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It turned out that the Smoke Ring was closed for maintenance, so the guys and I missed out on our amazing meal :/

Instead we headed over to Delia's Chicken Sausage Stand, a little corner restaurant that's on the way back to the train. They serve small-batch, organic chicken sausages in a variety of ways. I was expecting a sort of fast food environment...the food definitely came out fast, but the quality was WAY better than fast food! Jameson had creamy grits that he said were some of the best he's ever had. Tim (sax) was all about the meatball slider. Brett (bandmaster) had a full-sized chicken sausage in a hoagie roll, it looked great. I had sweet potato pancakes with breakfast chicken sausage links. The pancakes were fluffy and delicious and the sausage was flavorful and just a bit spicy. How have we never been here before?

I didn't get a picture of the food before we all dug in, but did find this poster on the wall to be pretty funny.



After our meal we went to Cafe 290 to see our friend Hardin play trumpet with a local big band. Hardin has frequently subbed in with the circus band, so we all already know he's a great player. This time we got to see him in a jazz element. The place was packed and the band was awesome! I think the only thing we didn't like was the frontman, he was very talkative. All the time he spent talking and preening himself could have been better spent listening to that great band. Ah well, what we did get to hear was very enjoyable. Had a great time :)

Jameson and I left after the first set, stopped at Walmart for some groceries, and crashed back at the train. So tired. (The train's staying in the same yard for Duluth.)


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Jameson and I spent Monday in Orlando. We were both feeling crummy, so didn't do a lot, just errands and resting. I slept for most of the day. Didn't realize how exhausted I was.

On Tuesday we had one last wonderful breakfast at Keke's. Then we packed our things and said farewell to Florida. I wonder if I'll be coming back, or not.

We drove all day and arrived in Greenville around 9:30pm. The train made good time and was spotted when we arrived. Railfan Joe Dougherty was on hand for our arrival, and took lots of great pictures of Nikki and other members of train crew unloading the flatcars. The Greenville yard is one of few accessible, paved yards, and one where the flats are stored with the coaches (passenger cars).





Some of the cars are hand-painted.


On Wednesday morning Jameson had a job interview, which went very well. Afterward we went to Publix to stock up on groceries for the week. I bought several prepared meals, because it's going to be a busy week and I don't expect to have time to cook. Then it was back to the train. I spend most of the day applying for more jobs and resting, as I hadn't slept well.

We have a pretty weird schedule here in Greenville. There were 10am shows scheduled for both Thursday and Friday, so we all had to be up early and there was no time for a rehearsal. Plus our bandmaster Brett had to fly home for a family emergency, so we had a sub on trumpet and Tim will be conducting for the entire week.

I like Greenville, a lot. I've probably mentioned this before...it has a special place in my heart, being one of the first cities that I ever visited on tour as a trombonist. It is a beautiful city with a thriving economy, but it's HOW it got to be beautiful and successful that I find really wonderful. The town found itself struggling during the 70s, with WWII-era industries failing and commerce moving to the suburbs where shopping plazas and malls were being built. Both the private citizens and the city government officials decided that they would not sit by and watch their city decline. They formed an ambitious plan involving both private and public sectors, and began a total redesign of the entire town. From the structure of the buildings to the landscaping to the businesses and economic foundations, they laid the groundwork for their hopes, and worked hard to achieve it. And the result is a beautiful city growing at an incredible rate.

Every time I come here, I am amazed at the leaps and bounds being made. This time, the area near our train has gone from being a row of empty shop fronts to an active market area, with local grocers, art studios, bike shops, and more coming soon. On the drive to the arena, a once-empty stretch of land now houses a massive housing boom...new apartments under construction as far as the eye can see.

Anyway! Opening day was a little rough, because of the early start and Brett's absence and a union meeting scheduled for the afternoon. But it was made better by a visit from our sister unit, the Blue show, currently performing Out of this World in Charlotte NC. They were seated in the section closest to the band, which was really nice because we had a loud rowdy bunch cheering us on!



After the show they immediately came down onto the floor and started socializing and checking out all of our stuff. People were climbing all over the portal, playing with props, taking photos, laughing, talking. It was a lot of fun. I got to see some members of the Blue unit band, including Landon, the union steward on that show (we'd never met!). A large group photo was organized...I had already left by the time it was taken so I'm not in it, but I'm glad so many people stuck around for it. It'll be a nice memory for us to look back on, that day when Red and Blue circus families got together :)

(photo courtesy Steve B.)

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During the break we returned to Jameson's apartment. The next day, Jameson had a meeting with someone working with Disney's entertainment management sector. I think we both hoped that it would turn out to be some type of job offer for him, or at least consideration for future work. Why else would they schedule an in-person meeting?

