Posted in Uncategorized

A Note To My New Fellow Co-Workers

Hey guys,

You may not know me, for I didn’t have the same track of training as you had. You know how crazy opening a theme park can be, paperwork gets lost and trainings get penciled in. But eh.

My name is Mandy, I have prided myself on my love and knowledge of theme parks, so much so, that I decided to give up everything I had, including a teaching assistant job, to move down here from Philadelphia. I worked at Disney for three and a half years, selling theme park tickets in some form or another in both a retail enviroment and Epcot. I have seen parks get full to capacity, dealt with guests threatening to kill me, made magic and miracles happen for Make A Wish kids, and tried to make dismal moments in the vacation planning process a lot less stressful. Helping people is been the cornerstone of everything I try to accomplish everyday, despite my challenges.

I might look a litle slow, I might not make the best eye contact, and I might even mistake you as someone else. You might think less of me since right now I’m not an equal to you in the booth as of yet. 

I have a condition called Autosomal Recessive Ocular Albinism, basically it’s a clusterfudge of anything and everything that ruins both my ability to see and my ability to differentiate faces and small details. I’m also light sensitive so sunlight and fluorescents give me migraines. My eyes dance around due to nystagmus, it’s my brain’s way of trying to keep focus in a world that basically looks like a crappy cell phone camera photo from 2005, pixelated and blurry. 

Despite all this, I am intelligent and a fast learner. Once I get a visual layout of everything, I can pick up new things in a flash (a legally blind visual learner, how ironic.) I have bifocals and a digital magnifier that helps with the small details a vacation planner needs to, well, vacation plan. 

I am also the kind of person who needs things to do in order to be happy. When I’m standing in a spot with no interaction or pet project to do, I get grouchy. So you might see me doodle or fidget around, even clean or make idol chat with guests. If you see me like that, I could really use something to do, even if it’s grabbing you a water or helping you restock something. Greeter jobs are not my cup of tea. But I can manage as long as I am treated the same as anyone else and not down talked to like an infant. I may not be your equal now, but in due time, I will be. I didn’t do all this pass sales training for nothing, nor has this been my first rodeo. 

I may not be pretty or perfect enough to mingle with the in-crowd, nor do I speak many languages to converse wth everyone, but I have full respect for each person, guest and team member alike. We all have our backstories and we all have our differences, and that’s what makes us part of this amazing opening team. All I ask is the same respect in return. You don’t have to be my friend, nor do you have to agree with me on anything related or unrelated to this job. But all I ask is to be treated like anyone else, to be valued like anyone else, and to not let my disability tell you otherwise. Unless you are management, I kindly ask for you to talk to me as an EQUAL. If you have an issue, let’s discuss this like adults. If you see me doing something wrong, a simple offer of “Let me help.” would do the trick instead of taking over any situation. You may have experience, so do I. Let’s talk about it and share our experiences as a team. 

I’m also not asking for pity by any means. NEVER assume my lack of abilities. I may not get everything right away, but that’s because this route to get here with you all didn’t take the course it should have. Be patient with me is all I ask. But also give me a chance to prove that worth. You’ll be surprised of what I am capable of.

I’m glad to take this journey with you, even though I’m in an odd situation right now. I hope in writing this letter, it clears up some misconceptions of who I am and what I am about, and in return I can give the best guest experience possible as a vacation planner…Just like you.

Let’s get through this opening weekend together and beyond, hand in hand.

Your fellow team member,

Mandy

Posted in Lights, Camera, Universal!

Twas The Night Before Grand Opening

Twas the night before grand opening

Of Volcano Bay

I took a few moments 

To go out and play.

My last night jobless is finally here

Small paychecks are something I wil no longer fear.

I had weeks of training 

And role-playing too

I have my uniform hung 

All shiny and new

 A career I was told I could never return 

Is now the reality that took guts to earn

My products of plenty greet me on screen

My sales pitch is memorized 

It’s no longer a dream.

