29 April 2021

The Wildest Ride in the Wilderness

When I started the Main Street Gazette almost 14 years ago, I was young and had opinions I wanted to express. About attraction ideas, how good the food was, or wasn’t, and about what I thought would make Walt Disney World better. I had a fair share of knowledge of the parks and resorts, thanks to a never-ending thirst to know more, and I wanted to share that knowledge. I wanted to give people a better trip, and maybe a special kernel or two of knowledge that could impress their family and friends. The Gazette was a balancing point between wanting to shine as an expert, otherwise called a know-it-all, and an intrinsic need to be helpful.
As the years have gone by, I’ve tried new ways to engage, new topical areas to discuss, even throwing in some short fiction (which I’d love to do again), and I have learned so much. I have been taught that having a brash opinion isn’t as valuable as taking time to understand an issue, give Imagineers grace and space to create before judging, and that I have absolutely no idea what Walt Disney would think or want in the parks today, and neither does anyone else. I have learned to put others first where I can, that elevating the voices and issues that can change the lives of people not like me is important, and that what is right is not always popular.
I have also gained so much from all of you. Your love and devotion to the Gazette propelled me to two wonderful stints on a pair of podcasts. With Lou Mongello on the WDW Radio Show, I got to spend time with someone who is as close to me as a brother, someone who’s love of theme park history and zeal for life rivals my own. Then, with Pete, Melyssa, Courtney, Brian, Adam, and whomever else we could drag along, on the Disney Movie Hour, I found more family, that delved deep into the history and production of the films that are foundational to many of our lives. Then there are the friendships that are too numerous to list here, but for someone who finds it difficult to make friends, you have all brought me some of the most joyous memories, and relationships that I am hopeful will last a lifetime.
I began to push harder on the Gazette, creating a schedule that would provide content each and every day of the week, I ventured out (poorly) into social media with Twitter and Instagram, and I tried to find ways to engage each of you as best I could. In some respects, I succeeded, in many I did not, and that’s okay because I learned something new at every step or stumble along the way.
Then, almost 7 years ago, I began having excruciating pain in my shoulders, knees, elbows, and ankles. That scary, not knowing, road led me to a diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis. The uncertainty of when and where the next violent flare will come, the constant fatigue and pain, made my time with the Gazette haphazard at best. It has made sitting in a chair for any length of time to record for a podcast unbearable. No matter how much I wanted to continue to do all of these things, my body shut me down. Yet, through it all you stuck with me. The Gazette went on hiatus for long stretches of time, including during most of 2020 with the pandemic and at times when there were more important voices that needed to be heard around the state of race in our country. Yet, through it all, you wished me health and stuck with me.
By this point in the history of the Gazette, you probably think this is goodbye. That I’m hanging up my lightsaber, spurs, and pith helmets, putting the history books back on the shelves, and walking slowly into the sunset. But that’s not exactly where I’m headed. I write for a living, writing grants and reports to foundations to support critical services in my community, and writing takes a toll on my joints. Writing used to be where I found solace, and while that is still the case, the amount of time I can do writing becomes more limited each year. That means I have to choose between supporting my family or supporting a passion that I’ve never quite figured out how to make a living by. The Main Street Gazette isn’t going away, but I also can’t commit to a schedule any longer either.
Daily photos, or blurbs that I can put in a couple of tweets or a single photo caption, are going to continue and are likely the main avenue going forward. Meanwhile, the main page of the Gazette, the longer articles, critical thought pieces, historical anecdotes, digging at little details, and a recipe or review here or there, will still be here. I just don’t want to promise you all a when any longer only to let you, and myself, down. They’ll be sporadic, but I hope they’ll be worth it when you come back here and read them. If you happen to be feeling like a walk down memory lane, the old articles are staying put too. And I hope you’ll join in with me over on Instagram or Twitter, perhaps we can have even deeper conversations than we’ve ever had here before.
I love you all, and I thank you all for everything you have given me over than past 14 years. I hope we can keep this mutual joy of all things going for many, many years to come, in whatever form it may take.

20 April 2021

Truly in the Past

Disney’s Animal Kingdom has always been a different species of theme park, combining the educational components of Epcot, with the thrills of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and merged with zoological exhibits that put children and families in close contact with animals they may never get to see in the wild, or certainly not in an environment as close to their own as the Imagineers could make it. When the park opened, its premiere thrill attraction was Countdown to Extinction, otherwise known as Dinosaur. Kali River Rapids hadn’t yet drenched its first guest, and Expedition Everest was a dream, and almost a decade, away, but guests could still get up close and personal with some prehistoric pals and predators.
Before we get into what makes Countdown to Extinction different than today’s Dinosaur, it is worth looking briefly into how the attraction came to be. Prior to the park’s opening a decision was made to build DinoLand USA over Beastly Kingdom, leaving the land of dragons and unicorns for an expansion that would never come to pass. Even within the planning of DinoLand, there was to be a rollercoaster extraordinaire, The Excavator, with an edutainment style dark ride as a secondary attraction. The history of the land and its attractions is a rollercoaster in its own right, but at the end of the day, Jurassic Park had just captivated the minds of the country, costs were cut, Disneyland’s layout and Enhanced Motion Vehicles (EMVs) were copied from the Indiana Jones Adventure, and Countdown to Extinction was born.

