Back To 1985

Flashback: If my cousin Andy had survived his 20s, today would have been his 40th birthday. Looking back through old memories, I found this story originally written in the months following his death. If you’ve ever lost someone you’ve deeply loved, I’m sure you too wish this DeLorean was real.

Back to the Future DeLorean at Universal Studios Hollywood - 1985
Back In Time – From left: Andy, Freddy, DeLorean (back) and Robby. Copyright ©2018 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

One Summer long ago, I came down from Oregon to visit my Grandparents, Uncles, Aunts, and cousins in Southern California. I spent all day every day shooting baskets, playing ping pong, dreaming up epic roller coasters, and conspiring with my cousins, Robby and Andy.

Lifting the A-Team Van at Universal Studios Hollywood - 1985
I Pity The Fool! Copyright ©2018 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

Every day, that is, except Thursday. Every Thursday, our Grampy brought me and Robby with him to the Christian Business Men’s Association breakfast at a local Carrows Restaurant. After that, he’d drop us off at the church for its weekly, youth group beach trip.

Jaws shark at Universal Studios Hollywood - 1985
Great Scott! er… White. Copyright ©2018 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

But one Thursday, Grampy took all three of us to Universal Studios to ride the Studio Tour Tram.

We lifted the A-Team Van.

We posed with the shark.

Some days we still wish we could go back in time and change what ever may have gone wrong. But then we might have had to miss the sweetness of a day like that one back in 1985.

“Don’t bet your future, on one roll of the dice
Better remember, lightning never strikes twice
Please don’t drive eighty eight, don’t wanna be late again

So take me away, I don’t mind
But you better promise me, I’ll be back in time
Gotta get back in time

– Huey Lewis & The News, 1985

Moving to Disney (Part 1) – How One Young Couple Took Hold of the Disney Dream

YouTube personalities Sarah & Peter Brookhart left Chicago for Florida to follow their dream of Moving to Disney World. (10 Minute Read)

Moving To Disney

Did you ever dream about living at Disneyland? I know I did. I clearly remember being nine-years-old, drooping sadly out the gates after the fireworks and thinking out loud to nobody, “If I could just stay hidden in one of the caves on Tom Sawyer Island, I could wait out the security guards and have the place all to myself… forever.”

But that’s unrealistic, right? Eventually fantasies give way to reality and childlike dreams fade away.

However, sometimes when you’re not looking, the dream stirs again. Enter YouTube personalities, Sarah and Peter Brookhart.

Magic Kingdom Kids

Sarah and Peter Brookhart at Walt Disney World
Peter and Sarah Brookhart on board a ferry boat on the Seven Seas Lagoon in Walt Disney World. Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

The Brookharts are an insufferably cute pair of high school sweethearts from Chicago (seriously, folks, they’re adorable) who just recently pulled up stakes and moved to Walt Disney World to follow their dreams.

Sarah Brookhart's family at Walt Disney World
Sarah’s family vacationed at Walt Disney World every two years as far back as she can remember. Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

Sarah, an expressive young woman whose animated eyes, snowy complexion, and icing-blonde hair makes one think of the wooden-shoed Dutch maidens on the It’s a Small World attraction. Born into a Disney-loving family, her parents honeymooned at Walt Disney World and raised their three daughters to love castles, princesses, and talking mice. Every two years like clockwork, Sarah’s family traveled from Chicago to Florida for two weeks at a time to experience all that Disney has to offer.

Peter, broad shouldered and gregarious, did not grow up going to Disney. His family did other things on vacation, but when he fell in love with Sarah, it became inevitable – he’d have to fall in love with Disney too.

Sarah and Peter Brookhart accepted to Disney College Program
Peter and Sarah receive their Disney College Program acceptance packages. Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

During their college years, Peter convinced Sarah to join the Disney College Program so they could spend a Summer or two working as Cast Members. Until then, Peter had never visited a Disney Park, so Sarah insisted they go down to Florida a week early because, as she says, “He has to experience the magic before he can be behind the magic.”

Sarah and Peter Brookhart with Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse at Walt Disney World
Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and Sarah welcome Peter to Walt Disney World on his very first visit. Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

They were married in August of 2015, and you’ll never guess where they honeymooned. That’s right – Niagara Falls! Just kidding. They drove Route 66 to California to spend a week at Disneyland.

Back home in Chicago, surrounded by close family, working good jobs, and enjoying the support of a network of lifelong friends, the Brookharts lived a life marked by stability.

Somewhere in their hearts, however, discontent was brewing.

Home Is Where?

From time to time, Sarah and Peter toyed with the idea of moving to Orlando permanently.

“Since 2011, the thought has been in the back of our mind, ‘What would life be like if we moved out here?,” Peter said. “‘What would we be missing? What would we be gaining? Would it be forever? Would it not be forever?’ And I think it’s been just sitting on our mind for the last 6 years.”

In February of 2017, after a weeklong visit to Walt Disney World, Sarah and Peter sat near the pool at Saratoga Springs Resort sipping a vacation favorite, the Lava Smoothie. They were intent on soaking up the last few moments of Florida sun and Disney magic before the airport shuttle arrived.

And they weren’t happy.

If you’ve vacationed at Disney – or anywhere else for that matter – you’ll remember these three stages of vacation emotions. First, you experience the dogged intensity of planning and preparing for the trip. Second, you’re giddy with excitement as you finally arrive at your home-away-from-home. Third, you descend into a fog of melancholy as you reach the vacation’s final day.

The Brookharts were in that third stage.

Peter spoke in a low voice, apparently trying not to disturb the air. Sarah leaned her head against his shoulder, her eyes billowed like the Florida sky, threatening rain. So many times they’d left Disney World, and they felt sad every time, but this time was different.

“We just looked broken,” said Peter. “And it was like something (had) snapped in us.”

On the flight to Chicago they didn’t talk much. When they did speak, they could only describe a looming dread that they weren’t just going home. They were leaving their dreams behind.

“I didn’t want to be 85, talking to my grandchildren,” Peter remembered thinking, “and let them know that Grandpa didn’t follow his dreams. Grandpa didn’t try, at least, to see what living at Disney World would be like.”

After a week of hard conversations thinking and talking about what a move to Disney World might mean, Peter finally asked Sarah, “We’re doing this, right?” And that’s when their journey began.

Courage Givers

It’s a scary thing to leave the comfort of home to follow a dream. Like the gold-rush 49ers who headed West in pursuit of fortune and glory, true courage is required to face down the fears, doubts, and obstacles that will come your way.

Sarah and Peter found courage in a growing number of pioneers who were making their own way and documenting their life journeys on YouTube; folks like the Ballinger Family or Casey Neistat.

Still from Tim Tracker Video
YouTube stars like Tim Tracker make the idea of living at Walt Disney World a little more plausible. Still from “TheTimTracker” video: 9 Parks In 1 Day Theme Park Challenge!! | Disney, Universal, Busch Gardens & More!!

More to the Brookhart’s interests, Disney park video bloggers like Joey Beth & Josh Bugg (It’s The Bugg’s Life), Brock & Promise (Ears2You), and the current king of the craft, Tim Tracker (TheTimTracker) proved that there is a growing demand for true-life human adventures that take place at Disney.

These trailblazers paved the way for Sarah and Peter to courageously ask, “If they could do it, why couldn’t we?”

But courage from strangers wasn’t going to be enough to uproot them from the community where they were raised.

The Ties That Bind

Sarah and Peter grew up on the Southside of Chicago in a village where you’re known by the church you attend. The small-town in a big-city vibe afforded them some of the most close-knit and satisfying community connections the Midwest has to offer; friends, jobs, lifelong connection to a city that they love…

Sarah Brookhart and her sisters at Walt Disney World
Sarah and her sisters, partners indeed. Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

And family. Sarah and her sisters were an inseparable trio who had gone through everything together. To Sarah, leaving her family to go live at Disney seemed like betrayal.

“We were used to being the people you could lean on,” Sarah said.” So telling someone we’re not gonna be there is a pretty harsh blow for them and it’s a pretty harsh blow for us because, you know, we enjoy being there for others.”

Even though their family was supportive of the move, the knowledge that they would be missing important family moments made it even more painful to leave.

At one point, Sarah’s sister, Christina, announced that she was pregnant. In the midst of the joy and excitement, Sarah was struck cold by the realization that she would be in Orlando throughout much of the pregnancy. With her sister-senses tingling, Christina wasn’t about to let Sarah call off the dream. She looked Sarah in the eyes and said, “You still have to go to Disney.”

The good news is, unlike the 49ers, Sarah and Peter have FaceTime, Snapchat, and their daily video diaries on YouTube to make communication with their families easy.

“Luckily for them, every single day of our lives is on the internet so they can see what we’re up to,” Sarah laughed. “But it is still up to us to make sure that we stay updated on their lives too.”

A Goal, a Plan…

Once their minds were made up to go, all they needed was a goal to aim for and a plan to get there. For Peter, a zealous foodie, there was one target he could focus on that would keep them moving forward.

Sarah and Peter Brookhart moving into their apartment
Spoiler Alert: Peter and Sarah moving in to their apartment in Florida. Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

“I didn’t know what job I’d have,” said Peter. “Didn’t know if we’d both have to work full normal jobs. If I’d be working weekends, second shift, third shift, first shift? We didn’t know! But all I said is, ‘I wanna be in Florida by Food and Wine festival.’”

So with Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival as the carrot to draw them on, they set about to make their plan.

Sarah is a freelance graphic artist with a steady client load. Her job would be portable. Peter would have to find a job, and searching for work from half a continent away wasn’t going to be easy.

They also needed to find an affordable place to stay (hopefully within 10 minutes of the resorts), a vehicle to get around in, and a whole lot of money for moving expenses.

Step by step, hour by hour, week by week, for 4 months they researched, saved, asked a lot of questions, and patiently pursued their dream until at last, most of the pieces had fallen into place.

Sarah Brookhart and Eve
And Eve makes three! Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

Peter got a promising job with a timeshare company that would be waiting when they arrived. They found a place to rent seven minutes from the gates of Disney World (a feat they are still super proud of). They managed to save just enough to pay for all the expenses of the move, and even had something socked away to buy a car once they arrived.

Along the way, they welcomed to the family a cute little sidekick to share their adventures, a Pomeranian puppy named Eve.

But there was one more puzzle piece they would need to complete the picture. A name.

…And a Name.

Still from Sarah and Peter Brookhart's wedding video
Scene from the Brookhart’s wedding video on “The Fab 5207”, their original YouTube channel. Still from “Peter & Sarah’s Wedding Highlight Film” Click to view on YouTube.

Their original YouTube channel, named The Fab 5207 , was a collaboration with friends from their Disney College Program days. If they did actually make it to Florida, Sarah and Peter intended to create a brand new YouTube channel to share their adventures with their established audience and friends back home.

Their new adventures, to be filmed and published every day, would center around their relationship as a couple, their highs and lows – even their starting of a family – all within the context of their shared love for the Disney experience.

Now, every good story has a title and every YouTube channel needs a name. The Brookharts wanted to choose something just right, so they decided to look for inspiration from the man whose mouse started it all, Walt Disney.

Back in the 1960s, Walt was looking for a place to build his outrageous dream of a master-planned vacation kingdom and city of tomorrow. He settled on Central Florida as the ideal location. Long before he had a name for the place that would become Walt Disney World, Walt and his team simply referred to it as “The Florida Project.”

