In June 1974, RBOY and I, in the comfort and safety of his parents’ car, set out for our grand adventure, a working summer vacation at Disneyworld. His folks were going somewhere in North Carolina and were kind enough to drop us off, (about halfway to our destination), at the Rocky Mount Greyhound station.
RBOY and I weren’t in this small town (Rocky Mount) to exercise our liberalism, introduce the deep south to hippie-ism or impress anyone with our Canarsie savvy. All we wanted to do was get on a bus and go to Disney. In retrospect, between our clothing and accents, I think the very Yankee swagger we prioritized hiding, burnt like a fluorescent neon beacon for all to see.
The depot wasn’t a hub so it catered to Tar Heel commuters.
We didn’t know where to go. I looked back at the stiff lady in the retro-1960’s beehive hairdo who sold us our tickets. She had nobody on her line but rather than give me eye-contact, she busied herself by adjusting the chain that held her cat woman glasses around her neck. I was intimidated enough by her to point outside and suggest to RBOY, “Let’s ask him.”
A driver with a leathery face and graying blond hair was off-loading packages from the bowels of a bus marked, “DEADHEAD.” RBOY said, “Excuse me sir. Which is the bus to Orlando Florida?” The man took a long, thoughtful drag off the last nub of an unfiltered cigarette. Then he crowed in a loud Foghorn Leghorn-like voice, “I wouldn’t eat at issy-here lunch counter. Over yonder is a right-nice café and today is grilled ham-n-cheese with hush puppies day.”
|FOGHORN J. LEGHORN WAS A LOONEY TUNES CHARACTER. THIS BLUSTERY, LOUD-MOUTHED BRAGGART WITH A SOUTHERN ACCENT APPEARED IN 28 CARTOONS DURING THE GOLDEN AGE OF ANIMATION (1946-1963).|
In the wee hours of the following morning, we had a long layover in Jacksonville Florida. To kill time, RBOY and I left the bright, modern terminal and sat out on the curb. We stared off into the vast dark abyss of an open field and discussed our fear of the unknown.
A few hours later, that unknown was upon us as we switched buses in Orlando. At 10:00AM, the express to Disney dropped us off at the employment office. The scary part started as we hurdled forward, full of naïve excitement and lugged our luggage inside. Beyond a pleasant reception area, a sea of prim and proper teenage hopefuls, in their Sunday best, were completing applications or waiting to be interviewed.
RBOY and I were operating on pure adrenaline. We were dirty, in need of a shave and burnt-out from our 24-hours on the road. I was expecting to be immediately rejected because it was impossible to blend-in when you’re the only ones toting suitcases. Our competition, (the boys were in suits and the girls in conservative dresses) stared at us with open mouths as we strolled in wearing shorts, tee-shirts and sneakers. Still, we were treated like the others and eventually made it to an interviewer.
To help us further stand out, we insisted on being questioned together because if only one of us was hired neither of us would take the job. Interestingly, despite all the obvious obstacles, they were ready to hire us both, (either flipping burgers or sweeping the floor). However, we raised a red flag by leaving two glaring omissions in the paperwork (a local address and the question regarding transportation).
When we blankly shrugged, the interviewer sifted through his rolodex and said, “Call this place. They have limited availability. If you get lucky, they only rent to Disney employees and provide a shuttle to the park.”
This defunct motel was converted into the “Young American Inn (YAI).” We would soon learn the YAI was perfect for us, especially the $95.00 a month rent that we could split. Plus, they still had some vacancies. The problem was, they wouldn’t give us the room without a job and Disney wouldn’t hire us without a place to live. RBOY realized this CATCH-22 and took the bull by the horns. He eliminated the middle man (us) and had the two sides hash it out.
At a time when minimum wage was $2.25/hour, RBOY and I became sweepers on the 4:00PM till midnight shift, at $2.40/hour. We were both offered an additional nickel an hour to follow the parade horses. RBOY and I, in a unanimous vote, turned down this opportunity to stand out among the peons while giving up a perceived fast-track for upward mobility as well as the big salary boost.
