Monday, March 24, 2008

My 24 hours with the Legendary Disney Imagineers! The Finale.

I hope everyone had a nice holiday weekend. I just got over a yucky tummy bug to find baskets full of chocolate eggs tempting me to overindulge. Ugh.

So here we are that the end of my story. At the close of the event, Sam and I drove home in a glorious haze. We couldn't believe how fantastic the evening had been. It was over all too quickly. We had no idea the treasures in store for us the following day when we took the fab four home!

Thankfully, Mr. and Mrs. X 's home was en route to our final destination, which meant Sam and I could travel together and we would not have to split up! Arranging for the transportation before hand was rather tricky and we didn't have a vehicle that would accommodate all of us comfortably. Plus, we knew that it would be a long trip as Harriet and Blaine live a little over 2 hours away. Once we found out that we were taking everyone home, we decided to rent a fancy schmancy mini van and stocked it full of goodies and bottled water for our journey. The other snafu was the fact that Sam and I were unable to pick them up first thing in the morning. Because of this, Mrs. X had to rearrange an appointment, but she said she was happy to do it. We felt so bad.

We picked up the gang at the Grand California just after 1pm and hit the freeway. Our guests were obviously tired, but they all had positive things to say about the event! They were touched by the fans that came to see them and wanted to know more about Since none of them owned a computer, they were unaware that was an internet community of fans of the Haunted Mansion. They were all fascinated to know how we communicated, but mostly impressed that fans had come from all around the country and even across the Atlantic to attend this event.

While driving along, I remembered the generous offer Mrs. X had made the last time she was in my car..the one about letting us see the famous X tombstone. As we approached the house, I feared that maybe the offer had been forgotten. It was if she was reading my mind, because as we pulled into the driveway, she said, "you must see X's tombstone. I didn't forget!" and offered to let us all have a respite at their house, since it was halfway to Harriet and Blaine's. We went inside and visited for some time. We saw X's bar, where I hear he makes a mean martini. We saw the many awards and accolades that adorned his walls. X was very proud of his picture of him and Johnny Depp, from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride rehab. X said that picture made him the coolest grandpa ever!

We were then invited outdoors to see the tombstone. The yard overlooks the most beautiful view of the foothills and that particular day was breathtaking. We took a moment to soak in the sun and the beauty of it all!

We pulled out our cameras for a few pics.. but, in all honesty, we felt kinda weird about it, so we took 3 or 4 pictures and put the cameras away for the rest of the trip. The tombstone was larger than we expected, standing around 3 feet tall.

Harriet, Blaine and X are great friends who spend time together, so hanging out with them at the Atencio house felt easy and comfortable. In fact, Blaine had just celebrated his 90th birthday and they all celebrated at Blaine's the weekend before. The Atencio's were gracious and kind hosts, making us feel right at home and as we left, X offered me hugs and a kiss on the cheek.


I was also very pleased that they were grateful for our service of transporting them, giving me kudos for my driving! All those years transporting foster children in my early 20's paid off! Even Sam conceded the driver's seat to me, which he never does! Thank, honey!

On the road again, just can't, nevermind. Lost my head for a second.
Harriet and Blaine's trip was a lovely drive. Harriet was tired and I was pleased that she felt comfortable enough to rest during most of our trip home. Blaine, on the other hand, has the stamina of bull! He rocks 90 and is the poster child of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and good genes. He entertained us with stories of his sculptures, including The Partners statue in Disneyland. He spoke in a lot of technical, artistic jargon and for once I was thankful for my mother's insistent trips to the museums of modern art. I think I understood most of what he was saying! ;p

Harriet and Blaine live steps away from each other in the most beautiful setting I've ever seen about a mile from the beach. Retirement never looked so good. Our first stop was Harriet's pad, which had just been remodeled. Harriet proudly showed us around her new home, pointing out the vacant areas in the room where her furniture will go once it is delivered. She even showed us her closet! Her excitement over her new place was infectious and we found her to be so charming! We just loved her. We are keeping Harriet in our prayers as she dealing with some medical issues. We pray for her quick recovery.

