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."