Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Disneyland Musings - Volume VII - Fantasyland, Mr. Toad and flower beds

It is late on a June night in 1984 and I am working in Fantasyland as a sweeper. By late, I mean it is the early morning and Disneyland has ended its normal operating day.

The last few stragglers have been walked out to Main Street by Security and I am alone in the bullpen for Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.

This was back when the statue of Toad, just inside the front window of the queue, still had its left arm and hand raised, with the fingers pinching his monocle. The monocle never survived being constantly swiped by guests. So for a period of time we would routinely find Mr. Toad holding in his pinched fingers a cigarette---usually with the ends twisted so as to look like an illicit substance often smoked by Cheech and Chong.

These unique cigarettes were placed there by some creative guests while waiting in line.

Later, as we see in the picture to the left, Toad's left arm appeared to have been taken off and put back on upside down so that it bent BEHIND Toad's back (in a pose reminiscent of someone hiding a bouquet of flowers before giving it to a loved one).

The statue in question used to look just like the "stone" statue of Toad that graces the attraction's entrance facade. Take a look. See the left arm and the monocle? Remove monocle and you have a magnificent spot for a "cigarette."

As always, I digress.

What was my point? Ah, yes...flowerbeds.
The closing shift for a sweeper involved spending the last hour or so picking trash out of the many flower beds in your assigned area. Fantasyland---especially the area in the heart of the realm---left me with the most pleasant memories of this otherwise mundane task.

Black, bulky, Disney-issued flashlight in hand, as I swept through the area during closing, I would shine the beam across the flower beds, illuminating cigarette butts, popcorn containers, remnants of Mickey balloons, gum, straw wrappers, cups, ticket stubs, Souvenir Guides, popcorn pieces, drink lids, cellophane, and other detritus that would find its way from the hands of guests into the beds. I would pick up these pieces or sweep them into my pan, one bed at a time, until I'd make a complete circuit. I would usually start this process by Dumbo's calliope and work my way around the flower beds, past Village Haus, Pinocchio, Snow White, Tinker Bell's Toy Shop, the Castle courtyard, and back up the other side---Peter Pan, Mr. Toad, the Mad Hatter and over to Alice and back along the Storybookland canal near Monstro.

Each of us sweepers would be going through this process in our respective areas. Our lead would meander through the area, checking on us and occasionally helping out. The area music remained turned on during the whole process and, of course, the area lights. What made it special was the fact that we became the only humans in the realm once the guests had been walked out by security. To be one of four or five people in all of Fantasyland---from Castle to Small World---was a pretty cool thing.

Dumbo's calliope would bounce out its happy carousel tunes in the background and I would find myself picking to the music on occasion. We sweepers developed a posture for attacking the flower beds. A foot would be slid under the painted wrought iron fence that surrounded the bed and the sweeper would lean forward over that leg to get at stuff closest to the fence line. If you walked through the area during a closing shift, you would see a virtual ballet of sweepers' rear ends in the air and heads down as they bent over their flower beds with flashlights.

Between flower beds, I would sometimes just stop for a moment and take it all in. The lights, the music, the flowers, the familiar attractions, the cobblestones. Once again, me and the Park. Maybe I'm selfish---who isn't at times?---but there are moments when the Park feels like it is there just for me. I wish each Disneyland-o-phile could have that unique opportunity: to be alone in an area of the Park, even for just a few minutes.

At the end of the shift, our area crew of sweepers would gather into a group and make our way back to the Custodial locker. We would then go to the locker room and Wardrobe, to turn in our costume, change and head home.

We were a closely-knit group. Indeed, this blog is a testament to the lasting impact that those precious few days as a Cast Member had on me. It is either that or some strange sort of mental illness that keeps me at the keyboard, posting this stuff.

As my dear friend Mr. Gump would oft impart, "That's all I have to say about that."



sus said...

I look forward to all of these posts. I hope they continue for a long time.

Mike said...


Thank you for the kind words. Clearly you have a low entertainment threshold, which makes you a PERFECT "Jungle is 101" devotee. I find that people who are easily amused, readily distracted, can sing the alphabet backwards (starting with any letter) and love to peel dried glue off of objects tend to make the most committed Jungle readers.

Have a wonderful day and be sure to stop by Guest Relations on your way out and tell them that Mike on the Jungle Cruise was the best skipper you ever had! Don't worry, they'll immediately know that you are a plant and will firmly, but kindly have you escorted to the Main Exit by a nice man from Security.


Skipper B said...

I do enjoy those few moments, I get them after putting the last train away for the night, the back of the park is cleared out, the cats are coming out, or a cruise through the river with no one in your boat, chatting with the animals or as one person has done, that shall remain nameless, ie, not me so I won't get them in dirty green water, stand at the front of the boat spread out your arms and have an I'm king of the Jungle moment.

Yellows said...

You said it, Mike! Some of my favorite nights were closing shifts on the popcorn wagons in Bear Country or opposite the Haunted Mansion. Guests usually migrated to the east side at night in the old days. It was such a unique experience to be there when the Park was almost completely deserted.

Mike said...

Skipper B:

You know what I'm talking about! I don't think I've yet posted as to some of my Jungle deadheads at night---I may have to seriously edit myself so as to keep my "rehire" status. You may think I'm a little "old school," but remember, I was skippering the Jungle only this time last year! I never worked Steam Trains, but I bet that's a great gig! I saw one of those Disney cats after hours.

It had a tiny pair of red shorts in its mouth...ulp!

Yellows! My main girl! Great to hear from you! I KNOW that you know where I'm coming from with respect to my post. I wouldn't be surprised if you were working a closing shift at the same time as me back in the 80s. Did you get most of your shifts in Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Frontierland, Main Street? As I recall, most of the popcorn carts and balloon vendors were shut down in the outer lands, while Main Street kept positions open until the bitter end of the Park's day. I helped clear the way for many a vendor who was pushing their heavy cart through the area on their way back to the ODV main offices! Watch those guests' Achilles' tendons!!

Keep up the great work on your blog!


Vintage Disneyland Tickets said...

Great Post, thanks so much for sharing these small but wonderful details.

I visit the park about twice a month and let me tell ya - I search for those quite spots like you describe. Its not easy, but they can be found; off season days, go at opening time and you'll find most of Frontierland is yours for the taking. Also, Bear County is a ghost town for the first hour or two. There is nothing better than finding a spot at the park where you look around 360 and see NO ONE, I love those (brief) moments.

Anonymous said...

Nice post. Thank you. Once in a while, you do get a silent moment.


Mike said...

Vintage! Great to hear from you! Love your blog and the work you do there. Anyone who has stumbled here should definitely head to Vintage Disneyland Tickets' blog ASAP!

There's no doubt you can find quiet moments in the Park as a guest. Those rare occurrences are definitely worth the price of admission.

Anonymous, I agree that you can find quiet spaces as a guest. There is something special, though, when you add the whole "cast member" angle to the experience. Cast members who worked closing shifts got to experience those quiet moments almost every day. It is one of the memories that lingers most.