Since Blaine and Harriet had dinner reservations in an hour, Harriet went to rest and Blaine gave us a tour of his home and surroundings. Blaine's home is filled with the most amazing art pieces from sculptures to paintings. I was in awe. He spent so much time telling us stories about his pieces, my favorite being a series of bronze sculptures of him and his brother and their life on the farm as boys. He shared that he wanted to show to his children and grandchildren his adventures as a child. There were 6 or 7 different scenes from his childhood, which included rolling around in a spare tire, feeding the pigs, and my favorite, Blaine and his dog out hunting, being surprised by a skunk coming out his den. I felt as though I had fallen through some time warp and was actually in the scene with Blaine. I got lost in the details and expressions and emotion he put into each piece. What a wonderful legacy to leave for his family.

There was one other piece that moved me, or rather, stopped me in my tracks! I couldn't tear myself away from it. I wanted to examine every section of this painting by Blaine. The image captured a tender moment of a mother bathing her young child in a wash tub on the kitchen table. I loved everything about this piece - the vibrant colors, the mother's patient and loving expression, her confident hands as she was about to lather up the child's head in a good scrubbing and most of all, the expression of total defeat and disgust on the child's face! I laughed aloud because the child is crying before the mom has even started washing his hair! This picture touched me because I've had that moment many times with my own son.

I asked Blaine if he has ever had an exhibit of his art, outside of Disney. He said that his son is actually working on that prospect right now! How I hope that happens, because I could spend all day enjoying his many pieces. Blaine is a prolific artist, still creating, still teaching and mentoring. Every inch of his walls had paintings and the table surfaces had sculptures and busts of presidents and celebrities. There was so much to look at and take in. It was hard to leave, but when Blaine extended an invitation to show us the property, how could we say no?

Blaine was beaming with pride as he showed his favorite locations on the property. Blaine has an eye for details, and while it could have been very easy to overlook hand-carved doors and 100 year old wrought iron gates in a location filled with many beautiful things, Blaine made sure to point out the details that were meaningful to him. Blaine's benevolent nature was paired perfectly in this artistic and stunning environment and I found myself so grateful to be, albeit momentarily, a part of it.

The time had come to say goodbye. Blaine apologized that we couldn't join them for dinner, but the reservations called for a coat and tie. He made us promise to let him take us to dinner the next time we are in the neighborhood. No problem, Blaine. You have our word! :)

So, there you have it! My whirlwind 24 hours with the 4 nicest people on the planet! Thanks for letting me share this moment! I'm looking forward to getting back to collectibles and will do so with a fan-made that you just have to see! You won't be disappointed!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

My 24 hours with the Legendary Disney Imagineers! part 3

My son is feeling a bit better and I've got a moment to share a little more of our story.....

I find myself walking to the Haunted Mansion with X Atencio on my arm. It was a slow walk for which I was very grateful. I wanted to savor this moment forever. As we walk thru the gates, we see a blueish glow emanating from behind the large crowd gathered at the steps of the mansion. As we peer thru bodies, we see the 3 Hitchhiking Ghosts standing in front of the hearse, thumbs up in their iconic pose taking pictures with the fans. What an amazing thing to see.

Next to me I hear a soft voice start singing.
"When the crypt doors creak and the tombstones quake.
Spooks come out for a swinging wake."

I look over and see X, who has spotted the Hitchhiking Ghosts, singing the song he wrote nearly 40 years ago.  Staying true to my dorky self, I started singing along.  It was only after we were done singing that I realized that all this time we were sitting on our video camera and maybe now is a good time to use it.  I gave my husband the look, you know, the unspoken language between a husband and wife, where the wife glares at the husband to get what she wants?  Yeah, that look.  We did manage to get X singing a few verses of Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirates Life For Me.  Of course, that also means video of yours truly, in my darkest, I mean dorkiest hour!  

We stopped to take let X take a picture with the HitchHiking Ghosts and, of course, we had to jump in!  Again, I have to say thanks to Steve, doombug extraordinaire, for offering to take our picture together with X.  Prior to that, Sam and I had been swapping cameras to get pictures of each of us with X and it was awkward.  

