Work Stories (pt. 4)- Tropical Storms and Chasing Cones

There’s really only one thing that can be relied on when it comes to the weather in Florida: the state doesn’t do anything half-assed. It’s either blistering sun or raining sideways, sometimes one immediately following the other, or some combination of the two resulting in a heavy humidity. There’s not room for intermediate seasons like “spring,” something that I dearly missed about Iowa last April. I didn’t have a chance to miss the rains though, because I got plenty of that.

Maybe it was because it felt like an adventure, or maybe it was because I haven’t been soaking wet enough times in my life to have learned the utter distaste for it, but every time it rained and I was at work, I got so excited. Now, I’ll be the first to tell you that I absolutely abhor the feeling of wet socks, and the way that our costume pants chafed was no walk in the park either. Plenty of my co-workers would mutter and groan and I of course would join in, but secretly I was celebrating the chance to don my rain gear and I kept my fingers crossed for a Code 101 (when we pulled everyone from the lot and spielers got to sit on the last bench of the tram to avoid the lightening). The wet butt was totally worth it to sit down and tell people they couldn’t sit in the last row. Even the trams themselves would act up, bringing new challenges: mics would stop working from being so water-logged, electronics would short out, lights would flicker, and wheels would spin. I can’t put my finger on why, but something just seemed generally more exciting about the times when there was a rain storm.

I was lucky enough to experience a few pretty good ones. I recall being in the lot for preferred parking once when we went 101, and I had been watching the storm roll in. The sky got progressively darker, I could see the lightening off in the distance, and I heard the radio chatter that called the code. I was by myself on that shift in the lot and it was kind of fun to sit in the truck and watch the rain roll right over top of us. One minute it was sunny, the next dark and pouring, and another few later it had mostly passed. Another time I was coming into work and it had started to pour while we were on the bus. MacKenzie and I ran to the breakroom from the bus stop but it was hopeless- we were drenched before we even began our shift. I think I actually poured water out of my shoes that day.

One storm sticks out in particular, however. This was early in my program, as Connie was still a coordinator with us. They had prepared as best they could during the day by doubling up the cones to weigh them down and tying down anything that might threaten to come loose. All that was left was the waiting by the time I started my shift that day. It had been raining fairly steady on and off all morning and afternoon which meant that trams were wet and the lot was miserable with humidity when the sun did poke out. When I arrived, I jumped on a tram with Cary and we headed out to the Villain’s side of the lot to load guests. We hadn’t been out for very long when a Code 101 was called and the rain began to let loose. Leaving the Villain’s load zone had been difficult but I thought it was just the tires slipping on the wet pavement so I didn’t think anything of it until I was coming into the load zone from the parking lot 15 minutes later with my foot to the floor and the tram only moving 3 miles per hour. I’m sure Cary thought I was crazy for going so miserably slow. When we came to a stop, I honked and motioned for her to come to cab, and told her that I was having trouble driving the tram faster than how we had pulled in. Something wasn’t right, it was as if the tram’s air break had been released. I want you to take a moment to imagine this scene with me, because I don’t know if it’s quite clear: The rain is coming in horizontal, the lightening is literally right on top of us cracking and echoing off of the load zones, and the trams are roaring. Cary and I are busy yelling to one another over the ambient noise, and meanwhile we have a (we think) broken tram on our hands plus one sitting behind us ready to take our spot. We were still pretty green, only a month or month and a half in, so I had Cary radio for a coordinator but there was something lost in translation and Morgado misunderstood.

A word about Mike Morgado: he was a generally nice guy, but he had a Hell of a short fuse and little patience for stupidity. Add in two barely competent CPs and you can hopefully imagine my trepidation at upsetting him.

Mike pulled up in the coordinator’s van next to the cab and as we yelled to one another about the issue, he directed us to shut down the tram at the green fence. Awesome. I had only ever done this once before and I was terrified I was going to crash the tram somehow. Going ever-so-painfully slow around the turn and pulling into place, we shut down the tram and waited for Mike to come around and pick us up; I don’t think we had been out for longer than 45 minutes. That was the first tram.

