Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Disneyland - Alone on Tom Sawyer's Island (Part I)

When I was a sweeper, there were a couple of times that I got to feel like Tom Sawyer.
Tom Sawyer's Island was a coveted shift in Adventure/Frontier Day Custodial, especially a closing shift---in the winter.
As a Casual Regular employee, with only a couple years' seniority, getting an Island assignment was pure luck.
It happened only if a highly senior person called in sick or took vacation (AND you had a buddy in Custodial Control doing the schedule).
For me, I can remember seeing my name on the schedule next to "Location 33J - Island" and feeling elated. A closing shift! Winter!
It was a brisk morning as I pulled into the cast member parking lot in my 1967 Mustang.
I can still see the condensation fogging my windshield.
The drive down Ball Road from the 57 had been easy. No traffic.
There were plenty of spaces available in the cast member lot when I arrived.
Grabbing my wallet and my yellow CR Disneyland ID car, I headed toward Harbor House.
Along the southern wall of Harbor House was a wild fantasy of time cards, organized by Department.
Bleary-eyed, I searched mine out and punched it in the time clock. Before the modern "swipe" cards, there were literally pieces of paper that cast members would use to record their time in and time out. There were a bunch of people whose main function was to sort thousands of time cards every day.
Mistakes were corrected with White Out.
It's amazing we ever got paid. But we did.
Next, I was out the west end of Harbor House and, after a quick left, was heading down the hill and under the train trestle. The underpass at this location was named "Herbie Hill" and I can recall a few times driving through here in a golf cart with a low battery. If you didn't get up enough speed on the downhill, you and your golf cart would never see the top of the other side (unless a friend or two jumped off and helped push).
As I crossed under the trestle, to my left was the wardrobe building. It was also the building that housed the "Primeval World" dinosaurs---whose dramatic theme music could be heard, muffled on the outside.
I marched up the hill and, at the top, turned to my right and crossed the street to the main locker building.
My assigned locker housed my fresh set of Custodial "whites," the starched shirt on a wire hanger, the cotton pants on a wire hanger with a cardboard tube along the bottom.
My black, leather upper, Red Wing work shoes and a pair of black above-the-calf-dress socks rounded out the ensemble, along with the famous Mickey Mouse name tag, proudly pinned over the left breast.
Beneath the name tag, and just above the left pocket of the shirt, in a small banner of embroidered yellow thread, was the word "Disneyland."
I pulled a fresh t-shirt from my backpack and over my head. I quickly changed from my civilian clothes into the Day Custodial "costume."
Even sitting here at a keyboard 25 years later, I can feel the electric energy that came with suiting up for a day of "work" at the Park.
Good days.
Bad days.
Rainy days.
Hot summer days.
Early starts.
Late closings.
It didn't matter. I always got the little boost of excitement and energy when I adjusted that name tag and did a last costume check in the mirror before heading out to my assigned area.
I wish everyone, everywhere could get that feeling when they head off to work---if only once in a while.
Hell, I wish I could!! But, then, how many jobs can truly compare to working at the Park??
Let me tell you, heading off for a day of depositions or drafting motions does not quite measure up to a day on the clock at Disneyland...not by a mile.
I left the locker room building and headed past the backside of America Sings, past the rear of Space Mountain, past the trailer in the middle of the backstage area and toward the Inn Between and Central First Aid ("CFA") gate that would take me onstage at the Plaza area of Main Street.
Oh. Coffee.
Quickly up the steps and into the In Between, a hello to the gal who always seemed to be working the register, and back out the door with my coffee I went.
The warm styrofoam, the steam from the cup and the hot coffee provided a defense to the cold morning air.
That and my blue Custodial jacket---with name tag affixed.
Disneyland jackets were amazingly well made. They kept you warm under almost any circumstance.
All that walking and sweeping and constant movement sure helped.
So did being in one's early 20s.
Trying not to spill my coffee as I walked, I gulped it down, tossed into the can inside the CFA gate. Through the gate and out onto Main Street I strode.
The Park was sparsely peppered with early morning guests.
I marched across the street and up toward the Hub, then over the bridge into Carnation Plaza Gardens. I waved at some bussers I knew there and a few of the folks behind the service windows.
I disappeared behind a door that led to the back area and Custodial Control.
I double checked the schedule there and headed over to my area locker in Adventure/Frontier---where my pan and broom were waiting for me.
I then checked in with the New Orleans/Bear Country foreman, who asked if I'd ever worked the Island before.
"Once," I told him.
"Come on," he said.
We marched to the landing where the Rafts to Tom Sawyer's Island loaded and wiggled past the guests to the roped loading area. We waited for the next raft to make its way over to us.
We boarded the raft with the guests, and stood by the operator making chit chat as he piloted us over to the Island.
My day of sweeping the Island was about to begin.
Obviously, my memories of this day still stick with me, despite all the terrible things I've done to my brain over the years since it happened!

