Driving the Tram at Disney World; Or, What I Learned from Being a Glow Ho

When I was an undergrad, I interned at Disney World in Orlando, participating in the company’s college program. Essentially, you’re assigned to menial labor while earning college credit. My job? I drove the tram at Magic Kingdom.

 

And, for a poor kid from Pekin, Illinois, the job was a dream come true. Every day was surreal. Sure i was living with five strangers and netting around $3.50 an hour, but it came with free access to the parks and I was, you know, working at Disney World. 

For me, the job worked like this

  • Wake up at Vista Way resort where you’re among a menagerie of other Disney interns: custodians, greeters, ride operators, characters (I’ll tell you some stories over drinks), and all manner of other $3.50/hour captains of industry 
  • Take an hour shuttle ride to Magic Kingdom while wiping your eye crusties, trying to remember your park events script and missing your mommy
  • Arrive, clock in, and wait in the break room with your tram driver colleagues: some interns, some former stock market traders who were told they have to intern in the company somewhere before being considered for a professional role (true), and old “lifers” complaining about working for “The Rat” while playing dominoes 
  • Hear “Kelly, you’re up!” and shuffle into a minivan where you’ll be dropped off at a sitting tram with 210 fresh or exhausted faces on it to relieve either the driver or the spieler. If you’re driving, you floor it to maintain a consistent speed. You take deep breaths. You stay focused while making the same mile loop for your shift. That part gets boring, unless you get the tram that allows you to rev the engine in neutral. If you get that one and you have a cool spieler and empty tram, you can floor it in neutral then shift into drive. This will lift the front of the cockpit off the ground about four feet. This is the best part of driving.
  • If you’re the spieler, you have the best job at Disney. Your job is to tell guests the day’s park events while answering questions about the park and helping them to find their cars after a long, expensive day with six screaming babies. But, you don’t stick to the script. You mostly forgot the script after the one-day training. You say, “There’s stuff happening in the park today!” before launching into “Don’t Stop Believin’” in your best falsetto. You sing “Happy Birthday” to an older woman after overhearing it’s her special day. You make things up. You entertain a different set of 210 captive guests every 20 minutes. You refine your craft. 
  • After an hour in either position — driver or spieler — the van picks you up to take a break. An hour break. Work an hour, break an hour. I should’ve led with that. 
  • Sometimes, though, you don’t go into the parking lot at all. When overstaffed, you do something else entirely: You sell glow-in-the-dark and light-up toys at the Monorail entrance. Instead of “Kelly, you’re up,” you’ll hear, “Kelly, glow ho duty!” followed by a healthy amount of jocular prodding about your plummeting masculinity. It feels like a high school locker room, and wouldn’t fly in today’s environment. That’s said, still pretty funny.
  • Being a glow ho is what you make of it. Your goal is to work with another esteemed captain of industry to sell approximately 30 toys to people about to enter the park. Oh ... I get it. They must be cheaper? No. No, they’re more expensive. Oh, so they must be different? No. No, they’re the same or worse. We sold roughly 5-10 toys on a good night of tricking as a glow ho. On Christmas Eve and Day, we sold them all. It was automatic. So it goes.

Driving the tram at Magic Kingdom is still one of the most memorable experiences of my life. Not because I made a lot of money. Not because I got engaged at 19 after knowing a lifeguard from the state of Washington for a few months (WHAT, WHY DIDN’T YOU SAY ANYTHING ABOUT THAT BEFORE WTF IS HAPPENING?!). That job at Disney was memorable because it was different. And different drives interesting. 

Sell some glow. 

 Working it at Disney circa 2005

Working it at Disney circa 2005

Matt Kelly