Quick: Somebody calls you and says "We'll fly you to Florida, put you up in a hotel, and pay you to do the one thing you'd be doing with all your time if you didn't have any sorts of responsibilities."
Having finally gotten the word that I was going at 11:30 Tuesday night, I mostly finished packing and managed to get 4 or 5 hours of sleep before my alarm clock woke me up. A quick finish to the packing, I loaded the car and hit the road...only to remember just before I got on the Beltway that I was supposed to call Mike and let him know for sure if the trip was on and if I'd need him to give me a ride to the airport. Apparently it was a good thing I remembered when I did -- Mike was getting ready to leave for work since he hadn't heard from me. It wouldn't have been a total loss if I'd missed my ride from him -- I would have just had to park at the airport myself and pay the ridiculous charges for the lot.
To make a long story short (too late, and its only just begun), I got the airport on time, was not considered 'suspicious' by the attendent at the front desk, and flew to Orlando, where I was met by David Gomberg, past president of the AKA and my chauffeur for the morning. David drove me to Epcot, where I got my first view of backstage.
One of the first things I found out was that Dean (Jordan, that is) had forgotten to tell me about the White Shoes. You see, we were, backhandedly, working for Disney, and being Disney employees out in the park meant several things for us, the first of which was that we had to wear a costume. The costume, which was provided by the park, consisted of a t-shirt with collar with the World Festival of Kites logo on it, khaki shorts, white belt, white baseball cap (optional), and white socks and white sneakers. They provided the shirts and shorts, belts, and hats, we provided shoes and socks. And of course, I don't own any white shoes. Fortunately, Mike Simmons (of Skyward Kites) had a pair, slightly too large, which I could use for the day. Having gotten the shoes, Dean took me over to Wardrobe to get the rest of my clothes.
After I'd heard the rules, been to wardrobe, and so forth, Dean and I drove over to the American Adventure, where Dave was flying in our only indoor space (a wonderful rotunda). From there we went next door to Japan, where I met the Japanese guys who had been brought in to demonstrate traditional Japanese kite painting. David Brittain was also flying in this space. We hung out there for a bit and I put up a rev II for a couple of minutes.
It was here that I got my first view of the water show.
Then we headed over the cafeteria for lunch. Eventually Dean dropped me off at Africa and I flew there for the rest of the afternoon. Africa has a rep as a terrible place to fly -- very small and terrible wind, and to make matters worse, this bus, "Junkanoo," sort of a travelling reggae and frozen drink party, was parked in the middle of the flyable area. So I pulled out an SUL and did the best I could. It was unbearably hot and I felt faint a few times, but made it through.
I can't describe how unbelievably weird an experience it is to fly within the park. Not just the fact that you were in Epcot, but that you were dressed in a costume, being paid to fly, and so on and so forth.
Compounding the weirdness was the speed with which everything had happened. I'd gotten final approval at about 11:30 Tuesday night. Seven hours later, I was leaving for the airport. Within 12 hours I was at Disney, and within 15 hours, I was working my first shift.
When I was done for the day, I went back to the hut and waited for everyone else to come back.
After a quick trip to Wardrobe to get clothes for the next morning (it's a lot easier to just exchange dirty for clean at the end of the day and not worry about dropping by Wardrobe the next morning), Dave, David, Dean, and I headed off to the outlet malls to find a shoe store. I needed white shoes, Dave had finally figured out that the shoes he'd bought a year or two earlier were Way Too Small, and David's sneaks were basically worn out. Eventually, we all ended up with the same shoes: Reeboks designed for walking. Way too comfy (and they ought to be for the $65 we paid), and definitely what saved my feet and probably my calves over the next bunch o' days.
The whole shopping expedition took way too long, and afterward we went to the hotel to shower before going out for some dinner. Then back to the hotel and fairly early to bed. That night I just crashed on the spare bed in Dave's room, as I didn't know that I was supposed to be getting my own room (!).
The next morning we all hooked up again at the hotel and drove over to the park. I hooked up with Ann Rock, a friend from California who was there to run a presentation booth on kite aerial photography for the first week of the festival.