Turns out, he drove out there for nothing. They had him arrive at their offices in person just to tell him that nothing was available, and that he wouldn't be considered for management until he'd worked at entry level for a while (he's already worked for Disney for seven years). It was a huge disappointment. I felt terrible for him. I'm sure you can imagine how crushing it is to have a company that you care about and spent seven years of your life with reject you so coldly. We spent the rest of the day working on video edits and trying not to get seriously depressed.



We had planned to get to the train that night...it was only an hour or so from Jacksonville to Tampa. But for some reason the train was delayed, like SERIOUSLY delayed, and didn't get moving until nighttime.

The next morning we headed back to the train, stopping at Brocato's for one of their amazing sandwiches. The rest of the band was there enjoying the food and fine weather, but we decided to just get ours to go as we were both feeling down and not very social. I was piggy and got both an 8" Cuban and a "devil crab". The Cuban was delicious, salty and savory goodness! And the sandwich was huge so I got to have it for both lunch and dinner!



The devil crab I saved for the next day's lunch. It's a potato-sized croquette filled with lump crab, veggies, hot sauce, and seasonings. It was REALLY good, I'd definitely get one again! The next time I'm in Tampa. Whenever that is.



The opening day rehearsal went well. There was notably nothing to report from Feld HQ, other than that they will keep us updated on any news. We were also warned that shows may be added to our existing schedule, so I guess it might be hard to make plans on show days from now on. It was mentioned that any parents who will need to enroll their kids in a public school will have help from Feld in doing so.

After rehearsal Jameson and I found a local taco joint for dinner. We ate and talked about all our worries, and what we should do and could do, who to contact, when to take this or that next step. Nothing's easy right now, but I'm glad we have each other.

The show that evening was packed, and went very well.


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On Monday I packed and made other preparations to go back to the circus. My Mom's friend Tracy came over for a bit, and we played cards. Later in the day they went to the grocery, and I took the opportunity to finish packing and relax a bit.

On Tuesday my sister Kate came to pick me up for the ride to the airport. I said goodbye to Mom and the cats. An hour later Kate dropped me off and I hugged her goodbye. It was great to spend so much time with family. That doesn't happen too often with this job.

Into the airport I went. I was the only one going through security, so was able to take my sweet time and chat a bit with the TSA agents. Once through to the gate, I saw maybe five others waiting for their flights...otherwise I had the terminal to myself.



My flight arrived on time. It had begun snowing, but as long as it didn't delay the flight I didn't mind.


Soon we were up in the air, and in no time at all we were in Philly where I caught my flight to Orlando. Somehow on a crowded flight I ended up having a whole row to myself! Wow!!!


It was a pleasant flight. As we were approaching to land I was struck by the difference between PA and FL at this time of year.


Jameson was there to pick me up when I landed. He took me to the train so I could unpack, then repack, because this week I'll be staying at his Orlando apartment. I watered my poor plants, which were still alive but looking rather wilted. The flytraps needed some trimming as well, some of the leaves were rotting off (this is normal).

Once everything was taken care of, we hit Moe's for dinner and hoofed it to Jameson's place. I was exhausted and slept well.


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This week was a little more busy.

I spent some time in my parents' basement digging through my boxes of things in storage. My Dad's trying to refinish the basement this year, and it'll help if I can consolidate everything so it'll be easy to move when that space needs to be cleared. I managed to set aside a large box of things to go to the local thrift store. I didn't get rid of many books though! They're hard to part with.



On Tuesday Jean came to pick Mom and I up for a trip to Muffin Man for breakfast. They've got great quiche, and great muffins of course! Jean got a gigantic egg sandwich (I took note of it for next time ;) ). Afterward we decided to do a little shopping. There's a neighborhood holiday party on Sunday, and there will be a white elephant exchange, so we needed gifts for that. I didn't find anything that I liked, but did find the perfect boxes for holding trombone leadpipes! When we got home I cut up some memory foam and lined the boxes with it. Hopefully this will protect the leadpipes so that they're no longer rolling around inside the trombone cases. It's not the prettiest craft project but I think it'll work.


That night we went to a Thai restaurant called Siam in a neighboring town. We were there to celebrate Kate's birthday! The food was delicious. I got green curry, it was spicy and delicious.


After our wonderful meal we drove to Kate's house so she could unwrap presents. Kayle gave her these fancy sunglasses. Very Cali!


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UPDATE: A new tag has been added called "animals". Clicking on this tag will take you to all entries that have photos, information, or facts about the circus animals. Thanks for reading!

Since the train would not be arriving in Huntsville until Monday night, we decided to stay in Nashville for an evening.

On Monday afternoon we hit Whiskey Kitchen for lunch. This is our third time visiting...it's pretty clear that it's our favorite Nashville restaurant! We always get the fried calamari because it's amazing. Someday if I can tear myself away from that tender squid and flavorful seasoning, I'll try the other appetizers! For the meal Jameson tried the fish and chips and said it was delicious. I had the fried green tomato BLT with brie, bacon, spinach, and hot dijon mustard on sourdough. It was delicious!!



