Luke learns that you'll never please everyone.
|Things calmed down, relatively, following our trip to Shanghai. Things are never actually calm at Disney, especially for the man in charge. I guess you could say that the job settled somewhat into a routine for a few months. You meet with the Imagineers on this day, merchandising on that day and so on.
I’m trying to stick to the big exciting stuff that happened as I write this. So, I think the next major thing that happened after Shanghai began in a very unassuming meeting with Disney Parks, including head Imagineers. Every time we had one of these meetings from the time I started attending up until this first meeting after Shanghai, California Adventure had been mentioned in one way or another. Usually trying to figure out the next way to improve the park. Well, a big one was proposed that day.
At this point, in 2016, the current tactic employed by Disney regarding its parks was to cram as many IPs into the parks as possible. And, at the time, Marvel was exploding with no signs of slowing down. As such, Marvel was a prime candidate for theme park expansion. While Florida had all the space you could ever want for such an expansion, it wasn’t possible. There was an agreement between Disney and Universal prohibiting Disney from using any Marvel properties in their Florida parks, since Universal Studios Orlando already had a Marvel themed area.
So, the decision really wasn’t whether or not to bring more Marvel to Disneyland, but where to put it. Considering the lack of available space in Anaheim, to put a Marvel attraction in one of the parks, something else would have to go. That’s a very tricky decision to make, especially at Disneyland. Being the original Disney park, even with California Adventure, people tend to get very upset when you mess with it. We spent the rest of the meeting looking at maps of both parks, discussing the pros and cons of various sites for potential Marvel takeover. A decision wasn’t made in that meeting, but we managed to create a shortlist from which to decide. Star Wars Launch Bay, California Screamin’, Tower of Terror, and pretty much any part of the backlot was all at risk of a takeover.
I couldn’t wait to get home that night to talk to Eric about what was in the works.
“So, how was work today?” He asked when I got home.
“We got something pretty big started today in our routine Parks meeting.” I told him.
“Am I allowed to know about it yet?”
“As long as you don’t tell anyone.”
“Cross my heart.”
“So, in the near future, Marvel will have an increased presence at Disneyland, and something is going to have to go to make room for it.”
“No way. What’s getting shut down?”
“We didn’t decide today. But we have a shortlist.”
“And what’s on this shortlist?”
“Launch Bay, Screamin, Tower of Terror, and the backlot.”
“Can it not be Screamin or Tower of Terror?”
“We’ll see.” I said. “We gave the shortlist to the Imagineers and they’re coming back with their recommendation next week”
“You know those are the two that people would be the most upset about.”
“Oh. I know.” I agreed. “But, it’s really the Imagineers’ call. We only get to sign off on it.”
The following week, I was very anxious to find out what the Imagineers were going to propose. As we gathered for the meeting, I noticed that the guys from Parks seemed pretty nervous and I was worried about what was about to be proposed to us.
Dan got the meeting started and we launched right into what we left off with the week prior. Joe Rohde lead the proposal and began boldly with what they believed was the right attraction to replace, Tower of Terror. I’m not sure if my mouth physically dropped open or not, but I was stunned by the choice. Changing one of the most popular attractions in the park would ruffle quite a few feathers.
They made a very eloquent argument in defense of their decision. It left us with very little choice but to accept it and move forward on the project. We moved on in the meeting to discuss which Marvel franchise would fit the attraction the best. As a part of their proposal, the attraction wouldn’t be torn down. It would merely be re-themed.
“So, you seemed a little distracted in there.” Dan said as we left the meeting. “Everything okay?”
“Yea, I guess so.” I told him. “I just realized that this is the first decision that I’m involved with that’s going to make a lot of people really upset.”
“Oh. Yea. That’ll happen a lot.” He admitted. “Use this project to figure out how you’ll deal with it.”
“Thanks, that’s good advice.”
On my way home from work that day I realized I wouldn’t have to wait very long to encounter the first person upset by the news. Eric would not be happy to find out the Imagineers’ decision, and he would be asking me as soon as I walked through the door.
“So? What’s getting the axe?” He asked, practically tackling me in the doorway.
“You’re not going to like it.” I warned him.
“Oh no. Seriously?”
“It’s, uh, it’s Tower of Terror.” I said sheepishly.
“Nooooooo!” He yelled. “Why?”
