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On Monday I did absolutely nothing. Had not slept well, and neither had Jameson, so we decided to stay at the train.

I was bored. I cleaned my room, boiled some eggs, and did a little research on U-Hauls. I finished watching an anime series called Shinsekai Yori. It's pretty dark subject matter but a great story and great art. I really enjoyed it and am sorry to have finished it.

Later in the day I ended up getting an honest-to-goodness job offer. I haven't officially accepted yet, so more on that later. I spent the rest of the evening researching apartments and sublets near the job location, and reviewing the company's website.

At some point during the day it started to snow.



On Tuesday I borrowed Jameson's car to run errands. First I went to U-Haul to look at their smallest trailer (which is the only one my car could pull) and to get an estimate for installing a trailer hitch. I hope that this won't be necessary, but it's good to be prepared.


Then I hit a nearby Kroger, because the train run from Cincinnati to Norfolk is sure to be long and I want to be fully stocked for the trip. I know it's early, I could have taken an Uber to the grocery on Sunday night, but somehow I doubt I'll be in the mood.

Back at the train I unpacked and made a few calls related to housing in my potential new city/state of employment. Again, it's too early to know what I will need, but may as well give myself some options and know what's available.

Wednesday the weather was fairly crummy due to winter storm Stella. Although we didn't get accumulation here in Ohio, it was cold and wet and windy. I would have liked to go somewhere and do something, but there just aren't many options around here. Instead, I researched apartments and made appointments and tried to figure out what kind of furnishings (if any) I'd be able to afford for a new place.

Later in the evening Jameson and I drove out to our boss Brett's house for dinner. We arrived a little late, and were surprised to see so many circus people there. People from production, the band, wardrobe, the school...it was a big ol' get together! We had burgers and pasta and beans and other treats, enjoyed good conversation, had intense air hockey competitions, and sat around looking at old circus programs that my boss has collected. We had fun looking for our friends in the old programs...some of these people look very different now, or perform different work on the show. For example, it was awesome to find a program with Brian French on the high wire! I've always known him as an elephant handler.

(photo courtesy Chaz C.)

A big topic of conversation was of course "Have you found anything?" or "What are your plans for afterward?". Many people still aren't sure what they'll be doing once the show closes, while some have found jobs or are using the travel time between cities to hunt for work.

As it got late, Theresa (Brett's wife and a former Ringling dancer) handed out her famous chocolate pumpkin loaves as we said our farewells. I gave her an especially tight hug, knowing that we may not see each other again for a long time. It occurred to many of us that this might be the last time all of us would gather like this. With Jameson leaving, the band will be very different from now on. Others will certainly be leaving early as well. Everything is changing and will continue to change, up to the very end when this community, and this lifestyle, will fall apart and be no more. Not to be melancholy, it's just the truth.

Jameson and I talked about it on the drive back, about all the things we love about the circus community. I will miss being able to look around in any city and see at least one circus person among the crowd. I will miss the complete disregard for language barriers, and the deep trust that exists between people who have never exchanged a word. I remember being startled and amused the first time a non-English-speaker whom I'd never met thrust a phone at me in the train yard, with a frustrated Uber driver on the other end. Or the times I've been out sightseeing in a city, and a Chinese or Mongolian or Russian person grabbed me and thrust a map into my hands, knowing that as a member of this circus family, I would help them no matter what. And all the times I've needed help myself, and found it offered without reservation and often without even having to ask, simply because I'm a part of this amazing community. I will miss the cheerful greetings exchanged on a one show day, or the good-humored exasperation that we'd share at the start of a six pack weekend. I will miss seeing people breathing fire or flying through the air or riding elephants in my daily life, as natural as breathing. I could go on, but better save some of this sentimentality for May. The bottom line is, there is more being lost here than a job. I will miss these people and this life.


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On Monday I woke early to take Jameson to the airport. He's flying to Florida for a final in-person interview with a company that would hire him as a teacher.

I'm very excited and happy for him! But you know, I also worry. He'll be leaving the circus in a few weeks, and after that...when will I see him again? What if I don't get a job in the same state? What does this mean for us?