We also had drinks because why not. It's 5:00 somewhere, right? I had a "moonshine mule" and Jameson had something called the "farewell Broadway" that had apple brandy, vanilla syrup, bitters, and cream.


After our great meal we bid farewell to Nashville and hit the road. The drive to Huntsville was only a few hours long. We were concerned as the train hadn't left on time and was running several hours behind. We decided to hit a mall and do some Christmas shopping. Jameson got most of his done while I just shopped for ideas. To kill more time we went to see a movie (Office Christmas Party). After that we went for a late sushi dinner and decided to get another hotel. The train was supposed to be in Chattanooga by 1:30pm and it was now 8pm. Sometimes it happens. There have been times when the train was right in front of us and we still ended up in a hotel! Circus life.

The next morning we were surprised to find that the train was still not in the yard, so got a late checkout and went to find food. We then killed time at Walmart until Tim (sax) and Jerome (bass) let us know the train was finally spotted. We got to the yard just as power was hooked up. There are fond memories of this yard and this city. We had one of the best elephant walks I've ever been on here last year. I'm very sad that we can't bring that level of excitement to Huntsville any more. But I'm happy to have experienced such a wonderful moment here.

I spent the rest of the day unpacking, repacking for the trip home, Christmas shopping online, and paying bills.

We opened on Wednesday. Rehearsal went extra-long again as we integrate new people and elements into the show. And although she's been here for a month, it's now official, we are joined by our new Ringmaster, Kristen Michelle Wilson! She is the first female Ringmaster Ringling has ever(?) had, but besides that she's a great vocalist and has a wonderful personality. We're looking forward to working with her! CLICK HERE to see an awesome video of Kristen performing.



The show that evening went well, although this arena is quite cold so the space heaters came out again.

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We ended up hitting some pretty miserable traffic once crossing the FL state line, causing us to be nearly two hours late getting home. At some point we left the highway to get dinner, very hungry and tired. We managed to pick probably one of the worst restaurants that either of us has ever been to. It's called Cody's. Don't go to Cody's in Florida.

Still hungry, we got back on the road and after a grand total of 20 hours in the car, finally made it to Jameson's apartment. Whew!

The next day was a busy one, so we got started with a tasty breakfast at Keke's. I decided to be piggy and got coconut pineapple stuffed french toast. It was so stinkin' good! But I forgot my phone so no pictures for you :P After that we went to Home Depot for paint and painting supplies. For today is the day we paint the kitchen!



That's a shot of Jameson's kitchen. The cabinets are a sort of purplish-red, and the walls are yellow (they had been minty green but Jameson painted them when he moved in). The kitchen has been this way for over a decade, so it's time for an upgrade! I did the walls while Jameson did the cabinets. We removed all of the cabinet doors and painted them separately, but made the mistake of keeping them on the drop plastic, causing problems later on :/ Oh well...live and learn! We painted for 4-5 hours, then called it a day. The next morning we finished the remaining cabinet doors and reinstalled them. Project complete!



And what better way to break in the new kitchen than by cooking a meal in it!


Jameson got a cookbook from him Mom for his birthday, and put it to good use! He made sesame-orange chicken. I loved the sauce! We were both pretty tired after all of the painting, cooking, and cleanup, so spent much of our day being total couch potatoes. As I type this I'm watching Jameson play Lego Star Wars.

The next day was pretty slow. We had planned to go to the gym, but Jameson wasn't feeling great so we skipped it. Instead we ran errands. We took some DVD cases to FedEx to be shipped to a recycling plant, then hit the grocery for some ingredients we'd forgotten. Back at home we ate lunch and worked on some music we'd brought along to study on vacation. I did bring a trombone to practice with, but with new music and especially audition stuff I like to play "air trombone" until I get the muscle memory down.

For dinner Jameson made burrito bowls!! It was adobo-seasoned chicken with a ton of veggies...beans and peppers and onions and sweet corn. We put it over rice and topped it with lettuce, cheese, guac, salsa, and sour cream. Delicious!



Since Jameson had done all the cooking, I did all the cleaning. I absolutely hate cooking, and he absolutely hates cleaning, so it's a nice balance we've got going. Teamwork! Later on Jameson played Overwatch with some friends. I like watching him play, but I'm a total motionsick wuss, so can only watch for about 30 minutes at a time. Anyway, I watched as much as I could and enjoyed it :)

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On Monday Jameson and I began the drive to Chicago. We had already driven two hours the night before, so expected only a few more hours of driving. But partway through the drive we saw something ominous in the distance: a small dark cloud hovering on the horizon.

At first, we speculated that it was from a factory or someone's private burn pile. But the closer we got, the darker the smoke looked, and it soon became apparent that something was wrong. Jameson pointed out that he hadn't seen any cars traveling in the opposite direction for some time.