Whenever Walt spoke of “The Florida Project the words seemed to flow off of his tongue with a sort of reverent excitement that revealed his true feelings for what he was certain his dream would one day become. His brother Roy reported that Walt was still scheming about the project on his death bed, using the hospital ceiling tiles as the gridlines of a map to point out where he wanted certain features and attractions.

Sadly, Roy would be the only Disney brother to see The Florida Project become a reality.

Still from The Brookhart Project video
Moving Day! The Brookhart Project is on the road from Chicago to Walt Disney World. Still from “Moving Day Road Trip! Part 1 – Chicago, Illinois to Atlanta, Georgia” Click to view on YouTube.

Influenced by that same spirit of hope and vision for the future, the Brookharts’ new life and video channel was sure to become a long-running documentary of their very own Florida project.

So, on July 28, 2017, The Brookhart Project set their cameras to record, kissed their families goodbye, and hit the road, bound for a brand new life in Walt Disney World.

At Home in Disney World

Sarah and Peter Brookhart at Walt Disney World
Sarah and Peter enjoy date night at the Beach Club Resort at Walt Disney World. Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

Six months later, Sarah and Peter sit on a bench at the Beach Club Resort just few short steps from the entrance to Epcot. They’re reflecting on the what they’ve experienced and learned since their journey began one year ago.

“What has been the child, almost, of The Brookhart Project,” said Peter, is really the lifestyle that Sarah and I have adapted and been growing into since we moved down here – and that’s just appreciating every single day, and every single minute, every single thing.”

Moving to Disney has developed a deeper appreciation for the obvious things like the rides, architecture, and the food (they did make it in time for the Food and Wine Festival after all). However, they’ve found themselves appreciating the little things even more, like the way cast members work so hard to give each guest a special experience.

Sarah and Peter Brookhart at Walt Disney World
Always on, the Brookharts film a day in the Disney parks for their YouTube channel, The Brookhart Project. Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

“Even though we live in such a grand place, it’s this humble view on life has been the biggest gain for us.”

Naturally, they have experienced every parade, show, and attraction many times. Still, it hasn’t been all churros and Dole Whips for the couple.

“We’ve heard few snide comments,” Sarah said, “where people are like, ‘Oh, you live in Fantasyland.’ I mean we still have laundry! We still have dishes. We still have bills, we’re not eating out at the parks every night. You don’t see us when we’re downing PB & Js in the car before we head into the parks!”

And it hasn’t been easy being so far from their families.

“My family is just used to being obsessed with each other,” Sarah said. “We FaceTime every other day almost. I talk to my mom every night on the phone. But, you know, we just miss being able to stop by and shovel the sidewalk for her.”

Nonetheless, the happiness they’ve experienced as a couple and the friendships they’ve built are valuable beyond measure.

“Because we are constantly interacting with others who watch our videos, we’ve had some incredibly humbling messages sent to us about what our videos do for them.”

Once, they heard from a woman in a nursing home who was feeling trapped and hopeless. She told Sarah and Peter, “You guys give me my freedom because you take me away from this place every day.”

Sarah and Peter Brookhart at Walt Disney World
Sarah and Peter Brookhart sharing their story with me on the phone from California. Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

“Stuff like that makes me realize, this isn’t just a YouTube channel,” said Sarah.

Now that they have realized their dream of moving to Disney World, the Brookharts feel a responsibility to inspire others to pursue dreams of their own.

“Even if it’s inspiring them to do something of their own. Maybe Walt Disney World is not their ‘Disney World.’ Maybe going to explore South America is their ‘Disney World,’” said Peter.

Sarah and Peter Brookhart at Walt Disney World
Peter and Sarah Brookhart at the Magic Kingdom. Photo courtesy Sarah Brookhart ©2018, all rights reserved.

For Sarah and Peter, Walt Disney World has become more than a vacation destination. In many ways, it has become the laboratory for a grand relationship experiment.

“No matter what,” said Sarah, “it’s kind of been strengthening us as a couple just to figure out how we want to live.”

Ask any marriage counselor and they’ll tell you that the best ways to perpetuate the romance and insulate a relationship against divorce is to share a hobby and to keep a regular date night.

If that’s true, then Sarah and Peter’s story will end in “happily ever after.” From the day they arrived in Florida, they’ve enjoyed date night every night, wandering hand in hand together and capturing every moment in the most magical place on earth.

Freddy’s Move to Disneyland – An Epilogue

Freddy Martin at Disneyland
Freddy Martin doing actual work on board the Disneyland Railroad during the first day of “office hours” at Disneyland. Photo shot by a nice tourist lady. ©2018 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

I wrote the first words of this story on board the “Ward Kimball” steam train while taking a grand circle tour of Disneyland. If you had been there, you might have thought it a little strange to see me working on my laptop as though the tunnels and tracks were a suburban Starbucks.

After observing people like the Brookharts, Peter Tu (the clapping man of Disneyland), Lou Mongello, and many others, I decided to turn what I do into something I love by doing it in the place where I feel most creative – Disneyland!

Although I didn’t actually “move to Disneyland” (I still live over an hour away), I started 2018 with the commitment to hold my “office hours” one day a week at the Disneyland Resort. You might find me running reports at the Hungry Bear in Critter Country, drafting an appeal letter on the old Motor Boat Cruise launch, or editing content on Tom Sawyer Island.

And yes, I am actually working.

Next Week:

How To Move To Disney World – 5 Things You Need To Know Before You Go

In an upcoming post, I’ll share what I learned from the Brookharts about how to follow your dream to live at Disney in 5 practical steps. Subscribe to get the latest posts as soon as their published.

Triumph: Paralyzed & Hopeless to Hopeful & Free

The author, his lovely wife, the end of her cancer, and his bright blue cast. All downhill from here. May 2014

Early Summer, 2014 was a tough time for my family. My wife had cancer. My grandparents died within 2 days of one another. We lost a beloved Uncle. And my doctors saw fit to put me in a comical, full-leg cast to heal a minor fracture.

As tough as those circumstances were, none would upend our family as completely as my father’s broken back.

The scene of the accident. Note the roll marks on the asphalt and the witness telling me her view of the events.

Driving home from a chaplains’ conference in the mountains, he lost consciousness and flipped his car. I arrived on the scene just after the ambulance had gone.

Unsure of where they’d taken him, I began dutifully collecting his personal items from the wreckage. I tried to ignore all the blood.

Later, in the emergency room, I was finally allowed to see him. He was laid out flat on a gurney in a hallway, cocooned inside a medieval bouquet of braces, restraints, and supports.

Mom and Dad share sweet nothings & prayers just before his back surgery.

And he was telling jokes.

My Dad was a hospital chaplain for many years. Unlike most of us, he’s quite comfortable in hospitals. He spent his days comforting others, meeting their pain with prayer, loss with love, and hardship with humor.

But now the tables were turned. My father lay alone in his hospital room—broken back and legs no longer working. After weeks of surgeries, therapies, and bad news getting worse, there was nothing left to laugh about.

That’s when Andrew Skinner rolled in.

Overcoming Fears, Pain, and Limitations

Andrew Skinner, the founder and Chief Hope-Sharer of Triumph Foundation at the Over-The-Line Baseball tournament in Van Nuys, California, October 2017.

Andrew Skinner is the founder of Triumph Foundation, a non-profit whose primary purpose is to encourage people with spinal cord injury to overcome their fears, pain, and limitations by pursuing an extraordinary and active life.

Andrew Skinner and Freddy at Northridge Hospital at the 2017 Triumph Foundation Christmas party.

For newly-injured patients laying in their hospital beds facing the reality of a future in a wheelchair, Andrew is not another able-bodied doctor with flyers, advice, and platitudes. Paralyzed and in a wheelchair himself, he has instant credibility with those he visits and counsels.

And they listen. Andrew knows which path to take because he’s been there. His wisdom and hope sees beyond a patient’s current challenges as he guides them down the path to a destiny they cannot see from their hospital bed.

Think Gandalf. Think Yoda. Think Dumbledore, but with wheels instead of a wand.

Christmas In Rehab

Andrew Skinner breaking down barriers of fear and grief with patients at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehab Center.

At the time of this writing, Andrew and his team of Ambassadors and volunteers are in the midst of a two-week blitz visiting nearly every hospital and physical rehabilitation center in Southern California. They invite all the patients to come celebrate Christmas together and participate in a brief support group session. I went along again this year to see Triumph Foundation’s impact firsthand.

“Christmas is very special for me,” Andrew told a group of patients at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehab Center. “I spent my first Christmas after my injury in the hospital, and I know how lonely it can be. And that’s why we’re here—to show you you’re not alone, and you do have a bright future ahead.”

Triumph Ambassadors are people who use their own experience with paralysis and recovery to encourage those who have just begun their journeys.

The room was a full house of people at various levels of recovery. There was a woman in her sixties who had fallen at home and was just getting used to working her robotic chair. There was a young man who had been in an auto accident who was just cleared to walk short distances using his cane.

One older woman, a recent immigrant from El Salvador, had a look of despair and terror on her face. She is paralyzed, in a country she doesn’t know, with nowhere to go when she is discharged, and no family to visit her.

Injuries are no respecter of persons. Both children and adults suffer paralyzing injuries and need a community to surround them and help them to triumph.

Perhaps the most difficult to see was the two injured children (both under 10) strapped into robotic wheelchairs. Amazingly, the spirit of youthfulness and joy was still apparent on their faces as they tried their best to do what they could on their own.

Triumph’s Ambassadors of Hope

Triumph’s team of Ambassadors, trained counselors also in wheelchairs due to spinal cord issues, use these Christmas parties to introduce themselves, share their stories, and make other patients feel welcome.

Triumph Ambassador, Walter Escamilla, showing how happiness still exists beyond a paralyzing injury.

“For me it was very depressing,” Walter Escamilla, a Triumph Ambassador who shared his story. “Cause i was used to going to work 10, 12 hours a day. Very active guy, playing basketball, do anything! Go out every weekend. Then after an injury like this, I felt like the world came to an end.”

Patients around the room nodded their heads. They relate to Walter’s story because they’ve experienced the exact same despair he described. He went on to share that his daughters became his inspiration to stop dwelling on his losses and start focusing on the positive things he does have.



At Triumph Foundation’s adaptive recreation events, people push their limits and enjoy fun and community all year long.

“I thank God I live in this country where everything is accessible. Want to go to a Laker game? There’s accessible seating. Want to go to a concert? There’s accessible seating. And they treat us like rock stars.” Sweeping his arm like a maître d’ Walter beamed, “Right this way, Sir!” The patients nodded and laughed at the hopeful perspective Walter shared.

“My daughters can never say, ‘We never go anywhere because my dad’s in a wheelchair.’ On the other hand, they say, ‘Nah, we will go everywhere AND my Dad’s in a wheelchair.’”

Someone Who’s Been Through It

Triumph Ambassadors have been there, done that. Their own experiences give them the credibility to provide honest answers and strong advice to help newly-injured patients live life without limits.

“And that’s the key,” said Jeff Harrison, one of Triumph’s board members and long-time volunteers. “You need someone who’s been through it, knows how tough it can be, knows where your turning points are gonna be and just guide you down the rough patches and get you out the other side.”

Of course, a Christmas party isn’t complete without gifts, so Andrew and his Ambassadors passed out stockings, treats, and “Care Baskets” full of gifts and resources to help them move forward and triumph over their obstacles.

One of Triumph’s programs provides grants and equipment to people living with a spinal cord injury or disorder. I had the privilege of being there with Andrew to give this family a mini-van fully equipped to accommodate their transportation needs. It was an incredible honor to provide such a needed gift.