It's something we've talked about a lot. Both of us are very practical people, and it's clear that we both put career goals ahead of relationship goals at this point in our lives. And while I'm OK with that, I also don't want to lose an amazing relationship because I end up having to work at a McDonald's in Maine or something. I worry too much, but if there's one thing I'm confident about, it's that both of us will try hard to keep each other.

After dropping Jameson off, I drove to the very high-end Lenox Square shopping center to buy some nice clothes. This mall had a Coach, Bulgari, a Tesla dealership...oh and a cupcake ATM...all indications that I shouldn't be shopping here :P

After finding what I needed I went to Best Buy to recycle my old laptop. It's served me well for six years.
Then I went to Target for groceries and to look at storage options. I have no idea where I'll end up as yet, but don't want to be packing my room at the last minute, so decided on three large bins that would fit in my gauchos (train room storage spaces). I also decided to try some vacuum bags for my sweaters and other clothing.

Once home, I began filling the bins. Most of my belongings will go into cardboard boxes at a later date, but I also wanted some climate-proof options in case things need to be stored long-term. I neglected to take a picture of my disasterous room as I was packing. Just imagine it. Well, here's a picture of when I did a similar thing in 2013. Room explosion!



By the time that was all cleaned up I was surprised to see that it was dinnertime. The day went quickly. I ate dinner and while I was at it, listed a spare trombone slide for sale on Ebay. It's a good slide, I just don't need it what with all of the trombone purchases I've made this past year. Hopefully it will find a good home! I spent the rest of the night alternating between looking for jobs and trying to do something relaxing. I don't think I'll feel relaxed until I'm employed again.

The next day I indulged in waking up a bit later, then did a load of laundry, then drove the 40 minutes to the arena to wash my trombones. When I got there our dressing room was locked, but fortunately a building employee was nearby with a key and allowed me to duck in for a few items. Before I could begin washing there was a phone conference for our severance negotiations, so I took part in that for about 30 minutes. Then rolled up my sleeves and got to work.




Unless you've done it before, you seriously have no idea how difficult it is to wash a trombone slide in a tiny bathroom sink. Add that to the list of things I won't miss about touring. I carefully washed the inner stockings and outer slides, then wiped down the bells first with t-shirts and then with microfiber. I re-lubricated the tuning slides, then dried everything off inside and out with a Slide-o-Mix cloth. By the time I was finished it was nearly 4pm. Time to hit the road and beat the rush hour traffic.
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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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Before starting this post, I'd just like to say thank you. Over the past week I have been bombarded with wonderful, absolutely wonderful messages of encouragement and commiseration and support and strength. Your kind, hearfelt, understanding voices have drowned out the messages of hate that I've also received (and there were many.) I did not know that so many people still enjoyed the circus. After all of the efforts put out by the animal rights agenda, and as our audience diminished over the past year, I had begun to think that the circus was really and truly hated. But this week has taught me that the opposite is true. The vast majority of you still love the circus. You love the animals, you love the people, you love the tradition, and the magic, that is circus. I will never forget it.

It is not lost on us that at any given show, there are hundreds of people who are seeing a Ringling Bros. spectacle for the last time. And all of us will do our best to perform at the highest level for you, before we go.  Thank you so much for all of your love and support.

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Let's see if I can remember anything about this week, haha.

I remember that we had a single show on Monday, after which Jameson and I both plastered ourselves to the computer to look for work, for hours, into the next morning. Tuesday was very much the same. For Jameson, he is the type who needs to jump right in and start searching to maintain a high level of motivation. For me, I need time to be upset so that I can move on. While Jameson was reaching out to his contacts and making some seriously impressive progress, I was blogging, and writing, and answering questions on Quora. I was responding to the many many people who wrote to me on my blog and facebook and email. Hundreds and hundreds of messages poured in. I don't think I've ever typed so much. I remember looking up from the screen with a blazing headache and realizing that it was approaching 1am, and perhaps I should give it a rest.

At some point in there I went to a back room to be alone and cry my eyes out. Like I said, for me the best path is to feel the feels, and then move on.

