Sunday, January 29, 2012

Travels with Friends and Family

I've had a bit of an extravagant December/January. My original plan was to go to Orlando to spend Christmas with Father Dan and Marilyn. Then my sister and mom--who usually do a January trip with the kids--decided to invite me and my brother-in-law. Then someone got the notion to do a reunion for Disney's Dixie Landings Resort (now Port Orleans Riverside) because we were coming up on the 20th anniversary of the hotel opening February 2, 1992. So I've had a trip to Orlando every two weeks since late December. I could get used to this, but it does make me to move back there. Difficult to do when there aren't a lot of jobs for whatever my particularly odd skill set. Anyhow, this blog is just a rundown of my most recent journey, the Dixie reunion. Enjoy or not, as you see fit.

Dixie Landings Reunion Weekend
This was one reunion I didn't mind or dread attending (unlike, say, my high school reunion five years ago). I was happy in Orlando. Okay, I hated the front desk job, as I began to learn after several months of dealing with the public that I was less extroverted than I thought. But once I allowed myself to get to know my peers on the job, I found that I really liked them. We were all in our early to mid-20s, enjoying the benefits of being Disney Cast Members, and (oh yes) drinking and partying quite a bit. We hung out quite a bit after work, if only to vent about the guests--Cast Members are not robots, after all, and people on vacation can get a little demanding. 

I wasn't much better at socializing then than I am now. Maybe a little more fearless about introducing myself, but even back then I'd reach a magical limit, usually about two hours, and then I'd have enough socializing at a party or whatever and skedaddle. Anyhow, when someone decided that a Dixie Landings Front Desk (hereafter DLFD) reunion would be a good idea, I didn't hesitate to sign up, even though it meant a third Orlando trip within six weeks. (Orlando? In January? Ooo, twist my arm.) We did a happy hour Friday and a larger gathering on Saturday.

I think the reason we all grew so close was that we suffer--er, served together. You learn to get along pretty quickly in an environment where you could average 700 check-ins and 700 check-outs in a day for a 2,048-room Disney hotel (worst day I can recall: 1,200 checkouts, 800 check-ins). The alternative is to have some serious shouting matches, which happened occasionally as well. We learned to find our own ways to cope with a high-volume guest service environment where the expectations were high, and everyone had to be treated the "Disney way."

So what's it like to hang out with these people 20 years later? Again, contrasting it with a high school reunion, it was just much more comfortable. It wasn't formal, we gathered in a couple bars--for happy hour, at the Dixie lobby bar; for the reunion, at a saloon owned by a couple of former Dixie bellmen. Dress was casual, and so was the conversation. A lot of us noted that the gatherings weren't very different from any of the parties we had while working together. Conversation came easy, mostly catching up on what everyone had been doing. There wasn't all the posing or proving-something that I seemed to be doing at my high school reunion. Just a bunch of friends hanging out. Perfect.

We even had a few of the managers show up. Again, it was a team. As a friend who was not there (but who was getting regular picture updates as the weekend progressed), "we're all a little grayer, fuller, wrinklier." I certainly felt that way, but a couple peers said, that I "looked like a grownup," which I suppose is a good thing. I had a much more youthful face and much darker hair, as well as quite a bit less mass. But I didn't feel exceptionally self-conscious about it. I was there to find out how people were doing, not how they looked. Of course, that said, that doesn't mean I recognized everyone. If I didn't, it was mostly because I didn't work with the person that much.

The only challenge with large events like this is that you don't get a lot of one-on-one time asking detailed or personal questions than you might ask in a general gathering. I'll probably have more people to follow up with or visit next time I go down to O-town. And another "challenge" for me is that my introvert's aversion to crowds means that I come out of these gatherings very tired. I did get some side time with my closest friends--the ones I've stayed in contact with more regularly over the last 20 years, but I could only see so many people before I found the urge to take a drive or a walk somewhere quiet. 

For instance, the happy hour at the Dixie bar was fine for me until the nightly entertainer guy showed up, over-the-top loud and very into audience participation: anathema to the introvert. When I finally hit my limit, I went to the bar, ordered a drink, and took a walk. When the bartender pointed out that our table had a server, I said, "Look, I'm not trying to stiff the server, I just needed to get away from that d@mned noise." I'm fun/fine in a group setting, up to a point, but when it's time to go, it's time to go, and I won't be terribly apologetic about defending my desire for quiet. That's something I learned while working at Dixie: how to take care of myself socially, as an adult. I grew up a lot and learned a lot with this group of people, and it was a pleasure to see them again. I didn't mind them seeing who I'd become.

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