- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 18, 2003

Mother Nature has just handed the drivers on Dolly Madison Boulevard in McLean a new obstacle at the height of the lunch rush: snow.

It is a Wednesday afternoon in mid-December. Flakes are falling. Horns are honking. Traffic is backing up as the cars snake into the driveway of the Tysons Corner Center shopping mall.

This is about as far from Middle Earth as you get.

Yet here is Joe Casey, in full wizard regalia, standing on the side of the road, waving to passing motorists. His robe is getting wet, the wind is threatening to tear the pointy hat off his head, and his long, white beard is drooping.

But Mr. Casey has a job to do, Mother Nature be darned.

He is a volunteer for the mall’s Reindeer Protection Squad, a group that helps guard Ivy and Irving, the huge inflatable reindeer that rest atop the mall’s marquees on Leesburg Pike and Dolly Madison Boulevard, respectively.

Just days before Santa Claus arrived at the mall last year, a grinch made off with Ivy, whose estimated worth is $15,000. An anonymous tip led to her recovery two days later.

This year, Tysons Corner Center has beefed up its video surveillance and security patrols to protect Irving and Ivy. It also has assembled a group of volunteers to stand near the marquees and watch over the reindeer while waving to motorists.

This being the retail business, the mall is dressing the guards in costumes. A Royal Canadian Mountie, McGruff the Crime Dog and Zorro all have taken turns watching over Irving and Ivy in recent weeks.

On the day that “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” movie opens, a wizard who looks an awful lot like Gandalf the Great is on reindeer patrol.

“It is an interesting change of pace,” Mr. Casey says later, once the snow has forced him to retreat inside the mall.

For about a year and a half, Mr. Casey has worked as a security guard at Tysons Corner Center. He usually rides a bicycle around its parking lot, making sure customers and their cars are safe.

“I’m the only one hardheaded enough to ride a bike all year,” he says. His colleagues on the security staff switch to heated trucks in the winter.

“To some extent, it’s a matter of pride. I told my boss I’ll ride a bike, so I’m going to do it,” Mr. Casey says.

The members of the Reindeer Protection Squad are posted near the marquees during the morning and evening rush hours.

During the middle of the day, they walk the corridors of the mall, passing out stickers to youngsters. The stickers, made to look like badges, declare their owners honorary members of the Reindeer Protection Squad.

Here is Mr. Casey now, lumbering through the mall with a stack of stickers in his hand.

“There’s Gandalf,” one woman says.

“Where’s Frodo?” another asks.

Some children hide behind Mommy’s leg when they see Mr. Casey coming. Others approach him eagerly. A few grown-ups ask for stickers, too.

Mr. Casey changes his pitch to suit each customer.

“Don’t be scared. I just want you to help me guard the reindeer.”

“I’m going to deputize you. You can help me keep track of the reindeer, OK?”

“No, no, you’re not too big. Here’s your badge.”

At any other time of year, it might seem strange to have an old wizard lurching through Tysons Corner Center. But here, in the middle of the afternoon in the middle of the week, with the crowds reaching Saturday levels, most folks don’t seem to notice.

Or care.

Except for the fellow with the orange mohawk. He looks puzzled at the sight of the wizard in black sneakers turning the bend by the Wilsons leather store.

“At my age, you lose all your sense of self-consciousness,” Mr. Casey says.

Before he came to Tysons Corner Center, Mr. Casey spent 28 years at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Indian Head, Md., where he tested explosives. He then worked nine years as a security officer at the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City shopping mall.

When he was at the Navy base, he often worked alone. Since becoming a security officer, he has discovered that he is a people person, even if he doesn’t always suffer fools gladly.

The mall dressed Mr. Casey as Sherlock Holmes for his first round of reindeer duty. “At one point someone came up to me and said, ‘Gee, you look like Sherlock Holmes.’ Well, duh.”

When Mr. Casey isn’t working, he enjoys spending time with his grandchildren. He and his wife, Alexandria residents, also are building a home in Prince William County.

Mr. Casey has finished handing out the stickers and will head back outside soon to watch over Ivy during the evening rush hour.

“Yeah, I enjoy it. It’s different, that’s for sure.”

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