That night we packed up and drove to the train (it had spotted early). I spent the day splicing trombone highlights from my 2013-2014 Built to Amaze performances, and loading them on SoundCloud. After that, several more hours answering questions on Quora and responding to all of the hateful and kind messages that I'd received that day. Looking around my room, I had to try really hard to keep it together. I'm going to have to pack everything up, and leave this tiny room, which I consider to be my home. I'm one of the last people to stay on this historic, beautiful train. By the way, what will even happen to the train? Ugh.



I spent Wednesday updating resumes, updating my LinkedIn, responding to messages, reaching out to various connections, etc etc. This is literally all that I did for the entire day, with breaks to eat. Right before bed I finally caved and watched some anime, just to get some of the tension off of me.

Thursday was opening day. Let me tell you, there was a notable difference in everyone's attitude. Usually on opening day people are relatively cheerful, talking and joking as we enter the building, roughhousing during rehearsal, etc. Today was definitely different. We filed slowly and silently into the arena. We set up as usual. Occasionally I heard a snarky comment or a laugh with no joy in it. It made me feel bad...the next few months will be very difficult to get through if we can't cheer ourselves up.


(photo courtesy Julio F./Richard S.)

At the pre-rehearsal meeting, it was announced that we would no longer be able to get discounted tickets for our friends and family. We were also offered career counselling from a third party, who would be backstage for the weekend. We had a pretty normal rehearsal. Probably due to a little depression, the show was difficult to play; it felt like I was playing underwater or something. Not fun. Jameson lent me his Q2N camera because I'm trying to get footage for auditions. But I do not like playing in front of cameras, so I was a bit nervous, plus the levels weren't right. It was a good test run though.

Friday was incredibly busy. I had an interview with a magazine for a possible upcoming article (not sure if it will be published, stay tuned), and then later in the afternoon we had a phone conference involving all eighteen members from both Red and Blue unit bands and our union representatives. This was in preparation for severance negotiations with Feld.

That night I recorded footage of myself playing the show again, but it turned out to be one of those weird "off" shows where lots of unusual stuff happened and many things went wrong. The Wheel act was longer than usual, we lost the our timing during Mountain Gag, some wonky stuff happened during Bungee, the BMX act was cancelled due to a wet floor...nothing serious, just enough odd stuff that several parts of my recording were unuseable. But I'm kinda glad I got it on tape! For the memories :)



And you know, I think perhaps what happened during that show was just everyone trying to shake off the very heavy shadow of the dying circus bearing down on us. We're all still here, we all still love what we do. We all want to give our best, to the very last minute.

Saturday was a confirmation that some of our good vibes were returning. I saw people smiling during the show. I saw performers actually reacting positively when the crowd cheered. Brett (bandmaster) cracked some jokes with us. It felt almost normal.

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Monday was Jameson's birthday!!
Unfortunately we found ourselves in Youngstown!!

But still, we were able to have some fun! We found a very nice restaurant close to our hotel. Jameson enjoyed a savory steak topped with his favorite, blue cheese (eew!). While we were eating, music from our preshow began playing in the background. I was dismayed...Jameson danced!



After our meal we went bowling. I am horrible at bowling but enjoy it all the same. We played five frames. Jameson beat me every time!


There was an arcade in the alley as well, we played a few games and won enough tickets for some disguises. It was a fun night!

(photo courtesy Jameson)

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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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Jameson met me in Albany, and we got a hotel near the airport. I was exhausted! The train wasn't due to arrive in Rochester until Tuesday afternoon, so we killed time on Monday at a mall, and on the drive of course, and on another hotel.

On Tuesday we hit the grocery and went back to the train. I spent the day unpacking, cleaning, doing laundry...all the chores. We also went to the gym.

Wednesday was a dark day. Spent time at the gym, and later on Jameson and I went to look for pumpkins to carve! This close to Halloween there weren't many options, but we found three that fit the bill! The little white one is a "backup" in case one of us messes up our carving!



While Jameson was watching the Cubs game, I prepped the pumpkins! No guts no glory!


All done and ready for carving!


And of course I kept the seeds for roasting in my compact NuWave oven!



Thursday was opening day. It felt good to be back! I was surprised when many folks stopped me in the hall to say "welcome back" or "we missed you". Thanks everyone, I feel loved!!

