Sunday, June 2, 2019

fiddle about

My love of all things Disney is no secret. This story, however, is about my love of small things Disney.

After many trips to the Walt Disney World Resort just outside of Orlando, Florida, my family and I decided to check out Walt's original theme park on the west coast. Of course the Pincus family doesn't do anything in a normal way. We headed to Southern California by way of Las Vegas, spending three days in Sin City before driving four hours across the Mojave Desert to Anaheim.

Friends told us that we would be disappointed by Disneyland as compared to Walt Disney World. The California version is small and quaint, they warned. You'll be bored after a day. They were wrong. We fell in love just moments after stepping through the entrance gates. There is something homey and warm about Disneyland that doesn't exist in Walt Disney World. Sure, we love Disney World, but it seems so big and sprawling and corporate. (Yeah, I know. That sounds silly. Disney exudes "corporate!") Planning a vacation to Walt Disney World is little like planning to lead troops into battle. You must have a preconceived strategy, a game plan, a proposal for attack. There is no down time! Move, move, move! No time for relaxation! There's Dole Whip to eat and singing pirates to see! Disneyland didn't seem like that... at least to me... at least in 2004. The first thing I noticed, as we approached a familiar-looking Main Street USA, was The Main Street Cinema was actually showing movies. In Walt Disney World, The Main Street Cinema had long been transitioned into another gift shop selling the same Disney trinkets as every other shop on Main Street. Disneyland had open areas with benches and beautifully landscaped shrubbery. And not just in one little place near the forecourt of Sleeping Beauty Castle. There were little shady spots throughout the park. Secluded quiet places with a bench or two taking up precious real estate that, in Florida, would have someone hawking membership in the Disney Vacation Club upon it. Disneyland, on the other hand, is a place that folks who live in the surrounding area can just wake up in the morning and say "Hey! Let's go to Disneyland!" Just pure spontaneity with no planning whatsoever. After a day of observing the little touches of thoughtful detail, my family was in agreement that Disneyland seemed closer to Walt's original idea of a theme park.

Our last trip to Disneyland was in 2011. Things began to change a short time after, with a big push for big change over the past few years. It worked, too. Park attendance has increased.... by three million annually.

Your time is up.
As I write this, it is the eve of Disneyland opening one of its most ambitious expansions. After three years of secretive construction, Disneyland will unveil the much-anticipated "Galaxy's Edge," a 14-acre immersive land based on the beloved and lucrative "Star Wars" movie franchise (which Disney purchased the rights to in 2012). Much speculation, rumor and excitement has filled the Disney-loving community since groundbreaking on the project took place. As opening day drew closer, Disney began to issue reservations for admission. Due to anticipated popularity, guests will be limited to a four-hour visit during the first month of operation. Those who fail to comply with the time limitations will be escorted out of Galaxy's Edge by storm troopers straight out of the film series. (I kid you not!) Along with the enveloping experience, Disney is selling custom light sabers for two hundred dollars, custom "droids" for ninety-nine dollars and, if you get thirsty, Oga's Cantina will set you up with a rum-laced "Yub Nub" in a souvenir glass for forty-two bucks. Disney is poised to make gajillions.

But that's not what this story is about. This story is about the little touches at Disneyland. The things that Disney does so well and go relatively unnoticed by the theme-park going masses. Stuff that Disney doesn't have to do, but does anyway, because its part of the "magic" that Disney prides itself on providing. The kind of things that make Disney Disney and sets them apart from other theme parks. Sure, the big thrill rides are what draws the crowds and whips up excitement. But, the little one-on-one interactions are just as important and often much more memorable. So, as Disneyland excitedly gears up for the reveal of Black Spire Outpost on the planet Batuu, it waves a tearful goodbye to one of those little pieces of "magic" — Farley the Fiddler

Have fun.
Farley the Fiddler was one of those special added touches that brought a smile to guests' faces as they strolled the wooden-plank walkways of Frontierland. At near hourly intervals, Farley — a tall, lanky fellow decked out in full Western regalia — would stand outside of the Pioneer Mercantile, draw a rosined bow across his weather-patinaed fiddle and delight the small crowds that would gather. He would play some classic cowboys tunes, He would perform a few cool tricks with a lariat. He would even tell a few corny jokes in the trademark Disney vein. Of course, he'd pose for pictures, too. Sometimes, Farley would hand out stickers as a free souvenir. (Wow! Something free at Disneyland!) Farley did this on a daily basis  (with a few days off here and there) for nearly a quarter of a century. Just this past Monday — Memorial Day 2019 — Farley the Fiddler hoed his last down and hooted his last nanny. After seven shows a day for twenty-three years, Farley the Fiddler called it a career.

Farley the Fiddler
My family and I stumbled upon Farley the same way most guests do — by accident. We were shopping (browsing) in the Pioneer Mercantile, scanning the merchandise and marveling at the detail of the displays and fixtures (as we do in most Disneyland gift shops), when we heard sweet fiddle music just outside the far entrance. We walked outside and right into the middle of a Farley afternoon front-porch performance. He offered a wide, friendly smile and gave us a nod, tilting his Stetson in our direction, never once interrupting the bright, cheerful tune emanating from his fiddle. He chatted with us and other guests between songs and rope tricks, peppering his banter with some groan-worthy cowboy puns. ("I get a lot of fringe benefits," he said, gesturing to his decorated buckskin vest.) He'd politely excuse himself at the timed conclusion of his set and let everyone know when he'd return. Then, he'd nonchalantly disappear behind a cast member door, like all the other Disneyland cast members.

We made sure we stopped to see Farley on subsequent visits year after year. While searching the internet for more information, I found a blog post from 2015 written by a woman about the fun she and her children had with Farley the Fiddler. I even left a comment on the post to let her know she was not alone and to express my admiration of Farley.

Farley's retirement is bittersweet. I know that the next time I go to Disneyland, Farley won't be fiddling on the porch at the Pioneer Mercantile. I know, instead, that the queue to ride "Millennium Falcon: Smuggler's Run" will probably wind down to where Farley spun that rope and cracked a few silly one-liners. But, that's progress... I suppose.

I hope they still have a couple of benches.

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