Once RBOY and I were in our “clean-up” staff uniforms, we never had to worry about our uniqueness.
RBOY worked in Adventureland. He was in charge of refilling the paper products in the restrooms and reporting overflowed toilets and sinks. We were both trained in the procedure for dealing with vomit and shown where a product called Zip-Zorb was stored. I just put that scenario out of my mind because I’d run in the opposite direction if I had to deal with that, (trust me, if I was confronted by such a problem, I would double the need for Zip-Zorb).
My supervisor also demonstrated how to close the umbrellas on the snack tables. In the late afternoon, like clockwork, the wind kicks up in Central Florida and a brief squall, usually accompanied by an electrical storm stops everything in the park.
I thought my standing out days were over. But when it came time to close all those umbrellas, all my fellow sweepers were nowhere to be seen. I made matters worse by catching my finger in the umbrella’s fold-down mechanism and nipped-off a chunk of skin.
Later, I complained about my painful injury to a coworker. He winked and said, “Don’t be a chump. Let someone else do it. You don’t want to risk getting hit by lightning. Next time go up to the Swiss Sky Ride.” The following day, at the first sound of thunder, the guests evacuated the rides and sought shelter. I followed a sweeper up the ramp to Swiss Sky Ride and found ten other sweepers, (goof-offs I never saw) sitting on the floor,(hiding), smoking cigarettes and telling ribald stories at the expense of the company. I suddenly realized that not everyone thought it was a privilege to work for the “Tragic Kingdom” and “The Rat.”
When RBOY and I received our first paycheck, we net $78.38. I was already disillusioned that we had to pay for our daily meal but I was unhappily surprised that we weren’t paid for our forty-five minute lunch break.
In my second week, another supervisor (Kurt Doctor) heard that I was a fantastic worker, (everyone else did nothing, so I stood out because I did something). He was shorthanded, so he recruited me to work on Main Street for a day. Apparently, I had a say in the matter because he kept telling how great I was and could work for him if I wanted. I had gotten used to working Fantasyland without being bothered. I wanted to stay anonymous but Kurt liked me. I didn't care that he implied that he could help me get ahead. All I cared about was that he was an overbearing jerk. I just wanted to keep a low profile, get through the shift and return to my normal duties.
At one point, Mr. Gung-Ho gave me his walkie-talkie and said, “While I’m on break, you’re my number one man.” For a few seconds I was taken in by the power trip. Then I was annoyed by the continuous, unintelligible squawk of the radio, (to make matters worse, if there was a terrible emergency, I didn’t know how to use it).
Kurt was supposed to be back in thirty minutes. An hour later, I saw him hustling across the street carrying a camera bag. Later, I asked him about the bag. He stammered, “Y-you must have mistaken me for someone else.” Kurt never recruited me again.
Later that night, I wandered into the arcade and watched people play pinball. In an empty corner, I spotted a quarter on the floor. It didn't feel right to grab it. When I found two more, I swept them up. Then I went back to the first and pocketed it too.
A week passed and I told Carol who worked at the photo shop about Kurt. She didn’t know him but said, “He probably found it (the camera bag) and was going to keep it.” I was thinking; so much for the high moral fiber of middle America, as she added, “Did you know management leaves fake wallets around and spies on the employees to see what they do with them? I guess your friend Kurt didn’t care especially if there was a four-hundred dollar Nikkon in the bag plus a bunch of expensive lenses.” I was bewildered and said, “No.” She added, “Lost and found is another scam. A valuable item like a gold pocket watch is turned in and the kid behind the counter calls a friend or relative. An hour later when this kid is on break, their accomplice describes the lost piece to innocent third party and goes home with it.”
Carol sensed that I was stunned by the Disney hypocrisy and said, “You know Peggy my new supervisor, right?” I nodded and she continued, “Didn’t you just go through orientation with her…” I finished her sentence by saying, “And you can’t request a departmental transfer or apply for a promotion until you have been employed ninety days.” She sighed, “It’s the same who-you-know bullshit here…as anywhere else.”