Andrew wrapped up the visit with an encouragement that hit home for everyone in the room, paralyzed and able-bodied alike. “I like to say that paralysis is a club nobody wants to join, but once you’re in, you’re family.”

No Glass Slippers Here: Three years after his injury, my Dad traveled with me to attend my college graduation at Walt Disney World. Here he is showing off his fancy footwork with me, my wife, and my Mom.

As I walked to my car, I thought again about my Dad. He spent his entire career encouraging people in the midst of their suffering. After his accident, he too could have been left without hope or a path to recover from the injury. God knows I wouldn’t have had the experience or insight to help him through the darkest hours.

But he wasn’t alone. When Andrew rolled into my Dad’s room that day, he brought with him an active and welcoming community of people who live lives full of hope and potential despite their injuries.

For all of our friends, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, uncles, aunts, grandparents who have been broken in accidents, who are lying in hospitals this holiday season, who may or may not ever walk again, please consider a generous donation to Triumph Foundation before the year ends. Merry Christmas. 

Announcement: I’m a Spatial Storyteller!

Storyland Studios is a themed-entertainment powerhouse made up of artists, architects, artisans and Disney alumni. It’s believed to be the first all-in-one theme park design firm since Walt Disney first assembled his team to build Disneyland.

Can you keep secret? I can’t. I’ve been keeping this on the down-low for a quite some time and I’m finally able to tell.

Most of you know I’m a theme park weirdo. I love to explore the stories, details, and dreams that make up these architectural marvels. It’s an art form unique to our modern world, but anchored in centuries of creative space-making from city squares & parks to coliseums & cathedrals.

Beginning in October, I began work as a Spatial Storyteller℠ for Storyland Studios, a themed entertainment design and fabrication firm. What’s Spatial Storytelling? Think of it as the non-Disney equivalent of Imagineering. We create immersive environments that bring stories to life in theme parks, museums, sacred spaces and other realms where people gather for enrichment.

What’s super cool is that the business structure is modeled directly after Walt Disney’s original Imagineering team (originally WED, then MAPO, and finally WDI) which means the entire creative team is under one roof. Everything from concept designers, artists, story writers, special effects artists, architects and fabricators all work together to create unbelievable spaces for you to enjoy!

The team has been really welcoming so far, although there’s one particular co-worker with something of a temper problem. No worries. I’m sure we’ll be buds once he gets to know me.

My role is to create content and consult on marketing and community-building for the brand and the projects we undertake. Go to StorylandStudios.com right now to see some of the insane projects we’ve done (Hogwarts Express at Universal, are you kidding me?!?!?!).

Welcome to work. This huge (we’re talking massive) statue of Alduin, The World-Eater from Skyrim rests atop Storyland Studios’ headquarters. You should see it from Google Earth. I’m not exactly sure who the kilted angel dude is, but I’m sure he’s got a great story.

This week, our team is heading to the IAAPA Attractions Expo, the themed-entertainment industry’s Comic-Con. If you know anybody in the industry, please connect me.

What does this mean to you, dear reader? Well, much of this is thanks to you. Your reading and sharing of my stories partially helped me land this gig (thank you very much!), and now I’ve got a lot more stories to tell.

So keep an eye here for some incredible announcements, stories, and secrets from inside the theme park and spatial storytelling industry.

Now then, hang onto your hats and glasses, ’cause this here is gonna be one wild ride!

PS – For those of you keeping score at home, Storyland is not my full-time gig. I’m super excited that I get to continue serving the amazing folks at Ministry Gear, Triumph Foundation, and California Dance Academy with my fundraising and marketing skills. 

The Hand of Walt – A Disney Secret Hidden For Decades Is Finally Revealed!

To passionate Disney enthusiasts like myself (you know who you are), one of the great tragedies of Walt Disney’s life story is that he never had the opportunity to see his dream of a Florida vacation wonderland come true. As hard and fast as that fact is, our wishful thinking often leads us to believe that Walt Disney World was somehow built by the hand of Walt Disney himself.

The story I’m about to tell you and the amazing untold secret I’m going to reveal is 100% preposterous. It’s wishful thinking on a delusional scale. I’m confessing this to you up front because I know without a shadow of a doubt that what I’m suggesting is absolutely impossible. At the very least it’s a hoax or even a mistake. It could even be just a trick of the light.

But when you visit a place like Walt Disney World, you tend to believe in the unbelievable – the “plausible impossible” as the Imagineers used to say. In a place where dreams apparently come true, we’re encouraged to shove aside the rational and cling to the fantastical.

So when my daughter called to me from inside a cave on Tom Sawyer Island in Florida to tell me that, “Walt Disney was here,” I didn’t doubt it for second.

A Hidden Walt

Most of us know about Hidden Mickeys. In fact arranging and discovering three distinct circles has grown into its own cottage industry. They’re everywhere.

Far more rare, and therefore more precious, are the “Hidden Walts” dusted around the films, parks, and resorts. One of the more famous of these is the Sorcerer from Fantasia nicknamed “Yen Sid” (read it backwards) whose arched eyebrows were the animator’s caricature of Walt’s “dirty look.” Or there’s the lamp in the window of Walt’s apartment above the fire station on Main Street in Disneyland, kept lit forever as though he never left us.

The eternally burning lamp in Walt Disney’s apartment above the fire station on Disneyland’s Main Street USA. Copyright 2017 Dennis Emslie, all rights reserved.

Others are more explicit nods like the train named after him that travels daily around the Magic Kingdom. He can even be found in the numeric street addresses of certain buildings throughout the parks. Any time you see a 23, a 28, or a 55, you’re probably looking at a Hidden Walt. My favorite numerical reference is the brass “1901” (Walt’s birth year) emblazoned near the door of the Carthay Circle Theater at Disney California Adventure. This also happens to be the name of the secret lounge inside accessible only by Club 33 members.

Copyright 2016 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.
1901, named for Walt’s birth year, is the private lounge for Club 33 members inside the Carthay Circle Theater building in Disney California Adventure. Copyright 2016 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

Incidentally, one of the coolest Hidden Walts is within the lounge itself. From time to time you can see Walt’s shadow as he walks by the entry hall. I have to say it’s a little bit creepy, but it’s an incredible effect all the same.

Copyright 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.
Walt Disney’s shadow passes by the hallway in the members-only 1901 Lounge in Disney California Adventure. Copyright 2016 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

Now, the Hidden Walt I’m about to reveal is truly remarkable because it is so well hidden and largely unknown. But the most remarkable thing about it is the depth of Disney history, world-building, and legends it apparently pulls together in one simple mark.

So to make sure its significance is not lost, permit me a bit of time-travelling and build-up as I set the stage.

Stick with me. It’s worth it.

“Owdacious Mischief”

When you spend time digging into Walt Disney’s personal history and exploring the events that made him who he became, it’s easy to see that he loved being a boy in Missouri. In the early 20th century, small towns like Marceline with their bustling main streets, expansive farmland, and rolling, creek-crossed hills were perfect kindling to a young boy’s spark of adventure.

Young Walt Disney, though poor by today’s standards, lived as if the entire world was his domain to explore and conquer. In overalls and bare feet, he tracked all over the countryside seeking wild-eyed adventure, and not a little bit of trouble.

Copyright 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.
The life preserver aboard the paddle wheeler Mark Twain. Walt Disney was a great admirer of Mark Twain. They shared many similarities including a love for boyhood mischief in rural Missouri. Copyright 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

For many boys of Walt’s generation, and especially for those growing up along the same waterways and woodlands about which Mark Twain wrote, Tom Sawyer was a hero they could become simply by walking down their front porch steps.

There were fishing pools and swimming holes, dark caves and darker forests. In the whistle stop towns like Twain’s Hannibal and Walt’s Marceline, great steam locomotives would pass through bringing with them visitors from afar and daydreams of what may lie down the tracks. And of course there was the mighty Mississippi, a powerful siren of adventure for every Missouri boy or girl.

Aunt Polly, Tom Sawyer’s lovingly strict guardian, described Tom’s outdoor exploits as “owdacious mischief.” As much as she would have liked to tame young Tom, owdacious mischief is exactly what a boy’s heart craves.

Copyright 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.
The whitewashing fence on Tom Sawyer’s Island in the Magic Kingdom in Florida. Copyright 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

Like Tom Sawyer, Walt Disney discovered incredible freedom when exploring the wilds of Missouri. Given a chance to escape his father’s watchful glare, Walt would bound down the lane toward unknown adventure. His carefree days cultivating a heart for owdacious mischief that would impact generations.

And like Tom, young Walt was no stranger to breaking a rule or two.

Making His Mark in Marceline

In Walt’s childhood hometown of Marceline, Missouri, we’re still able to visit a couple landmarks of his rule-breaking prowess. First, there’s the Disney family farmhouse where young Walt encouraged his sister Ruth to join him in painting pictures of animals in black tar on the back wall. His artistic urges got him in big trouble when his father, Elias, discovered the mess and came down hard on the boy.

It’s lucky for us Walt’s artistic ambitions weren’t crushed by the strict punishment he received that day. Rather, it appears that his brief foray as a graffiti artist may have even spurred him on.

Perhaps the most exciting piece of Walt’s criminal history in Marceline is currently on display at the Walt Disney Hometown Museum. There, visitors are able to see the very desk that Walt sat in when he was in grade school. How do they know it was his desk? Carved into the wood for all to see are Walt’s initials, “W.D.”

Copyright 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.
Walt Disney’s initials carved into his first grade desk on display by the Walt Disney Hometown Museum at the D23 Expo, July 2017. It appears that he also defaced his second grade desk which was on display at Disney Hollywood Studios in the One Man’s Dream exhibit. Copyright 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

In 1960, Walt was invited back to Marceline to dedicate Walt Disney Elementary School. It was there that he was reunited with his desk. In photos from that day, Walt traces the initials in the wood with his finger, a sheepish grin on his guilty face.

Imagine that! An act of childish destruction has now become an artifact of American pop-culture. And apparently once was not good enough for the mini media magnate. As if he knew his signature might become an important brand some day, he carved his initials twice! How very “Tom Sawyer” of him.

Back out at the farmhouse, visitors can take a winding path to find a replica of the family barn (lovingly rebuilt by fans and friends of the family in a three-day barn raising in 2001). Hundreds of Disney pilgrims have followed Walt’s vandalizing lead and leave their own signatures, carvings, and drawings all over the timbers. Rebels.

Copyright 2017 Sarah Brookhart, all rights reserved.
Walt’s Barn – A nail for nail, board for board replica of the barn Walt remembered from his childhood. Replicas were also built for Disney film “So Dear To My Heart” and in Walt’s Holmby Hills backyard railroad, The Carolwood Pacific. Photo by The Brookhart Project. See their Vlog for more awesome Disney content. Copyright 2017 Sarah Brookhart, all rights reserved.
Copyright 2017 Sarah Brookhart, all rights reserved.
Visitors to Walt’s Barn in Marceline, Missouri, have left hundreds of messages of love and gratitude to the boy who became Walt Disney. Photo by The Brookhart Project. See their Vlog for more awesome Disney content. Copyright 2017 Sarah Brookhart, all rights reserved.
Copyright 2017 Peter Brookhart, all rights reserved.
Sarah Brookhart of The Brookhart Project tags… er, adds her own message of gratitude to Walt’s Barn in Marceline, Missouri. Photo by The Brookhart Project. See their Vlog for more awesome Disney content. Copyright 2017 Peter Brookhart, all rights reserved.