One of our favorite things about the Rochester arena is that there's a Dinosaur BBQ right next door! After rehearsal we all headed over there for some fantastic barbecue. I had the classic brisket sandwich, cucumber tomato salad, and cornbread! Yum.


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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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We drove a long ways this overland...probably about 10-11 hours to get to Albany. The fastest way was by cutting through a section of Canada, so we brought our passports. Canada's pretty nice-looking! And with a Tim Horton's at every exit too! We had a pleasant safe drive and crossed into and out of Canada without issue.


We drove straight through; others stopped to enjoy Niagara Falls!

(photo courtesy Anna D.)

The train actually beat us to Albany, which was a pleasant surprise. We were able to get groceries and get on the train Tuesday night. On Wednesday I borrowed Jameson's car to pick up supplies for my venus flytrap's winter dormancy...because getting run over didn't quite kill them, so I will try my best to give them a shot at a better life next year. To stay dormant the plants need to be kept cold, and there's no way I can keep them cold if I have to bring them into a heated train car every time we move. So I'm going to have to try refrigerator dormancy. I got a bottle of antifungal, and a brick of sphagnum moss. I also picked up some groceries I'd forgotten the day before. Exciting stuff.

Thursday was opening day. We found out that the train will be in a different yard in Boston, much farther outside the city. What a bummer! We really had it good in the MIT yard, with shops and restaurants within walking distance. Oh well. Word has it we'll at least be close to some public transit! Thursday's show went well, but crowds were pretty poor and our Human Cannon was out due to a wrenched shoulder.

Friday, one show. I spent the day working on things for our upcoming contract negotiations and doing general writing. The evening show went well, though again, underattended compared to the past several cities.

Saturday, three shows. I felt a little down. Maybe it was the weather, maybe it was just that smaller audiences are kind of discouraging. But still, shows went well. We had visits from some awesome former circus musicians, and that really brightened the band's day :)

On Sunday we only had one show. I am choosing to end this post before our show because I don't feel like bringing my computer overland (if anything exciting happens between Sunday afternoon and midnight you'll find out in the next post :P). This was just kind of a 'meh' week. But it's good, because it helped to get me back into the swing of work. I enjoyed playing the Williams trombone all week, and am getting more used to it. I love to see my circus friends every day :) Next week we are in Boston. Boston in the fall! It's usually a wonderful visit, I'm looking forward to it!


Other stuff:

Rebecca (head of wardrobe) loves to decorate our car for Halloween! This year's decorations are AWESOME. We have the coolest car. Thanks Rebecca! CLICK HERE for a tour!

While in Albany, Chaz (drummer) made some friends at Akira Albany, a Japanese restaurant. The whole staff came out to see our show! And they invited us to a special Hibachi meal just for us! I didn't go, but about twenty circus folks did, and they were treated to an amazing lunch (CLICK HERE to watch the Hibachi go down). Thank you so much to everyone at Akira Albany for your generosity and hospitality! We'll be back!!!


(photo courtesy Chaz)

The animal setup this week. I've no idea where the tigers were though. Hiding!

(photo courtesy Robert S.)

Congrats to the Blue Unit on performing a milestone 100 shows!!! You rock!!!

(photo courtesy Landon B.)
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Before heading to Little Rock, we decided to stop overnight in Dallas and catch a baseball game with Tim (sax) and Rob (crew). It was the Mariners vs. the Rangers. Tim is from Seattle so of course he was backing the Mariners, and the rest of us were too if only to be contrary :P

This was my first-ever major league game! The stadium was huge and filled with all kinds of crazy foods.




Jameson and I had been to the gym earlier in the day and had eaten sparingly so that we could enjoy ourselves here. The first unhealthy and delicious thing we discovered: bacon on a stick!! Drizzled in a chipotle maple glaze. Oh my goodness.


Jameson also got a chicken-and-doughnut skewer with honey dip! How amazing is that!!!

(photo courtesy ESPN.com)

We found our seats and chowed down. The guys picked awesome seats a little to the left of home plate!


