When young David Ackert took a job at Walt Disney World in 1975, he figured that he'd stay for a few months, maybe a year, to enjoy the Florida weather and the novelty of the new theme park. He never expected to be in the "mousetrap" for 40 years. But that's what happened. In as a young man, out as a retiree.
In those 40 years, Ackert went from taking tickets at the TTC to watching over dogs at the Disney kennel to helping open EPCOT and then finally to working at The Great Movie Ride and Star Tours in the new Disney-MGM Studios (when it actually was a film studio!).
Ackert's adventures and exploits include:
If you're beneath the ears yourself, or thinking about it, Ackert's book will open your eyes to the highs and lows of a life spent working for the Mouse.
1The Odyssey Begins
2Day One of Many
3Here Comes the Fairy Boat
4The Ins and Outs of Ticket-Taking
5Is There Life After Midnight?
6Life Outside the Magic Kingdom
7Adventures in a Cubicle
8Celebrity Sightings and Encounters
9Going to the Dogs
12Welcome to the Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow
13Experiencing the Wild Side of Disney
15More Stars than in Heaven
16Star Tours: The Final Frontier
17The Beginning of the End
18The Final Rodeo
First of all, I would like to explain the “40 Years” in the book’s title. The mathematicians and perfectionists among you will point out that there are not 40 years between my hire date of March 1975 and my retirement date of May 2014. And they would be right—it’s only 39 years and 5 months. But if I stuck to the facts, the title of my book just wouldn’t sound right, would it? Jules Verne didn’t name his novel, 19 Thousand 9 Hundred and 94 Leagues under the Sea.
Of course not!
So on that matter I am indeed taking some “poetic license”. However, I can assure you that other than this slight detour into fiction, everything else within these pages is true and based on real incidents, just as I experienced them.
If anyone had told me that in 1975 I would be spending the next 40 years of my life saddled with a mouse, I would have said they were plain crazy. I never thought it would last beyond a year. It certainly wasn’t my original intention, that’s for sure. I was in my mid-twenties and looking for something new, fun, and exciting. How that year managed to stretch to almost four decades is a mystery to me. Me and a mouse. And not just any mouse; we’re talking Mickey Mouse!
Disney has always been a “first name” company. For that reason, the friends and co-workers who were such an important part of my experience are identified here by their first names. I thank them sincerely for being a part of my life. I still have many friends from my days at Disney, and I hope I still have them after they read my book.
So, if you are ready, let’s get in our time machine and travel back to the spring of 1975. A time of bell-bottom pants, mullet haircuts, and disco. A primitive time, before personal computers and the internet. A time devoid of iPhones and Xboxes. When the video game Space Invaders ruled the world. Put on your mouse ears and join me as my Disney story unfolds.
Let the adventure begin!
David G. Ackert was born and raised in Kingston, New York, an area he still loves and considers home. He studied commercial art at Duchess Community College, where he also became interested in photography. Film-making has always been one of his passions and by his early teens he had written and directed several amateur film productions. He is an avid autograph collector and his collection over the years has grown to nearly 300 celebrities. His other hobbies include nature photography, wine-making, and hiking.
With his recent retirement from Walt Disney World after 40 years, he plans to devote much of his time to his greatest interest, writing.
The life of a ticket-taker at Walt Disney World surprisingly has its thrills.
At this time we were still selling individual ride tickets inside the park. There was a booth located in each land of the park, including one inside the Main Street train station. The train station booth was a favorite of everyone’s, mainly because no one even knew it was there. You were lucky if you sold 10 or 12 tickets during your entire shift. Reading a good book was almost mandatory for the seller in this booth. Everyone knew it, too. Often one of our managers would approach your booth, just to ask what book you were reading today.
On the opposite spectrum was the Penny Arcade. Here was action a-plenty. All day long, give me change, give me change. I would see the same couple of kids. They would start off with a forty or a fifty dollar bill and end up with peanuts by the end of the day. It was like their parents said, “Hey, kid, take this and scram. I don’t want to see you until supper time.” There were two things bad about the arcade: the sound of buzzers and bells throughout the day plus a truly terrible costume, an old-time barbershop quartet outfit complete with a garter on the sleeve.