We rounded a corner and came upon a horrible scene. Something was burning on the highway median. Thick black smoke and fireballs curled into the sky. All we could do was sit and wait as emergency vehicles arrived.


Eventually it became clear that the fire was not going out any time soon. We were redirected back the way we came, where we found an alternative route. As we turned around I snapped a picture, hoping to see what had happened, but all I saw was a damaged truck and an indistinguishable black mass of metal.


It turns out that there had been a three-trailer accident. One of the trailers was a tanker, and it had burst into flame. The driver was killed. Not knowing this yet, we spent the rest of our drive quietly worrying for those involved, and selfishly grateful that we ourselves were OK.

We arrived in Chicago without incident, and enjoyed a nice evening with Jameson's parents.

The next day we got up a little early for a nice breakfast at Little Goat. We were lucky...owner Stephanie Izard was there to taste-test some proposed specials. Very cool to see the boss herself doing some hands-on sampling and giving instruction to her crew! This time I decided to try the "bullseye" french toast: home-baked chive brioche with soft-friend egg hidden in the middle, topped with crispy chicken, strawberry slices, and bbq maple syrup. As always, Little Goat hits the spot!



After breakfast it was time to hit the grocery. Mrs. Boyce needed lots of ingredients for Thanksgiving! She'd also preordered a turkey from Local Foods, a grocery specializing in local sustainable farming and foods. I saw lots of things in there that I'd like to eat! Back at the condo we relaxed, watched some Cubs recaps that Jameson had missed (we don't have tv on the train), and enjoyed an awesome curry lentil soup made by Mrs. Boyce. After dinner I was able to premiere a project that Landon (Blue Unit drummer) and I had been working on: social media sites for the Ringling bands! We now have a page on facebook and a twitter account. These are just to share the awesomeness that is the Ringling circus band...and yes, let's be honest, to remind people that there IS a Ringling circus band! Live music + circus = magic :)
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Before heading to Pittsburgh we visited a really awesome museum: The Strong Museum of Play! It's only a few blocks from the Rochester arena! Never knew!

The Strong Museum is primarly a children's museum, featuring a lot of play areas, a small library, and lots of hands-on exhibits. We were there on Halloween day and there was a special trick-or-treat event for toddlers. We saw lots of cute kids in adorable costumes!

But the real reason we were there is because the Strong Museum houses thousands of video games. The entire second floor is like a giant arcade. Some games are free, others require tokens, either way it's a great time. Most of the games are not on display, but are held in the archives and rotated out into the display cases every once in a while. When you've got tens of thousands of items it's hard to show them all at once! Here are some of the vintage gaming systems we got to see.

Game Boy, of course!



An Apple II computer, complete with floppy disk drives. (Yeah that link is for you Millenials who never experienced the "joys" of a piece of wax paper that held 0.5k data and could be erased with a fridge magnet :P)


This is pretty cool, it's a Nintendo cartridge specifically designed for gaming competitions. The parameters of the games can be controlled by the chip in the upper left. Supposedly these are quite rare and go on eBay for thousands. Cool!


This is one of those ET games that was ditched in a landfill after losing tons of money for Atari (it was a news story a few years ago when they dug 'em back up).


This is just a small sampling of what we saw. In addition to video games, there were displays of board games, puzzles, dolls, and other types of toys.


We found a giant Battleship board and played a game. I won!


That's ok, he won at two player Tetris later on :)
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We arrived in Salem on Monday morning, unprepared for the Columbus Day crowds that would greet us. Wow! There were so many people! We went to Red Line Cafe for lunch. Having been there last time, we knew it would be good food! The line was out the door, and the restaurant actually had bathroom bouncers to keep non-customers from using the toilets! First time I've ever had to get a hand stamp in order to pee! Haha! In any case the crepes were amazing. I got a Nutella crepe with strawberries and bananas.


After our meal we simply wandered. There was a lot more going on than the last time we'd been through. Street performers, tons of people in costumes, ghost tours, and some sort of sidewalk sale/faire with stalls selling homemade goods. Some of the goods we like most were candles laser-cut to look like crystals and skulls, mounted "trophy heads" of narwhals, elephants and dinosaurs handmade by a local artist, and awesome t-shirt designs and art by a local church raising funds for its LGBT outreach.

In our wanderings, we stumbled upon an Escape Room Salem challenge! These things are popping up everywhere lately! The owner was running the place himself that day...he hadn't planned to be open, but I think the Columbus Day crowds might have prompted him to do some business! He was able to fit us in around 3:30 with another group of four, which turned out to be two parents and two young ladies. It was a three-generation superteam!!!