The volcano has risen

The wave pool is full

The slides are a plenty 

For fellow islanders to rule

There’s scrumptious food

And ice cream to eat

My visitors will sure be in for a treat

Things will be their best on opening day

Despite all the obstacles along the way 

But with a few great friends and managers by my side

I believe all will turn out just fine

Well folks, we made it

Our time is near

The grand opening of Volcano Bay is finally here

Now the only thing that will be my foe

Is surviving the coaster of Krakatau.



Posted in Cast Member Chronicles, Lights, Camera, Universal!, Overcoming Adversity

One More Week…

The hardest part of my journey over the last few months has been to learn to cope with the fact that we all need a little help sometimes, and that often when we get in a comfortable position, we tend to take the stuff we love and need for granted.

Losing my job at Disney had to have been one of the worst things that’s ever happened to me. Never in my life would I have imagined the hell that would become of my life for almost a good year now. Living off super tiny paychecks and unemployment, as well as taking in RJ partially on nights he works in exchange for survival cash, was definitely not the life I wanted to live. I’m an independent woman, but I felt like I got tossed back into the darkness. 

Life played out like a nightmare I constantly have. In the nightmare, I am a successful business person or graduating college, only to be pulled aside at random and told that there was an error in my records, forcing me back into highschool and having to do the whole thing over again. Just as I was in my prime, everything I worked for was taken away.

I sit here today glancing over my pay stub for the week, yet another check that doesn’t exceed $100, mostly because I’ve been in training one day a week or so for the past month. 

Normally, I find myself in a deep depression over the fact that I can barely buy food let alone pay my bills. I pray every single day that I never have to deal with this again. I wish with all my might that this will be the last really bad paycheck for a while, and yet my wish never comes true. Although I’ve had some decent paychecks since making the move to the new park and picking up seasonal work, the results are often short lived. 

I look at this last paycheck and smile. 

Because after 8 months of suffering, trying to prove my worth to others, dealing with collection calls, and living off Dollar Store food, it’s all come to an end.

Next week, my park will officially be open. I will finally have regular work again for the first time in almost a year. I can finally gain the independence back that I craved for so long. I found a place where my career can grow, where for once, I truly feel accepted. 

Six months ago when I walked out of Disney for good, I thought my life was over.

Turns out my life is just beginning.

In this rather tough journey, I found out who my true friends are, to appreciate the small things in life, and most importantly, not to take life for granted. I’ve learned to take the struggles head on, knowing as bad as things can get, with a little help from the people you love, and sometimes the ones you least  expect, anything and everything is possible. 

Although I still have one really tough week ahead of me, I know, like everything I lived through, it’s only temporary.

In the meantime, I’ll have one more helping of ramen please.

Posted in News and Opinions, Overcoming Adversity

Shameful? Please

So recently, a video surfaced from a motivational speaker by the name of Joey Papa, whom you can watch here, explaining his way of connecting with “Special Needs” people. In the video, Joey shares a rather unconventional tip for those who can’t seem to find the right way to connect.

In this video, Joey asks his viewers to imagine the “most shameful and embarassing moment of your life” and have it constantly repeated everywhere you go. To him, that’s the way disabled people live their lives. 

Um…what?

Since when did disability turn into a constant show of embarassment and shame? How can a man who claims himsef to be a devoted motivational speaker downplay the lives of so many people who are trying to live their lives like everyone else? Kind of defeats his purpose, right?

There are many different ways to connect with people who have any kind of differences, disability, race, sexualality, or otherwise. Using shame as a way to promote empathy is like comparing a black person to that time you farted in front of your boss, or a person who identifies as transgender to that one time you were embarassed on a date by your parents who happened to be in the same place at the same time. Sounds silly, right? Not to mention stupid. If we don’t use that frame of mind in learning about other’s differences, why must this be a way to teach others about our own? Where exactly is the logic in all this?

The fact that this video exists along with that frame of mind is a common example of why I blog, to educate others about my life experience for those afraid to ask. People who only know about life as an able-bodied person are scared of the unknown and associate our lives with shame and embarrassment. These are the kind of people who make life hell for us. This frame of mind doesn’t create empathy or a sense of bonding, but rather instills the fear of making that connection by associating your most embarrassing moment with another person’s life.

