Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Of Disneyland Presidents and Breakfast Meat

Gather a hundred or so hardcore Disney fans at Anaheim's ESPN Zone for breakfast, add appearances by two Disneyland presidents (the very first one and the current one) and you can be certain everyone will be leaving the  event with one thing on their minds.


Seriously, have you ever tried the bacon at ESPN Zone? Actually, you probably haven't. ESPN Zone is just open to the public for lunch and dinner. Breakfast is saved for special events.

Holy crap, that bacon was good! Crispy, peppery and maple-y. I'm not exaggerating when I say people were still talking about it the next day. Search the Web and you'll find songs written in honor of it. If I'm the only Disney blogger commenting about its greasy, flavorful goodness, I'll be stunned.

Me with Disneyland's first president,
Jack Lindquist...but no bacon in sight.
Oh yeah, Disney Legend Jack Lindquist and George Kalogridis were at ESPN Zone too. Signing books and chatting with guests, blah blah blah.

Jack recently published his memoir, In Service to the Mouse. It's an engaging collection of stories recalling his 38 years with Disney, most notably as Disneyland's first president. Once I finished eating my bacon, it was a pleasure to meet Jack in person. He recalls Walt Disney fondly, but he also remembers how demanding his boss could be. "You could make mistakes," said Jack. "You just couldn't make the same mistakes twice."

As I chatted with Jack, I reminded him of one of my favorite stories in his book, a night when he and and a small group of Disneyland employees (including future Disney Legends Marty Sklar and Milt Albright), performed chants and tribal dances in front of a group of stunned Disneyland Hotel conventioneers as "The Fantastic Lindquist Indian Show" (don't ask--read the book). There would be no second performance. Of the cultural extravaganza, Jack just smiled to me and said, "We worked hard and we played hard."

Me with current Disneyland president,
George Kalogridis. There may be bacon
on the table behind us.
The surprise guest of the morning was current Disneyland president, George Kalogridis. Originally expected to just give a brief introduction of Jack and leave, George instead spent more than an hour at ESPN Zone talking to fans and signing autographs. Like any good Disney cast member, George wore his name badge (like we weren't going to know who he was), which had his hometown of Winter Haven, Florida printed on it. Being a one-time Orlando resident myself, George and I talked briefly about living in Florida (he began his Disney career as a busboy at Walt Disney World's Contemporary Resort) and my own near miss of working for Disney (during high school, I was offered a job in the Main Street Ice Cream shop--I turned it down to take a job closer to home).

Note to future Disneyland presidents: If you're going to score points with the public, this is how you do it. George Kalogridis is a very busy man--billion-dollar expansions of Disney California Adventure will do that to you--and yet, he still found time to a honor a predecessor at a private event and talk directly with fans. In my copy of Jack's book, George wrote, "Thanks for your love of Disneyland." He means it. He exudes a type of sincerity and charm that is rare among corporate executives, not just those at Disney. He hasn't forgotten his humble beginnings at the Contemporary. He's one of us, a Disney fan who enjoys talking about what he loves to do.

Props to Dusty Sage, Indiana Jenn and all the fine folks at MiceChat for organizing this event. Over the weekened, MiceChat marked its sixth anniversary as the premiere news and messaging website for Disney fans. Here's to many more years of success.

And thanks for the bacon. It was awesome!

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