Ann and I made plans to get together that evening. I then spent the day flying in various areas in the park.
At the end of the day, I got my stuff together, changed into street clothes, and went back into the park, where I finally walked all the way around the lagoon. Though the spot flyers got to stop at 6:00, the presenters weren't done until 6:45, so I had to wait for Ann to finish her shift, then go shower and change. Eventually we met up in Italy at 7:30 to watch one of the shows ("Stilt Birds" -- performers on these huge, elaborate stilts with birds puppet-like wooden bird frames built around them. Basically, the effect was to look like a human riding the back of a giant bird. The heads, tails, beaks, and wings were maneuverable with what looked to be hydraulic or cable-driven controls. Very cool).
After the show, we took the bus back to the hotel, where I went to get in line to check into my room. I was exhausted, sweaty, starving (it was about 9:00). They didn't have my name in the computer, and I was on the verge of freaking out in frustration. The clerk (whoops, 'cast member'), however, was trained in the Disney Way [tm] and said something to the effect of, "If you don't get upset, I won't get upset. We'll take care of this and give you a room and worry about finding your reservation later. Don't worry, we'll get you in a room."
And sure enough, they did.
Friday was more of the same, as was Saturday. By then, the schedules for the sidewalk flyers were better organized so that our lunches were staggered (there were always folks flying somewhere in the park) and we started doubling up at some of the larger areas (namely Japan and Innoventions).
Saturday night, after going back to the hotel and showering, Curtiss and I came back to the park to try to see some of the sights and eat dinner. This was one of my only chances to do much of anything in any of the parks.
I had been told that one of the perks of this job was that I'd have a pass that could get me into any of the Disney parks.
This was true.
What they neglected to tell me ahead of time (not that it would have stopped me from coming!) was that because this is the off season, all of the parks beside Epcot close at either 6:00 or 7:00. World Showcase, where we were working, is open 'til 9:00. The sidewalk flyers worked 'til 6:00, and if they had any interest in going back to the hotel before going somewhere else, it was almost impossible to see any other park.
Which means that I didn't get to ride the coasters at the Magic Kingdom. Or go on the new world's tallest water slide (120' drop!!) at Blizzard Beach.
Still, it was at least vaguely fun getting to waltz through the entrance of Epcot one time.
By the time Curtiss and I got back to Epcot, Future World had already closed -- we had hoped to get there in time to see either the new 3-D movie or the Body Wars simulator. No such luck. So we headed over to World Showcase, rode the tiny water ride in Norway (boring), grabbed some takeout food in China, and then found a place to watch IllumiNations, the huge laser and fireworks show they run nightly on the Lagoon. It was fun to watch. All of the lasers are reflected off sheets of water, created by various bits of machinery dragged out into the lagoon on barges.
Sunday morning I started out with Manuel over at Innoventions, and was scheduled to go to AA at 2:00. During lunch, I bumped into Dean and for the umpteenth time, hassled him about wanting to see the megabite. I'd been asking to get over there for days, and Dean kept promising me that I'd get to see it before I left, but we were all so busy that it never got around to happening. As I would be leaving the next day, I made sure I threw in another reminder. He decided to take me over to the parking lot then, and put off AA for a bit.
Monday morning, I flew in AA for a couple of hours, then did lunch and flew another half hour or so at Innoventions. Then it was back to the quonset hut to grab my stuff, a quick trip to drop off my costume at Wardrobe, and then Dean took me to the airport for the plane ride home, much to my dismay. I had no interest in going back to school and my thesis...
The event has apparently had a tremendous, positive response at Epcot. Michael Eisner came by to have a look at the whole thing.
Disney has already budgeted money to run this event again next year -- and the next one will be a full month, over this year's 16 days. To make things better (less heat, more wind), they're talking about moving it to January, so the next one will probably be in January of '97. With luck, I'll be invited back.
Many thanks are due to the folks who made this wonderful trip possible for me -- Dean Jordan, who lobbied and worked hard to get me down there, Bruce Flora, the overall organizer, and of course Disney! The World Festival of Kites was one of the coolest experiences of my life, one I'll never forget. I hope these pages manage to convey some of my excitement about everything that was going on.
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