Embarrassing moments only last for a few minutes. My life has been constantly going for about 31 years now. There’s a big difference between the two and those paths should never cross, not even in theory. 

I know at times I tend to have an internal ableist mindset of my own, often setting the bar too low for myself. Although sometimes I feel shame in myself, never would I wish this shame upon anybody else, even if it’s intentions are for the greater good of society.

What the heck is this guy thinking?

To really connect with people with disabilities, one must be open to differences and break that cycle of fear and resentment. A simple hello, a helping hand with consent, and an open mind are all things that can make any connection worthwhile. A disabled person should never be treated like a shameful moment in your life on replay. We are all part of the same human race with the same wants and desires as anybody else. 

Sorry Joey, but I am not your embarrassing moment. I am not here to be shamed by your viewers, and I demand the same respect you would give to anybody that is not “Special Needs.” I feel that your heart was in the right place in attempting to educate others, but you have really missed the target on this one. You want to make the world a better place, but you’re only teaching others to hate by teaching them to shame others that are different from themselves. 

Back to the drawing board for you. Perhaps you might need a Disabilty Consultant to assist you in your speeches. Just saying 😉

Posted in News and Opinions, Ovarian OMG!

It Couldn’t Happen To Me…But It Did #OvarianCancerAwarenessDay

I remember as if it was yesterday, heading to bed after a long day of work, having what I thought was my typical bad PMS acting up again. I checked my calender and my Period Tracker App, only to discover I still had a week and a half to go. Needless to say, I found it odd, but didn’t question it. My periods were always a few weeks off, and when they came, they came with a vengeance. I popped some Tylenol, gave the boyfriend RJ a kiss, and called it a night. I had work the next day and needed my hours. No way was I letting this get the best of me.

“It’s just cramps.”

3am brought a horrible pain in my lower abdomen I have never felt before, it was as if someone was making balloon animals out of what I thought naively was my appendix.  I made myself a hot bath to soothe my stomach, but the pain was so bad, my body went into a shock of sorts, I never felt so cold in a hot bath in my life. 

RJ woke up and saw me curled up in the bathtub in a fetal position, begging me to call 911 because even he knew something was off from my typical PMSing. We must of argued back and forth for what seemed like forever about me calling an ambulance. I had work in a few hours, plus why would I waste time getting help for period cramps? Imagine the medical bills for something so mediocre, even though this was the worst pain in my life.

RJ dialed the phone and passed it on to me as a explained what was going on. I was then whisked away to Dr. Philip’s Medical Center, where it was discovered that the culprit in this case was my left ovary, they originally told me there was a golf sized tumor growing on it, and if I did go to work that day, it would burst and I could of died. They needed to get this out of me fast, then I was warned that in addition to the tumor, the ovary will come along with it. 

I never been so scared before in my life. This was less than six months living away from my family, RJ being the only person I was close with within a thousand mile radius. He moved down a week prior to find work after he wasn’t able to extend his internship working a farm in Arkansas. Lord knows what would of happened if he never came down.

I remember waking up to a catheter in me, as well as a bunch of staples in my lower abdomen. The doctor came in and told me that the tumor size was wrong at triage, it was actually the size of a grapefruit, and because of it’s size, out came the left fallopian tube.

I became half a woman.” was the first thought that went into my head. But despite that odd feeling, I was thankful to be alive. 

A few weeks later, the lab confirmed that there was malignancy in the tumor, early onset Ovarian Cancer, which could of been worse if I went to work that day and let it rupture.

The average age of diagnosis is 63. At the time, I was a few days shy of my 28th birthday. Although it was uncommon to be diagnosed so young, it is a grim reality. Usually, treatment would consist of chemo therapy and laser surgery to keep the cysts and tumors at bay. But since they removed the source of the problem and the surrounding area, the cancer was gone, and about a month and a half later, I was back to work. I have been going for yearly checkups and for the last four years, I have been cancer free. 

Since then, those crazy death like periods began to subside, my cycle became more regular, and the cramps that would confine me to bed for days became mostly a thing of the past. I was told I could still have children but it will be a tough process, which isn’t a top priority for me as of now, but good to know for down the line. 

