She wasn't kidding. Each day was totally different, but the summer weekends were insane thanks to the sheer size of the crowds; if there were less than 70,000 people in the park on a Saturday, it was considered a slow day. The Canoes received only a small portion of these crowds, but we probably had more fun with the guests than any other Attraction Hosts in the park.
If you've never been to Disneyland, the Canoes are kind of an anomaly amongst all the other attractions because they've remained largely unchanged since opening in 1956. Basically, you load twenty guests into a heavy, flat-bottomed canoe and row them around the Rivers of America while telling terrible jokes. The extra weight and flat bottoms means that the boats are pretty much impossible to tip over, but it also makes them a bitch to row at any reasonable speed. If the guests didn't paddle, it was a really long trip.
It wasn't uncommon to have lines of people waiting ten to fifteen minutes for a boat to come in, which meant that those of us working the dock were saddled with the task of keeping them entertained in the summer heat. If you worked The Canoes, you were either good with people or you learned to be good with them very quickly.
The Canoes were a massive learning experience because, unlike the other attractions, they were manually powered and there wasn't a script to stick to. I learned how to steer a canoe, how to placate angry guests, which behind-the-scenes shortcuts would get me where in the park, as well slew of bad jokes ("If you get some water splashed on you, just let it dry and you can peel it off like a Fruit Roll-Up; don't eat it, though, this week's flavor is duck.")
Being a part of Disneyland's workforce meant that I became privy to a lot of information about the park that wasn't common knowledge. I learned that while Hidden Mickeys (Disney's Mickey Mouse logo, camouflaged into decorations) are scattered across every attraction, Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin in Toon Town also has a Hidden Playboy Bunny (and, as I learned on a walking tour, Jessica Rabbit's chest was disturbingly squishy). Oh, and the secret underground tunnels that you hear about? Totally real, though there are only two that run beneath the park.
Summer flew by. Before I knew it, August had arrived and it was time to return to school. On one of my last days, I realized that I'd just lived through the summer everyone hopes to have: Not only had I had a job that I'd genuinely loved, but I'd come away with at least a decade's worth of stories. Over the course of a few short months, I'd managed to leave my boring life behind and transform into someone a lot more interesting.
I returned the next year hoping to repeat that first perfect summer, but things were different. Following the 9/11 attacks, tourism was down and paranoia was up. On top of that, the park's budget had been slashed across the board, which meant that the College Program was gone. The job became progressively less fun; by the time that second year was over, I was ready to move on and never look back.
But I did go back. I still do, about once a year, because the place got under my skin and became a part of me. I visit to see the friends who work there even now, to ride the Canoes, and to remember how lucky I am to have been a part of that place ... even if it was only for a little while.
Mike Thompson still knows the first three verses of "The Ballad of Davy Crockett," because he's just that cool.