Building a Paradise for Play

Now let’s travel west to Disneyland in 1955. The island created by the path of the Rivers of America was at first a barren wasteland, a mound of dirt with a few scraggly trees. But to Walt and his Imagineers, it was a blank canvas for creating another world of fun and adventure for Disneyland’s young visitors. Original ideas for the island included a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and a pirate theme to capitalize on the popularity of the 1950 Disney film Treasure Island. Take that Pirate’s Lair haters.

Copyright 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.
Two little old ladies channel their inner Tom and Huck crossing the pontoon bridge on Tom Sawyer Island at Disneyland. Copyright 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

When legendary Disney artist Marc Davis presented a new map of the island featuring replicas of colonial America’s historic sites, Walt still wasn’t satisfied. Frustrated, he took the plans home, and began sketching his own ideas over the top of Marc’s. Walt added a fort, cave mazes, balancing rocks, swaying bridges, and a towering treehouse. Suddenly, Walt had become the young boy in Missouri churning up his Tom Sawyer fantasies once again.

When the island finally opened for visitors in 1956, Walt had created a place of freedom where kids of all ages could run, play, hide, seek, and imagine just like Tom did… just like Walt did.

Tony Baxter, the Disney Legend responsible for many of your favorite attractions built after Walt’s death, spoke recently about the inestimable value of a child’s imagination. He called it “the importance of being twelve.” Creative folks like Tony have managed to hold onto the same spark that excited them at that magical age and use that excitement as adults to create an even more incredible future for the twelve-year-olds of today.

Copyright 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.
Disneyland cast members on a Davy Crockett Explorer Canoe greet an adventurer on Tom Sawyer Island as they pass the fishing pier at Catfish Cove. Copyright 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

Of all the incredible dream worlds and fantasy lands within Disneyland, Tom Sawyer Island has the distinction of being the only attraction Walt Disney personally designed himself. To this day it remains the one place in the parks that explicitly reflects Walt’s twelve-year-old dreams come true.

Photo used with permission. Copyright 2017 Raechel Andrews, all rights reserved.
Tom & Huck’s treehouse on Tom Sawyer Island at Disneyland opened to adventurous children in 1956. Photo used with permission. Copyright 2017 Raechel Andrews, all rights reserved.

Before we leave Tom Sawyer’s Island at Disneyland in California and head back to Florida, let’s take a moment to follow the paths to the east end of the island. Climb Indian Hill alongside one of the splashing creeks to the highest point on the island. You’ll soon come to a large tree with a spring bubbling up from beneath its roots. Up in that tree, “Tom and Huck” have built their own treehouse to serve as a hideout and headquarters for their adventures. This is the pinnacle of boyhood fantasy – a place loaded with wild fun and miles from responsibility – a place where their imagination can run wild.

Photo used with permission. Copyright 2017 Raechel Andrews, all rights reserved.
Tom and Huck’s Treehouse is the highest point on Tom Sawyer Island at Disneyland. Photo used with permission. Copyright 2017 Raechel Andrews, all rights reserved.

Now look closely at the tree. You’ll see that twelve year-olds Tom and Huck have carved their names in the trunk. They’ve marked their territory and memorialized this location as the place where they let their imaginations run wild and where they felt most free. How very “Walt Disney” of them. (Keep reading below.)

Photo used with permission. Copyright 2017 Raechel Andrews, all rights reserved.
Tom Sawyer professes his love for Becky Thatcher by carving their names in the biggest tree on the island. Photo used with permission. Copyright 2017 Raechel Andrews, all rights reserved.
Huckleberry Finn makes his mark on the roots. Photo used with permission. Copyright 2017 Raechel Andrews, all rights reserved.

Walt’s Signature Move

Before we cross the continent back to the other Tom Sawyer Island in Florida, it’s important to underscore one more thing about Walt Disney. He put his name on everything. Ever since Charles Mintz and Universal taught him a valuable lesson by wresting the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit from him in 1928, Walt signed everything that came out of his studio.

When Ub Iwerks drew Mickey, Walt signed his name.

Soon every film, TV show, and merchandise product bore the possessive words “Walt Disney’s” above the title. This is the single most important reason why his name became synonymous with family entertainment for the entire world.

Copyright 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.
Walt Disney signs autographs from a vehicle on Disneyland’s Main Street USA. This is the image on the cover of the Disneyland souvenir guide, circa 1968. Photo copyright 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

His signature became so sought after that when he was visiting Disneyland, crowds would clog up Main Street USA trying for a chance to get him to put his autograph on a slip of paper or an A or B ticket (E tickets were too valuable). Soon, this became such a traffic headache that Walt had his autograph preprinted on little business cards which he’d hand out to fans to speed up the process.

Today, his autograph is a popular item on eBay. People are so drawn to Walt’s personality and vision, that they are willing to pay thousands of dollars to own a piece of his history, to hold something he held.

Whenever Walt Disney put his mark on something, it soon became a revered monument to the man.

Discovery!

This brings us (at last) to perhaps the most mysterious and unknown Disney secret ever discovered – Walt Disney’s childhood signature hidden in plain sight within a dark tunnel.

In 2015, I had the privilege of taking my family to Walt Disney World for the very first time (read about our vacation of a lifetime at TouringPlans.com HERE). As Californians who grew up making memories at Disneyland, we placed high priority on visiting attractions and shows that no longer exist there. So Tom Sawyer Island with it’s fort still filled with politically problematic guns was definitely a must-do.

Copyright 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.
The mighty Fort Langhorn on Tom Sawyer’s Island is named after Samuel Clemens’ middle initial, another nod to American literary hero, Mark Twain. Copyright 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

With my son, Daniel, and daughter, Penny, by my side, nostalgia washed over me as we passed through the gates of Fort Langhorn. Up the winding steps we bounded toward a higher view and mounted muskets. As I watched my kids pick off imaginary bears and passing mine trains, I was transported back to a time when my Dad stood by my side watching as I did the same.

Copyright 2015 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.
Peeping down the sights of these rifles, a boy or girl can defend the fort alongside Davy Crockett and Sam Houston. Copyright 2015 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

In that moment, I felt myself recapturing my own childhood just as Walt had when he was designing this playful paradise.

Riding a wave of reminiscence, I followed my kids closely as they ran down the stairs and into a door marked “Escape Tunnel.” Down the tight and rickety stairs we lunged into a tighter maze of sculpted gunnite and cement painted to look like dug out rock. The winding tunnel led us into dead ends and blind turns, the perfect places to hide and jump out at one another for a cheap scare and a burst of laughter. I was a twelve year old boy once again. (Keep reading below.)

Copyright 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.
The Fort Langhorn Escape Tunnel leads to greater adventure and the most mysterious Hidden Walt of them all. Copyright 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.
Copyright 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.
The dark of the cave lit only by lanterns and holes cut into the solid gunnite, er, rock. Copyright 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.
Copyright 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.
Light pours in revealing a curious hieroglyph at the tunnel’s end on Tom Sawyer’s Island in the Magic Kingdom in Florida. Copyright 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

The end of the tunnel announced itself with a gradually increasing glow until we finally rounded the last corner where the full light of the bright Florida sun poured in. One by one we exited the tunnel finding ourselves on the shore facing the broad bend of the river.

Penny was the last in line. Just before she came out into the sun, she stopped. “Daddy, Walt Disney was here,” her echoing voice called from the darkness.

I ducked back into the cave to see what she had found, my eyes adjusting from the brief burst of sunlight. Penny was pointing at something on the cave wall.

There, carved into the sculpted walls, in the imperfect and simple handwriting of a Missouri farm boy were the initials “WD.”

Copyright 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.
Walt Disney’s initials carved in the wall of a tunnel on Tom Sawyer’s Island at Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Copyright 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

The Hand of Walt

We stood there for a moment in reverent silence. It seemed like the most appropriate thing to do.

In the quiet I began to picture a young Walt Disney in overalls and bare feet playing river pirates and Indians along the banks of this quiet creek. I could see him running away from his pals and ducking inside this undiscovered cave, his chest heaving as he tried to keep from laughing and giving away his hiding spot.

Copyright 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.
Deep inside the escape tunnel on Tom Sawyer Island at Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Florida. Here there be monsters. Copyright 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

The staccato footfalls and shouts of, “He went this way!” grew louder and then quieter as his pursuers passed him by. Walt caught his breath and began to look around. He could see that this cave was much deeper than it seemed. Taking a few brave steps into the cool darkness, he stopped himself short. “It shore is dark in here,” he whispered.

Vowing to come back and explore the tunnel with some paraffin candles and a couple brave compatriots, Walt turned to leave.

Again he stopped. “Don’t all great explorers lay claim to their discoveries?” he thought. Bending down, little Walt Disney picked up a hand-sized rock with a pointed edge. For the next few minutes, he etched one crooked line after another into the cave’s sandstone wall. He took one step back to admire his work and smiled. Satisfied that anyone who finds this cave in the future would know that it and all the adventure it contains belongs to him, Walt raced again shouting into the warm Missouri sun.

Copyright 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.
Walt Disney’s initials inside a tunnel on Tom Sawyer Island at the Magic Kingdom in Florida. Copyright 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

Under the Influence

My daughter broke the silence asking, “Do you think Walt did this?” Back in reality, I had to think about that for a second. At Disneyland, many of the items and places in the park remain exactly as they were when Walt was around. If this were in California, it would be quite plausible that the grown up Walt had made this mark himself. He designed the island after all.

But this is Florida. Walt Disney died long before ground was broken for the construction of the Magic Kingdom. Of course he couldn’t have done it. Could he?

Perhaps he did. But not with his own hands. Hundreds of artists, sculptors, builders, and engineers brought their incredible skills together to build these immersive environments, each one inspired by Walt’s enduring vision.

Somewhere in the WDI archives there is a set of construction plans, drawings, and elevations showing the precise measurements and fabrication specs for this tunnel. If Walt’s initials were planned to be included from the beginning, they will appear there exactly as they do in the finished attraction.

Copyright 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.
The lonely view outside the tunnel on Tom Sawyer Island. Here a dreamer once left his mark to inspire generations. Copyright 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

However, I like to think that something far more magical happened. Back in 1973, the mustachioed worker assigned to putting the finishing touches on the tunnel stepped back to admire his handiwork. With the cool, dark cave behind him and the brightness of the Florida afternoon just ahead, he felt something wild come over him.

Memories of childhood explorations in the swamps near his home flooded back to him. He recalled the freedom of boyhood and the magnetic pull of mischief once again.

He listened down the tunnel for sounds of approaching co-workers. “Nobody will ever see this anyway,” he reasoned. Then he pulled a pencil from his coveralls and snapped off the tip leaving a sharp, rough edge. With a wide grin on his face and the spirit of another boy by his side, he began to carve.

Your WD Moment

Have you ever seen Walt’s initials in the escape tunnel on Tom Sawyer Island at Walt Disney World? I’ve scoured the internet and cannot find a single reference to it. It’s like nobody knows it exists. If you have seen it, tell me in the comments below.

Even better, send me a photo of you with this elusive “Hidden Walt,” to prove you’ve gone the distance.  Email it to me at TheFredMartin@gmail.com.

If you’re one of the first 10 people who send proof that you’ve visited the WD on TSI, I’ll send the very first in my new series of Skipper Freddy explorer badges. Follow me on Instagram @SkipperFreddy for the latest photos and updates.