The second worst booth was in Liberty Square. Again, the costume was horrid: flared shirt sleeves, knee socks, and shoes with buckles on them. The rather interesting thing about this booth had to do with the way the air-conditioning vent inside was positioned. It had the tendency to make money fly out of, or fly into, the change slot in the window. It was fun watching the guest scrambling after their money. Located between the Haunted Mansion and the Hall of Presidents, the booth was a little hard to find. It also made for some interesting questions from guests. It was always amazing to hear them ask, “What time is the 3 o’clock parade?” Scott tells me he once had a guest ask him where “The Haunted Whorehouse of the Presidents” was located. Good times.
The Adventureland booth was pretty good to work at. It kept you busy selling those E tickets. The worst part was the noise factor. To the right you had these wooden totems and their built-in speakers with bongos and congas blaring out of them. To the left was the Tiki Hut, with an automated toucan screaming in a screechy voice, “Come to the Tiki Hut, come to the Tiki Hut” or “I blew a fuse, I blew a fuse,” over and over again. On the plus side, you would have an excellent view of fireworks at night.
My favorite was the Fantasyland booth. It was busy, but not too overwhelming, and there was always a lot to see. Plus, I had two rather interesting incidents happen while I was selling at this location. One summer day I was watching some of our famous costumed Disney characters mingling with the guests. Everyone was having a jolly ol’ time. Suddenly, the penguin from Mary Poppins (does he have a name? If he does, I don’t know it) approached my booth. He waved at me and then proceeded to put his beak through the speaker hole in my window. How cute, how amusing. The guests all loved it. “Look, mommy, that silly penguin has his bill inside that man’s window!” Yeah, it was real funny, alright, until the penguin pulled his beak out. And took my whole window with it!
So, there was this stupid penguin with my window on his beak and me suddenly windowless, with a couple of thousand dollars worth of tickets exposed to the elements. It felt very strange to be so suddenly unprotected and so exposed to everyone and everything. I made a phone call saying that a penguin had stolen my window, which was not easily believed by many. An hour later I had a replacement made of plywood in front of me and it was business as usual.
Yet another incident that I will always remember occurred in this booth. It was near closing and the park was beginning to clear out. My friend Paul had somehow managed to become a lead. He was sitting at the back of the booth waiting to close me out when from the darkness a teenage girl approached my window to buy tickets. As I was trying to complete this girl’s order and give back her change, I heard Paul proclaim from behind me, “Man, look at the boobs on her.” I could have died. I tried my best to ignore him and hoped that it would be the end of it. But no, he further declared, “Wow! She has got a really terrific rack on her. Just perfect.” While the poor girl seemed strangely detached from about it all, I was absolutely livid.
As soon as she left I turned on Paul and shouted,”What’s wrong with you? Are you crazy? Are you trying to get us fired?” Paul assured me that the girl couldn’t possibly have heard anything he said. I told him that was a bunch of bullshit and told him to go outside the booth and stand exactly where the girl had stood. He did. I then went to the back of the booth to where Paul had been. With my voice volume at the same level, I repeated everything he had said. He came back into the booth and I said, “Well?” He grimaced. “Dave, I heard every word.” I knew it.
Another interesting incident happened while I was selling tickets in the Tomorrowland booth. At this time the Skyway was still operating. The Skyway was an aerial ore-bucket type ride that transported guests from Tomorrowland to Fantasyland, and vice-versa. Guests were always throwing things or spitting on the people below them. But on this particular day it was much, much worse.
Guests were complaining that there was some guy on the Skyway stripping off his clothes and throwing them down upon the people. Great, a naked man on the Skyway! It would be interesting to see how Disney would handle this situation. We all knew the guy would be getting off the ride at the Space Mountain exit. I soon saw two, four, six, almost twelve security people hustle into the building. Still more of them came running from the Fantasyland side. Ten minutes went by.
Then out of the building burst a living ball of humanity. The security folks had all linked their arms and formed three moving rings. In the center of these three rings was our naked man. They were really moving and within a few minutes this strange formation of humanity had vanished behind the closest employee gate and was out of view.
Not once was the culprit or his nudity seen by other park guests. I thought it was magnificently handled. While I don’t know what happened to the naked guy, I heard rumors that he might have been an AWOL soldier trying to prove he was unfit for service.
Continued in "40 Years in a Mousetrap"!
In which our hero is left to spend the night on a dark Monorail.