Later that evening, I was on a tram that had become so water-logged throughout the day that it refused to work properly. In fact, it kept throwing the emergency break. Immediately after I cleared my driver from the load zone, it activated for the first time. Morgado came around once again to help out. He warned me not to accidentally lean up against it. 5 minutes later, just outside the tunnel and with a tram full of guests, it went off again. I called Mike once more, he came by, and directed me to drop off guests and then head out to shut down. We hadn’t gone more than 20 yards when the e-brake went off for a third time. I called Mike, hesitant to even tell him. He swung up in the van, took a quick look, and told me to try and go so he could see for himself. Two feet and — e-brake. He directed me to empty the tram, which no one was too excited about since we were still fairly far off from the second stop. John and I stood by until we were picked up, and Father Tim was given the job to direct traffic around the broken tram, which now was blocking the tram lane going out-bound. That was the second tram.

Shortly after my second tram decided to call it quits, a third tram’s horn stopped working. We were already down from our regular eight to seven for repairs, but now we only had four operational trams. Half of our usual fleet. With exit fast approaching, we did the best we could as one more heavy rain threatened to overtake us. Of the three that broke down that evening, two were up and running again by the worst of everyone leaving the parks (a blessing for sure). The first real wave of the storm hit the lot around 11pm, and it was insane. Palm fronds were flying across the lot, cones were coasting across the pavement, the wind rocked the tram, and the rain found its way into every crack and crevice. By some stroke of luck, it was an early close in the park that evening which meant we were done at 1am. Still. I remember Connie directed my tram to shut down around 12:30, and I think it might have been Chantal on the back. As we worked our way over to the Villain’s side from the Heroes, I was dodging cones all over the tram lane as the wind and rain were relentless. Weaving around cones that were actively sliding in front of my tram, desperately trying not to hit one and as I weaved, the tram serpentine’d behind me. Meanwhile, I was yelling the entire time with no one to hear me. I was talking back to the cones, begging them to stay put and screaming when they floated on the breeze in front of me. If anyone had heard me, they would have probably died of laughter, and if anyone saw my tram they probably thought I was just joking around. But I was completely serious- I would be damned if I was going to activate yet another emergency brake.

Chantal and I made it all the way to shutting down when I did massacre one single cone. It never stood a chance against my 18 wheels. Connie picked us up, and she said something to me that I will always remember. She said, “Effie, I have to tell you: that was damn impressive.” She told me she had been watching my driving and noticed that I didn’t hit a single cone, she also said she had been laughing too at how ridiculous it all was. As a fairly new CP, and as someone who had “broken” two trams that day, I felt so proud to hear her say those things to me.

In the center is Connie on her last night as a parking coordinator. I only knew her for a couple months, bu she made a real difference in my life.

We picked up MacKenzie and Ingrid who had been tasked with collecting cones in the worst of the storm. Looking like drowned rats (sorry girls), they hopped in the van dripping wet and laughing hard. They had been standing in ankle deep water, nearly being blown away by the wind themselves, trying to round up as many cones as possible while the wind tried its best to blow them all away. We were all standing in water in our shoes and we were all soaked to the bone. We made one last run to collect the last few cones and wheelchairs, and then finally we were all turned free for the night. I think Connie was even nice enough to drive us out to the Cast Member parking lot. We had made it. Thank God.

The number one rule of the parking lot: What can go wrong will, because when it rains, it pours (literally). A tire blew on a tram? You can bet another will before the end of the week. One tram broke down today? How about three more! Someone called in? No, 5 people did! The storm that comes to mind most often was my first classified tropical storm, and it was no exception to the rule. Even today, we joke and laugh about that night. It was exciting, it was stressful, and by God, it was wet. But I think we all had fun, and I wouldn’t trade a single dripping second of it.

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