taker and Gift Giver
by, 04-10-2012 at 04:19 AM
Hello, and welcome to this week's 'From The Mouth Of The Mouse!'
Each week, we spotlight a different Cast Member story to give you more insight into some of your favorite attractions, resorts, and movies from all over the Walt Disney Company.
This week, we're chatting with John, who worked at Walt Disney World in the early 80s when there were only two Parks! John worked as a ticket taker during the 15th Anniversary Celebration, and has some great stories to share.
JEFF: So tell me a little bit about how you got into Disney to begin with?
JOHN: I’m old enough to remember the old Wonderful World of Color TV show and remember seeing Walt himself hosting the show. When I was in grade school, Disney sent out a lot of publicity about the new Walt Disney World. I remember having my teachers tell me about this wonderful new city of tomorrow being built in the swamps of Florida. Then in eighth grade, I discovered the Art of Walt Disney book. I bought the paperback version then, but after saving all of my gift money for almost two years, I got the big hard cover one. I must have read and reread that book a hundred times. When I started working in libraries, in high school, I read every book and article I could find about Disney…both the company and the man.
JEFF: How did you wind up working for Disney?
JOHN: In 1986 I started attending University of South Florida to get a Graduate Degree in Library and Information Sciences. One day in January I was sitting out by the pool (all the dorms at USF have Olympic sized swimming pools), and I saw an ad in the school paper that Disney was hiring. At the time, I had the option of working for Busch Gardens (which is 1/4 mile from USF) or driving to Disney (which was 62 miles away). Having always been a big fan of Disney, I thought what the heck and decided to drive out the next day. The interview was in the old Casting building, all the way in the back of the property, about 1.5 miles behind the Magic Kingdom. Casting really wasn't a building but a whole bunch of worn out trailers, which were originally the construction trailers. I filled out an application and got interviewed by a man named Romeo. He asked me a few preliminary questions, and then said that I would have to come back for a second interview. As soon as I said OK, he apparently changed his mind and said that it wouldn't be necessary. He left the room, and I could hear him through the paper thin walls as he called around to place me within the organization. I kept hearing "I got the all-American kid here…you are going to want him!” After two calls, he came back and said that I would be working tickets at Magic Kingdom, and gave me a card to report back for Disney University. I was in an out in less than an hour.
JEFF: How long were you there for?
JOHN: I worked Tickets at Magic Kingdom from February of 86 to July of 87. At the time, Magic Kingdom and EPCOT were the only two parks.
JEFF: What was your basic day to day life like at Tickets?
JOHN: Well, tickets had a number of responsibilities and different types of jobs. When I started there, they had ticket taker, gift Giver (the 15th anniversary was going on and we gave away a car every day), retail sales at the gift shop at the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC) & the MK entrance, Kennel attendant, and ticket seller. Since this is Walt Disney World, everything is pretty spread out, so you could end up working at either the TTC or over at the Magic Kingdom on any given day. It was a trek!
I was trained first as a ticket taker/gift distributor, and then as a ticket seller. I worked 70% of the time at Magic Kingdom, and 30% at the TTC. I did not like working the TTC that much, and even when I was trained as a ticket seller, I always tried to sell over at the Magic Kingdom (which had two ticket booths) than at the TTC (which had 36 booths).
Like most of your other interviews had said, there is no such thing as a typical day for a Cast Member. Morning shifts are different than evening shifts, and working at TTC was different than working at MK. So, let me just describe a typical morning/afternoon taking tickets in the 80's at the Magic Kingdom.
First of all, I have to leave about 80 minutes before my shift, and drive from USF to WDW along I-4, which at the time had little traffic. I got in around 8AM and went in through the main entrance, and then proceeded to the Main Parking lot to park in Chip 'n Dale 1-5. I walked from there the TTC building. TTC houses the Tickets, Watercraft, Monorails (known as Rails), Parking, and Bus departments. TTC also has its own wardrobe department, cafeteria, lockers and dressing areas. It was a busy place! So I got there around 8, and went to wardrobe to pick up my costume and then go to my locker. After getting dressed, you have to figure out if you want to whether to go to your station by ferry or by Rail. Let's assume neither is working at the time, so then I would have to go over to Watercraft and ask them if I could bum a ride over to the Park. I’d hop in a motor boat, and in no time, I’m traveling 35 mph across the lagoon to the Magic Kingdom.
My assignment for the day could be working the line. The way Tickets was organized was as a long line. Every turnstile was a position and you would start at the end of the line. As Cast Members came to work, they would relieve you, and then you would bump to the next position. Get to the last position and then you take a break or go to lunch. Depending on the day, you could actually get a couple of breaks…as many as 8. It just depends on how many Cast Members they have working and how the crowds are during the day. The responsibilities of being on the line were stamping tickets, re-enetry, hand stamping (everyone's least favorite), and gift giving.