 

How to Find It

You can find the initials just inside the exit of the escape tunnel from Fort Langhorn on the north side of the island. They are at adult eye-level on your right if you’re exiting the tunnel, and on your left if you’re going in the exit (shame on you, rule breaker).

Let’s do our best to keep this treasure awesome for everybody. Be respectful. Don’t block the tunnel. Don’t ruin it for others.

But let’s make it famous. Let’s turn this humble and hidden tribute into one of the great, must-visit sites on Walt Disney World property. Perhaps generations of mischievous kids will see it and believe that “Walt was here,” no matter how preposterous.

Gratitude

Many thanks to all the incredible people who made this epic story possible:

  • To my family and especially my daughter Penny for the great adventure and for finding the WD in the first place.
  • To the great Dennis Emslie, my friend on the inside who made it possible to visit the tunnel again this last month.
  • To Raechel Andrews, a stranger who agreed to a random mission to get photos of TSI at Disneyland for me at the last minute.
  • To Peter and Sarah Brookhart for letting me pick their brains about their experience visiting Walt Disney’s hometown of Marceline.
  • To Adam the Woo for his insights on Walt’s barn in Marceline.
  • To Tom Nabbe for taking on the role of Tom Sawyer for life and remaining a boy at heart throughout his career at Disney Parks.

Learn More

To learn more about Walt Disney’s Tom Sawyer Island check out these groovy links to some of the source material for this post:

Mark Twain, Walt Disney, and the Playful Response to Pirate Stories

Walt’s Childhood Stories (a collection of videos made by SecondStory.com for the Walt Disney Family Foundation)

Disney Legend Tom Nabbe, Walt’s Original Tom Sawyer at Disneyland

Walt Disney, from Reader to Storyteller: Essays on the Literary Inspirations

Walt Disney and Mark Twain (from Walt Disney’s Missouri: The Roots of a Creative Genius

Missouriland – The Marceline Walt Disney Knew

 

Draw Like A Pirate Day

In honor of International Talk Like A Pirate Day, I thought I’d take you on a brief voyage to a time when sea-faring thieves and blood-thirsty brigands reigned terror upon unsuspecting sailors – to a time when I was a member of a band of pirates.

This band of ne’er do well cads were masters of their fearsome weapons. There was a bass player, a guitar man or two, a drummer, and a “xylobones” player. And there was a ferocious Captain whose gravelly, rum-soaked voice commanded the crew and any sorry souls who came to hear the cannon-thundered sound of their pirate rock ‘n roll.

Captain Bogg & Salty was a Portland-based buccaneer rock band renowned for marauding the nightclubs, pirate festivals, and a public library or two around the turn of the last century. And every so often, the bosun’s pipe would call me to join the crew.

Okay, I wasn’t actually in the band. I was a hired to bring the story of the band to life by illustrating their album sleeves.

Drawing inspiration from none other than Disney Legend Marc Davis who drew much of the concept art for the Pirates of the Caribbean attractions, I drew in pen and ink and shaded them with black water color. I tried to infuse the characters with a little bit of menace, a whole lot of humor, and that true treasure every pirate seeks, freedom.

To get a look at what I mean, check out this one I drew for their Dick Dale inspired surf rock song I’m A Pirate.

Surfing Pirate, ©2004, Freddy Martin, all rights reserved. No duplicating or reposting without permission.

I hoped to create a piece, like the picture books I remember as a kid, that viewers would want to take time to look deeply at the details and hidden jokes while listening to the song. Go ahead, look deeply. Can you spy the the pirates tube-riding companion? The not-quite empty flagon of rum? Or can you figure out the true reason this part of the ocean has such killer waves?

This piece didn’t make the cut but it remains one of my favorites to this day.

Still, the pieces from that period that still give me the most joy are the back covers. Each drawing seemed to serve as an expression of the spirit of each particular album. On the back of Bedtime Stories for Pirates, you’ll find a crows’ nest full of buccaneers singing their scurvy lungs out to nobody but the gulls. The backside of Pegleg Tango features a wooden-legged privateer swinging, nay, flying through the riggings without a care in the big blue world.

But the back cover piece that delivers the most yarrr for your buck in my opinion is the marooned pirate on the back of Emphatical Piratical. I’ll give you a look at it in just a second, but first I want to give you a step-by-step view of its creation, from concept to final piece.

First, Loren Hoskins and Kevin Hendrickson, the creative forces behind Captain Bogg & Salty came up with a concept for me – a marooned pirate who isn’t too upset about it. The music they’d been writing for the album had a laid back, island paradise feel and they thought their stranded castaway might whiling away his years on a white sandy beach.

Marooned Pirate concept sketch, ©2004 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved. No duplicating or reposting without permission.

So I plopped him in a hammock, looking out to see with a tasty coconut rum in his good hand. We loved the concept and could truly feel his relaxation coming to fruition. But with his face away from the camera, we didn’t quite have the same character driven fun we did with the other back covers. It could also look like he’s waiting for someone to come, hoping to be rescued.

Not our pirate. We wanted him to appear like he has found heaven on earth, so we turned him around.

Marooned Pirate concept sketch, ©2004 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved. No duplicating or reposting without permission.

Now we were getting somewhere. The look on this pirate’s face communicates pure joy. He doesn’t care if anybody ever finds him. You can almost smell the hibiscus. The site gag of the satisfied marauder marking an X where he’s found his treasure makes the point perfectly. This is the spot!

Before we could go further, we needed to take time to flesh out what our pirate would look like. The pirates in each of the illustrations represented a vast crew of pirates from across the seven seas, so we wanted to be careful not to repeat a face, or identify any particular character from the songs.

So I took some time and drew a line up of likely lads for the pirates in Portland to peruse and pick.

Marooned Pirate character studies, ©2004 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved. No duplicating or reposting without permission.

Now here was a rogues’ gallery of villains sure to give the mommies nightmares and the kiddies dreams of going to sea. With a little deliberation, and much talk about their possible crimes and back stories, we settled on the Spanish gentleman in the bottom right.

Huzzah! I was finally able to start work on the final piece. I played the rough cuts of the new songs over and over. Frogg Island, The Purple Tiki, The Plank Walker, and Waltz of the Waves kept me company as I drew fresh inspiration for the illustration from the lyrics.

Marooned Pirate, ©2004 Hendrickson Hoskins, LLC, all rights reserved. No duplicating or reposting without permission.

Take off your shoes and pore over this illustration on island time. See if you can find all the hidden clues about this freebooting fellow and his new life here in paradise.

Also, get ye to iTunes quick to download each and every one of Captain Bogg & Salty’s amazingly piratey albums. Privateering music fans of all ages will be able to get funky with the crew of the good ship Pollywogg. And if your younger pirates tell you they recognize the voices, you’ll be pleased to find out that these same buccaneers went on to create the songs and music for Disney Junior’s Jake and the Never Land Pirates. That’s right. Captain Bogg & Salty once set sail under the names Sharky and Bones under the notorious Captain Hook!

If you enjoyed diving into my illustrations, let me know in the comments below and I’ll make sure to open the junk drawer more often. And if you’d prefer to read more about other types of adventures, I’d like to know that too. You’re the reason I write, and I can’t thank you enough for allowing me the opportunity to share my take on the world with you.

 

All content, and especially the artwork, enjoy the protection afforded all intellectual property. Some of it belongs to Fred Martin and some of it belongs to Hendrickson Hoskins, LLC. Please do not use it without first gaining permission. 

 

Ex-Jungle Cruise Skipper Superstars and Storytellers – Life After “Dock It, Skip”

Danger lurks around every gray-green curve of Disney’s World Famous Jungle Cruise. Trouble lurks there too, in the form of pun-lobbing, pistol-wielding jungle Skippers.

But Skippers don’t leave their particular form of trouble behind when they tie up the Congo Queen to the dock for the last time. Nay. When these sly-tongued sailors move on to other shores, they bring jungle trouble to the real-world in their own creative ways.

You see, jungle water runs thick as blood and never quite leaves the system. Over the years, former Jungle Cruise Skippers (is there really such a thing as a former Skipper?) have found ways to keep the spirit of the jungle alive through off-center humor, clever art, and great storytelling.

You may have heard of the famous ones like Costner and Lasseter. Skipper Kevin has a new book that’s super junglie. And Skipper John, well, he’s responsible for Up, The Incredibles, and Hawaiian shirts.

And no, Steve Martin never worked there. Look it up.

Then there are some of the lesser knowns who have taken jungle love to the masses in new ways. Skipper Brandon Kleyla birthed the amazingly detailed Trader Sam’s tiki bars at Disneyland Hotel and Disney’s Polynesian Resort as a tribute to Skippers everywhere. Skipper Loren Hoskins took the jungle out to sea as part of the musical scallywagging duo Sharky and Bones on Disney Jr.’s Jake and the Neverland Pirates.

Skipper Rick Wetzel twisted his mic cord around his fingers for so long that it gave him the idea for Wetzel’s Pretzels. And Skipper Grant Baciocco dried off his boots and picked up a puppet to join the casts of Mystery Science Theater 3K and the Muppets!

But I’m more interested in the scrappy Skips who, like me, take what they learned criss-crossing Schweitzer Falls and turn it into real-life jungle adventure for everyone to enjoy.

Here are the tip of the top, the cream of the crop of ex-Skipper creatives who keep the law of the jungle alive.

Dr. Skipper David Marley

This pun-tificating professor earned his doctorate at night while stirring up the green water during the day. Today he teaches history at a local University and is part of a secret Disney history society. He founded “Skipper Standup,” a regular comedy night featuring, you guessed it, Disneyland Jungle Cruise Skippers. He makes some pretty cool jungle themed crafts too. Ever the historian, Dr. Skipper released a book in 2016 of tales told by Skippers about life on the rivers of adventure. Skipper Trevor Kelly designed the art for the cover and it’s chock full of funny tales from Skips throughout Disneyland’s history. I’m proud to be included in the book among the Skipper storytellers.

Grab the book. Shop his stuff.

Skipper Kyle Crocker

The river-thick wit of Skipper Kyle carries his podcast, Tales From The Jungle Crews, through all the watery twists and bends of jungle Skipper lore. He set forth from the dock in 2013 to collect an oral history of the attraction by interviewing wise-cracking hippo shooters (sounds like a drink from Trader Sam’s) from the early years of the park right up to today. I was honored to be interviewed for the podcast, along with Skipper Jeff Bailes, back in 2016 (listen to part 1 & part 2 below). Kyle has made a boatload of cool jungle swag including sweet card games and t-shirts. Kyle’s also a professional product photographer who can make broccoli look delicious.

Subscribe to the podcast. Buy Skipper swag. Get yer picture taken.


Skipper Jen Chavez

Since the mid-nineties (do I really need to use this word?) “pioneering” women have taken the helm and cracked wise side by side with the boys, making the jungle a little less dense and whole lot funnier. Skipper Jen took the mic in the 2000s and hasn’t put it down, even after she left the park. A regular comic at Skipper Stand Up, as well as comedy clubs throughout Southern California, she deftly mixes jungle khaki jokes with bottle blond bluster that will keep you laughing for more. She’s also the curator of Tales of the Jungle Cruise social media presence showing off an impressive collection of historic Disney jungle content you won’t see anywhere else.

See her stand-up. Follow jungle junk on Instagram and Facebook.