“The Imagineers landed on it because The Twilight Zone isn’t a contemporary franchise anymore and there’s a little room behind it for some possible expansion.” I explained.
“Well, what kind of ride is it going to be?” Eric asked.
“Oh, the ride is going to be the same. It’s still a drop tower, it’s just getting a Marvel skin.”
“I guess that helps.”
“Well, this went just about exactly the way I thought it would.”
“Hey man, you knew people would be pissed, right?”
“Yea. And I knew you would be one.”
The next day at work, Dan and I had lunch together as we tended to do. This particular day, we took a bit of an extended lunch and had an impromptu mentoring session.
“So, I know I’m going need to thicken my skin when people get upset, but it was so hard to disappoint Eric like that last night. Do you have any advice for dealing with that?”
“I mean, it’s always going to be more difficult when it comes from friends and family. So, I guess my advice is take as much of it as you can from them before it comes from the strangers.”
Uncle Dan had been very helpful in showing me the ropes of the job, but that advice kind of left something to be desired. So, after work I decided to stop at Disneyland. I got into the park and made a hard left to the firehouse.
“Hey Walt, do you have a minute?” I called out as I sat down on the couch.
“Sure thing, Luke. What’s on your mind?”
“So, we’re closing Tower of Terror and changing it to be Marvel themed and I know tons of people are going to be really upset about it. We haven’t announced it yet, so I’ve only gotten feedback from my friend Eric and he is very unhappy about it. I thought it would be no problem to deal with some negative feedback, but it was so hard to let down my friend like that.”
“Ah, yes. That’s tough to experience for the first time. But, you just have to take it as it comes. The only way it gets easier is as you get more of it.”
“That’s what I was afraid of.”
“Luke, you can’t let yourself get overly concerned with how everyone feels about every little thing you do. Nothing you do will ever make 100% of people happy. If you let the naysayers dictate everything you do, you will never make any progress. Remember that.”
“Thanks Walt. You’re right, as always.”
“Also, remember, Disneyland is designed to always be evolving and most people are resistant to change.”
Things developed very quickly as our meetings with Parks and Imagineering saw the plans for the attraction evolve. It was early on that Guardians of the Galaxy was chosen as the Marvel property to take over the attraction. From there story ideas developed and eventually it was time to plan the announcement. We decided that we could get away with an announcement through the Parks Blog. The article went up a couple days after our meeting.
“Did you see the Parks blog today?” I asked Eric when I got home.
“No. What happened?” He asked.
“The announcement went up. The world officially knows the fate of the Tower.”
“Oh boy. You ready for that?”
“Too late now. I haven’t looked at any comments yet, I’m too scared.”
“Just do it, man. Like a band aid.”
“Not that, you’ll never guess who just messaged me.”
“Stephanie? Like, your girlfriend from high school Stephanie?”
Stephanie was my first love, my first girlfriend. She was the best. Everything seemed perfect between us. But, we went to different colleges in different towns hundreds of miles apart. After a while we realized that our long-distance thing wasn’t working and mutually ended things. We stayed “friends” but hadn’t spoken for months before that night. So, it seemed very out of the blue to suddenly get a message from her.
“Hi Luke, it’s Stephanie. How are you?” I read the text out loud to Eric.
“‘How are you?’ out of the blue? After all these years?” He commented.
“I know. I wonder why.”
“She doesn’t know about your sudden career change, does she?” He asked.
“I don’t think so.”
“Are you going to respond?”
“I guess so.” I said. “I just said, ‘I’m good, how are you?’”
She didn’t take long at all to reply, and she dropped a big surprise in her reply.
“Umm… I don’t believe this.” I said.
“What? What did she say?” Eric wanted to know.
“She, uh, she just moved to LA.” I told him.
“No she did not.”
“That’s what she said.”
“Well, you gotta meet up with her!” Eric encouraged.
“I don’t know, man. Don’t you think it would be awkward?” I asked. “Things were pretty much ended between us.”
“Dude, she wouldn’t have texted you if she didn’t see some potential in the future of your relationship.” He reasoned.
I kept texting her after Eric talked me into it. She had gotten a job in the city, which was why she was suddenly in LA. Wasting no time, I set up a “date” (I didn’t know what to call it at that point) with her for the following Friday night. It was Wednesday night when she texted me.