Tickets is one of the first departments to open every day and one of the last to close. We are busy in the morning between 10 and noon, around three, and in the evening before fireworks, and of course at night with closing. The rest of the time, we are very, very, VERY slow. Other departments borrow cast members during the day to have us work crowd control (we have a neutral costume so we can work in any land). We also did a lot of other odd jobs that needed to be done, like running the van to maintenance to get the oil changed, or looking for 35,000 pins for corsages for Mother's Day. In the morning, everything is geared to get everyone in as fast as possible. After two o'clock, the atmosphere changes and the focus is on re-entry, hand stamping and crowd control.
Around 11:30, the Leads would start closing down positions so that everyone could start taking their 1/2 hour lunch breaks. The choices were very limited then. You could eat your lunch in the Ticket break area, you could go behind Town Square and eat at a small lunch room behind the Tomorrowland Terrace, or you could hoof it all the way to the Fantasyland cafeteria. I usually went to the cafeteria, which meant walking behind City Hall, ducking into a staircase down to the tunnel, and then following the signs (it’s easy to get lost down there) to the cafeteria. The walk takes eight minutes, and that was walking at a very fast rate. That means I had 12 minutes to get your food, wolf it down, and get back down to the Ticket area.
A popular afternoon activity was trying to convince people that we did not cover their car up with water! Many first time visitors would come in early in the morning. Come four o'clock, they were hot, tired and just wanted to get to their cars. They go to through the exit and have no memory of taking either the ferry or the Rail in the morning. All they see is a huge expanse of lake, where they now think their car is sitting on the bottom of. This happened at once a day! One French lady would not believe me when I tried to convince her that her car was safe and sound on the other side of the lake. She finally left by saying to me "...I am a tourist and you are just lying to me." She stormed off never to be seen again. I presume she did find her car were she left it.
Tickets seems easy, but it could get very monotonous very quickly. We were working under the hot Florida sun, too, so that made it pretty tiring.
The slow times gave me the chance to interact with the guests and follow Cast Members, though. I have met people from every country and so many of them were so excited about being there. Since many times I was the first cast member they interacted with, they asked if they could take a picture with me. My image is pasted in hundreds of photo albums around the world. The irony is I don't have one picture of me in costume!
JEFF: Was it easy balancing grad school and Disney?
JOHN: Actually I ended up going to Grad school full time, working at the University Media Center part time as a Cataloger, and working Disney on the weekends. Since I was single, and did not know a soul in Florida, it was a great setup for me. I learned just as much about management & leadership from working at Disney than I did from four years of college and two of Grad School.
JEFF: With the 15th Anniversary Celebration going on, I’m sure you had some extra responsibilities as well. What else did you have to do?
JOHN: In the beginning, you either were a ticket taker or a prize giver. They had two lines going, which caused a lot more complication then was necessary. One line would get more breaks than the other, which everyone would complain about. They went to one line, so we went back and forth from being a ticket taker to a gift giver.
The prizes were controlled by the turn of the turnstile. A gift was given out every 15 seconds and since there were only two parks, we gave out a gift once every 30 seconds. The big prizes were the annual pass, $500 bond, a four day cruise and a new car. The game was controlled by a computer, and each turnstile had a printer and a strobe light attached to it. When the guest went through the turnstile, the computer generated a ticket, and if it was a winner, the light would flash atop the printer. Since it was 1980's, computer technology the computer was slow. Between the turnstile turning and the ticket being printed out, it took about eight seconds. This meant that no one else could go through the turnstile until the process was completed. The ticket taker and the prize giver had to work as a team to keep the proper pacing so the system worked as it was designed to. If it got out of synch, then it was possible that the wrong guest would be awarded a prize.
As for the car, we gave one of those away each day between Epcot and Magic Kingdom. The way it worked is that they would hide a camera crew and Mickey Mouse in the break room. As soon as the cast members would pass the word down the line that "the mouse was in the house,” we knew the car would be given sometime in the next 15 minutes or so. The Ticket takers would slow the line down to make sure that only one person would go through the turnstiles at a time.
Now a moment of back story…it was badge of honor to give away a car. The goal was to not only to give away the car, but to present the key to the winner so that you were recorded on the video and ended up in the ads on TV. I worked the line for over a year and a half, and gave away lots of prizes. Going into my last two weeks, I never gave away the car. But in those last two weeks, I gave away a car three times!