I was sweeping off a bench at the Dumbo ride when I found a white, plastic package. It wouldn’t fit in my dust bin so I picked it up. It was warm and squishy. I was trying to figure out what it was when two moms started cackling and pointing at me. That’s the exact moment I learned what Pampers were. In embarrassment, I hustled to the, It’s a Small World ride.
The ground around the ticket taker station was heavily littered with entry tickets. From a near distance, I watched the ticket taker. He was in business for himself. Many times, I witnessed him pretend to tear them in half and miss tossing the still-good tickets in his trash can. When there was a break in the line, he scooped up as many as he could and stuffed them in his pocket.
I timed my approach and when he was busy I arrived. He said, “That’s okay, I’ll sweep up later.” I knew he was powerless to stop me and said, “No biggie, let me do it for you.”
Soon I noticed this racket was happening all over Fantasyland. After I amassed a gazillion free tickets, I used some on a date to the park. I mailed a ton to my aunt in Brooklyn and still had more than I can ever use.
Carol introduced me to a girlfriend who worked in a gift shop. She needed a shit-load of tickets. I gave her everything I had left without asking for anything in exchange. She said, “Next time you visit the park, come to my register with all the stuff you want…and make sure you get a bumper sticker.” RBOY and I showed up and we weren’t pigs but we both got two tee-shirts for the price of a fifty-cent bumper sticker.
It wasn’t even the 4th of July yet and the 8 ¾ hour shift plus the ninety-minute commute in each direction was getting tiresome. This was supposed to be a working vacation but I had no time to spend the little money I was making.
Two former Disney employees who lived in our complex put the idea in my head that there was a better way. Rob and Donnie were Laurel and Hardy-like guys from South Carolina. They quit Disney because of all the bullshit and got jobs as waiters at Red Lobster. I said, “Are they still hiring?” Donnie who spoke so slowly that when he pronounced the make of his car (Ford), it sounded like he was saying, “forward,” said, “There’s only one way to find out.”
Due a combination of laziness and stupidity, I didn’t follow through on this golden opportunity.
The next day at Disney, my destiny changed. I was sweeping in front of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and I found a clump of money on the floor. A ten-dollar bill was on the outside. Like a toad zipping his tongue at an unsuspecting insect, I swept the cash into my dust bin…and ran like a thief to the privacy of a toilet stall. My heart was racing as I unraveled my new found booty. It was a ten, two fives and two ones. What a coincidence that was exactly what I already had in my pocket. “Ugh,” I groaned. When I realized, I found my own money, I was disgusted in myself! I wanted so badly to blend in and took it too far by becoming one of them.
My situation took an odd twist an hour later when I was sent to my department head’s office. My big boss was around twenty-three and named Gaylord, (he was to this day, the only Gaylord I ever met). Gaylord was a six-foot-six stick. Between his crooked yellow teeth, awful face full of purple berry-like acne and enormous pulsating Adams apple, it was hard to take him seriously. Especially when he spoke even slower than South Carolina Donnie when he said, “Son, I got a report that you haven’t been smiling enough.” He saw the shock on my face and added, “Don’t worry, this isn’t a written reprimand, it's more like constructive criticism.” I said, “Okay.” He correctly sensed that I had something on my mind because as I was leaving it took what seemed like twenty minutes to say, “Don’t burn down your bridges. You can have a bright tomorrow here at Disney.”
Before work the next day I ran to Red Lobster and was hired. That night I reported to my immediate Disney supervisor and announced that it was my last day. The rest of the summer, I worked five-hour shifts and cleared more in two days than I made all week at Disney. Plus, I ate like a king and was driven by Rob and Donnie the five minutes back and forth to work. And talk about standing out in a crowd, I opened a bank account and saved over $600.00 to come home with.
I think Leonard Zelig would have made a great motivational speaker for Disney employees.
In the long run, we all want to fit in. But in reality, we're best served if we follow our own dreams.