West Orange resident 'Flanigrams' friends, brings smiles during pandemic
Ocoee resident and longtime Disney entertainer Billy Flanigan has biked thousands of miles to bring smiles to his friends’ faces during the pandemic.
| 11:30 a.m. August 12, 2020
West Orange Times & Observer
Bringing a touch of magic to people’s lives is Billy Flanigan’s specialty, and continuing to do so in the midst of a global pandemic has been his priority.
The Ocoee resident has been making magic as an entertainer at Walt Disney World Resort for 38 years. Although the parks shut down temporarily in March, Flanigan knew people still needed positivity in their lives.
Like many others who were furloughed from their jobs, Flanigan needed to do something to pass his newfound extra time. Biking was something he had done for cardio exercise — but in the midst of quarantine, it became so much more.
“I go 15 to 20 miles, and on the weekends I bike to church in Clermont, and that’s a 32-mile round trip,” he said. “It wasn’t until COVID-19 happened that I thought, ‘Well, I have extra time.’ I like to keep myself busy, and I’m not really good at sitting in a house. I just decided to start going more and more miles.”
That’s when he got another idea: What if he could turn those miles into smiles?
“One day, I just decided to stop along the trail and socially distance say hello to some friends that I hadn’t seen,” he said. “This was about two weeks into the quarantine. I stopped at the first girl’s house, knocked on her door, and I backed up. When she answered the door, she began to cry, because she hadn’t seen anybody. I just said, ‘Well, I just wanted to stop, say hello and see how you’re doing.’ She posted that online and then other people reacted to that saying, ‘Oh, I hope he comes to my house!’”
Suddenly, those socially distanced visits along his biking routes became the highlight of quarantine — both for himself and his friends. He began making a habit of biking to their houses and surprising them with a visit, song and dance. One of his friends dubbed the visits “Flanigrams,” and the name stuck.
“Basically, I do a little song and dance — ‘It’s your Billy Flanigram, I’m here to say hello!’” he said. “Then I sing a second verse there, and at the end I tell them how many miles it took me to get to their house. I’ll say, ‘And I biked 45 miles for one of your smiles,’ and whatever their name is. It’s kind of been my little catchphrase, miles for smiles. I’m biking all these miles just to put a smile on someone’s face.”
It also pushed him to burn more rubber on the trails. Flanigan plans his routes and visits for the day by the pockets of places where people lived. He did his “Ocoee day,” visiting friends in Ocoee and logging 45 miles. He did an 86-mile round-trip ride to see friends in Davenport, and 90 miles round-trip to Sanford.
But his Flanigrams have gone cross-country, too. Flanigan drove his friend’s car from Florida back to her in California — complete with his bike in tow. On the way to California, he stopped in Austin, Texas, to surprise some friends. Then, while in California, he was able to deliver 20 Flanigrams while averaging 55 miles a day by bike.
He did the same when taking a road trip to visit family in Massachusetts, stopping along the way to deliver Flanigrams in Georgia, Virginia Beach, Maryland, New Jersey and New York.
Altogether, Flanigan has logged more than 4,000 miles by bike, visited 17 states and has “Flanigramed” 350 people. He’s driven nearly 8,000 miles, too.
“It’s my way to continue to bring the magic out there and to make people smile. That’s kind of my mission in life — creating smiles.” — Billy Flanigan
“What I’ll do, too, when I drive to an area that’s out of state, I usually try to always park at least 10 miles away from somebody’s house so that it was a significant amount of miles I could sing about,” he said. “It’s just been such a fun experience being able to go out and get people excited over something. I know there’s been so many great reactions to the publicity that it has caused. It’s been such a fun thing to do … now the only part of the country I haven’t hit is the northwest.”
What’s more, a producer picked up his story and decided to do a documentary on Flanigan. Originally, it was just about the Flanigrams, but it’s turning into a film on Flanigan’s life — old videos, Disney shows he’s performed in, family videos and more. His friends are being interviewed for it, as well.
Flanigan is astounded by the positive reactions his Flanigrams and Disney career have sparked. He recently was featured in People magazine, on Good Morning America and more.
“It’s just so fun to read how excited people get over something that is kind of sort of silly, but it’s my way to continue to bring the magic out there and to make people smile,” he said. “That’s kind of my mission in life — creating smiles.”