Always present but rarely experienced first-hand are the security teams in the parks; however, 'Photos from the Parks' recently learned from personal experience they are omnipresent and besides assisting guests, moving queues during parades, and searching bags, they are also looking at, and for, other things.
Before we begin, I'd like to thank the two members of Disneyland's security team I met on the evening of February 26th. Both were professional in their conduct and though slightly confrontational at first, became cordial in the end. What follows is my first-hand experience with security that night.
After a series of business meetings in downtown Los Angeles, I arrived at Disneyland on February 26th at 5:30pm. I entered the park with no bag or backpack, just my log book and my camera, which was hung around my neck on a thin white and blue strap, wearing jeans, black loafers, a dress shirt with sweater and a golf jacket. I stand 6'2", weigh 170 lbs, and have medium length hair. It's said that I have an authoritative air about me; this is largely due to my personal demeanor. I've found a large part of success in life is looking and acting like you know what you're doing at all times and this is the same approach I use when in the parks, especially when 'working' on behalf of 'Photos from the Parks'.
My objective that night was to photograph Toontown which, for better or worse, remains a gaping hole in my photo repository. Unfortunately, due to traffic on I-5, I arrived an hour later than planned and when I reached Toontown the light was completely gone. It's interesting to note that while in Toontown I was questioned, out of the blue, by a park guest who wanted to know what was going on at Donald's Boat. Rather than responding, "Excuse me, ma'am, but I'm not a cast member", I informed her the attraction was under refurbishment and would reopened in due time and went on my way. It always amazes me that people will ask these questions of people not wearing white oval name badges, but it happens nonetheless and to me with some regularity.
Disappointed, I left Toontown and decided to rove. I found myself in the usual places: Frontierland; New Orleans Square; Critter Country. I fulfilled two Disneyland goals with a ride on Big Thunder Mountain (at the very back of the train) to see what's left of Rainbow Ridge and, while in Critter Country, a walk-on to Splash Mountain (and a seat in front). For what it's worth, I like each of these very much and prefer Disneyland's Big Thunder queue and ride. Perhaps it was due to riding at night but it feels quicker and sharper than its twin in Walt Disney World.
With these goals firmly achieved it was time to get back to work. Without a mono or tripod nighttime shots are always disappointing and there wasn't much on my 'must have' list. I soon found myself in Tomorrowland (I've never taken a shot of the Space Mountain sign I'm proud of) and I shot the bas-relief walls on Buzz Lightyear and Star Tours and the short wall next to Little Green Men Store Command. By this time the park had 'closed' and it was prime shooting time. I reached the Honey, I Shrunk the Audience sign in no time at all and had squared up to capture the Starcade sign but waited as several CMs made their way out of the exit into the Tomorrowland plaza area. One CM, easily identified as security due to his hat, paused and stopped as I took some photos. I moved to my left to get the ever elusive Space Mountain sign and after taking three terrible shots the CM approached me and asked if I was a cast member. I said, 'No', and moved again to try another angle. The gentleman then asked a question I found quite odd; he asked if I was a guest. I indicated 'Yes, I am', and kept shooting as I made small talk.
I'm not sure why I was approached; perhaps the CM was concerned by how I appeared. In all fairness, I probably did not fit the 'image' of a typical park guest; I had a small, Canon A540 held out in front of me, I was taking photos and I was jotting down notes in my log book. I probably didn't sound like a typical park guest; when approached I was quite friendly and probably sounded like a CM to him (comes with the territory) but had identified myself as not a member of the family. At the time, I thought nothing of it; this is how I've operated in the parks for years while 'on assignment'.
About twenty minutes later, after a thorough capture of the Main Street windows not in my collection, I found myself in front of the Main Street Cinema, irritated by the construction walls up on the east side of the street. I was in the midst of framing a shot of the relatively new Greg Emmer window when two CMs approached me from the direction of the hub. One was the gentleman who had questioned me just earlier and with him another CM, a level up in authority. It was immediately clear to me that I had been followed out of Tomorrowland and likely watched as I made my way down one side of Main Street and then down the other. The senior of the two introduced himself to me in a very direct manner, but still following the Disney way with a handshake, and wanted to know what I was doing. Once again, this struck me as odd as I was taking photos; something just about everyone does. In retrospect, I can only imagine to the CMs what it looked like I was doing. I'm sure, to them, I looked based on my mannerisms much like an insurance adjuster taking photos, maybe a quality assurance person creating a report, perhaps someone looking to steal trade secrets by stealing intellectual property, or, perhaps a like a terrorist? More on that in just a bit.
As I said, he asked me what I was doing I explained I was taking photographs for my website. That's when a round of questions ensued: "No, it's not a commercial site." "No, I don't make any money from it." "No, I don't have a business card from 'Photos from the Parks'." "No, I've never taken photos of CMs; in fact, I strive not to show people at all on the site." "No, there's no way I can prove that's what I'm doing here." "Wait; let me show you 'Photos from the Parks' on my BlackBerry. My last article dealt with what I call the 'Tiki Repatriation Project'." "I do have my business card, however, would you like one?" "Here's the URL and my gmail account if you have any questions." "Yes, please take a look and let me know what you think." "Well, it's more or less a labor of love."
After this the senior of two thanked me for my time and assured me it was all part of his job and then made an interesting statement; something along the lines of how we all want everything I was taking photographs of to be safe or still around. What does that mean? Is Disney walking the parks with an eye out for potential terrorists? Based the questions asked of me and the last statement made, I was led to believe the CMs were alarmed by the combination of what I was photographing and my appearance/demeanor. What might have happened if I couldn't show them this site from my BlackBerry?
So, here's where the rubber meets the road. What, exactly, are security team CMs looking for while observing and assisting guests? They obviously receive training on how to observe people and how to look for patterns but do they have specific profiles in mind? What actions from guests serve as triggers for questioning? Are they really concerned with acts of terrorism in the parks? If so, how did I fit that profile? The last one is really ironic as there aren't too many other people like me who are concerned with the cultural and artistic legacy of Disneyland who aren't employees of the Disney Company.
As I said at the outset of this post the two CMs who questioned me were professional throughout and the encounter has caused me to ponder a few things I never thought of before. (I've even started to wonder if I could receive press credentials for the parks. I doubt it.) Perhaps the worst realization is that after 25 or so visits to the various Disney parks I finally found myself in a position where I didn't feel like a guest of the Walt Disney Company. It bothers me a little bit to know that while performing their duties, two CMs made me feel like I was in the real world and not in the parks; that's never happened to me before. That said, they were just doing their jobs. As such, what is the right balance? How is Disney to balance the needs of their guests and property alike? These are hard questions to answer.
Have you found yourself a similar situation or know of someone who has? Do we need to more thoroughly consider our actions as photobloggers in the parks? Is there a line that I crossed? The more I think about what transpired the more interested I am in trying to see the experience in the eyes of the two Disneyland CMs but am still left confused and curious about the whole thing in terms of its ramifications. Would I ever be banned from the parks? (Perish the thought.)
In honor of my out of place experience on the 26th, I'm sharing with you equally incongruous photos; photos that normally would never make the cut for Photos from Parks are featured today. I hope they capture my thoughts on my most recent visit to Disneyland. And to the two CMs who took down my information, I hope you like this site.
These photographs were taken by the author in February 2009.
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