In those days there was no such thing as direct deposit, so it was necessary to pick up your paycheck each week. Depending on your work location, checks would be brought to a centralized area. About a month into my job at the TTC, I discovered that my paycheck was accidentally left behind and was still at MO-7, in the Magic Kingdom. I really was desperate for that paycheck and I knew that I could still pick it up if I got to MO-7 before midnight. As luck would have it, my shift ended at 11:30 pm, which would give me exactly half an hour to get across that damn lagoon to get it. No problem, I’ll take the monorail. I could tell by the exit flow that very few guests remained in the park, so I made certain to ask the attendant if the next monorail was indeed going to the Magic Kingdom. When he said “yes”, I climbed inside, he closed the door, and off we went.
Other than the operator, who was three cars ahead of me, I was the only one on board. Quite a strange feeling to be riding in a dimly lit, completely empty monorail. Just after passing through the beautiful and brightly lit lobby of the Contemporary Hotel, the monorail came to a dead stop. For over five minutes we just sat there in silence. This was not normal. In my gut I knew that this was really, really bad!
When we finally began to move again, my worst fears were realized. I had been kidnapped! They had changed tracks and I was NOT going to the Magic Kingdom after all. We were instead going far behind the park to what is called the Roundhouse. This is where the monorails and the Disney steam trains are taken at the end of the day for maintenance. We silently and slowly pulled into this huge facility that was completely alien to me. The monorail came to a stop. I heard a door close shut and I knew that the operator had left the vehicle. Would he be coming to let me out? Then I discovered to my horror that not only was I trapped, but that I was also suspended some twenty feet in the air. There was no platform, no stairs, and no way of escape for me. I couldn’t open the door and I didn’t see any emergency door that I could open, and even if I did, would I really want to jump twenty feet? It was so dark in that car, and the building was also dark and seemed deserted. There was no one in sight. I remained in this predicament for almost a half hour, resigning myself to having to spend the entire night in the monorail, when I saw a door open and a few lights come on. I caught a glimpse of a man below. I tried knocking on the window, which only resulted in me hurting my hand. I am ashamed to say this, but I didn’t even know how to open the damn window. It took me ten minutes just to figure that out. When I finally did get it open, I found myself a bit too embarrassed to yell for help. After two wimpy little “helps”, I finally bellowed out, “Hello down there!” The man finally heard me and began looking everywhere but up. I waved and yelled down once more. When the man finally spotted me, his facial expression was a strange mix of surprise and a bit of anger. Maybe I was disturbing his lunch?
Without a word he shook his head in disbelief and walked off into the shadows. Several minutes passed and nothing happened. I thought he had deserted me when suddenly the whole area was flooded with light. The man appeared once more, this time pushing out a cart of some sort with a ladder attached to it.
He managed to get the top of this ladder near the window I was yelling from and he soon started climbing up toward me. I lost sight of him, but soon heard this harsh voice say, “Stay clear of the door, I’m gonna open it!” There was a pop and the monorail door opened to dead space—nothing but blackness and open air. I froze. Even after I heard him say that I could come down now, I still just froze. Was he serious? I slowly looked out over the edge of the open door and downward. To my horror, I saw a two-foot-wide ladder inclined at a steep 80 degree angle going down twenty feet to the ground. I suffer from a bit of vertigo and the whole situation sent a wave of fear through me that I have seldom ever experienced in my life. He kept yelling for me to come on down and I just kept hesitating.
After five “Our Fathers” and seven “Hail Marys”, I finally made some movement toward the ladder. Once positioned on the top of the ladder, I decided to close my eyes and sort of feel my way down. With sweat pouring down my forehead like Niagara Falls, I put one foot on the step, then the other foot on the step. I repeated that cycle for what seemed an eternity, until there were no more steps. I was drenched in sweat, but I had made it. My rescuer seemed rather mad at me. “How the hell did you manage to get yourself up there?” he said harshly. “Hey, it wasn’t my idea, some idiot at TTC told me that this monorail was going to the Magic Kingdom!” Apparently still perturbed at me, he just shook his head and walked off, leaving me to find my own way out of the damn building. After escaping the roundhouse and walking through the entire Magic Kingdom, I managed to catch the last monorail back to the parking lot to the safe haven of my car.
Needless to say, I never did get my paycheck that night.
Continued in "40 Years in a Mousetrap"!