This was the first escape challenge I've done with multiple rooms, and I have to say it was pretty fun! The rooms were decorated in awesome fashion, like a lab with lots of lit-up dials and mysterious equipment. The goal was to prevent a zombie apocalypse. We were given a walkie-talkie so that the owner could provide clues when we got hung up (which we did right off the bat haha). In my opinion what made this challenge more difficult than others we've done was the fact that we had to find clues in a certain order. This meant that we often ended up with all six of us surrounding one clue, all of us trying to be involved in solving it at once. It took some serious self-control to step back and allow others to manipulate a puzzle. Everyone wants to have a hand in the victory! But we took turns and helped each other, and ended up escaping with an impressive eleven minutes to spare! WOW!



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Our last two days in Chitown went quickly. On Monday after our workout we went to Glenn's Diner. This place is known for its seafood, and also for having a seasonal selection of cereal, of all things! Pretty neat place. Mrs. Boyce and I both got this amazing seafood salad, full of lobster and smoked trout and shrimp. I couldn't even finish mine and had to ask the boys to help polish it off!

From there we went to the Lincoln Park Zoo. It's a small one but very good! They have several big cats, primates, reptiles, farm animals, and more. Plus the weather was fantastic, sunny but with a chill in the air, fall is definitely here!




Jameson and I feeding some cows :)


That evening after a wonderful dinner made by Mrs. Boyce, Mr. Boyce invited me along to his choir rehearsal! He sings with the Apollo Chorus of Chicago, an amazing group that's been performing since 1872!! They were rehearsing for a concert and also a wedding, at a local community arts building. I picked out a seat in the back and settled in to listen. To my surprise, the first song they rehearsed was Eric Whitacre's "Alleluia"! This piece is very familiar to me, I played it in college wind ensemble with my graduating class, but that arrangement is known as "October". But it's the same piece, and a very nostalgic and wonderful memory for me. I was very happy to hear it again.


The rehearsal went for about three hours with some breaks in-between. I got to hear a reduced section of the chorus (including Mr. Boyce) rehearsing for the wedding...I took footage of this but as the wedding was that week, decided against posting it. They sounded great :) I love sitting in on rehearsals and seeing the process of refining music. It's a lot of work for everyone involved, but the results are absolutely worth it!

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As mentioned last week, this week is a rare mid-season break for the Red Unit. On Sunday after the last shows, everyone scattered to the winds. Some went home to be with family (and for some of our performers, that means flights home to Mongolia or Russia!) while others took vacations and excursions. I hope everyone has fun and comes back safely!

Jameson and I decided to go to Chicago for the week, to stay with his parents. We drove partway on Sunday, and the rest of the way on Monday. Partway through the drive I got notice that USPS had tried to deliver my trombone to Jameson's parent's condo, and had failed. Oh wait...you're probably wondering, "What trombone?"

Well, about a week ago a member of the trombone forum asked if I'd be interested in a trombone that he was selling. This wasn't just any trombone. It's a Williams model 6.

I won't bore you with too much history, but here's the basics. Earl Williams was an instrument maker who opened shop around 1930. He teamed up with Spike Wallace, who at the time was the principal trombonist of the LA Philharmonic. They made horns together up until around 1940, at which point they parted ways. Earl continued to make his own horns until World War II began and he was contracted to a factory for war production. After the war, Earl was able to buy large quantities of brass from the US government. He opened up shop in LA and continued making horns by hand. His work was in high demand from the famous trombonists of that era. In 1958 he moved his shop to Burbank, and there continued to make trombones until his death in 1971.

Even though Earl had others working in his shop with him, all of his horns were still made by hand, so there are a limited number of them out there. In addition, these horns are extremely high quality and produce a unique sound that can't be found in any other brand of trombone. For these reasons, Williams trombones are still in high demand. The model 6 is one of the most popular models, and it's the same size as the horns I currently play in the show. This one was in excellent condition, came in the original case, and had only two previous owners. I decided that an opportunity like this wouldn't present itself again. Knowing that we were about to have a week off, I had the trombone sent to Chicago, where Jameson's parents graciously agreed to receive it.

After a frustrating several hours trying to get USPS to deliver the horn, we realized that it wasn't going to happen, so Jameson's dad offered to go pick it up (thank you!!!). So it was waiting for me when we arrived!




I don't want to bombard you with photos, so if you'd like to see more pics here they are. The trombone came with other items from 1960s tromboning, including several mutes, a trombone stand, and a vintage water spray bottle. Cool!! I cleaned it up and played it just a little...the slide is fantastic and it sounds fantastic, I can't wait to play it in an arena and really take it for a spin!

But for now, it's vacation! The next morning all four of us got up and went to the gym on the condo's bottom floor. After a great workout we were very hungry, so we got cleaned up and took the red line to Crosby's Kitchen. Jameson's mom had seen it on a PBS show, and the food looked great. And it was! One of the appetizers we'd seen on the show was lobster deviled eggs. And BOY were they just as delicious as they looked! If you come here, get these. SO good.



For my meal I got a rotisserie chicken sandwich that was top notch. I didn't take a picture because I was eating :P At one point I noticed that Jameson & family were getting excited about someone sitting nearby. I discreetly asked what was up. Turns out Jason Hammel was sitting directly behind Jameson's dad!


