(Foreword: I may have implied on Twitter that a portion of this post would be written in French, or ‘en francais.’
And then I realized how truly awful and rusty my French is. And so, at the end I have a lovely French quote. C’est la vie!)
Twenty-five years ago this week I missed out on an opportunity that could have changed the trajectory of my life. I’ve always felt a little bit resentful of how the whole thing turned out, but I’ve come to realize how very different my life would have unfolded had circumstances been different.
In 1991, I moved to Orlando to work for Disney. I was full of dreams and felt sure that this is where I needed to be. I had worked as a tour guide at the Backstage Studio Tour the previous year on Disney’s College Program and when I returned in the fall of 1991, I became a ticket seller at the DisneyMGM Studios Main Entrance.
After a handful of Guest Relations (customer service) people were fired for theft, a Tickets supervisor noticed my I speak French button and he quickly moved me over to Guest Relations to replace one of the fired employees. Speaking a foreign language wasn’t a requirement to work in Guest Relations, but with millions of visitors from all around the world, it was helpful. So it was the luck of the draw. My French had come in handy.
I loved studying French in high school and I became enamored with France. My teacher was amazing and she taught us more than just the nuances of the language. We learned about the culture, literature, art, traditions, music, and food that make France such a wonder. Now, at Disney, it had been a few years since I’d studied French and I was a bit rusty. Thankfully, as a Guest Relations hostess, I was always able to cobble together enough words and sentences to help French-speaking guests find Mickey Mouse or the bus back to their hotel.
I was in love with all things French and of course all things Disney, so when “EuroDisney”, as it was called then, was set to open just east of Paris in April 1992, I was on a mission to somehow be a part of it.
I applied and interviewed for an intern-type position open to all Disney cast members. If accepted, I’d be living in dorm-style housing and participate in a work-study opportunity as part of the opening crew. I was hopeful I would get in….and sure enough, I was selected.
Over the moon excited, I hit the local library and started brushing up on my broken French. Details were still coming together so I was told to hold tight while the paperwork was being finalized and the actual program was planned and set in motion. I was also told to get my passport up to date just in case it was a “go.”
Isn’t this castle awesome? It’s Sleeping Beauty castle at Disneyland Paris and it’s one of my favorites.
As I waited for more of an official word, another opportunity to go to France arose. This time it was through Guest Relations. Disney was looking for tour guides to work the grand opening event – basically, a huge press conference and media tour. Although I’d only worked in Guest Relations for little over a year at that point, one of my supervisors put my name in the hat for consideration. The fact that I spoke French made me a shoe-in. Luck of the draw again! I told my supervisors that I had applied for and been accepted to the program that was still being assembled, but they told me not to worry. One way or another, I’d be going to Paris!
And then it all started to unravel…
I got my passport. And I also heard from the special program manager, who called me in for a meeting. This should have clued me in that something was weird because I was just an hourly cast member. What could she possibly want with me? Turns out, she was the daughter-in-law to a man that had worked closely with Walt Disney back in the day. He had also served as the President of the Walt Disney Company for a while. His daughter-in-law was well-known throughout the company, although many surmised her position was more in title only rather than based on any competency. I swear that’s not my bitterness talking; that was truly the word on the street.
Anyway, I met with this
lovely woman who proceeded to barrage me with questions I was unprepared for. Looking back, I can see a slight resemblance to Cinderella’s wicked stepmother…
Wicked Stepmother: Are you committed to going on this program with my team?
Wicked Stepmother: Then you can imagine my surprise to learn that you have also accepted a position to go with the Guest Relations group? (her eyes narrow, the room darkens, and flames erupt in the background)
Me: (stammering) Well….I,
WS: You can’t do both.
Me: Yes, I know but you see I told my supervisors and –
WS: You have breached your commitment with our group and as a result, we’ve revoked your visa as of yesterday.
Me: What?? How can you –
WS: You will not be going to EuroDisney with my group. And if I have my way, you won’t be going to EuroDisney with ANY group.
OMG. What a bitch, right?
I was floored.
I left the Team Disney corporate offices defeated, with my head hung low. I climbed back into my 1989 red Hyundai Excel and cried all the way back to work. I confided my disappointment in one other Guest Relations co-worker and friend. He listened and let me cry on his super handsome but gay shoulder. (dammit).
And then the other shoe dropped.
I didn’t have enough seniority in Guest Relations to make the cut, so I would not be going to France as part of the press event tour either.
I was crushed.
At 21 years old, I thought for sure I’d just screwed up my entire life. You see, if I had gone to France, my intention was to stay for longer than the assignment. I wanted to work at EuroDisney and live and travel in the French countryside. I wanted to get a Eurrail pass and backpack through the continent. I wanted to shop in French farmers markets, see castles, buy fresh flowers, drink French wine, read books along the Seine, and fall in love at the top of the Eiffel Tower.
None of those things happened, of course. And I mourned my so-called lost life for awhile. But then a few years later I traveled to France with some friends and we had a ball. I worked many jobs at Disney and met many wonderful people, including my husband. Life went on and was wonderful and exciting and adventure-filled.
If I had gone to Paris in 1992 and stayed, I would have missed out on meeting and knowing so many amazing people here in Delaware, in New Jersey, and especially in Syracuse.
Life is full of so many different opportunities. Some we say yes to and others we say no. And sometimes the decision is made for us. It’s interesting to travel back in your life and see how everything strings together. How your life has progressed and bobbed and weaved with the flow.
However circumstances unfold, they’re all stitches on our life’s tapestry. While we’re busy stitching on one side, all we have to do is flip it over to see the beauty of the life we’ve created. I like my tapestry. And I adore the people in my life. Those that I see every day and those that are far but always close in my heart.
Footnote: Many of my friends and co-workers went to Paris for the grand opening and I loved hearing their stories. And that sexy gay friend of mine? Well. He was unbelievably kind and thoughtful. He brought me back some grand opening souvenirs and a EuroDisney mug, which I still have. He gave me a big hug and said I was with him in spirit and he thought of me when he first entered the park. How sweet was that?
Second footnote: No clue what happened to the wicked stepmother. I don’t wish her any ill will, but the next time she travels, I sort of hope her passport is expired.
Il n’est rien de reel que le reve et l’amour.
(Nothing is real but dreams and love) – de Noailles