So pretty much, I became a ticking time bomb years before landing in the hospital. I knew something was up, but I wasn’t the kind of person to run to the doctor. Insurance is expensive and I went without it up until I got Medicaid, and even that became hard to use since not many doctors take it and many of those doctors aren’t accessible in public transit. Health became a bottom priority over work and paying my bills.

Guess the most important lesson is to learn to take care of myself. Cancer DOESN’T discriminate. Even Ovarian Cancer. It’s always best to get checked out often. Many free clinics and Planned Parenthood offer screenings. Your life matters over anything else. The bills and adulting can wait, your life can’t. If you show signs of irregular periods, frequent cramps and abdominal pain, loss of appetite, frequent urination, indigestion, weight loss, and changes in bowel movements, please consult a doctor. Although you think it might be nothing, it could be something you never imagined. Always play it safe.

Posted in Nerdy and Nifty, Out and About in Orlando

Spooky Retro, Horrifying Fun 

This past weekend, I have participated in what has become a bi-annual tradition for me. Volunteering for Spooky Empire.

Spooky Empire shirt paying tribute to the Pulse victims, along with the paper hearts that share the same purpose, given to me by a guest

Spooky Empire is a twice-a-year convention held in Orlando Florida that showcases anything in the horror and sci-fi genres, with a little rock and roll mixed in. From vendors who carry one of a kind props and collectibles, celebrities from horror movies and shows, crazy cosplays, and everything in between, you’re bound to find something fun.

Volunteer Orientation Night, or should we say Cemetery Print Appreciation Night? Cemetery Prints is a very popular vender found at the convention each year.

Among the many things that happened at this year’s Retro convention was the opportunity to meet various celebrities, from Dee Snider, Joan Cusack, Ernie Hudson, and Malcolm McDowell, along with some of the cast of Stranger Things and Halloween, there was somebody for everyone to meet and get autographs with, along with some panels and Q and A’s.

Of course, it’s never a Spooky Empire without Lloyd Kaufman, who not only did a Q&A at the event, but was available at the Troma booth most of the weekend for his adoring fans.

Lloyd Kaufman and Toxie

Wandering around the vendor room is like falling into a wormhole of awesomeness. Whether you’re looking for retro toys and collectibles or something as crazy as a skull lamp or a hand stitched Freddy Krueger doll, Spooky has anything your little dark heart desires. A majority of what is offered at Spooky is handcrafted by a variety of artisans. You can seriously get lost in there for hours. There’s also a tattoo festival on site, but many artists didn’t allow photos.

One the things I love most about Spooky is that independent filmmakers are invited to showcase some of their work, usually during film festivals at the October event. But sometimes they like to set up booths as a way to get the word out of their film, such as the case for movies like Bubba the Redneck Werewolf (who often shares a booth with Coffee Shop of Horrors) and what has to be a new favorite of mine, Pool Party Massacre. It’s awesome getting to learn about the creative process firsthand from those who have been through it. Plus, it’s not everyday you find a severed head in a pool floatie. 

Prop from Pool Party Massacre

And of course, what convention wouldn’t be complete without some cosplayers?

Each year, Spooky Empire takes it one step further and adds a new element to the show. Last year, the October show was so big, that they moved it to the Orange County Convention Center (which was then pushed back to December due to Hurricane Matthew.) This year, Spooky Empire has decided to take over the Magic Kingdom with it’s first ever “Spooky Day in the Park” this September IN ADDITION to the annual October event. “Spooky Day” will be the first time in the con’s history that they take over a local amusement park. So rest assured, there’s plenty of Spooky to go around. 

“Spooky Day” runs September 22-23, while Spooky Empire’s fall show runs from October 27 to 29, just in time for Halloween. You can follow Spooky Empire and purchase tickets for any of the events at www.SpookyEmpire.com

Be there or be scared.

Posted in Overcoming Adversity, The Billy Blogs

Dear Billy, (Three Months Post Break Up)

Dear Billy,

I wanted to check in and let you know how things are going lately. I’m sure beyond that tough facade of yours, you’re most likely wondering about what is going on with me. Believe me, I’ve been thinking the same way as you are. 