He seemed to be there with some family, so we didn't bother him. Pretty cool though! The Cubs did have a game that night, so perhaps he was having a nice meal before heading over to Wrigley Field.

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On the way to Lexington we stopped in Nashville. It seems like every time we play Nashville, it's February and two degrees outside and raining. I've been through the city several times, but have never been down the main drag. This time I finally got to see Nashville!


Oh wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. Before exploring the strip, we had a wonderful dinner at Whiskey Kitchen! We'd been here earlier this year and the food was AMAZING. Today it was just as good! We started off with calamari. This isn't freezer squid, it's squid steaks cut into thick slices, hand-battered, and fried alongside spicy pickles. Tender and delicious. Best fried calamari ever.


Jameson got seared tuna (I should have taken a pic because it was beautiful) while I went the unhealthy route and got hot chicken and chipotle mac n cheese! The chicken was tender and hot enough to make me sweat. The mac n cheese killed the flames nicely. Thanks again Whiskey Kitchen for the above-and-beyond eats!



THEN we went to the strip, to walk our dinner off. One of our first stops was a record store that had been full of all kinds of vintage vinyl the last time Jameson had been there. Unfortunately now it's been cleaned out, and mostly houses country CDs and vinyl box sets. What a shame. As we continued down the street we noticed that although there weren't a lot of people out, there was a LOT of live music, so much that in the street it just sounded like a wash of sound. Pretty much every bar had a live band. In some ways that's awesome, and in other ways it might show how competitive it is to be a musician in Nashville.

Before going to our hotel, Jameson drove me down the REAL "music row", where all of the recording studio offices are. We saw the offices of RCA, Warner, BMG, and many others. But many of the buildings were for lease or sale, and new condos were springing up in this historic place where musicians used to go to be made or broken. It was amazing to see, and kind of sad, because the music industry just doesn't work that way any more.


Anyway, I was very happy to finally see Nashville :)
That night we stayed at Hotel Preston, a unique hotel that Jameson found outside the city. The decor was really cool! It was a funky change from the normal chain hotels. We had a great stay here...look for this hotel if you're in the area!

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It only takes an hour to drive to Ft Worth, but of course it takes the train much longer! The train was in three cuts and had to be reassembled, plus we probably had to avoid commuter rails. Jameson and I stayed in Dallas overnight. In the morning we went to Seasons 52 for lunch. We both got salmon; he treated himself to a wild salmon filet with snap peas and some delicious-looking corn side/thing, while I had sesame salmon salad. Seasons 52 is basically guaranteed to be good!


After our meal we went to a large Half Price Books to kill time. Jameson found some music books, and I found a 1919 National Geographic! I've got this weird obsession with old magazines...I find it fascinating that things I take for granted, like toothpaste and wall paint, were new and exciting back in the day. This old magazine also had an article on Korea (as in Whole Unified Korea) that included a map...an incredibly empty map that claimed to be  incredibly detailed, haha. In the article, the caucasian writer describes the locals' fascination with his blue eyes to the point where they question his ability to see (he proves that he has good vision by shooting a dog from several yards away, which the locals promptly cook for dinner). Later on the writer is invited on a random tiger hunt that ensues when some farmers spot two tigers on a mountain from a distance. Amazing how much has changed in the last century.


Then it was back to the mall to see Sausage Party! Um...gosh, there's no good way to describe this movie. If you can tolerate dirty humor, I mean REALLY dirty, and a lot of drug references, then you'll like it! There were definitely a lot of funny parts, but I found myself blushing more often than not. Scandalous!

After the movie it was finally time for the snack we'd been looking forward to all week...Howdy Homemade ice cream!! This is a unique store in Dallas that serves ice cream made right there in the shop. Howdy Homemade employs adults with special needs, and they run the whole operation from churning each flavor to serving guests and running the register. Andy was at the counter that day, and along with a barrage of amazing ice cream samples (that I could have just stood there eating all day haha) he made us laugh with some one-liners. I hope he's a comedian on the side because his jokes and the speed at which he dealt them out was amazing! :D



There were SO many fantastic flavors to choose from! "Classic" flavors like strawberry and chocolate, more unique flavors like mango and cookie monster, and some downright bizarre flavors like hot tomale and avocado! Andy let us try many different kinds. The avocado was strange, but surprisingly good! The cheesecake was AMAZING. If I ever get to come here again I'll be getting that flavor! This time we settled on Howdy Homemade's most popular creation: chocolate chip Dr. Pepper ice cream. It was fantastic!!!


If I weren't lactose intolerant I'd have eaten a gallon. Jameson got his in a Dr. Pepper float (because if you're gonna do it, do it all the way) and I got a second scoop of carrot cake ice cream, which tasted exactly like carrot cake complete with chunks of carrot, and reminded me of autumn. Maybe the best part about this whole experience was eating our treats with golden spoons :) Thank you Howdy Homemade...we'll be back!!!


