Theme Park Season

Location: 
Magic Kingdom Park
United States
US

At Disney, everything dials up to 11. That grandmother who bought her grandchild their fifth churro of the day? She ran over six guests in her motorized scooter and complained about the broken English of the International College Program participant who served it. The smiling dad in the souvenir ride photos? He spat on the FastPass greeter at Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train because he was thirty minutes earlier than his time. That mom holding her toddler up to watch Mickey’s Friendship Faire? She screamed at a cast member until they cried because she was eating lunch during the three o’clock parade.

Autumn was not a natural, but she knew the park from her childhood vacations, so the learning curve was nonexistent for giving directions and answering questions. Saying no on the other hand? Not her strong suit. Moving strollers in 100-degree heat? Not her forte, especially with parents complaining that their stroller was stolen, when in actuality, it was two feet away from where it was parked before.  Remember it’s not stupid to ask where the bathroom is. They’ve never been here. Maps can be confusing. Oh, my God. He was reading it upside down. Don’t laugh. Hold it in. Two finger point and smile. Okay, he’s gone. 

Summer in Orlando is exhausting. The sun never stops shining, even through the daily 4pm rainstorm. Autumn was realizing that the Magic Kingdom wasn’t the happiest place on Earth after all. The hours were long; shifts lasted from midday to midnight.

Her attraction complex wasn’t what she’d wanted: Peter Pan’s Flight and ‘it’s a small world.” One was the second most popular attraction in the entire Disney resort, and the other had the catchiest theme ever written. If positioned at Pan, Autumn knew she’d have to keep moving. Get those guests off in twenty seconds. Oh, no. Josh didn’t group that family of twelve. And they’re all on the moving walkway trying to hop on the same ship. Is no one going to stop it? Oh yeah, that’s me.

Small was across from Pan, but it was a different world. Even in the midst of summer, the pace was excruciating. Most of the guests that chose to ride hadn’t heard of it before or grew up riding it before bigger and better attractions were built. Autumn heard “that ride sucks” and “that’s fifteen minutes I’ll never get back” and countless variations of the same, as if she designed the ride and forced them to board it.

The reason she hated working Small was the same reason why she wanted to close it. At Pan, the clock strikes ten, and you’ve got a thirty-minute line to get through. At Small, the chimes go off, you click the chain into place, and you run through one last cycle of boats.

One slow August night, Autumn stood at tower, the position at Small where the cast member waves and pretends they aren’t dying on the inside, while performing the most safety critical position in the complex. Her coworker, Emma, called her from the unload dock to complain about her speed closing the gates or her choice not to wave to empty boats.

“Ignore her.”

“Don’t sneak up behind me like that. I can’t turn around while the boats are moving.”

“No one’s in them.”

“What’re you doing up here?”

“I don’t want to talk to Emma.”

“I feel that. Evan, right?” Autumn responded.

“Yep.”

“Autumn.”

“I know. It’s on your nametag,” Evan stated, rolling up his sleeve and exposing a tattoo on his forearm.

“Dude, you’re onstage. You have to keep that covered.”

“Or all of these guests will report me,” he said, gesturing to the empty building, “So you like anime?”

“Random.”

“Answer wisely.”

“I mean, I’ve watched Pokémon, My Hero Academia, and Ouran High School Host Club, but that’s it.” Autumn said. The last boat reached the dock, and Autumn powered down the ride.

  “Ouran? Girl, you have no taste.”

“What do you like?”

“That’s a long, long list. My favorite is Beserk.”

“Oh, we’ve got an edge lord.”

“Look, I’ll send you a list of all of the best anime.”

“Okay.”

“I’m gonna need your phone number.”  Autumn rolled her eyes and scrawled her digits on an assignment slip, which Evan tucked into his pocket as Emma and their manager approached.

Autumn found herself talking to Evan more. Most of her coworkers drank the Disney Kool-Aid and ignored the suckier aspects of working under the Mouse. Evan was different; he had no delusions that he was making a difference by working in a theme park.

“At the end of the day, it’s a job, and not one that’ll get you working in film.”