When I finally got closure from you last month, I was finally able to move forward with my life, although doing so meant burning a lot of the stuff you gave me. Surprisingly I don’t have any regrets, but I sure do miss Sunshine Bear. I guess you could jokingly say I’m horrible bear parent, but I digress. I was angry at the way things worked out with us, and as much as I tried to make things work, I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. Yeah, I spent weeks crying myself to sleep over this to the point where I had nothing to cry about. Although you’re too manly to admit it, I have seen you break down before and I worry about you doing so again. You have always had such a strong will about yourself and I hate to see that will be broken.

Anyway life so far has been hard, but I’m getting back to the way things used to be with my career. Work picked up at the survey place because of pilot season, meaning all the new TV shows are out and ready for previews. There are some pretty awesome shows coming out. I recommend you watch the show “Rise” since it’s very much like “Glee: and it also chronicles the story of a teacher I know for my hometown. The character named Lou is actually based on a real person. Pretty cool, huh?

I have been working on my training as a vacation planner at the new park, that job that basically ruined our relationship and prevented me from moving in with you. Although I lost you, I have finally gained confidence knowing I can return to my roots as a vacation planner and be something with my life again. My bosses are really nice and let me use my magnifier without any hassles. The people I met so far are really nice. Everything about this place has been nothing but wonderful to me. It may have seemed like a gamble, but so far I’m winning. 

You should see this place, Bill. It is as if you stepped into Hawaii. There’s a big giant volcano that’s also an aqua coaster, there are two lazy rivers, about 13 slides, a wave pool, and a water splash area. I know you’re probably thinking that none of these rides would be accessible to you, but a good majority of them are. They have elevators that take you to the top for some of the slides, a lot of the pools are Zero Entry, meaning you could take your wheelchair in for a little bit and dangle your toes, and some of the pools have little chairs that will drop you in so you could transfer in and out of your wheelchair easily. Even the kids play area is handicapped accessible. There are basically no limits to what you can do here. My God, you would love this place! Hopefully one day, you’ll be able to come and visit me.

Everything else in my life is going okay. Me and RJ are still good friends and are kind of debating whether or not we want to go back with each other, but for the foreseeable future, it doesn’t look like it’s happening. But I’m far from crushed about it. We are perfectly good as friends.

Working both jobs has been keeping me busy and my mind occupied. Every once in awhile when something new happens, I so want to call you and tell you about my day, but since you’ve basically written me out of your life, I know the odds of you answering are slim. 

I have been on a lot of adventures lately aside from work. I got to shoot real life zombies at RJ’s work, explore an insanely huge McDonald’s, help in the production of a Jimmy Fallon skit, attend both a Blake Shelton and a Flo Rida concert in the same week, go to Spooky Empire, and babysit Amanda’s cat. I have so many stories to tell, and not enough time to jot them down. 

Although I try not to, I still think about you a lot. I wonder how you’re doing through all this, how your bowling league is going, all the cool trips you made with Shayna, even what’s going on with your job. So many questions, I’m pretty sure I won’t get the answers to. But nevertheless I hope everything goes well with you and you are living a wonderful life that’s far from boring.

Just be sure to know that even though things went bad between us, I still consider you as a mentor and great friend of mine. That love I had for you will never die, even though now it seems like it. You have been a major part in my life and I will forever be grateful for the time we were able to spend with each other the last year. I’m hoping sometime down the line we will cross paths again, but only when you’re ready. I know I can’t make you change your mind,  that is all on you. But rest assured when time comes and you are ready to talk to me, I will be here for you.

Never stop being the amazing fun person you are. Keep being the amazing self-advocate who never stops fighting for their dreams. Whatever life takes you, know that you can handle anything that comes your way. I want you to be happy, and never to be sad. 

I’m always a phone call away if you need me. 

Love you still, always will.

Mandy

PS- Enjoy this picture of me hanging out with a Zombie at Spooky Empire last weekend. Don’t worry, he isn’t real.