Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Bertha's Fountain of Youth

Dearest Jungle Cruise Skippers, Present and Future;

         I pray this letter finds all of you well and bright, as I understand there are risks you take every day for the better of your adventurous, and sometimes naive, crew. Yet, come snapping crocodile, hippo pod or the dangerous waters of Headhunter Territory, your bravery and prowess prove tried and true, each tour a shining triumph of exploration as you safely return to civilization. It is often you that puts the 'World Famous' into the 'World Famous Jungle Cruise'. I also understand that your job is a nearly thankless one. Your clever satire is frequently balked or mocked at, your persistent enthusiasm sometimes only a show-for-one, and you recurrently find yourself at the helm of a boat loaded with unforgiving, havoc-wreaking, civilians that loudly ask if Ducks are jungle creatures or if they, themselves, can jump in the Nile and do the backstroke (and all too often ruining your brief chance to exhibit that you've single-handedly trained the most dangerous African Bull Elephant to 'speak'). But for the integrity of the tour, you stick to your cap-guns and incorporate originality and audience participation into your spiel every way you're allowed to without getting written up. I applaud you and admire you, and I even aspire to perhaps be like you, one day. And yet, among all this praise, there is one troubling little piece of feedback I feel compelled to give you, and this is the purpose for which I am writing.

        I begin my conviction by asking you to appreciate that each time I climb aboard the Jungle Cruise, I bring with me a fresh pair of eyes and ears. I am your one-in-a-few crew members who is always listening and enjoying the sites and sounds of the Jungle River. I see everything with you and love your wisecracks and the unique way each one of you chooses to deliver them. I look forward to the next 5 exciting days and 10 romantic nights I am about to spend with you. Even though I don't often get hear about the Toucans in the Rainforest and I sorely miss the scene I barely got to know with the Hornbill being teased by hungry Crocodiles, I look past this and instead choose to accept your comfort when you assure me that the Bengal Tiger (who can jump over 25 feet!) will simply jump right over our boat. But it is next, when we enter the Elephant Bathing Pool, which determines whether I want to throw you overboard or not.

        As a seasoned explorer, you know as well as I do that it is very important to understand the "nature of the beast" for which you are about to encounter - or risk everything.  I don't expect you to know the kind of intensely geeky things I stick my nose into when it comes to Walt Disney's Disneyland. Though it would be ideal, it is not essential for you to know that if it were 50 years earlier, I'd be seated on blue velvet cushions next to you or that Bob Gurr's Rhino will be attacking our boat just around the bend. After all, this jungle adventure often just means a paycheck to some of you and nothing more. I respect that as much as I'm able to. But when we head on into the Elephant Bathing Pool, I do expect you, as my fearless leader, to be knowledgeable of one important fact and I am continually alarmed when you are not. You are my skipper and I need to trust you, my life is in your hands! There is one wisecrack many (though, not all!) of you are constantly fumbling. And here it is:
"That's Big Bertha, she's been in the shower for over 57 years... I think it's time for her to get out, look at all those wrinkles!"
(Or some type of variation on Bertha's age, thereof.)

        Frankly, it hurts to even write. Every time I hear this tidbit of misinformation, I am often so dismayed, it literally leaves me with my head in my hands. As much as I try to enjoy the rest of my tour, I can't. The more often I hear it, the more ruined my tour is each time. It also makes you look pretty silly in the bad kinda way, Skippers, and I don't like that, either. It's not that I don't like this joke, or the way you chortle after you make it, but it's a joke that works well even without any incorrect indication of Bertha's age, at all:
"And that over there is Bertha. Bertha's been in the shower just a little too long... look at all those wrinkles!"
        Yes , I did just use the words ‘misinformation' and ‘incorrect’. And with that, this Disneyland 'foamer' is about to have the audacity to educate you on the place of your own employment in order to iron out a few .. er... "wrinkles". 

        Like the rest of Disneyland, the Jungle Cruise has changed quite a bit since opening day, despite what the Mouse House tells you. It's first major (and most significant) change was in 1962 when they updated the ride by Mr. Disney's instruction, through his own direction and with the artistic and creative assistance of Mr. Marc Davis - as most things went, those days. The most significant part of this update was transforming the 'Crocodile Circle' into the 'Elephant Bathing Pool'. See where I'm getting at? Simple math tells you that even if you've cracked that Big Bertha has been in the shower for "over 50 years" instead of giving a specific number, you would still be 7 years amiss. Mr. Disney's 1962 update doesn't turn 50 until this year - and let's not go cutting corners, you guys have been misusing this joke for quite a while. Don't try and tell me that it's part of your schtick, either, because I won't buy it. Bottom line: Though the Jungle Cruise (aka Jungle River Ride) was an opening day attraction in 1955, the Elephant Bathing Pool was still just a twinkle in Mr. Disney and Mr. Davis' eye. 

        The fact that most Skippers sell this 'incorrect age' idea to crew after crew greatly upsets me because it directly effects me. Not only is it offensive to Bertha - for you should never insult a woman's age - but being a Disneyland nerd, I suffer a lot of the same type of abuse you receive on your tours. I put my heart into what I've learned about Disneyland because it is a passion and labor of love. When people find that out, they ask me ridiculous questions about pretty simple things and sometimes, just to get a rise out of me or contradict me. They also tune out after I begin speaking, even though I'm making an enthusiastic effort to entertain them with something wonderful and fascinating. When they learn incorrect information from Cast Members who actually work at Disneyland – information like Bertha being 57 years old - guests and crew alike take it as hard fact, because “Why would they lie?” and write me off as soon as I try to set them straight (and you'd be surprised at how well they are at absorbing false information!). Often, I am left feeling totally invisible in front of an unappreciative audience and yet I push forth through my mission because, like you, I need to protect my job.

        All I’m asking for here, in this open letter, is a little empathy and some mutual respect. If you promise to deliver this joke properly (or to at least put in the extra effort to say Bertha’s age in a mathematically correct manner), I promise, in return, to give you my undivided attention, laughter, and interaction each and every time we travel together, for I am one civilian that actually comes in peace. 

        Ok. Now that we’ve found common ground and you are fully knowledgeable of Bertha's Birthday, I have just one final comment to leave you with on the misrepresentation of these tyrannical age jokes, and it is presented in a way that I'm positive will resonate with you : 


I'm sorry, that was rude of me.




  1. Foam away! You know I'm with you 100% on this. It's like fingernails on a chalkboard when the skippers say that line (because of the misinformation). I hope every one of them finds this "open letter"!

  2. You tell 'em, Ginger! Have you ever watched Weird Al Yankovic's "Skipper Dan" video? It is about a guy who wanted to be an actor but never made it, so now he is a Jungle Cruise Skipper. In light of this post I thought that you would enjoy it. You can find it on YouTube. :-)

  3. Tokyo - Thank you for the support and good wishing. I have a sincere hope the Skippers find it, also. Guests would also benefit from this little lesson, too, so let's just hope everyone reads it so our jungle safari's quit being extra stressful!

    Knott's After Dark - My love for the Jungle Cruise and role of 'Skipper' lead me straight away to Weird Al's song! It's amazing! I actually lined this blog to the YouTube video with the text 'nearly thankless job' in my intro paragraph of this post!! You know what they say - great minds think alike! :)