“Everyone here is living a lie, then?” Autumn asked.

“Yes and no. Some people think they’re happy here.”

Summer bled into fall. The weather didn’t change. The crowds didn’t slow. Autumn realized that making one friend made a difference in her. Instead of hiding in the corner of the break room, she sat with Evan. When something happened with a guest, she had someone to tell.

“So, I’m minding my business at stroller parking, and this man’s annoyed because his wagon was moved from the sidewalk. Then, he’s pissed because it’s blocked by other strollers. He failed to see the connection between us moving ridiculously parked strollers and his path being blocked. Guess what else he said?” Autumn explained.

“What?” Evan asked.

“He said I was the ‘worst person that worked at Disney.’”

“OMG,” he said in his best Emma impression.

“I just went ‘that’s fair’ and returned to my job.”

“Why so down on yourself?” Evan asked. He had this tendency to go serious when Autumn attempted at self-deprecating humor, which was often.

“It was a joke. So when’ll things slow down now that summer is over?” Autumn said, deflecting.

“Slow down? Disney?” replied Evan with a chuckle.

  “I heard when the tour groups stop coming-”

“Then Food & Wine starts, which brings in the locals. Once Halloween parties begin, out-of-towners come back. The first two weeks of November will be peaceful, the calm before the storm. Thanksgiving draws the holiday crowd, which gets worse throughout December. It’ll relax in January.”

“In time for me to go home?”

“Uh huh.” Evan concluded.

Evan didn’t lie; Halloween parties were crazy. Good crazy. Guests were in costume. Cast members handed out candy. The atmosphere was fun for once. 

“That’s a good Gaston. Look, his friends are the bimbettes!”

“Yeah, I guess they’re alri-”

“Wait, is that Xehanort? He’s dead on.”

“Autumn?”

“Yeah?”

Before Evan could respond, a guest approached the entrance to Peter Pan’s Flight in full costume as the Johnny Depp version of the Mad Hatter. His family was also dressed up, his wife as the Red Queen, his daughter as Alice, two boys, twins, as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, and lastly, a baby Cheshire Cat. Autumn felt that as a whole Alice in Wonderland was overdone in terms of costumes, but at least this group tried to be different by channeling Burton.

“So is fastpass open during parties?” the guest asked.

“That depends,” replied Autumn, flashing a mischievous smile, “Do you know how to futterwacken?”

“No.”

“If you can futterwacken, we’ll let you through fastpass.” The guest walked away, seeming dejected. Was that rude? I guess Evan would tell me if I went too far.

“So futterwacken?”

“Y’know, the dance scene that made audiences collectively wonder if Tim Burton lost his edge?”

“Oh, I remember. I didn’t, but now that image is burned into my mind.”

“You’re welcome,” Autumn joked, “What were you going to say?”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“It does to me.” Evan turned his head and acted like she hadn’t said a word.

Autumn opened her mouth to object to his silence, when a distinct movement caught her eye.

“And on that day, I shall futterwacken… Vigorously.”

While the guest’s family looked mortified, Autumn loved every second of it, cheering loudly for the clumsy imitation of a clumsy dance.

“And on that day, you may enter through fastpass,” Autumn said, gesturing overdramatically.

“I might have had to get some help from YouTube,” the father stated.

Rotation came immediately, separating the friends before they could speak. At the stroke of twelve, Evan walked Autumn to her car, though attempts at conversation failed. When they reached it, he checked his phone and gave her an unusually long hug.

Thereafter, Evan stopped coming to work. Upon asking her manager, she discovered that he traded pixie dust for potions; Evan left Disney for Universal. Autumn knew he was unhappy, but in that moment, she felt envy that he got out.

Her season at Disney unfolded as Evan prophesied: busy. Occasionally, she’d get a message from Evan, and on rarer occasions she’d respond. When the last brutal months of her program came to their end, Autumn decided life was too short to lose a friend.

“Hey, Evan. Tomorrow is my last day. Wanna go to Magic? I can get you in for free.”

 

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