As I described in a couple previous episodes of Tales from the Workplace, I used to work at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. I did this for 11 years, and during those years, I worked in several capacities: running games, managing food booths, serving wine, and, finally, selling hats. This tale spans several years and, therefore, a couple of jobs.
The Ritual began during one of the years I worked at the wine booth. It was the final Saturday night of the Festival’s run that year. This means that it was THE NIGHT TO GET THE PARTY ON (whoop whoop). The Festival grounds on the final Saturday night were usually bursting with celebratory Fest-workers, many of them running around with a non-zero blood alcohol level.
I was hanging out with my two wine booth coworkers. As I recall, we were sitting on the bar of the wine booth, relaxing, tipping with cider into our leather mugs.
One of my fellow bartenders told a story about pouring a bottle of dish soap into a fountain. Apparently, one standard bottle of dish soap can produce a lot of suds.
The four of us contemplated the glory of this for a moment. Gears turned at an alcohol-lubricated rate.
Wine Booth Manager: “You know, there’s that moat around the playground area. It has a fountain.”
Gears turned faster.
Wine Booth Coworker: “I bet we could convince [our area supervisor] to pull one of those almost-empty five-gallon pails of hand soap out of the latrines. They need to replace it anyway.”
There was a pause. Then we launched ourselves off the bar and scurried to the area supervisor’s trailer.
My coworker and I stood behind our manager quietly as he made the request for the soap. We were probably grinning a bit too widely, judging from the askance look we got from the area supervisor.
But it worked. Our area supervisor handed over a five-gallon bucket of soap (which contained about a gallon’s worth of soap). He then said, “I don’t want to know,” and sent us on our way.
We giggled all the way to the Ye Olde Renaissance Festival playground area, which was basically a big sandbox, jungle gym, and kid-sized castle placed in the middle of a moat. Under the cloak of darkness, we stood on the wooden bridge of the moat and rid ourselves of the soap. The fountain had been turned off for the night, so we simply watched the pink hand soap slide into the blackness of the water.
Giggling, we slunk away, wondering what sort of sudsy mayhem would happen when the fountain was turned on the next day.
The following morning was one of those glorious late-September Sunday mornings. Golden leaves drifted to the chilly ground as the Renaissance Festival employees woke up and nursed many hangovers.
Our wine booth trio dashed over to the playground area just after the front gate opened to let in the customers. The fountain had already been on for a little while, and…
…oh, it was lovely.
A small mountain of suds had formed around the playground, glinting in the autumn morning sun. The few kids that had already wandered over there were plunging through the suds.
We giggled with glee and went back to our wine booth with a sense of accomplishment.
The next year, I was still at the wine booth. My manager was still the same, but we had a different coworker. By the time the final Saturday of that year, though, our new guy was totally onboard for a Soap Ritual re-enactment. Once again, we managed to talk our way into obtaining the dregs from a five-gallon bucket of hand soap. Once again, the result was glorious.
By the third year, I had moved on to being a salesperson at a hat shop. My Wine Booth Manager and Wine Booth Coworker #2 were still at the wine booth, though, willing to conspire with me. When the final Saturday rolled around, we knew exactly what needed to be done.
I’d spent a little extra time working on the new area supervisor to get the required bucket of hand soap, but this time, he wasn’t game. Luckily, he had an assistant, a mischievous young teen whom I shall call Conspirator Boy. He’d overheard us talking to the area supervisor and walked up to us.
Conspirator Boy: “What are you planning to do?” he asked quietly.
Realizing that I might be putting our entire plan at risk, I told him. A huge grin crossed his face. His eyes widened with glee.
Conspirator Boy: “There’s a booth over there with a blue tarp over the front. Check behind the tarp in 10 minutes. I’m not sure what I can make happen, but we’ll see.”
We each slunk into the night, going in our separate wily directions.
Ten minutes later, my wine booth crew and I checked behind the tarp. Sure enough, there was a lidded five-gallon bucket labeled SOAP. We stifled giggles of glee.
Wine Booth Manager wrapped his hand around the bucket’s handle and lifted. “WHOA,” he said. “I think this thing is FULL!”
I lifted it. Sure enough, a full five gallons of goopy hand soap weighs a lot.
We took turns hoisting the thing across the Festival grounds to the playground moat. When we got there, we sure as hell poured the whole five gallons into the water.
The following morning was yet another gorgeous late-September morning. I very clearly remember standing at the front of the hat shop, marveling at the golden light that was spreading across the Festival buildings. The air was crisp.
I’d purposely avoided the playground area that morning, as I didn’t want to give myself away as the culprit, just in case we’d truly gone overboard. As the playground area was clear on the other side of the Festival grounds, I wondered how long it would take for me to hear news of what five gallons of hand soap could truly do.
I heard the cannon boom, which meant that the Festival gates were open for customers. It also meant that the fountain was definitely turned on for the morning. I waited.
A few minutes passed.
I contemplated walking down there, but decided to be patient. I knew my wine booth cohorts were sleeping in that morning, so I would be the sole witness to the true glory of what we’d done, but yet… I waited.
And then it happened.
I saw Conspirator Boy round the corner down the street, running at a full tilt. He ran straight for the hat shop, and nearly bowled me over with inertia when he made it.
“OH MY GOD *huff huff* OH MY GOD IT’S… IT’S… *huff huff huff*…” He struggled to catch his breath. “…IT’S AMAZING.”
And that’s when I looked up and saw soap suds floating through the air.
Did I mention that the hat shop was pretty far away from the moat?
I told the hat shop manager that I’d be right back, and then Conspirator Boy and I ran as fast as possible to the moat. It was, indeed, amazing. The mountain of suds had engulfed the bridge and the playground itself, and was encroaching upon the surrounding street. The mild autumn breeze was lifting bubbles off the giant, white mass of suds, carrying soap into the trees and sky. Once again, kids and adults were plunging into the mass, tunneling through the fluffy, sparkling mountain.
I’m sure we’d also managed to piss off some other people with that level of mayhem. At the moment, though, I sure didn’t care.
The Soap Ritual continued on a few years after that, until I stopped working at the Renaissance Festival altogether. I hear that Conspirator Boy may have even carried the flag for a few years after I left. I think there was even a year when two separate factions poured soap into the moat, making another giant, soapy mess.
It’s good to have a legacy.