If you were to go back and revisit the original Countdown to Extinction today, the changes would be noticeable even as you approached the entrance. Aladar, the iguanodon, was not present in the fountain in front of The Dino Institute, instead a stature of a styracosaurus stood guard. Additionally, you had to be a little bit taller to experience the time rovers, 46” instead of today’s 40”, the reasons would soon become clear. From there, the Countdown to Extinction queue experience remained mostly the same as Dinosaur until you boarded your time rover and began your trip back to the Cretaceous.
The time tunnel included pyrotechnic and laser light effects, though the laser lights have returned in recent years. Once your time travel journey to the past is complete, Countdown to Extinction’s differences become very clear. The ride is darker, the sounds louder, the movement of the vehicle has more whipping and jerking than today. The pterodactyl and compsognathus would swoop in or leap over the vehicle, respectively. Once the attraction became Dinosaur, spotlights would be used for many years as these effects were prone to mechanical issues, with the compys now being a screen effect. When you come across the iguanodon in the ride’s finale a laser light net would secure him so that he could return with you and, instead of one last run in with the charging carnotaurus, guests would be facing down a meteor.
Some of the most drastic changes in Countdown to Extinction, however, came from the carnotaurus itself. With the attraction darker, the second run in with the carnotaurus include losing all power and lights, the room going dark, the thundering sound of approaching feet, the carnotaurus moving from a far away distance to right atop the time rover during the blackout, and rising up with a deafening roar. It safe to say that many children, and more than a few adults, who met the height requirement left the attraction shaken. Which is ironic, considering that a vast majority of the merchandise for the attraction, including a picture book, were directed at children.
Then CEO and Chairman of The Walt Disney Company, Michael Eisner, wanted Countdown to Extinction to have more synergy with the upcoming feature release of Dinosaur. The name was changed, the statue out front transformed, and the sound, lighting, and movement effects inside the attraction were altered to make it a more family friendly experience. Regardless of the changes, however, this different kind of thrill has a loyal and dedicated fan base that continues to take their chances to glimpse a piece of the Cretaceous period.

15 April 2021

Everyone Belongs

Earlier this week Disney announced that under their recently unveiled 5th Key of Inclusion, part of the keys to service and culture, they will be modifying the standards for personal style for Cast Members. This move is long overdue, but a great stride to creating a more comfortable workplace for their Cast Members, a place where authenticity will surely lead to more magical experiences for guests and Cast Members alike. I’d like to take a few moments to talk about why this is a smart business and social move, but also address some of the ideas I’ve seen since the news broke. Let’s start with part of the statement from Disney Parks, Experiences and Products Chairman, Josh D’Amaro.
“Our new approach provides greater flexibility with respect to forms of personal expression surrounding gender-inclusive hairstyles, jewelry, nail styles, and costume choices; and allowing appropriate visible tattoos. We’re updating them to not only remain relevant in today’s workplace, but also enable our cast members to better express their cultures and individuality at work.
“Moving forward, we believe our cast, who are at the center of the magic that lives in all our experiences, can provide the best of Disney’s legendary guest service when they have more options for personal expression – creating richer, more personal and more engaging experiences with our guests.”