The next thing I remember, I was in the stretching room, or The Gallery, of the Haunted Mansion.  There was a number of Doombugs sprawled out on the floor, which is always fun to see.  Yes, I have seen that before... actually, I have done that before.. *giggles*  The last ride of the night can be a lot of fun.  As the Ghost Host begins his spiel, I do what I always do, which is to quietly join in.  That's when it hits me, and hits me hard.  I'm standing next to the man that wrote these words, these words that I know by heart, these words that I say every time I get on the ride.  I'm overwhelmed with emotion, and I'm feeling extremely blessed and grateful.  As the doors open to long hallway, I realize that I've left my camera bag, with our other Nikon camera on the ground outside with the Hitchhiking ghosts!  
Oh, crap.
Do I run out now and leave X, or hope my camera is still there when I get off the ride?  Luckily, at that very moment, a CM walks by, and I share with her my dilemma.   She graciously offers to recover my camera so I may continue with X, who has made his way to the loading belt and the Doombuggy.  As I help him and Mrs. X on the Doombuggy, another CM slows the ride to allow me to capture a picture of  them on the ride.  Thanks to Brandon of Ghost Relations Dept. with his mad photoshop skills for making this my dream picture!

As I get in the following doombuggy with my husband, under the cover of darkness, my tears of joy and gratitude begin to fall.  
The evening ends with all 4 Disney Legends standing outside the Mansion.  What a great moment, a great evening, and a dream come true!

We had every intention of capturing tons of pics and every moment on video.  But as the evening continued, I either forgot all about my camera, or just didn't care to live the moment thru a viewfinder.  We did manage a few meager shots which I put together in this little compilation.  The song I chose is an early rendition of the mansion music, which I dearly love, but it is rather fuzzy.  I know this.  I don't need to get a dozen email telling me how bad it is.

I still have more to share.. the trip home with Harriet and Blaine, along with the X's was quite amazing.  But I'm feeling a little yucky in my tummy, so I will continue the final chapter on another day.  In the meantime, thanks so much for reading and enjoy the video!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

We have been unavoidably detained by sickly spirits.

Remain seated in your doombuggy, please, and we will continue our tour momentarily....

just as soon as my son is no longer throwing up like Linda Blair!

yeah. it's that bad.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

My 24 hours with the Legendary Disney Imagineers! part 2

Our Doombuggies Swinging Wake began with a mixer at the Napa Rose with David O'Neal and his entourage, which included Neil Patrick Harris (who happens to be a big Haunted Mansion fan), Chef, the creator and owner of, and his lovely wife, and of course, our esteemed guests, X, Mrs. X, Harriet Burns, Blaine Gibson, and Bob Gurr.

Sam and I spent this brief interlude talking with Harriet and Blaine, listening to their stories about their early days as Imagineers.  Harriet shared that it was an exciting time to be working for Disney, figuring out innovative techniques and experimenting with new concepts.  She gave an example of  testing different products for color fading the hair on the mermaids in the submarine ride. Harriet laughed as she reminisced about soaking the hair in Clorox with no affect.  However, once the hair was outside in the Southern California sun for two weeks, the red hair color was no more.   I asked Harriet what it was like being the first woman hired within the Imagineering Dept. in a creative role.  She sweetly replied, "I was just doing my job!"  

I earned my dorkiest moment award a little later when I had asked X what he thought of the recent changes to the mansion.  That's when I learned that he and his wife hadn't been on the ride in several years.  Of course, I blurted out, "You have to ride the ride tonight! After the event!"  I immediately recoiled in an attempt to hide my overt enthusiasm, but Mrs. X chuckled and said, "Well, only if you ride it with us!"  If it weren't for Sam's strong arms around my waist, I surely would have fainted dead away.
Sam and I parted briefly parted ways with our new friends at this point to join the rest of the doombugs at the Blue Bayou, where we helped pass out the evening's swag.  We sat with a wonderful couple, who happened to be local to the area and we had the best time sharing stories of our collections.   Dinner complimented the evening's theme with courses such as Brides Beating Heart Red Pepper Bisque (my favorite) with Graveyard Chocolate Coffins for dessert.  I wish I could share more about the speakers:  Chef Mayhem, owner and creator of Doombuggies and David O'Neal from Extinct Attraction both spoke briefly and thanked everyone for joining the swinging wake, Jeff Smith from Randotti gave a short presentation about the family business that was quite interesting and humorous, but to be perfectly honest, I was in a bit of a daze at this point of the evening.  I was helping with round two of delivering the goodies to the attendees, but all I could hear was this little voice in my head saying, "Only if you ride the ride with us."  It kept repeating over and over in my head -  slowly, deliberately as if burning the individual syllables into my cortex.  When I finally came to, I realized that I had completely missed the questions and answers segment with our panel of distinguished guests, and the crowd was already dispersing and making their way to the Haunted Mansion, for an exclusive, after hours ride and a photo opportunity with some groovy ghoulies!  