Skipper Andrew Remnet

Back in the 80s, Skipper Andrew slipped punch lines past guests so slyly they didn’t know what hit ’em. He took what he learned in the jungle, and with a wave of his hand, turned that experience into a new character, “The DIY Magician.” Besides being a prestidigitator for hire, he helps other magicians build their own props and set pieces via his funny and family-friendly YouTube channel. Like many a Skipper before and after him, Andrew credits the thousands of trips around the river for his ease in front of an audience. “To paraphrase the late Joan Rivers,” he says, “It gave me a place to be bad!” Now watch him pull that Bengal tiger out of his leopard skin hat.

Learn magic tricks from Andrew. Find out where he’s performing next.

Skipper Alex Stewart

Ever wonder what happens when you strand a river Skipper in the mountains of Colorado? In the case of Skipper Alex, you get a weird and wild podcast that longs for the lazy daze of Adventureland. Side by side with his childhood homeboy Harrison Ownbey, he researches Disneyland’s most amazing secrets and myths to share with listeners of “The Back Side of Water” podcast. Start from the beginning of their land-by-land park tour or pick your favorite attraction to explore. You’ll soon find yourself coming back for more.

Listen on Stitcher. Listen in iTunes.

With 60+ years of cracking jokes and popping caps in hippos, there are surely many more former Jungle Cruise Skippers who haven’t totally forsaken the wearing of the khaki.

Leave a message in the comments below if you are or you know an ex-Skip who still regurgitates dad-jokes like a pro.  I’ll add them to this post as they come in to make sure they get the credit they deserve.

Keep in mind I’ll need a picture of them from their Disneyland days and a link to their current projects.

God Went Shopping At U2’s Popmart

The Setup (skip down to the title to dig into the official post) – With the pending release of U2’s newest album, Songs of Experience, this memory of Bono’s rock-n-roll redemption came back to me. Upon hearing their bright and dancey new song The Blackout, a friend told me it reminded him of something from Pop, U2’s ninth studio album. That thought took me back to twenty years ago when I was a young father, just figuring out the balance between innocence and experience myself. I was also learning more about my own spiritual life and what it means to conduct myself as a Christian man in a post-Christian era.

I was also a big U2 fan. I went to three of their shows on The Pop Mart Tour; Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Seattle. After the Seattle show (where this story takes place), I was so moved by the experience that I told the story to anyone who would listen. I even sat down and wrote it all out to send to the U2 fan magazines. It was never published.

So today, on the eve of new music from U2 (You’re The Best Thing About Me, the first single from Songs of Experience comes out September 6th), I dug up my original typed pages and copied them word for word here. Actually, that’s a lie. I spent some time editing it to make it ready for prime time. But after I did, I’m still quite convinced that, despite my penchant for hyperbole, this description is very accurate to what actually happened.

Regardless, I hope you enjoy the view from the front row.

God Went Shopping At Popmart
(or Here’s a Song U2 Stole from The Almighty. He’s Stealing It Back.)

For U2 fans, there’s nothing quite like that perfect “U2 moment.” That’s the moment when With Or Without You broke your heart and when One put you together again. When Bono danced with a girl from the audience and it felt somehow like he was holding you. That moment singing Pride (In the Name of Love) at the top of your lungs from the back of a stadium and you swear Dr. King can hear you. That’s the spiritual feeling that keeps U2 fans coming back; the defining moment that turned us into fans.

I’ve been a U2 fan for a long time, and I’ve actually experienced many “U2 moments.” But none will ever compare with the spiritual rediscovery and transformation that I experienced at the U2 Pop Mart show at the King Dome in Seattle on December 12, 1997.

Tickets to the Kingdom(e) – Half of our group owned front row, while the other half had 6th row. Good news was, the sections ahead of the 10th row weren’t monitored so we all just pied in the front.

I’m still not sure how it happened, but dreams became reality and I found myself, along with thirteen friends, lined up along the stage barricade between Bono’s mikestand and Adam’s bass rig. Each one of us, U2 fans since Jr. High or before, had built this moment up in our minds as the pinnacle of youthful glory. We had convened from locations all across America, reunited for the chance to stand in the front row at a U2 concert.

From the souvenir booklet – Final show on the North American leg of the tour

And yes, it was all that we had ever imagined; the closeness, the eye contact, the favorite songs, and the deafening roar. Being as close as we were, the very front row, we could see every expression, technical glitch, nuance, and emotion that others couldn’t see from the stands or on the screen. At this range, we allowed ourselves to be enveloped and united under the sights and sounds of U2’s Pop Mart.

Everything about it was incredible, until…

Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me, a single released with the Batman Forever soundtrack, opened the final set. It’s a cool, hard rock song that wears like gold lamé – baudy and bold. I know the song by heart, but in seeing the images on the screen and hearing Bono’s intense delivery opened up the meaning of the words to me for the first time.

Flashing across the screen, they showed Warholesque images of Marilyn and Jimi, Janis and Kurt, Morrison and Mercury, Elvis and Tupac – all pop icons who died young. Then, mixed in among those tragic souls were quick cuts of Bono himself, dressed as his devlish alter-ego, Macphisto.

In that moment I realized that I had completely missed the meaning in the lyrics?

“They want you to be Jesus
They’ll go down on one knee
But they’ll want their money back
If you’re alive at 33”

He’s right. Pop stars like Bono live to hear people calling their names. But they’re never truly revered or loved unconditionally until after they die like sparkling messiahs. As the song reached its crescendo, I heard Bono’s cry for help. He was no longer begging “hold me, thrill me, kiss me.” Rather, he kept calling out to us, his worshippers, “kill me, kill me, kill me, kill me!”

This song is not about Batman! It’s a suicide note.

Does he mean it? Is this an act? Has Bono reached his pinnacle? Is there nowhere left to go but Popmartyrdom? Does he want it all to end?

I couldn’t help believing that Bono was signaling his anguish – revealing to us that, like the fractured stars that went before him, he is indeed broken. Behind the flash and celebration of good new-fashioned rock-n-roll, I saw despair in his expression and on the screen. What more does a worldwide audience want from its celebrities than to live fast and die young so that they can idolize them all the more?

Baldo – In solidarity with a mate on the crew, Bono shaved his head for the Seattle show. Cover of a fan rag.

Shaken, I realized in my heart that I was responsible for this. With all my worship and fanaticism toward this ragtag group of photogenic Irish men, I put Bono on that stage – a man made god, to die, not for my sins, but for my entertainment.

I was shocked with the thought that I had brought him to this. I wanted to reach out to him and apologize. Bono, If I ever deified you, if I ever worshipped you as my god, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to raise you up so high that you could never come down without a crash.

I wondered if I was making something out of nothing. Was the excitement of the night leading me to believe a charade? To see something that wasn’t there? I looked around at my companions, my brother and our friends, to seek in their faces the confirmation or invalidation of my presumption.

They looked back at me with the same confused expressions I could feel on my own face. Like children walking in on a violent parental quarrel, we had all caught the same sensation that we were witnessing something extremely intimate and disturbing.

In that moment, we became united under a desire to do something to put Bono back together with “God’s Glue” – not back together as the rock star we’d idolized, but as a regular person who is loved for being human, not deity.

The band played Mysterious Ways next. It’s a crowd pleaser, but I didn’t hear much of it. Frankly, I was distracted by Bono’s apparent desire to die. I did however come to the realization that it has taken me three albums and two tours to listen closely enough to hear Bono’s previous cries for help – If you want to kiss the sky, better learn how to kneel.

Next, Bono dedicated their unifying hit One to Kurt Cobain, Seattle’s golden grunger who had joined the ranks of self-martyred rockers three and a half years previously. Ironically, Bono’s tribute came with him surrounded by corporate logos wearing a blue pixel suit in the land of flannel.

One, a glorious love song to U2’s fans and the human race, was supposed to be the final “feel good” moment of the night, and a triumphant wrap-up of the North American leg of the tour.

Then the technical problems began.

I was at the first show of the Pop Mart tour in Las Vegas. I watched as all of the band members struggled to keep in time and in tune while their cutting edge in-ear monitors malfunctioned and nearly wrecked the show. In a show this big and ambitious, with audio loops and video screens to stay in sync with, the speed of sound to stay ahead of, and to simply hear themselves play, the in-ear monitors must be functional.

Humiliated, U2 had to start Staring at the Sun over. This is something that should not happen to the biggest band in the world. It dogged them throughout the tour. Pop Mart technology couldn’t keep up with U2.

In Seattle, one verse into One, Bono began signaling to the techs that his ear monitor was not loud enough. He tried to be subtle by pointing to his ear and pointing up but the problem continued. He then started hitting his right ear with his hand and broadly motioning for volume, all the while still trying to play his guitar part and sing the song many in the audience had travelled many miles to hear.

Bono was frustrated and angry. He seemed to be thinking, “This is the last show of the tour. The last show! I just dedicated one of our most popular songs, the finale, to a hometown hero and I don’t even know if I’m singing in the right key! Why can’t you get this right?!”

Furious, Bono stripped off his guitar and dropped it on its back sounding a boom throughout the stadium. He finished singing, but in a tantrum. He couldn’t shake the anger. In a fury, he began smashing his microphone into the stage. Bashing and smashing, enraged and hateful, while the last lines of the love song ended around him.

He crouched there on the stage gripping the ruined microphone, huffing and puffing. The song ended and he stood. Bono shouted a furious staccato grunt into the hunk of metal in his hand. Only those of us close enough could hear it because no sound came from the speakers.

A roadie, reluctant and afraid, crept onto the stage with a fresh microphone and held it out to Bono who snatched it from him indignantly. The roadie turned quickly and made for a place in the shadows. He couldn’t, however, escape the hateful stare of the man on stage.

The Edge began playing the chords of Wake Up Dead Man and Bono sang the first half of the song still glaring with the eyes of a martyr on fire at the poor fool who gave him the mic. I stared in disbelief as Bono, known for his love and compassion, shot daggers of hate at his sorry employee.

From the concert booklet – “Wake Up Dead Man” is as forlorn as the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, when the tabernacle is empty and all the candles are blown out. The song suggests the 20th Century, the age when Darwin, Freud and Marx conspired to kill off God, is coming to a close and He’s still not coming back.

Wake Up Dead Man is a song that has been tough for me to enjoy. I have spit, thrown up, and choked on it, but I still haven’t been able to swallow it. Mostly because it disturbs my Christian sensibilities. The “dead man” in the title is Jesus and the singer is frustrated that He’s nowhere to be found (Read the lyrics to here).

I’ve argued with myself over it since I bought the album. It’s it blasphemy? Is Bono actually saying that God is dead or, if He is alive, He doesn’t care anymore? Or is this a song like I Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, which praises the greatness and mercy of God, yet still searches for more from Him?

Perhaps it’s a call for the Church to wake from its complacent slumber, a call for revival in the hearts of people who call themselves children of God. Maybe Bono is calling to the Christ he knows lives in him to wake up and show himself – a Christ who Bono has cherished but has been slowly burying beneath a rock star’s clothes and all the garbage that goes with being a hero to millions. Or surely Bono is crying out to himself, a dead man in need of waking from his own hypnosis of fame and fortune.

No matter what the song actually means, in that moment, all I could hear was Bono’s anger toward God, something I had never heard from him before.

And so I stood there listening as Bono, angry and tired, sang this frustrated and hopeless song. From that distance, just a security barrier away, I believed I could see into his heart.

I saw a man who has worked his whole life to change the world, to have a voice that the world will hear, to reach the masses with a message of hope and love. At the very least, I could see that he had wanted to make this last show on the U.S. tour a great experience for the thousands present, but instead it was a disaster.