Unfortunately the Mariners did not have a great game that evening, though they made a solid effort. The Rangers' pitcher Yu was on fire. At some point around the 5th inning Tim came back from the concourse exclaiming that he'd seen former President G.W. Bush! And a few minutes later we saw him too, sitting in front row seats on the other side of home plate! I took a picture but had to zoom like crazy. Trust me, it was definitely "the W" and his wife Laura.


After the game we parted ways with promises to see each other again in Little Rock. Tim was staying in Dallas to catch another game, and Rob was driving through the night. Jameson and I walked back to the hotel and crashed. I had a great time!

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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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Monday was a day of rest. For dinner Jameson and I got dolled up and went out for sushi at Azuma in downtown Houston! We first decided to start dating over a sushi lunch three years ago, so figured this was an appropriate way to celebrate! We both managed to order the same rolls...you know, the lovebird connection and all :P Here we have the "Peppercorn Kings" (peppered salmon and tuna, cucumber, Old Bay) and the "Sunshine" (salmon, avocado, asparagus, mango, and marbled kombu paper):


After our meal we went to see Lights Out. Jameson is a big fan of scary movies! I'm ambivalent toward them :P This one was enjoyable, several cool moments, but not enough to give me nightmares! We had a lot of fun and enjoyed each other's company, and that's what it's all about :)

On Tuesday we went to the gym, then relaxed back at the train. Partway through the day train crew made an announcement that the water would be shut off momentarily. I thought nothing of it until about an hour later, when I saw Josh (trainmaster) and Nikki's (train crew) photos. Our water had been knocked loose by a large tree branch floating down the rain-swollen stream next to our train. Train crew dove right in!!

(photo courtesy Nikki R.)

(photo courtesy Josh R.)


(photos courtesy Nikki R.)

Soon enough the water was restored. Thank you train crew!!

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We drove to New Orleans!

We found a random seafood place for dinner. It was delicious and too dark for photos :P After our meal we relaxed at our hotel for a bit. The hotel was right on Canal St. The view was....



Hahaha. So, then we went on a haunted tour of New Orleans!
Our tour guide took us through some less-populated areas and gave us some history about hauntings, murders, deaths, etc. that had taken place in various buildings. The stories may or may not have been true, who knows! But our tour guide was a great storyteller so it didn't much matter. We had a really awesome time!

A creepy building where parts of Interview with a Vampire were supposedly filmed:



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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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I decided to take the 3.5 day train run out to Lincoln, NE. We left pretty much on time and made good progress throughout the day as far as I could tell. Since there are no animals on this long run, we will not be stopping to refill the water tanks (because screw you humans!). This will save us travel time and probably some $$ too. Partway through the afternoon an announcement was made that we were approaching the Altoona Horseshoe Curve, a rare stretch of rail that allows one to see the entire circus train! There were many people taking footage of us so I hope those railfans will share it soon! Here is the video I took, and you can also CLICK HERE to watch Rob's (GM) as his is from a really good angle.


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It was a short drive to reach Hershey from Trenton, but the train was a bit late so we needed to kill time. We visited a 2nd & Charles at the Harrisburg Mall, got Jameson some new pillows, then went to Troegs Brewery for some really fantastic beer and eats! I'm not a beer fan but once in a while an IPA is all right...especially when it's Troeg's Perpetual IPA being brewed right there! For food I went with the beet-cured salmon with (house-made?) bagel chips, smoked cream cheese, shaved asparagus, and a pickled egg topped in black caviar. It was absolutely amazing both in taste and presentation!


After that rockin' meal we decided to go see the new Avengers movie. It was really good, but neither of us had seen The Winter Soldier or other related movies such as Ant Man, so I think we were slightly out of the loop on some things. Still, a fun way to kill time!

Literally as soon as the credits started rolling, Jerome (bass) sent us a message that the train was spotted. Perfect! We hit a grocery store, then got to the train yard.

This train yard is new for us...usually we're parked pretty far away on the other side of Harrisburg. This time we're only about 10-15 minutes from the park, which is awfully nice! There's also a shopping plaza with several groceries nearby, not the most easily walkable but still convenient. I borrowed Jameson's car and took some clothes to the dry cleaners, then spent the rest of the day preparing ticket requests, cooking, and doing laundry. Partway through the day I got word that my sister was hospitalized with abdominal pain and would require surgery. She's doing ok, but I'm still worried.

