An Awkward Teen Gets Hired by a Mouse

My secret’s out. It was me, that awkward teen.

I’m happy to report, over thirty years later, that I’ve blossomed into a functioning, well-rounded adult. I’d even say I’m much less awkward today, and much more comfortable in my own skin. My kids may not agree.

Rewind to the 90’s

Back in ’94, as a young teenager, I was an only child and didn’t have many friends. An opportunity presented itself that I felt compelled to take. I don’t even remember how it happened, I think I just heard through the grapevine that the company was holding mass auditions for positions at the Happiest Place on Earth.

Ah, the Happiest Place on Earth. Visions of pixiedust and fireworks swirled through my field of vision at the thought. Did I mention I was awkward?

I applied and got hired the same day. Outdoor Vending.

Ok, so, it wasn’t something spectacular and glitzy, like, say, the Character Department. I certainly couldn’t play the roles of Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. But I was hired, and I was happy.

Clad in minion yellow, (is this a faux pas? The minions, I know, are a Pixar-animated film, but they work so appropriately when the image of my uniform comes to mind), a stripe splashed down the pants on either side of me like a street sign, I was marked.

A human highlighter, I was easy pickings in a Disneyland crowd.


What Was it Like Working for the Mouse?

It was honestly one of the best jobs I ever held, if not the single best one.

Working at Disneyland involved an adoption into a unique, make-believe world, complete with its own set of rules. I found myself assimilating into my new ‘household‘ and quite quickly at that.

My day, awkward teen and all, went something like this:

I came in before a shift, well in advance, to pick up a freshly laundered and ironed uniform. A vintage image of an outdoor vending employee, in the classic yellow uniformThese outfits were handled by their own department, an entire building dedicated to fresh pressed cloth.

My uniform depended on which land I’d be working in that day.

The standard, in Outdoor Vending, was the aforementioned bright yellow. Feast your eyes on the image to the right. Corporate wanted us to stand out to the guests when we sold. How you like them apples?

If I worked in Frontierland, the outfit changed to a western-style plaid top and long flowing skirt. Tomorrowland’s threads were crisp white and tailor-fit, the sharp look of a future engineer. Toontown, goofy and fun. We had to look the part, to match the land we were in, complete, of course, with manicured fingernails and acceptable haircuts.

As soon as I changed in the behind-the-scenes wardrobe area, I prepared to take my cart out for the day.


Interacting with ClienteleAn employee of Disneyland stand s behind a popcorn stand and poses for the camera

I met some interesting people along the way. Working in a public place like Disneyland can be truly eye-opening. Did I mention I was clad in all-yellow?

There were strict rules regarding how to interact with people. We never referred to them as customers, for one, or tourists. They were our guests, the term used to make them feel welcomed, and, gosh darn it, we tried our hardest. If a guest approached my wagon and claimed to have dropped their ice cream, well, gosh darn it (I repeat purposely to emphasize use of proper Disney-etiquette), they would get another ice cream right away. Free of charge, no questions asked.

There were times when people (*ahem*, I mean guests) lied, sure. But they’d still get their ice cream.

Communication was polite. Always.a hand points to the right, with two fingers, (a Disney-approved gesture), with the words "Right this way" written on the hand, against a background of blue pattern, meant as a pop

To this day, I still use two fingers to show the direction to a restroom, when asked. You see, another part of respecting our guests was avoiding their discomfort, and that included avoidance a single digit in pointing out the way.

Why?

Because some cultures deem the one-fingered point as insulting. We were therefore trained to point the way using only one of two methods: two fingers or a full hand. With a smile accompanying the gesture, of course.

(For more on keeping your fingers to yourself and gestures that could be misinterpreted as offensive in other cultures, click here.)

The company strived to enforce its rules, and to have each employee follow their handbook to the T. You see, one never knew when a guest was in actuality a secret plant, A Disneyland employee, between two characters, laughingDisney’s own disguised as a guest. It was essential to ensure adherence. They’d walk around and rate you, making sure all protocol was followed, all i’s dotted and t’s crossed.

Can you imagine having that done now, in my own field of medicine? Oh wait, we do get rated. It’s part of the newest trend in better medical care. Do you detect the sarcasm? (For a commentary on how patient reviews can unfairly malign providers, read my post that was featured on the popular doctor blog, Kevin MD).

It wasn’t necessary in my case, of course, being the awkward teen that I was and all, with the playing field that comes with the territory. I loved my job. To me everyone seemed to love what they did, where they were, and everything innately involved. We were in the Happiest Place on Earth, for heaven’s sakes.

I can say for a fact, looking back now, that I was in the right place.


Looking Back

It was always a pleasure coming to work. Disneyland treated every employee like family. We were allowed to enter the park at free will. We were even given passes to use on family and friends. Employees would socialize, go out, enjoy each other on a regular basis. I even know a few who still work for them today, decades later.

I look back at my time spent working at this magical place the Mouse calls home, and I think only positive thoughts.

Purple and blue balloons in the shape of Micky Mouse are set against the dimming shadow of sunset

Today I am older and wiser. I’m a physician. I have been through college, medical school, residency, a marriage, childbirth (times three). I’ve had a lengthy education track and been through many life experiences. I’ve seen sickness and death, happiness and despair. And yet my stint at Disneyland, even in highlighter yellow, has left quite the mark on this awkward teen.

It will forever be engrained in my memory.

(For more on how Disneyland days helped shape me into the practitioner I am today, and can help make any business better, read this post)

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