“What’s on your mind, Luke?” Dan asked the next day at work. “You seem distracted.”
“I unexpectedly heard from my ex-girlfriend last night.” I told him.
“Oh boy. Yup, that can sure throw you off.”
“Apparently she just moved to the area and now she wants to meet up.” I explained.
“Wow. How did things end?” He inquired.
“I mean, things only ended because distance made things too hard.”
“Are you going to get together with her?”
“Yea. I have a date with her tomorrow night.”
“Wow. Why don’t you take the day off tomorrow?” Dan suggested.
“Of course! Plus, if you’re this distracted today, you’ll probably be useless tomorrow.” He said with a smile.
“So, what are you and Stephanie going to do tonight?” Eric asked the morning of that date.
“I told her we would get dinner in downtown Disney and go to Disneyland.”
“That’s nice. Your first road trip together was to Disneyland right?”
“Yea. She tried to tell me that I shouldn’t spend that much money on a second first date. I told her not to worry about it.”
“So, she really doesn’t know?”
“No. And I want to tell her in person tonight.”
Being the first time we had seen each other in several years, we agreed to meet each other in downtown Disney. Let the record show, the second I saw her walking toward me gave me the same feeling as the first time I ever saw her back in high school.
“Luke!” She called out as she ran the last few feet to me.
“Hi!” I said like a dork as we embraced in a hug.
We went into the restaurant and ordered our drinks and appetizers. We continued to catch up and learn what each other had been up to since we had drifted apart. The whole time I was worried what would happen once I finally told her the path my life was taking.
“Are you ok? It seems like you’re worried about something.” Stephanie eventually mentioned.
“I guess this is as good a time as any. My career path has taken an unexpected skyrocket within the last year.”
“In what way?” She asked.
“So, Dan Brown is my uncle. Like, Disney CEO Dan Brown. And, he has chosen me to replace him as CEO when he retires.” I told her.
“What? Why didn’t you ever mention that when we were dating before?” She asked.
“I had no idea when we were dating.” I told her. “While I was in college I found out that Walt Disney is a distant cousin of mine. Then my parents all of a sudden told me about my uncle Dan who apparently had some big falling out with his family when my mom was a teenager and they never spoke of him again.”
“Wow. So, how did you get in contact with him then?” She asked.
“I wrote a letter to him and sent it to the studio. I honestly never thought I would hear back from him. But, one day there was an unmarked envelope taped to my locker after work at Disneyland. It was from Dan. He had read my letter and wanted to meet me, so I went to his house for dinner. That’s when I met his family and when he told me he wanted me to replace him. So now I’m apprenticing with him full time until he retires, and I take over.” I continued.
As we continued dinner, I finished catching her up on my life and after that she talked about what she had been up to since high school. By the time we were finished eating dinner, it felt like we had never been apart. We even started holding hands again as we walked around Disneyland.
“Hey, have you ever been in Walt’s apartment?” I asked her.
“No, I’ve always wanted to.” She told me.
“Let’s go.” I suggested.
“What? How?” She asked.
“I can get in anywhere around here. Perks of the job.” I told her.
I took her backstage, up to the apartment. We went in and sat down on the couch in the main room.
“I come up here whenever I’m getting really stressed out about something at work. It’s a really good place for me to think clearly.” I told her.
“Wow. That’s a nice thing to have available.” She said.
“Yea. There’s something else too, but, I don’t want you to think I’m weird.” I started to say.
“What? Just tell me.” She encouraged.
“When I’m up here, I get advice from Walt Disney on what I should do.” I confessed.
“I don’t understand.”
“Walt will appear and help me work through whatever dilemma or problem is stressing me out. I know it sounds crazy, but Dan said it happens to him too.”
She did look at me like I was insane. I eventually got her to accept my story. While we were talking about it, I saw Walt just out of sight around the corner keeping an eye on things.
We spent some more time in the apartment just talking about whatever came into our minds. After that, it was getting pretty late, so we decided to wrap up our night. We held hands on the tram back to the parking structure and I walked her to her car. Then, just before she got into her car, I worked up the nerve and kissed her goodnight.
“So, dude, how did it go?” Eric asked when I got home.
“It was perfect.” I told him. “It feels like we never stopped dating.”
“Did you seal the deal?” He asked.