After our treat we fought rush hour traffic to reach Ft Worth. Since the train wasn't quite spotted we decided to put in our time at the gym, and wouldn't you know it, right when we finished the train was ready for us! We grabbed some groceries and went home.
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We had a looooong drive from Phoenix to San Antonio!

There were several mishaps along the way. Poor Applesauce (head of lighting) ended up with a cracked windshield :(


(photo courtesy Applesauce)

Mr. Štipka (camel trainer) had some trailer trouble, and although he was able to get assistance quickly, he was delayed. Kudos to him and all of animal crew for putting the animals' needs first and getting them safely to Texas!!

Even the train had problems: a collision with an 18-wheeler who thought he'd crossed the tracks but his back end was hanging over the rails. He was very, very lucky. This could have been much, much worse. Since the train had to make an emergency stop for several hours while the authorities arrived, Lindsey (clown) had time to get this photo of the back of the truck. Safety first y'all. Stop, Look, and Listen. Trains cannot stop for you.


(photo courtesy Lindsey)

Jameson and I were fortunate to have a problem-free overland. We actually arrived in San Antonio around the same time as the train. We knew this thanks to a neat app on the iPhone called Find My Friends. We've been using it to follow Rebecca (wardrobe) who often rides the train.


Of course it takes much longer for the train to be parked than our car ;) So we got a hotel for the evening and went to the train the next day.

The yard here is not very hospitable...there's a gas station near one entrance, but you have to cross a lot of live track to get to it. The arena is similarly solitary. When I first joined the circus, they were playing at the Alamodome which is right downtown, but since then we've switched to the AT&T arena a bit on the outskirts.


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**BLOG UPDATE: From now on, you can reach my blog by visiting or sharing the address trombonemegan.com. My name's Megan and I play the trombone. Easy to remember, right? I figure it's easier to remember than taz-39.livejournal.com.**

The drive to Phoenix didn't take too long, although it was very hot with temperatures reaching up to 120F in some areas. We took it slow so the car wouldn't overheat (we saw many unfortunate folks broken down along the way).

We arrived in Phoenix a day before the train, plus the train was late, so we had time to kill. For breakfast Jameson took me to Lolo's Chicken and Waffles. I love chicken and waffles!! And now that we've been to several such places across the country, I get to compare! Unlike Roscoe's or Home of Chicken and Waffles, Lolo's chicken is very lightly battered resulting in a nice crispy skin. It's also more salty and heavier on the seasoning, which makes a nice contrast with the sweet waffle. I couldn't say that any of these restaurants have a "better" chicken and waffles. They're all delicious! And Lolo's hit the spot this morning!



After our meal we killed time at a local mall. We visited the Microsoft store to check out the Surface Pro and Surface Book, both of which Jameson might be interested for programming work. We were surprised to find a virtual reality setup near the store entrance. Jameson decided to check it out!


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Since the overland to DC was so short, Jameson and I made plans to spend Monday at the Natural History Museum. We'd both been before but not recently. There were some new exhibits, including two photography galleries showcasing National Geographic's "20 years of Nature's Best Photography" and specifically the photography of Frans Lanting. The images were displayed without frames, in an intensely high quality. A summary to the side of each photo described the conditions under which the photographer took the photo, equipment used, and their thoughts and feelings as they captured the images.


Because it was spring break, the museum was VERY crowded. We inched our way through a display of skeletons of various animals, saw the bugs (but couldn't get into the butterfly dome because there was a waiting list), and enjoyed the hall of gems and minerals.






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It was a short drive from Richmond to Baltimore, but the train takes much longer to arrive. We ended up with two nights in hotels. Before leaving Richmond we ate lunch at Asado Wing and Taco Co. Jameson's burrito was HUGE.


We drove to the outskirts of Baltimore and after finding dinner, decided to go see 10 Cloverfield Lane. No I will NOT tell you what it's about :P If you never saw Cloverfield, that's ok, I hadn't seen it either and this movie still made sense to me. It was very engaging, scary, funny, dramatic...just really good. We had a great time!

The next day we wanted groceries, but the nearest Walmart was a disappointment with no produce and limited fridge offerings. Luckily there was a Wegmans nearby! I haven't been to Wegmans since I was little. It's a pretty awesome grocery! I found a few treats for the upcoming two weeks in Baltimore, and stocked up on the basics as well.

Opening day started with a long rehearsal as we prepare for a show without elephants. The modifications aren't that big a deal, but it's important to make sure everyone knows where they're going. The show featured a pretty great crowd.