Tomorrow, I will share with you the rest of the story...



JG said...

One of the best and favorite places in the Park, "optimus maximus". can't wait for phase 2.


Connie Moreno said...

I'm with JG, can't wait for part 2.

I read this post with relish and had a smile on my face then entire time. How well you describe the feeling of putting on that costume. Pinning on the name badge did indeed, give me a sense of excitement, wonder and pride. I already have a career in Communications - working at Disneyland was a side job I took to fullfill a dream; my fun job, my dream job, the job I wanted to do since I was 10 years old. I was a castmember and I was helping to keep Walt's dream alive.

Ya, I can hardly wait for part 2!

Rich Blansett said...

I second the above, and present a counter offer. As a busser, we worked the restaurants including the aforementioned Plaza Gardens. I don't recall any embroidery on my costume in '87-'88, when I worked there, but we did have these "fantastic" black, clip-on, riverboat gambler-like ties we had to wear. Hot days were the worst, because our collars had to be buttoned all the way to the top so that our ties could be worn.

Now, my point. Although us bussers did bag on the elite, the sweepers, from time to time, it was the change in scenery that we were most jealous of. We'd be stuck at a particular restaurant for the entire summer, but we got to work at different locations each scheduled shift for the remaining year. Even so, the freedom afforded sweepers almost outweighed having to clean restrooms. Also, they didn't have to wear ties and could leave the top button undone. I was punished for an entire week during a particularly hot spring, right before summer season, by getting the worst job for a busser...the picnic area. Virtually no shade, almost no public interaction, and practically nothing to do for eight hours a day for the entire week. As we were more than well aware, not looking busy was tantamount to treason, so this was quite the challenge. I assumed I had pissed someone off at Control that led to my assignment.

Anne said...

Oh boy I just can't wait for part two!
This is just so amazing, I can't wait to experience it when I apply for a job in 5 or 6 years ! But Now you have me hooked like a good book. I want to know what happens next. I can just picture the back lot and herbie hill, I have been over herbie hill :) Brings back memories. Can't wait for more.

Unknown said...

Love this post! You have a talent for telling a story that makes us feel as if we are in your shoes, reliving it ourselves. Can't wait to hear the rest!

Momma Nic said...

It sure looks like you have more than 4 followers. tee hee. We all love your story telling. Walt would be proud.

Anonymous said...

I relive my experiences through your memories. Yes, I very well remember the time cards and both the original and new time shack (well, "new" in the mid 70s that is). And we always got paid on time. That's just the way it worked. Clock in early to make it to the JC dock on time and be released 15 minutes early to compensate for the transition between wardrobe and the JC. My last day was a Saturday in June '77. The following week's time cards were in the slots and there was mine, never to be punched. I dropped off my final filled out card in the box and walked out with the new one. Still have it too.

I was lucky in that I continued to work in the park for an additional year as I ran the ROP program there for North Orange County. Then I left for good for a "real" job.

Reader #4

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