I couldn’t help think of King Solomon in Ecclesiastes, looking back over a life filled with accomplishments and worldly gain only to realize it was worth nothing. And he sang those words over all of us there in his “King Dome” asking, begging, “Is there one of you here who is awake? Are you all dead men? Am I dead? Has God left building? Is He anywhere?”

I heard his cry. And so did my friends.

As if to say, “Yes! God is still here! He is awake in us and we are awake in Him,” we began, in unison and at the top of our lungs, to sing.

“How long to sing this song? How long to sing this song? How long to sing this song?”

These are the closing lines of U2’s concert favorite, 40. It’s a nearly word for word rewrite of Psalm 40 that U2 used as their closing benediction at nearly every concert since it’s release. That is until they reinvented themselves for the cynical 1990s and the song was shelved.

Now we no longer chanting for one more song. We were singing to Bono, reaching out to him, ministering to his heart like he had done for us so many times. We hoped he would hear the Christ in us, hear the Christ in himself, buried beneath his anger at the equipment, hidden by his fear of mediocrity and his demented longing for dead rock star status – to hear the Christ calling from inside one of his own songs – the Hallelujah of King David that he had sung so many times before.

Then, just as he was waving goodbye to the audience for the last time and turning to leave with Edge, Adam, and Larry, he heard us.

“How long to sing this song?”

The Psalm was spreading from my group of friends throughout our section of the arena.

“How long to sing this song?”

Bono turned back to us, his face still shrouded in sadness. He looked like a boy on the last day of his greatest Summer crying for the loss of his youth.

“How long to sing this song?”

He looked at us with an expression saying, “You didn’t hear a thing I said these past seven years! You call yourselves U2 fans but you understand me less today than when I last sang that lost song. All you want is for me to come out and play the U2 jukebox. Well, I won’t be made a novelty.”

“How long to sing this song?”

“Why are you doing this? Why are you trying to change me?

“How long?”

“I’m comfortable in the pain.”

“How long?”

“Leave me alone!”

“How long?”

“It’s so hard to wake up.”

“How long… to sing this song?”

Just then a smile crept onto his face – a smile of relief, comfort, of peace – the smile of a man meeting a long lost friend.

He turned and stopped Mr. The Edge, asking him if he could mock up an impromptu 40. Edge protested a bit, probably because he hadn’t played the song in 7 years. But Bono, along with a mass of emotional fans, insisted.

We needed to sing this song.

The familiar chords rang out from the golden arch. Bono looked directly at our group and sang.

“I waited patiently for the Lord. He inclined and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit, out of the mire and clay. I will sing, sing a new song. I will sing, sing a new song.”

He paused, struggling to remember the words that his heart knew.

“He set my feet upon the rock and made my footsteps firm. Many will see. Many will see and fear. I will sing, sing a new song. I will sing, sing a new song.”

And the audience finished the song for him.

“How long to sing this song? How long to sing this song? How long? How long? How long? How long… to sing this song?”

Here’s the front row crew right after the show, spent in rock-n-roll ecstasy.

The Edge stopped playing, closed the chord and took off his guitar. As Bono waved goodbye, his eyes met mine and we both saw changed men, awakened men.

The stage cleared, my friends and I came together hugging and crying in the realization of what we had all just experienced. This had been a spiritual rediscovery unlike any we had ever experienced before – not in a church, not in nature, not in a lonely cell, but at a rock concert.

As I walked out of the arena I thought about Bono. I wondered what he was thinking just then. Was he thinking about going home to his wife and girls? Was he thinking about the technical problems? About dying? About living? Was he thinking about me and my friends? About God?

I know I can’t speak for him, but I felt in my soul that he was thinking about the song, the Psalm, the ascent that he’d lost but found again that night.

How long to sing this song? Forever.

Epilogue: A lot has happened with Bono and U2 in the last twenty years.

Anybody who has followed the band’s album releases would note that the music is more joyful and spiritually deep than ever before. Their very next album after Pop, a return of sorts to their exultant musical roots began with Beautiful Day and ended with Grace.

Bono’s activism took on an even greater power as he linked arms with political leaders to cease aggression in his home country of Ireland, spearheaded the Drop the Debt campaign and Jubilee 2000 to forgive the debts of the world’s poorest nations, and created the One Campaign to bring awareness to the problem of HIV/AIDS across Africa, and continues to be a bridging voice of unity and compassion in world politics and culture.

It’s probably silly to think that that moment in Seattle had any effect on Bono’s life over all. Although, 40 does still make its way into their concert playlist now and again.

Yesterday, we spent Labor Day in Ventura. I had been working on this post all morning and it was definitely at the front of my mind. Out of nowhere, this fantastic dude with his respectable beard walks by wearing a 20 year old Pop Mart shirt. “I went to the Vegas show,” he said. “Me too.”

Also, YouTube became a thing. Who would have ever imagined that we would ever see this drama unfold again before our eyes on a web page that rhymes with U2.

Thanks to whoever recorded the entire concert so we could relive it. Keep in mind, it’s shot from far away in the stands. You can’t see or hear some of the drama we did. But what you can see is pretty dramatic. Check out the “Kill Me!” section at 1:45, Bono’s ear monitor freak out at 2:03, smashing the mic at the end of One at 2:05, and the redemption at 2:09.

This post is dedicated to the rest of my compadres at the front row; Isaac Martin, Matt Keortge, Rich Sargent, Rich Fuller, Paul Trudeau, Greg Homdrom, Shawn Cardwell, Jon Fuller, Chuck Inman, Eric Fearing, Tadd Reaney, Michael Sorensen, Brian Thomas(?), and our nosebleed section buddy, Dennis Emslie, who saw it all from above. And of course Chris, the guy in the photo above. Stay Popped!

The Angry Point – My Golden Globes Adventure with Harrison Ford

That day in 1981 when I first saw him deftly weighing the golden fertility statue against a bag of sand, Indiana Jones became my movie hero of choice. And Harrison Ford became my favorite actor.

Whenever he released a film I was first in line for tickets. I even tried to like Frantic. During those late night coffee shop doldrums, when young men expound upon their top tens, desert island discs, and last man on earth scenarios, my consistent choice of celebrity to meet was always Harrison Ford.

However, I imagined that if I ever really did meet the world’s greatest action hero, the only possible scenario I could imagine would include an awkward, “I’m yer biggest fan” and the moment would be not worth having.

But one hot January evening in 2006, Harrison Ford and I did cross paths – and it was just right.

I was working as a production assistant for the 63rd annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills.  It was my job to stand at the corner of Wilshire and Santa Monica and grant permission to the select few delivery trucks, VIPs and limos that needed access to the stage door of the world-famous awards show venue.

The best part of my position was the power I held. There were around a dozen LAPD, Beverly Hills PD, and Beverly Hills Traffic Patrol officers along with another six private security guards dressed in tuxes, and they were all at my command.

Protecting our national treasures from early carpet haulers.

When a vehicle pulled up along Wilshire seeking access, the uniformed officers would look to me for clearance. If the driver or passenger was on my list or cleared via radio communication with the command center inside the hotel, I would give the signal for the officers to move barricades and let them turn right onto Santa Monica into the secure hotel perimeter. If clearance was not granted, my little army would flex their muscle and wave the vehicle on.

Here’s the rub. Most of the vehicles that approached did in fact have clearance. However, due to some some aggravating factors – limited dock and driveway space, extensive post-911 security, and a newly elected Governator in attendance – they were only allowed access during brief, preset windows of time. If someone arrived before their time slot to pick up camera equipment or deliver a cake for the after party, for instance, they couldn’t block traffic. They had to keep driving.

The previous year, I sent Leonard DiCaprio and Naomi Watts around even thought they insisted they needed to be on stage “in five minutes!”

Actors.

This was really bad news for a denied driver because, as all Angelenos know, awards show traffic is horrendous. Being denied access meant up to forty more minutes of traffic for the driver. Even if their time slot is just two minutes away, they still gotta go around. Drivers got pretty angry at me for that, but with the boys and girls in blue backing me up, all they could do was drive away bitterly beaten.

It’s under these circumstances that my little story (finally) takes shape.

After the red carpet pre-show ended, the actual ceremony began. With all the star power safely inside the ballroom, hundreds of workers descended upon the hotel’s entrance to tear down all traces of the pre-event festivities. The process is designed to be a seamless progression so that unionized teams of bleacher builders, tent poppers, carpet rollers, cable wrappers and camera operators don’t make war. And I was there to grant them access.

Just then a convoy of carpet trucks began rolling up to my spot on the corner. Carpet gets pulled up last so they weren’t welcome for another hour. One by one I sent them around into traffic oblivion. Just as I was about to reject the fifth carpet truck, their boss came running to my post from inside the hotel, out of breath and begging me to let his trucks in.

The guy was angry with the system and persistent with me. My cop brigade watched me closely for a signal of which way I’d go. The traffic light changed from red to green and back to red as Mr. Carpet tried to wear me down. I radioed the command center once more to see if we could help him out. But the show had started, and they weren’t answering.

As I waited anxiously for word, traffic behind the truck backed up heavily. A few timid honks sounded from the crush of town cars and pizza delivery trucks. It’s not nice to honk at the LAPD, but the natives were getting restless.

Suddenly, the rear passenger door of the first town car flew open. A tuxedoed man with a grey goatee and an earring rushed at me. It took only a second to recognized him. Indiana Jones, Rick Deckard, Dr. Richard Kimball, Jack Ryan and Han Solo were all barreling toward me, an angry finger stabbing the air. I was terrified.

“WHY IS THIS TRUCK JUST SITTING HERE?!” he growled.

“IT’S MOVING NOW!!” I shouted to the driver, the cops, the carpet boss and every motorist within a quarter mile. My faithful coppers all stepped hard toward the truck and the driver got the picture. Against all hope, he released the clutch and began his long drive around.

Harrison Ford turned back to his car, muttering frustrated thanks to me or whoever he’d been praying to.

I put my hand in the open car window and jogged alongside, escorting it to the bomb squad check point. I gave the driver directions to the stage door, then looked into the back seat one more time. The scruffy-looking  passenger nodded to me in thanks.

Whenever I imagined meeting a hero, I guess I thought it would be a little bit cool and a whole lot of awkward.

It couldn’t have been better.

This post was originally written and posted the day after the Golden Globes adventure on January 17, 2017 at thechindo.blogspot.com 

To experience what I experienced and see more of Harrison Ford’s angry points check out this segment from Conan.

Disneyland Finally Gets Its Own S.E.A. Connection… and the Mysterious Photo That Will Blow You Out of the Backside of Water!

The newly opened Bengal BBQ dining area at Disneyland features a bevy of curious Easter eggs which appear to reveal a richly hewn backstory that ties Disneyland’s Adventureland to Disney parks around the world through a mysterious club known as “The S.E.A.”

Disney parks are known for their incredible spacial storytelling techniques. They weave together seemingly unrelated details and hidden nuggets within the architecture and decor to tell cohesive stories that the sharp-eyed visitor can see and enjoy. It’s what makes it possible to visit the parks again and again for a lifetime without the novelty wearing off.

One such storyline revolves, not around a famous Disney film property, but around a secret society of wealthy globetrotters and treasure seekers known as the Society of Explorers and Adventurers (The S.E.A.). It’s origins are mysterious even among Disney insiders. That’s because details revealed about these fez-wearing, secret handshake-shaking millionaires are few and far between. Only in recent years has some of the folklore been added through hidden details and, in a few cases, overt placement in attractions, stores, and dining locations.

