Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Disneyland - Town Square Sweep Shift

In my sweeper days, I was assigned a summer to Main Street.
I had several Town Square shifts, some opening and some closing.
As a sweeper, you literally learn every inch of the area.
With eyes trained to hunt and destroy objects as small as a kernel of popcorn or a smashed cigarette butt, one becomes keenly attuned to the environment.
The best part about Main Street was my ability to circle Town Square and then pop into the shops and attractions there for a blast of air conditioning and to chat up the cast member at the turnstile.
From the vendors at the gift stands at either main entrance tunnel to the conductors of the Disneyland Railroad to the girl in the yellow dress outside Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln to the plaid-adorned tour guides at and around City Hall.
I knew the cashiers in the Emporium and even bumped into my pals who were working Jungle at the time.
Many skippers would cross over to Adventureland from the cast member gate by the Mad Hatter to the backstage door next to the Fire Department.
"Doug!  You closing tonight, too?"
"Oh hey, Mike.  Yep.  Don's the lead tonight, so we should be in for some real fun."
"Say hi to him for me.  Guess I'll see you around.  I'm on 'til 1:30 a.m.  Joy."
"Ooh!  Man, you need to transfer into attractions!  I'm out by 12:30 at the latest!"
"Thanks for that.  At least I'm not chained to a boat doing laps around vegetation!" 
"You WISH you were me, so don't give me that!  Have fun picking gum out of flower beds!"
"May you derail."
"Oh, I'd like that!  We'd be down for at least half an hour!"
"Charley Browns after work?"
"Probably.  I'll see what everyone's up for.  Might hit Acapulcos.  So long, sweeper boy!"
I pushed him through the backstage door, gently...okay not so gently...slamming it into his backside as he beat a retreat to the back area.
I'd then do a lap around the square along the sidewalks, my broom snapping bits into the jaws of my metal pan.
Inscribed in permanent marker along the side of the pan were the words "Jaws II" and some triangular, cartoonish teeth.
Each sweeper had their own Sharpie design on the sides of their pans, except for the "lifer" guys.
Mine was "Jaws II," as "Jaws" had been retired after a season in Fantasyland---it had developed a rusted hole along the bottom and could not be repaired.
Up the many steps to the Main Street train station.
Tim stood at the entrance making notes on the turnstile "count" on an old clipboard.
His name tag born a cherished 10-year pin.
"How we doing?" I asked.
"Slow day.  Only about 20,000 in-Park right now.  We're barely cycling guests at the moment.  The last train was almost a dead head!"
He looked sharp in his vest, white shirt and rail road cap.
I always admired the Railroad costumes.
Similar to the ones we used to wear on the Mark Twain.
He was exaggerating a bit.
Though 20,000 was hardly a crowd in the expanse of the Park, it was certainly enough bodies to fill more than a few train cars---and they were running three trains, since it was summer.
"I'm heading home; had an opening shift." Tim remarked as he glanced at the pocket watch he pulled from his vest.
His salt and pepper gray hair under his cap, the tiny wrinkles developing around his eyes and his naturally calm, "farmer-like" demeanor made him a natural for the role of Disneyland Railroad conductor.
"I'm afraid I'm here 'til after closing," I announced with a sigh.  "Still, there's worse jobs!"
"You have no idea.  Wouldn't trade this one for all the money in the world.  Looks like the Company's going really attack our benefits during this next contract negotiation, though."
The Strike of 1984 was soon to be a reality.
It would mark the end of Disneyland as we knew it and there was literally nothing anyone could do about it.
The new management was not the Disney family of old.
A group of outsiders had come in, with Roy Disney and his attorney Stanley Gold orchestrating the changing of the guard.
The Company itself had been the subject of a hostile takeover bid by a 1980s corporate raider.
Walt's son-in-law, Ron Miller, was forced out and the Company was about to begin building toward the mega-corporation it has become today.
No matter.
On that afternoon there were still tons of "lifers" and long-timers in the ranks of Disneyland cast members.
I am glad to have had the chance to work among them.
It was a grand time.
More to follow, I'm sure...

----Mike

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

That's an interesting insight Mike. I wonder what the proportion of "lifers" there are today compared to the past. I can recall...in the 70s now...a full time married couple in ride operations making the top rate of $6.47/hr each (with benefits) could afford a home in Corona and commute to/from the Park. In fact, they had a Porsche 911T. Must have come from a side job somewhere. Can that be duplicated today? #4

Connie Moreno said...

That was interesting but forgive my ignorance - what did you consider to be "lifers"?

Mike said...

Anonymous:

No way are there "lifers" today, except for some folks who made into the management ranks. The 1984 strike and subsequent decreases in benefits have made it virtually impossible for anyone to make an actual living as a full-time Cast Member outside of a salaried, management-type role. In the old days, the benefits and seniority system made it possible for attraction operators, sweepers and the like to stay on for a long while and make enough to live on.

Connie:

"Lifer" was a term meant for anyone who had been at the Park for a good long while. Back in the day, it was not unusual to work with people who had 10, 15, 25 years or more with the Park. These were the "lifers," people you knew were likely going to stay with the Park until they retired or died!

---Mike

Anonymous said...

Thanks Mike. You are absolutely right about many who stayed on longer than planned. The 70s economy wasn't that great and the Disney gig with pay and benefits was adequate. Before you knew it, marriage and kids could keep one grounded there and movement up the ranks was not open to the masses. Some became disgruntled and attitudes sometimes were dulled. One of my former CMs retired after 20 years in Merchandise after starting in foods. That's back in the day when you lost seniority crossing unions. The DRC would sponsor job fairs for the lessees and other major companies to come in and provide job opportunities outside the Park.

Yellows said...

Oh 1984. What I wouldn't give for another time line where LA had never hosted the Olympics and the Bass brothers had never heard of Disneyland.