“I kissed her right before she got in her car, and she’s coming over tomorrow night.” I reported.
“Whoa! So, what, are you guys a thing again?” He inquired.
“I think so.” I answered. “We didn’t say it in any certain terms, but it sure feels like it.”
“Good for you, man.”
The following Monday it was back to work. There wasn’t too much going on that particular day, so Dan and I had some extra time to talk about different things. He, of course, wanted to know how my date went and I was happy to give him the full report on that. Then I transitioned into some more work related topics.
“So, when the company announces things like the Guardians re-skin, do you ever look at what people are saying about it? Like, comments on blog posts and stuff?” I asked.
“Well, you’re not likely to get a very accurate idea of how people feel from internet comments.” He advised.
“Yea, I guess that’s true.” I agreed.
“So, I mean, I’m not going to tell you not to look at what people are saying. But, you have to take it with a grain of salt and you can’t let it get you down.”
The following months leading up to the opening of the attraction were very exciting. It was a lot of the behind the scenes stuff about attractions that had always intrigued me, but I’d never been able to see.
We had to sign off on the development of the Rocket animatronic, the Imagineers would outline for us the ways that they were modifying the ride system, the new designs for the interior and exterior of the attraction, all of it. But, as exciting as it was, it was hard to have some things I was forbidden to share with anybody.
As the attraction’s development and construction progressed, so did my renewed relationship with Stephanie. She contacted me pretty early on in the development of the attraction, so our relationship was about the same age. We saw each other almost every night, either at her place or mine if we weren’t on an official date. Time continued to pass, and as the attraction approached its opening day, I was seriously contemplating the idea of proposing to Stephanie.
By that point I was sure I wanted to, but I just didn’t know exactly how I wanted to do it. It had to be special and it had to be at Disneyland. The first place we traveled to together and we’d been having a date night there every week since we had gotten back together. I went back and forth on the idea of doing it the same day as the official opening of the new Guardians ride. Ultimately, I decided to go for it.
I had a lot of responsibility for the opening events for the ride, so I had a nice way to distract myself before I had to pop the question. I snagged VIP passes for Eric and Stephanie, so she was there, but I was backstage making sure everything was going right. And even though I had the event to focus on, I kept checking every 15 seconds to make sure the ring was actually in my pocket.
When the event was over Eric, Stephanie and I were planning on spending the rest of the day in the park. I asked Eric to hang out with us to throw Stephanie off from my plan. But, Eric wasn’t going to spend the whole day with us, and that’s when I was going to make my move.
“Hey guys, I forgot I have some stuff I have to take care of before work tomorrow. I gotta take off.” Eric said after a few hours.
“Oh man, are you sure?” I asked, playing along.
“Yea, I’ll see you at home Luke. See ya later Steph.” He said and turned to walk away.
Now, it would’ve been too obvious to immediately go into the proposal after that. So, I waited a while. We took in a few more rides, and then I decided it was time. The sun was just about to set, and I couldn’t wait any longer. I stopped with her in Fantasyland right in front of the sculpture of Rapunzel’s Tower.
“I love this sculpture, don’t you?” I asked her.
“It’s so beautiful.” She agreed.
While she was looking at the sculpture, I slipped down onto one knee and fished the ring box out of my pocket. A few seconds later, she turned back to me.
“What are you doing?” She asked.
“The sculpture isn’t the most beautiful thing I can see right now.” The cheesiest line I could manage.
“Stop it. What’s happening?” She was starting to freak out.
“You’re the most beautiful thing in Disneyland and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Stephanie, will you marry me?” I finally asked, displaying the ring.
She continued freaking out for a second and then said, “Of course I will!”
I jumped up and embraced her and gave her a loving kiss. Everybody around who had stopped to watch cheered and it was the magical proposal I always knew I would have. Oh yea, Eric also never left. I had him stick around and hide during the proposal and take pictures.
“Congratulations you two!” He said as he emerged from his hiding spot.
“You’re still here?” Stephanie asked.
“Someone had to take pictures.” He said.
“Alright, now get out of here for real.” I told him. “I have a reservation for two at Blue Bayou like right now.”
So, Eric left and Stephanie and I held hands all the way to Blue Bayou, where we sat at a table on the water. We just sat with each other for hours as we talked and watched the boats float through the bayou.