Our week got off to a rough start when we woke to an unexpected power failure. Two hours later it was clear that the power would not be coming back on, so I ate some cereal and gathered stuff to do my hair to bring to the arena. I saw many others doing the same. It happens sometimes and it's inconvenient for everyone, but that's life on a moving vehicle.

It turns out that train crew was already swamped with having some wheels replaced in addition to the unexpected outage.



Train crew currently consists of about ten people, who have to cover repairs, maintenance, and cleaning for all 200-some passengers on the mile-long train. That is a LOT of work for ten people. Yes, we were all annoyed that we couldn't brew coffee that morning and were all worried about our food in the fridge. But we are also very grateful when train crew works so hard to fix these problems when they come up. By the end of the night we had a rental generator. Train crew continued to work on the generator for most of the week so that we could have power, climate control and water. Thank you.

(photo of Tim and Susan, courtesy Cindy)

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On Monday we woke late and had lunch in Hartford at a place called City Steam. They had very good burgers and some locally-made sodas. No photos because of poor lighting, sorry. I hope we get to eat there again!

The drive to Trenton was short (but longer than expected thanks to good ol' NYC traffic). The train wasn't due in until 5am, so we got a hotel. As it turned out the train didn't get spotted until almost noon! Wowzers!

Opening day was pretty normal. Air circulation in the arena here is not so great, so the haze was condensed and hanging several feet above the floor.



This caused a slight problem for the high wire troupe during rehearsal. We all had to wait while the climate control was turned on to get some of that haze out.


We had two one-show days in a row. Nothing amazing happened. Crowds were fair. I used the spare time to go to the grocery, do laundry, all the usual stuff.

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For over 100 years, we have been honored to have these majestic, intelligent, beautiful animals among us. On this historic day, we'd like to share our memories and stories of the elephants with you.


(photo of Baby, courtesy Adria C.)

“Got the chance to ride one of the girls for animal walk. And I do mean chance. She didn't like Dustin's clown shoes and threw him off." – Brandon F., Clown

“Just [having] the chance to meet them...they are very majestic animals with very deep souls that you can see once you truly look in their eyes. They will be truly missed and will always be in my heart.” – Bernis T., Pie Car Chef


“I grew up in Allentown, Pa. When Ringling Bros. Circus came to Allentown, all of the wagons and animals went right past my house on their way to the Allentown Fair Grounds. One year, I told everyone in the neighborhood that I was going to leave town with the circus. When the night show ended, the elephants were walking back to the train. When they arrived in front of my house, one of the "bull hands" hollered, "hey Joe!". I thought he was calling me. I ran up to the third floor and hid under the bed. I was the talk of the neighborhood for weeks.” – Joe D., Circus Fan

“When the show used to winter in Venice (FL), we were playing a part of the show where the elephants backed up to the band stand (which at that time was between two portals). As I was accustomed to this I paid no attention; however, I noticed the trumpet players had stopped playing in the middle of the act (it was a 15 piece band 4,3,4). When I looked up the tail was up right above me. I moved in the nick of time, but never forgot those players didn't warn me.”
– Donald P., Musician


(photo courtesy Bernadette M.)

“My favorite moment is when I first arrived at the unit. Jason G (Management) parked the truck. I get out of the cab, and the first thing I see is six Asian elephants, two of them staring in my direction. It was a very surreal moment. I knew my life would never be the same.” – Benjamin H., Sound Crew

"Prince (elephant) had this thing for untying my shoes..." - Barb R., Ringling FCP Employee

(photo courtesy Adria C.)

“My fondest memory was taking my Aunt to RBBB (red unit), introducing her to my friend Gunther and letting her feed an elepant. She had never been to a show before.” – Darlene L., Circus Fan

"Gunther had this elephant, her name was Congo, she was huge. Only African elephant that's every been on this show, she came over with him from Germany, in the 50s. We were doing an animal walk in Savannah, and the local guy--he was a sheriff or deputy or something--he wanted us to wait because a friend of his was trying to get to the animal walk [to see it] after the show. We had to get going, so Gunther said, "No, we go now!", and the guy's like, "Hey buddy, just a second, you're not going anywhere until I give the word." Gunther insisted, "No, we're going now," and turned around and started to walk toward the animals, and this guy went after him, and reached out and put both of his arms around Gunther in full view of the elephants.