Do a quick web search for S.E.A. members and their back stories to get caught up (not to be confused with the Sea Org of Scientology fame). Here’s a couple posts from Disney Wikia and Attractions Magazine that were helpful for me. Then come back here to find out about the latest S.E.A. discovery, which is so full of story, I’m sure it will knock your jungle boots clean off! Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Great! You’re back. Now check this out.

The Bengal BBQ dining area is a set of rooms that used to be a retail location called Adventurers Outpost. The shop was emptied out to make space to get diners out of the way of a very congested section of Adventureland walkways. This change allowed Disney Imagineers and opportunity to do a little tweaking to the decor and hide a few fun secrets in plain sight.

A shelf of treasures and secrets.

When you first walk into the Bengal BBQ dining area, turn left and look up. There’s a line of shelves with various themed items on display. There’s a box full of correspondence from a bygone era – handwritten letters and postcards with stamps on them! Go figure. Hidden among the letters is a photograph of a quirky looking character wearing an old-timey pilot’s cap and goggles. This chap, it turns out, is Professor R. Blauerhimmel – a member of the S.E.A. We know this because his framed portrait hangs in a gallery within Mystic Manor, the Haunted Mansion related attraction at Hong Kong Disneyland. Incidentally, “Blauerhimmel” is German for Blue Sky, which not only hints as the good Professor’s chief domain as a pilot of some sort, but also a nod to the term Imagineers use for brainstorming new ideas.

Photo of Professor R. Blauerhimmel (Blue Sky in German)

(Please use the following information for good, not for evil.) I reached up to touch the letters in the box and unlike most Disney theming, they were loose. That’s how I got these close up photos of the letters inside. Cursory web searches did not reveal much about the names on these papers, although both Elizabeth Doer and Bessie Steele searches both uncovered some other fun adventure related sites I’m sure I’ll dig in to sometime in the future. Never fear, I put the cards back exactly as I found them.

Mail call, Mrs. Doer.

 

Get well, Miss Steele.

 

From and from. Some message. Glad I stood by the postbox waiting.

Next to the box is a black case, presumably for binoculars, with a brass latch emblazoned with the letters E-I-T-C. Although the arrangement of the letters doesn’t match the various logos used by the East India Trading Company, those notorious letters will always bring to mind the empire-building villains of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Could this be the start of an eventual tie-in between Adventureland’s jungle and Captain Jack’s New Orleans bayou? We can only wait and see. 

Correction: This is not an E.I.T.C. binoculars case. It’s a film camera case from the Eastman Kodak Company. Thanks for the help, dear readers.

(Update: Awesome readers like you have cleared up this particular mystery for us. This is not in fact a version of the E.I.T.C. logo for pirates story purposes. The initials are actually EKC, which stands for Eastman Kodak Company, the longtime photographic sponsor of Disneyland since park opening in 1955. Don’t believe me? Watch.)

Keep moving around the room to the right until you reach another cluster of explorer bric-a-brac. Hanging on the wall is a famous portrait of the S.E.A.’s founding members dated 1899. This same portrait appears in various Disney park locations worldwide. The photo features several key characters involved in this ever evolving story line.

From left: Harrison Hightower III, Professor Blauerhimmel, Albert, Lord Henry Mystic, Dr. J.L. Baterista, Barnabas T. Bullion?, unknown member, Captain Mary Oceaneer, and another unknown member.

From left to right we see Harrison Hightower III (accused grave robber and owner of the Hightower Hotel, the Tower of Terror in Tokyo Disney Sea), Professor Blauerhimmel (back story unknown), Lord Henry Mystic (curiosity collector and master of Mystic Manor), Dr. J.L. Baterista (back story unknown – name means “drummer”), an unknown gentleman (possibly Barnabas T. Bullion, the gold-mad owner of the Big Thunder Mining Company), another unknown gentleman (his cold weather clothing may link him to the Matterhorn or Expedition Everest), Captain Mary Oceaneer (featured on Disney Cruise Line’s Oceaneer Labs and Miss Adventure Falls, the new rafting adventure at Typhoon Lagoon), and one last unknown gentleman (possibly linked to Frontierland based on his outfit).

Lord Mystic and his monkey, Albert.

Now glance back to the seated Lord Henry Mystic. If you didn’t notice before, nested on his shoulder is an innocent-looking monkey named Albert. This cute little fellow is Lord Mystic’s faithful pet who’s curiosity and mischief sets in motion the adventures that befall visitors to Mystic Manor. Albert’s naive troublemaking is akin to Abu’s from Aladdin or Mickey’s from the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. A little bit of his curiosity sets off a whole mess of trouble.

So why are all these S.E.A. references hidden here in the diner across from the World Famous Jungle Cruise?

To answer that, we need to bounce briefly across the continent to Walt Disney World in Florida to the newest restaurant in Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland. Opened in late 2015, the “Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen” expanded the S.E.A. lore to include an elaborate backstory focused around the World Famous Jungle Cruise and it’s world famous Skippers. The Skipper Canteen (for short) is an interactive, comedy restaurant experience where the infamous jungle boat Captains come ashore to serve your food with loads of laughs, a helping of humor, and a side of sarcasm. It is definitely the new must-do, immersive dining experience at the parks.

Getting jungle mad with Skipper Emma in February 2016.

The restaurant is themed as the headquarters of the Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd., the company that hires out boats to take tourists on dark water safari through the rain forest. According to story, the canteen is the mess hall where the Skippers might come for a little R & R between their long river journeys. The company was established by Dr. Albert Falls, the personification of one of the jungle attraction’s most famous jokes.

The guardian’s of Professor Marley’s back side… of water.

 

Hand painted portrait of that noted explorer, Dr. Albert Falls.

A portrait of Dr. Falls, skippering a boat in front of the waterfall that bears his name, hangs in the Canteen’s entryway. The company is now under the management of Dr. Falls’ granddaughter, Alberta Falls, who took over when the good doctor allegedly met an untimely and mysterious end.

Tiki bird glass lamps in the Falls Family dining room.

But the Skipper Canteen is not just a cafeteria for hungry river guides. There are two other dining areas that help to fill out the story, each filled with details and references to the attraction that will keep you laughing throughout your meal. The first is the Falls family dining room. Decorated with all the comforts of home away from home, this elegant room is where Dr. Falls’ family would have dined separately from their wise-cracking employees.

Sample of some of the laughter-inducing titles in the Skipper Canteen bookcase.

The second room, however is more mysterious. Hidden behind a revolving bookcase (you’ll stand for an hour reading the hilarious, pun-filled book titles), is a secret S.E.A. dining and meeting room. Adorned with artifacts and collections culled from exotic locales by club members, this room is the most elegant (and enigmatic) of them all – and it confirms that Dr. Albert Falls was a card carrying member of Society of Explorers and Adventurers.

From the collection of the S.E.A.

 

The S.E.A. Crest

Now, let’s get back to Disneyland.

With the Jungle Cruise now established as being owned by the dead or missing Dr. Albert Falls and his confirmed membership in the S.E.A., it’s now obvious that the Bengal BBQ dining area has a similar story background as the Skipper Canteen. Clearly the S.E.A. references here are meant to communicate that this too is another of Dr. Falls’ outposts in the jungle. And it’s with this knowledge that we uncover what I believe to be one of the most amazing assemblies of Disney Easter eggs ever collected in one tiny place.

Bengal BBQ at Disneyland: Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart in a still from The African Queen… or perhaps there’s something more to this mysterious photo.

Further along the wall to the left of the S.E.A. portrait, almost hidden in a dark corner is a curious framed photo of some familiar faces. At first glance, you’ll recognize the famous faces of Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. The photo appears to be a still from the 1951 film, The African Queen, for which Bogart won an Oscar.

Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart travel down a jungle river.

According to Disney lore, even though it was not a Disney picture, The African Queen was the inspiration for the Jungle Cruise attraction. Over the years, some have said that the ride was inspired by Disney’s true-life adventure series, and to some degree that’s probably true, but there’s plenty of evidence that Walt took most of the ride’s motif (the canopied boat, the “signs of danger,” the attacking natives, the rapids, and the wise cracking captain) from the United Artists film.

Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn aboard the Jungle Cruise’s Zambezi Miss

Now look a little closer at the photo. Above Hepburn’s and Bogart’s heads you’ll see part of a curved sign that states the name of the boat they’re in. The full name isn’t visible, but it’s obvious it reads “Zambezi Miss,” one of the dozen or so boat names used on Adventureland’s rivers. This photo, placed within yards of the attraction seems to be an official Disney nod to the true origin of the ride that should finally put the question of its inspiration to rest.

Albert the monkey from Mystic Manor accompany’s Katharine Hepburn in The African Queen

But wait. That’s not all that’s hiding in this story-filled photo. There is a stow-away on this romantic river excursion. Seated on the bench next to Kate is none other than Albert the monkey, Lord Mystic’s adored pet. That’s right. The trouble-making simian from Hong Kong Disneyland’s Mystic Manor appears to have been rescued by the movie stars. He is clearly the reason they both appear so perplexed and worn out. I believe the monkey had been separated somehow from his master and Hepburn and Bogart – driven bananas by his hijinks (sorry) – are on a mission to rid themselves of his monkey business once and for all.

If that’s the case, then why did they bring the monkey so deep into the jungle? Why not drop him off at the nearest zoo? Or snapping ginger? The answer to this question lies in the photograph on the crate in front of them. You didn’t see that at first, did you? Stick with me. It gets even better.

In search of Dr. Albert Falls

Tilt your head 45 degrees to the right, and you’ll see that the photo is of the portrait of none other than… Dr. Albert Falls!

Are you ready for this? Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart are searching for Dr. Albert Falls, a member of the S.E.A., because they believe he alone can locate another S.E.A. member, Lord Mystic, so that they may finally return to him his cursed monkey – and with any luck, be accepted as honored members of the S.E.A. themselves!

Unfortunately for the screen legends, there’s a problem they hadn’t considered. Sadly, Dr. Falls is no longer with us. If I read the hints at Skipper Canteen correctly, Dr. Falls, ever the adventurer, motored off into the jungle one green morning and never returned. Like many a cruise before him (and since), his doomed safari never checked in at the outposts. His granddaughter Alberta has presumed him dead ever since.

Hold up there, Skipper. There’s one more clue you might have missed. Don’t feel bad. Hepburn and Bogart missed it too.

Is the explorer at the top of the trapped safari none other than the noted explorer Dr. Albert Falls? Humphrey Bogart may have something to say about that.

Just over Bogie’s left shoulder we are given a glimpse into the untimely fate of Dr. Falls and his lost safari. Treed by an unhappy rhino, it appears that our pith-helmeted hero, the intrepid explorer, the consummate adventurer, the keeper of the keys to the S.E.A.’s secret lair, will finally get the point in…

The End.

(Portions of this tale were originally revealed in comments on an article about S.E.A. references in Disney parks here: http://www.themeparktourist.com/features/20140621/18738/10-disney-rides-connected-secret-society)

 

Your Adventure

Have you visited the Bengal Barbecue since the remodel? Send photographic proof that you’ve seen evidence of the S.E.A. at Disneyland to TheFredMartin@gmail.com. I’ll send one of my first Skipper Freddy adventure badges to the first 10 people to respond. Follow me on Instagram @SkipperFreddy for new Disney secrets and updates as they happen.