Theme park cast member stories: When VIPs go MIA
By Robert NilesIf you spend enough time at a major theme park like those at Walt Disney World, you're going to meet some celebrities. As I wrote a couple weeks back, I once watched a showing of the Country Bear Jamboree next to George Lucas at the Magic Kingdom. I made change for Dustin Hoffman at the Shootin' Arcade, loaded Michael Jackson and his entourage onto a boat at Pirates of the Caribbean, and watched a young Alexa Ray Joel play with a couple fellow cast members while her dad, Billy, and his band rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
Published: May 17, 2009 at 11:14 PM
But my favorite celebrity story appeals to the political science major in me. One late night at Pirates, about an hour before close, I was working as the lead, hanging out in tower talking about who knows what. (Tower is the position up above the loading docks where a cast member dispatches the boats into the attraction and watched the cameras that monitor the ride. Don't worry, I've got plenty of um, interesting, security camera stories for future posts.)
The cast member working load calls me on the intercom: "Um, there's a VIP hostess here who's looking for the VIP corridor."
At Pirates, like at many other attractions, we had a VIP, or "back door," entrance through which tour guides could bring through celebrities and other individuals whom Disney management allowed to bypass the regular queue. But rarely did VIP tours come through after 10pm. And when they did, the tour host usually knew better than to bother with the VIP entrance. If there's no one in the regular queue, what's the point of skipping it?
I suspect that Mindy McClueless, though, had been told to take her charges through the VIP entrance, so, dadgum it, that's what she was going to do.
If only she had known where it was.
So I walked down the steps to the queue and met the hostess, figuring that I'd just direct them to go ahead and get into one of the empty boats we were cycling through the ride. But as soon as I got to her, I found that wasn't going to work.
"Hi, I'm Robert," I said to her, noticing that something important was missing from the scene. "Uh... so where's your VIP?"
"Oh, he got tired of walking. So he's sitting on a bench back in the queue."
Now, I never trained as a VIP host, but I'm pretty sure that the one thing you weren't supposed to do was leave your VIP in a public area while you wandered off. So I started, briskly, walking up the queue.
"Perhaps we should find him then," I said to her, doing my Disney best to avoid adding, "you idiot."
We turned three corners, and there, sitting with his wife in the middle of an empty Pirates of the Caribbean queue was Jacques Chirac, the then-mayor of Paris and former prime minister of France, whom I knew from my poli sci classes at Northwestern was tipped by many to be the next President of France (which he did become in 1995).
"Bonjour, Monsieur Chirac," I said to him, having no idea if this was appropriate - either diplomatically or grammatically. But, hey, the guy ran a NATO country and was sitting in my queue. I figured it rude not to suck up and say hi.
He stood up to shake my hand, responding in French, so I had to fess up.
"Uh, that's all the French I know. Sorry. Would you like to follow me onto the ride?"
Ignoring Mindy McClueless, I swept my arm toward the passageway, in the direction of the loading platform, and started walking. The Chiracs followed, with Mindy trailing. The Chiracs chatted between themselves, in French, a conversation that I imagined went something like:
"Ah, I am so impressed by this intelligent young man! What an excellent leader he will be someday!"
But, probably, went something more like:
"Who the hell are Mickey and Minnie McClueless here, and why does it take both of them to get us on a friggin' empty amusement park ride? EuroDisney is so going to blow, by the way."
In the comments, please share your favorite personal encounter with a celebrity in a theme park.
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