Thursday was a split. After the poorly-attended morning show, Jameson and I walked over to Lexington Market. We'd heard that it had gone downhill since the last time we were through (2 years ago), but it looked the same to me...tons of great food, crowds and long lines, bustling storefronts, hecklers. We picked up the Best Cookies Ever, and headed over to Faidley's for some of their famous crab cakes, but the line was wrapped almost halfway around the food court. We settled instead on a small Italian stand selling the biggest hunks of lasagna I'd ever seen at that price. I'll be back for crab cakes next week ;)

After our meal we decided to stay at the arena, he to work on refinancing his mortgage, and I to play online, eat cookies and take a nap :)

Over the weekend we had a visit from one of the Disney on Ice shows. It was great to have a cheering section!! Several peeps from the Blue Unit also came by (they're on a break right now) to say hello and watch the show. Mike Brown, bassist with the Blue band, came backstage to spend some time with us. Great to see you, Mike :)

Sunday was a day full of surprises. Our ringmaster, David Shipman, came down with a nasty stomach bug, so his understudy Dean (clown) took his place for the first time! Dean's charisma and stage presence were a perfect fit for the role! He did an amazing job.





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We drove to Chattanooga and spent the night. The next day we went to Bluewater Grille for lunch (we remembered it from two years ago). After a delicious meal we visited the candy store across the street, just because we could. This particular store specializes in weird sodas. Flavors ranged from the normal root/ginger/butter beer and fruit flavors to the bizarre and sometimes downright gross. Ranch dressing? Gravy? Sweet corn? Eew!

Jameson was brave and got the PB&J soda. He has yet to try it. I got an almond-flavored one and will check it out sometime this week.

Then we drove to Nashville. After checking into the hotel we decided to do some looking around. First stop, Gruhn Guitars to check out some amazing and rare instruments! I don't know much about guitars, but this was a very impressive collection. Jameson really enjoyed looking at them and playing a few.



After poking around in a nearby antique mall, we decided to get dinner at the highly recommended Hattie B's. I was skeptical that fried chicken could be anything but plain ol' chicken...but this was something special! You choose your chicken portion and the heat level you want. Neither of us were brave enough for "Shut the cluck up" spice, but we both enjoyed the "medium" heat. The chicken was SO good, juicy and tender. The sides were delicious as well, especially the black eyed pea salad. Don't leave Nashville without stopping in for a bite!



We were both pretty tired, so decided to just enjoy the hotel that night. Just as we were falling asleep we got a call from Rebecca (wardrobe) who lives on our car. Apparently the train came to an emergency stop, causing a lot of things to go flying around in everyone's rooms. Soon after, smoke started coming from Jameson's room. It turns out a bottle of (ironically) Jameson fell onto the stovetop knob, turning the burner on. A stick of deodorant fell on top of the burner and caught fire.

Fortunately we've got some quick thinkers on our car. Rebecca called train crew while Chaz (drummer) got into the fuse box and turned the power off to Jameson's room. Rebecca was kind enough to take some photos of the area around the stovetop. It's fortunate that none of the other flammable items lying around caught fire.


(photo courtesy Rebecca)

Jameson was very relieved, and thankful to everyone who helped to take care of the situation while we were traveling overland. Thank you Rebecca and Chaz, and everyone on train crew, for looking out for us. One emergency is hard enough to deal with, much less a second unexpected one. Thank you.

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Two whole days off! Yay!!

After a slow morning I decided to walk to the Kroger about 2 miles away. Yes, I could have borrowed Jameson's car, but for a few pieces of fruit and a loaf of bread it didn't seem worth it. Plus the weather was warm, even if a bit wet.



I made it more than halfway there before hearing manic honking behind me. Roselli, one of our company bus drivers, had pulled up behind me in the animal crew's van. He was on his way to pick up our bus, which was in the shop on the days off for some tuning up. He gave me a lift. Thanks Roselli! You're a champ :)

I putzed around the grocery for a while and ate lunch, then it started to rain. I ducked into the ACE Hardware to ask about an insulated pot for my new flytrap. They didn't have any, but I picked up a spray bottle and a plug-in timer, figuring these may come in handy for all of this plant life. And...I bought another flytrap. Because they're fairly cheap, and I don't see them very often, so figured I may as well have two! You know, in case I kill one off :P

I again made it partway back to the train before Roselli hailed me from a nearby gas station. It was raining pretty hard at this point so I once again accepted his offer of a ride. So much for getting exercise today! Back at the train I put my groceries away, found a worm in the dirt, and cut it up to feed to the traps.
Interestingly, there's a way to cut worms to ensure that they have a chance of surviving the damage. I was careful to do this before releasing the rest of the worm.

That night some of the band guys went golfing! There's a place called Topgolf nearby, a tiered driving range with drinks, food, and games! The golf balls have microchips inside and are assigned to unique players, so that you can keep score. There are distance games, target games, accuracy games...it sounded like fun, but at the end of the day I've got zero golfing experience and wasn't about to spend six hours flailing around with a club. It looks like the menfolk had fun :)


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