Beanery Online Literary Magazine

June 8, 2011

The Sunshine State




     Through the dark night, cement highway strips marked time with a rhythmic clump-clump. Stuffed near the back of the bus in an odorous sea of musty upholstery and unwashed humanity came one thought: Go Greyhound! I made the mental note of the $15 remaining in my wallet as we crossed the Florida state line as I curled up in my seat. For further comfort, a small portable radio pressed closer to the ear.

     Two months earlier, in snow-bound Pennsylvania, I had attended a college job fair. Recruiters from Disney World Orlando were there and a paid gig in sunny Florida didn’t sound like a bad idea. They promised an intern sales host position plus lodging for a six month term.

     My new home was Snow White Village. We new-hires got to reside in a park of fourty-eight trailers, fenced into a tidy rectangle. Each trailer’s walls were cardboard thin and sparsely furnished. We also got electric, running water, a roof—and not much else. Two security guards with a golf cart completed the scene. It looked like a Japanese internment camp from the war.

     To report for work, a shuttle van took us to and from the Disney empire.

     Sales host turned out to be a nightmare. The job was at a souvenir stand right by the main exit of Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. What hadn’t been mentioned was the free, loaner baby strollers located in the same place. If you were lucky enough to work the counter, ten percent of this world was stuffed Mickey Mouse sales. The other ninety percent consisted of managing a fleet of two thousand light blue vinyl strollers. Morning shift wasn’t bad; just toss out a stroller and say “Enjoy the Magic Kingdom!” But on night shift – look out! When the park closed, one stroller after another was shoved at you. They came by the hundreds. Each seemed to be covered with melted ice-cream, bird droppings, or dirty diapers; or a combination of all three. On top of that, every stroller had to be wiped down clean and folded before being stacked away. I have nightmares of light blue vinyl to this day.

     The kingdom was losing its magic. After managing this life for about three months, I went from parking strollers to parking Porsches. Being a valet at the Hilton hotel in Disney village was much happier. The guests were happier too. Perks included seeing the likes of Vincent Price, Kirk Douglas, Gloria Estefan, etc, etc… Night shift had a memory of the space shuttle taking off past a full moon. Things were looking up. However, leaving my intern job meant finding a new place to live and getting a car.

     Fortunately buying a cool old clunker in mid 1980’s Florida was like buying a candy bar. I found a ’71 Mercury Comet for $175. It had a big V8 engine and could burn rubber! Dents and dings to be sure but no rust and the price was right. Lodging turned out to offer the same degree of luxury. 

     Through a friend of a friend I ended sharing a two bedroom apartment in south Orlando with six Mexicans. I paid extra to have one bedroom to myself. Nice guys but cleanliness wasn’t a virtue. 

     Six months past and most of my intern friends were going back north. A few of us decided to stay on in Florida. Tensions had arisen with the south of the border roommates and a change of house was due as well. A few girls I knew offered space in their apartment for a while. To define that: four babes and me in a one bedroom apartment.

     What’s not to like. A lot, as it turned out. While rent was wicked cheap, privacy was non-existent. The girls shared the bedroom and I kept a mattress in a corner of the living room. In tight quarters, all living beings quickly become aware of each other’s nuances. Boxes of my macaroni and cheese would disappear frequently. Beer was also a given. But one of the girls had a habit of eating toothpaste—my toothpaste!  She would go through a tube in two weeks. One morning when a buddy of mine stopped by, I expressed my frustration. Thinking the roomies were sleeping off a hangover in the bedroom, I went on to complain about them being a bunch of sponges and scarfing everything in sight. I left for work—thoughts dismissed. Arriving home that night, I was greeted with multi colored sponges stuck all over the walls. Each one had a smiley face in black marker. A large banner in the kitchen said: “we love you Mark,” signed “the sponges.”

     Time to move on from every warm-blooded male’s fantasy. The next residence was a lake side cottage set in the middle of 400 acres of orange groves— Windermere, Florida—before famous golfers started wrecking SUVs everywhere. I was one of the poor people here but at least I had a dock and palm trees. Each night, I’d go out on the dock at 9:45 p. m., crack open one of two Old Milwaukee pounders, and recline in a lawn chair. A mile away, as the crow flies, sat Epcot Center. At 10:00 p. m. their fireworks display would shoot off right over the immediate horizon. Fleets of alligators would slowly swim below my feet. A lazy man’s paradise on the fringe of the Disney Empire.

     My mind worked different in those days. One warm afternoon, the wind took my inflatable mattress raft halfway across the lake. Having full confidence that all gators really are nocturnal, I donned swim fins and kicked out to retrieve it. Thank God we do get older and wiser! Another bad habit included racing my motorbike at night down the endless sand aisles of the orange groves. Caution:  big yellow and black creatures with long legs lived there and built even bigger webs. Florida banana spiders can easily make a six by six foot snare—enough to stretch from tree to tree. Wearing a sticky web full of freaked spiders at top speed is not something I recommend. Luckily I didn’t wax the bike.

     So life wasn’t like Miami Vice; but the “eighties” in central Florida was a good time. And all jokes aside, Disney really did run a tight ship.

     M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E.



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A Trip From Long Ago

Witches to be Taxed in Romania & Memorialized in Scotland

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