I picked up Ernie and Bert a few minutes before their 4:30 appointment. They were all ready to go, dressed in their striped T-shirts, their hair sticking up like dark patches of shrub. I escorted them from the dressing room to the Street, arranging them near the hopscotch, where the kids could one step, two step, hop, hop, hop over to the BFFs. Across the way, I glimpsed Cookie Monster embracing a little one with his big blue paws.
From morning through evening, the park offers photo ops with the characters. For example, at 11:30 a.m., guests could mingle with Bert and Ernie, Abby and Big Bird. A number of Berts and Ernies were on-site that day, so the duo could show up in multiple places at once. (In other words, you are not hallucinating.)
The escort’s main responsibilities are to maintain an orderly line, to prevent any cutting and to keep the characters informed of the passage of time. You also need to give them a heads-up if a guest is outside their limited field of vision; if, for example, a child bolts from deep stage left, man your defenses.
For 25 minutes, I ushered families to the characters, watching them fill the gaps between Bert and Ernie’s arms and legs. I listened to camera-wielding parents call out to Bryce, Braden, Jaden, Sophie and Melanie to look at Mommy and say “cheese.” Sometimes I was the one behind the lens, cajoling unfamiliar children in familial tones to look up and smile.
Five minutes before the session’s end, I walked to the back of the line to start turning people away. I remembered to use my kid-friendly reasoning, skipping the truth — Bert and Ernie are two sunbeats away from passing out — for a softer explanation: They need a sip of water, because like you and me, they get thirsty, too.
Though it was tempting to slip in just one more family, I stood firm. I looked into those rosy faces brimming with anticipation and explained the situation, hoping the parents would relay the message to their kids. I didn’t want to break any tiny sparrow hearts.
When the half-hour was up, I returned to Bert and Ernie’s side and followed a few steps behind them, just as I had seen Britney Spears’s bodyguards array themselves. Right before we reached the employees-only gates, an opportunistic family jumped next to the pair for a quick picture. B&E obliged, their mouths hanging open in their approximation of a smile.
Once the characters were in the dressing room, the handlers rushed to undress them as quickly as possible. Sarah Morrisette, a dance captain, challenged me to a costume-removal contest. Before I could even find the snap that attached Bert’s head to his shirt, Sarah had Ernie fully unzipped and was moving on to Bert. Minutes later, I noticed an elfin girl and guy quietly sitting on benches, their previous identities tucked away for later.