Interview with 20Ker Brian "Squid" Thompson
Brian went from being a crew member on 20K ('79-'83) to a full blown Imagineer! Then he moved to the movie division and worked on Pirates of the Caribbean 2 & 3! He is a hero.
How did you get selected to work on 20K?
One of my friends happened to work on the ride, he knew that I was interested in getting a job at Disney and he helped me apply and from there I took off working. I was 18 at the time I started. It was like a birthday present; I found out I got the job the same day as my birthday. It was great!
Were the 20Kers a tighter knit group than other ride crews? If so, why do you think such camaraderie developed?
When I started to work many of the guys I worked with had been with each other for a good amount of time. I was the new guy but they treated me with respect and were very nice. I don’t think we were tighter then any other ride crew; we just developed great friendships by diving into the water together and walking the track a few times. I worked with great people that I will never forget.
What was your favorite section of the ride (i.e. Atlantis, the giant squid)?
Atlantis was my favorite part since day one on the job. I just thought it was a magnificent place to be in and I loved the atmosphere. I mean who wouldn’t love to see the lost city of Atlantis or the closest thing to it. In addition, there were coins at the bottom of Atlantis with treasure chests full of them. One thing that I loved was my nickname I started to become "Squid" after my first 3 months. The crew first started calling me that once they noticed that any submarine I was in would stall often when we approached the giant squid. I considered it an honor because no one else I worked with had a nickname at the time.
Were your friends jealous of your job or did they make fun of it?
As I mentioned earlier one of my friends worked on the ride also. We would spend time together telling our "Sea Tales" on days we were off. We had some great times working together. On the other hand, one of my other friends did make fun of it. He thought I was pretty much some sort of a loser, but I told him come see the ride some day, then tell me what you think. Soon he came, rode 20k, and was amazed. He wanted to ride it again and again just like a five year old on a carousel! Later he apologized and we waited in line again and went on once more.
Did you enjoy your job? What aspect did you enjoy/dislike the most?
Of course, I loved it! First of all the ride was just awesome, I rarely got bored of operating the subs. When outside it was still nice it was being in some sort of a tropical paradise I never grew bored. We all had our rough days but we new there was always a great big beautiful tomorrow shinning at the end of every day.
None as far as I can remember other then me and my crew. We would always have the urge to push one of our crewmates in or act like the ride broke down, but we only did this stuff occasionally. We would usually be yelled at when we'd act like the ride had broken down. I did it once and never again after being hollered at.
Did you get a kick out of seeing people and kids enjoy the ride?
Yes especially the kids. I can remember seeing some kid for the first time getting into the submarine getting all jumpy and excited. The parents and the kids would always have that look of amazement around the squid section and I just loved seeing them enjoying the ride Disney put so much effort into creating.
Did any kid ever ask if you were Nemo or talk to you like you were really a submariner?
Yes, I was referred to as Captain Nemo numerous times. I remember one specific time when a young boy came up to me and asked "Will we be running into any rough waters?" Being called Captain Nemo was fun, I would love to be the man who created the Nautilus.
Some people feel the ride was slow and boring and fake looking, what you think you think they’re missing that others clearly respond to?
They just don’t know a great ride when they see one, I am sorry to say.
Would you have been scared to swim in the ride tank at night? Did anyone do that? Or fall in?
Well part of my crew and me took a dive one night. It was slowing down people went to see the parade and we were left with not to many people going in, so we decided to take a dive. The water was chilly and it was a bit scary but we just had to do it. After stepping in two of them decided to just stay out and so there were only three including me going in. After the first minute it started to get pretty exciting. We grabbed some lose things from the ride as souvenirs like coins and kept on moving. The two that were with me stopped about half way through Atlantis but I kept going to about the point the squid was going to appear then hurried back. It was a great time and I still have the stuff I took out of the ride lying in my bedroom in nice little glass containers.
What’s one (or more) crazy story you have related to the ride?
Once during the beginning of my day I took a sub full of teenagers around. Immediately I noticed my sub was stalling an abnormal amount of times. I myself was beginning to get scared (some of these stalls lasted 5 minutes). We were also going slower than usual from the beginning and I noticed something was bound to go wrong. Then when we approached the squid I heard a sort of popping noise and I realized we had just gone off the track. The ride shut down immediately and I had to tell everyone what just happening. I knew we'd get out all right but they didn’t take it to good. They started to panic some let out screams when I said the words "We have gone off the track". I thought they were acting a little dramatic but we were escorted out soon enough.
Any fun pranks people pulled to mix it up?
I would always pretend that my sub was the one being attacked by the squid, that was a good one. Also there was the traditional "throw the guy closest to you" in the water. There was another one where we acted like a female was operating one of the submarines (it's an all male ride). But that never worked to well. We had lots of fun and I mean LOTS.
Did you come back to ride 20K after you stopped working there?
Many times I enjoyed visiting the ride over and over again. I even came the last day it was operating and went on a few times and experienced something very sad. I was the last person to bored the last submarine for the last time.
Do you keep in touch with other 20Kers?
Two of them actually. One lives close by and the other is now a fellow Imagineer.
How did you feel when you heard it was shut down?
Very sad. It was the job I loved most and now as an imagineer I am trying to get them talking about the ride again and I am getting some luck.
What would you like to see done with the land?
TEAR DOWN THAT STUPID POOH THING AND REPLACE IT WITH A COMPLETELY RE-DONE, COMPLETELY INTERACTIVE 20K RIDE!!
If only they would...
As I may have mentioned before, I am now a Disney imagineer. Now let me just say the ride is not completely dead. Posters of the ride still remain in Disney today and may go up for a charity auction. The Kissimmee Cup remains inside one of our offices I believe. Parts of the ride can be found inside other rides, Peter Pan and in parts of Epcot, mostly living seas. I have brought the word up about 20k a few times and we have started talking about something that relates to it. I cannot say exactly what it is, but I'll send little bits of info sometimes. Here's bit number one: The squid is not dissembled completely...