The amazing assortment of goodies from the event.  Not pictured is a custom
 booklet created by Chef and a Swinging Wake 10th Anniversary t-shirt.

Be sure to join us tomorrow for our third installment of My 24 hours...

Friday, March 14, 2008

My 24 hours with the Legendary Disney Imagineers!

I've been wanting to sit down and write down my memories from the Doombuggies event for several weeks now. I had hit an all time high from that event, only to hit an all time low the next day when we got back to find that Sam had lost his job of 14 years! Needless to say, its been a rough couple of weeks, but we will be fine. Sam had been looking for a change for quite awhile and the Universe just gave him a little shove! :)

Back to good times...

Many months ago, during the planning stages of the event, I volunteered to transport the Imagineers to our swinging wake. I never thought in a million years that it would actually happen, but sure enough, as the days crept closer and closer to the event and plans were being solidified, I was contacted to fulfill my intention to transport! I couldn't believe it. It took a couple of days for me to accept that I was going to be driving X Atencio and his lovely wife to the event - that they would be in my car! In my mind, I envisioned picking up our guests, making simple pleasantries and driving the rest of the way in awkward silence. And that would have been just fine - because X Atencio, the man who wrote Grim Grinning Ghost and the script to the Haunted Mansion, the man who wrote Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirates Life For Me and the script to Pirates of the Caribbean, was going to be in my car! My CAR! I still haven't let my kids sit in those seats, yet! ;p

When my husband and I arrived at X's house, we were greeted by X himself! I couldn't feel my hand as I reached out to shake his. I was in such a daze. After loading the luggage, and making sure all hands, arms, legs and feet were safely inside the vehicle, we were on our way. To my total surprise, a conversation started about our kids and their grandkids and the perquisites of parenthood. But then it happened.. We let it slip that Sam and I are uber fans of Haunted Mansion. Mrs. X started talking about the Haunted Mansion and X's role in creating the Best. Ride. Ever. When Mrs. X realized that we were huge fans of the ride, she looked over to X and said, "Oh X, you'll have to show them the tombstone in the backyard when we get home." My jaw hit the steering wheel, but I was able to compose myself before they had a chance to notice the super dork driving the car.

Mrs. X had a funny story to share about the tombstone. When she and X married almost 20 years ago, the soon to be Mrs. X hadn't shared with her friends all the details about X's history with the Happy Haunts, including the displaced tombstone given to X after a remodel of the queue. You can imagine her friends' surprise as they entered the backyard for the wedding reception to find a rather large tombstone placed among the petunias in the flower bed. The maid of honor approached Mrs. X, asking if she knew what she was getting into, marrying this guy who had his former wife buried in the backyard!

Our trip to the Disneyland Resort was filled with stories from both X and Mrs. X, making our trip better than we ever imagined. Turns out X and his wife are just really nice, down-to-earth people, and were grateful for the transportation and our company! By the time we arrived at the Grand California hotel, I felt like we were old friends. We didn't think it could get any better, but shortly after arriving, we were invited to join X, Harriet Burns, Blaine Gibson, and Bob Gurr for a mixer at the Napa Rose, hosted by David O'Neal of Extinct Attractions. It was the perfect opportunity for me and Sam to meet Harriet and Blaine, since we had, just days before, been asked to drive them, along with X and his wife, home from the event!

Blaine Gibson, X and Mrs. X, at the Napa Rose mixer

Even though we both brought our cameras, both Sam and I were in too much awe to remember to use them. We managed a very few shots.. of which I'll share more when I continue the story tomorrow.