Anyway, when giving out the car, everyone is tense. Supervisors are out along the line, waiting for the moment. When the light went off, the gift giver takes the card out of the machine while stopping the Guest at the machine. The card says "You have won a Chevrolet Cavalier!" The Gift Givers heart rate jumps, he raises his hand so a supervisor comes over, and Mickey and the camera crew start a mad dash to the winning turnstile. Meanwhile, the Guest is getting upset because he's getting held up for no good reason. Everyone gathers around the Gift Giver as he shows the ticket to the supervisor to confirm it is a winner. Mickey hands the key to the Gift Giver, who says "Congratulations, you have just won a new car!" The cameras are rolling, Mickey is clapping his hands, and the guest says something uninteresting. Ninety nine times out of a hundred, they just react very cool and say something noncommittal. The ones that act excited are the ones that you see in the ads. After that, the Guest fills out some paperwork, and gets a new car in six weeks from their local dealership.
JEFF: I know you have a fun story about a celebrity. Please share it with the readers!
JOHN: Well, one neat thing about Tickets was pass gate. At that time, most of the celebrities would stay at the Contemporary, and walk over to go through the pass gate. I hated working pass gate because that is all you did. There was no bumping to another position. You just stood at the gate all day, and most of the time, it was not busy. I met the Carter's, and a number of other ABC list celebrities. One day when I was there, this drop dead gorgeous woman (who did look vaguely familiar), a three year old blond girl, and a short, dweebish guy came to pass gate. I admit I did think to myself how did this guy get this beautiful woman. I figured out quickly that they were married, and gave them a quick rundown of what to do and told the girl a corny joke. They all smiled, thanked me, and left. I turned around, and everyone was staring at me. Since it was slow, I went over and ask why everyone so looking at me. That is when I found out that I just let in Christie Brinkley and Billy Joel into the park. Till this day, I don't know if I was assigned pass gate because I was good with the Guests or if I was so oblivious to popular culture that I treated everyone the same!
JEFF: I know you also have a Frank Wells story that I’m sure people would love to hear!
JOHN: Well, when I went to Disney University, they told us all about who ran the company. Of course the thought us about Eisner and Wells, but I was a mere part time employee. There was no way our paths would cross. Little did I know...
After about six months working the line over at MK, I was trained as a ticket seller. The training lasted five days. On my second day, my trainer and I were in a booth by ourselves. I was selling, or at least pretending to, when I noticed that a Guest was trying to sell a used ticket. Of course, this was forbidden on Disney property. I got on the phone to call the lead. My trainer sees a security guard behind our booth, and he opens the door to call out to him. As soon as the door opens, a man in a dress shirt and tie pops in the booth with a name tag of Frank. He says "I am Frank Wells. Where is the supervisor? I need to talk to a supervisor now!"
I am already on the phone when the Lead finally answers. I say "Frank Wells is in my booth and he needs to talk to Supervision immediately." The supervisors were always very visible when we first opened in the morning, but by around 10:30 or so, they would disappear for awhile to get something to eat. Unfortunately, Frank Wells showed up while they were gone. The Lead thought I was kidding. He said “Quit fooling around and get back to work."
Realizing that I wasn't going to convince him myself, I handed the phone to Frank and said "You better talk to him. He doesn't believe me." Frank then puts his shoulders back, and says in a quite terse and clipped manner "My name is Frank Wells. I need to talk to your supervisors NOW and I am booth 13."
Things happened really quickly after that. Two Leads popped into our booth, both talking into their radios. The security guard finally comes over to our booth, too late for the illegal used ticket sale, but he stayed around to watch the show. Then, coming at a dead run, comes the supervisor. I never saw a supervisor run like that before. By the time we were done, we had seven people in a ticket booth built for two. Frank, seeing the small crowd of humanity growing in the booth, says "These people have got work to do." He left the booth, along with the rest of the crowd. The Supervisor, after a short and unheard conversation, leaves and Frank stays. In between selling tickets, I noticed the Supervisor bring back a file with some work orders in them, show them to Frank, and then they shake hands and leave. Later, I found out that Frank had ordered new signs for the TTC, which I had seen in storage in a back area. They had not been installed yet. Our Supervisors had sent in a work order to get them installed, but by the time Frank revisited the TTC they were still in storage. I don’t know what happened, but the signs were installed the next day!
Thanks, John, for chatting with me!
Don't forget come back each week to hear more of the magic directly From the Mouth of the Mouse.
If you are, or know, a Cast Member who would like to share some of their stories and possibly be featured right here on MiceChat, please email me at [email protected]. I'd love to hear from you!
Jeff also writes a MiceChat column titled The 626. We invite you to check it out!
Jeff also co-hosts the VidCast Communicore Weekly on MiceTube.
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