I want to start with that last line, the section about creating more personal experiences with guests. Representation matters, and it matters in all areas of the public eye, from music, television, and movies, to reporters, corporate C-suites, and restaurants. Being able to see someone who looks like you, who identifies like you, who expresses themselves like you is critical to each person’s own self-image and how much value they see in themselves. With Cast Members that means that a child who sees a Cast Member with hair, earrings, nail polish, costume gender, or pick your attribute like their own is more likely to feel comfortable in the theme parks and more likely to connect that they have a worth and are a part of the Disney story. That engagement is at the heart of the Disney Parks mission.
Allowing more expression also means greater productivity and less turnover from a business standpoint, and let us not forget that the Walt Disney Company is a business first, second, and third. In a recent study from the Harvard Business Review, allowing employees to be their authentic selves at work reduced turnover by 33% and enhanced the performance of the employees that they did have. In turn, this also made their customers happier, which produced a stronger bottom line overall.
This shift in how Cast Members are permitted express themselves at work also begins to break down the walls between the tiers of Disney management and other fields of the company and the frontline Cast Members who are out there with guests day in and day out. Let’s take one example, a very famous example, to discuss. Joe Rohde, a former Imagineer and longtime personal hero, is most well-known, perhaps even above his storytelling and engineering marvels, for his gargantuan earring. Could you imagine what would happen if a Cast Member had ever shown up in a park, on stage, with a similar earring? While I am certain this type of earring is still a no-go for Cast Members, these changes do begin to shift the balance of expression that has favored the white-collar fields of Disney, positions predominantly held by white males, with the much more diverse demographics that fill in the frontline, underpaid positions.
Those are just a few of the positives that can come from this change, but now let’s start dismantling some of the criticisms I’ve seen since this change was announced now. Let’s start with the most confusing statements I’ve read: It’s the uniform, I want to be able to tell the difference between Cast Members and other guests, I don’t want it to feel like I’m walking down the street in any city in the country. It’s still a uniform, Cast Members aren’t suddenly going to stop wearing their assigned costumes and nametags in favor of jeans and a tee shirt. If all you can see is hair style, beards, tattoos, and not the attraction, shop, or land uniforms and nametags, I’m not sure how to help you. And just to help ease the minds of some guests, they aren’t allowing Cast Members to throw all caution to the wind when it comes to costuming, they still have to wear the appropriate costumes for where they are staffed. You aren’t suddenly going to see a Space Mountain Cast Member costume show up at Festival of the Lion King.
Second statement I’ve seen a lot of: It’s a business and its tradition, Walt wouldn’t want it that way. I’ve used the Walt argument myself many years ago, and then I realized something; Walt isn’t here anymore, no one knows what he would or wouldn’t want, and if he had wanted his company to stay relevant he would have changed policies to keep up with the times just as he did during his lifetime. As for the tradition part, it was also tradition, from the time Disneyland opened through the first years of Walt Disney World for guests to come to the parks in full suits and dresses, as if they were going to a business dinner or church. While Dapper Day has brought this style back to the parks a couple of times a year, it is in no way still the tradition to show up in such attire. If the style of guests is allowed to evolve, why wouldn’t the self-expression of the Cast Members be allowed to as well?
Within this there is this notion that it is a business. I work for a business, I have a dress code, I also have grown a beard that I am sure those from another generation would rather I shave off. However, I am allowed to keep it provided it doesn’t get unruly. For me, my beard is part of who I am. I have it because, one, I look good with a beard, but more importantly, I don’t like the extra weight I carry under my chin and my beard helps me feel less self-conscious about that. If I was told I had to get rid of my beard, I would likely start looking for another position elsewhere. By opening up grooming and other attributes of style, Disney is allowing for more of their Cast Members to present themselves in ways that make them feel as comfortable as I do in my job, and I wouldn’t take that away from anyone.
Lastly, one of the more common arguments out there: Disney is only doing this as virtue signaling. I’m not going to spend much time here, other than to say that this is preposterous. Disney has long tried, and failed in many respects, to keep up with the times and include more people, rather than exclude individuals. They are continuing to move forward and have found another way to be inclusive, but as we stated earlier, they are a business and their ultimate goal is to make more money. Retaining Cast Members and making them more productive is a big part of keeping the money coming in. That’s what this is all about, it isn’t about being disingenuous as a company, this is who the Walt Disney Company is, and will be, into the future and beyond all of our lifetimes.

This change in guidance is a move I applaud, but I also believe there is more to be done under their 5th Key of Inclusion. What they do next, how they develop will be as unique as each of our own personal journeys with inclusivity and understanding those that do not look like us. I, for one, love to hear others’ stories, they challenge my entrenched ideas and give me the chance to grow as a person, it isn’t easy, but it’s always worth it. This is exactly the positive pains I hope to see Disney continue to go through.

08 April 2021

The Base of the Mountain

If I have one go-to beverage in all the lounges in all of Walt Disney World, it is the Tempting Tigress from Nomad Lounge. It was the cocktail I tried on my first visit to Nomad Lounge and, while I've sampled plenty of this marquee Animal Kingdom lounge's offerings, I come back to the Tempting Tigress again and again. While Nomad Lounge rests in Discovery Island, this is definitely a beverage fit for the finest establishments in Anandapur. I am thrilled to have it in my home bartending repertoire, just as I hope you will be after this entry.



2 Oz. Russell's Reserve 10-Year Bourbon
1 Oz. St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram
1/2 Oz. Lime Juice
1 Bar Spoon Tamarind Syrup

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail mixing glass with ice.
Stir and strain into a double rocks glass with fresh ice.
Garnish with a lemon twist.
There are a couple of recipe notes worth discussing up front. For starters, if you don't have a bar spoon for the tamarind syrup use somewhere between 1/8 and 1/4 of an ounce. The tamarind is very strong, so definitely play with the quantities to suit your tastes. It also happens to be the toughest ingredient to come by, I found some in a local small grocer, but it can usually be found through Amazon as a last resort. Lastly, the Russell's Reserve is good, and is the bourbon called for in the recipe, but this tasty cocktail only got better when I subbed in Uncle Nearest or Woodford Reserve.

The Tempting Tigress has a rich mouthfeel, full of spicy notes and tart citrus. This isn't a typical drink you'd throw back on a warm summer afternoon on the beach, but it is perfect for sipping in the early evening with a good friend or good book on your back porch during any season.
If bourbon is your spirit of choice, and you like a bit of a spicy zing in your concoctions, the Tempting Tigress will not disappoint. If you are like me, and you look for a reason to stop in at Nomad Lounge just to have this chilled glass back in your hand, then this recipe is perfect for you. Straight from Nomad Lounge to your back porch, courtesy of a most tempting tigress.