"Gunther yells, "CONGO!", and Congo spins around, sees this, and comes charging at the guy, ears out, tail up (note: these are signs of aggression), and she sounded like the G- D-
Santa Fe Chief comin' down. And this guy just freaks out, going "Ok! OK! We can leave now!!" - Anonymous

(photo courtesy museeducirquealainfrere)

"Here's one of my favorite memories:"

– Francis C., Traveling Show Ministry

“First, not a specific memory, only [memories] of the many times I stood backstage and turned around to find elephants RIGHT BEHIND ME. They are 4-ton ninjas, totally silent when they need to be. Second memory is of a marshmallow fight between the trainers, some elephants, and the tiger trainer's son Gunther. The people mostly threw at each other, with the elephants stealing the evidence...” – Eryn C., Circus K-12 Teacher

“When the show played Providence, RI, the elephants were staged before their act right in front of 60 wagon doors. The first show I didn't realize this and went to leave the office, only to open the door and find elephant butts blocking the way!” – Adriel P., Circus K-12 Teacher
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“When I was first hired to do cannon I hadn't been on an elephant since I was little. My first official day on the job I went and met Rye (the director of the show) and talked about what I would be doing. Miser (my cannon coach) had set it up so that I only would have to be in the opening act, my cannon act, and the closing act. Rye asked if there was anything he could do for me and I told him the only other things I could think of that I wanted would be if I got a cape and could ride the elephants. He looked so surprised but told me he would see what he could do. Miser thought I was crazy to ask for more work in the show.

"Fast forward to winter quarters...I figured Rye had forgotten about our conversations because I saw my costumes and no cape :( But Lo and behold, up went the list of people who had elephant riding practice...and I was one of them! I was SO excited, like really really excited. I went out to the barn early for the first lesson and all the crew was making fun of me 'cause I was like vibrating with excitement.

"I got to ride Assan, one of the older elephants on the show. She walked really slowly but I didn't care. I was riding and elephant! It was the highlight of every show for me. If I had a bad cannon shot I got to ride Assan, if I had a great cannon shot I got to ride Assan. No matter what I was allowed to ride and interact with the sweetest elephant ever. I was always early for the elephant cue too, I just could never wait to go see them all line up. It's one of the things I miss the most about being on the show. It's something I will never forget and cherish forever.” – Elliana H-K., Human Cannon

(photo courtesy Jessica H.)

"Lisa was a young elephant at Roberts Brothers Circus in 1989. Like all young ones, she loved playing in water. One of my favorite memories is watching her jump in mud puddles.  She would literally--or at least as much as an elephant could--jump up and land with a splash in any puddle she could find. Lisa did this with such joy that it just made you smile.

"For some reason, Lisa was often tied near the generator truck. Like all young ones, she liked attention. And she found a sure way to get it: Lisa learned how to turn off the generator! Whenever she did so, people would come running. Lisa was a fast learner but it took her humans a longer time to learn to tie her up further away from the generator!

"Another elephant I knew was Flora the elephant from Circus Flora. When we were making the movie Big Top Pee Wee, she would be staked out in a field that was at the center of how the trailers were circled. Her favorite toy was a tire and she would play with it for hours. But if she got tired of playing by herself, she also knew how to get someone to come and see her. Flora perfected the skill of rolling the tire to bump into the trailer that held her groom. The bump against the trailer from the elephant-rolled tire would always get him to go out to see her.

"My favorite Flora-the-Elephant moment happened one day on the set for the Big Top Pee Wee movie. Flora and Mikey, the miniature horse, were tethered near each other in a field. They were close but not too close. Mikey was dozing in the sun. From my trailer window, I watched Flora stretch out as far as she could and reach out with her trunk...and pull Mikey’s tail! She then quickly moved back by her stake, turned her back to Mikey and literally looked like someone just standing there, looking up and whistling a nonchalant tune. Mikey looked all around but didn’t see anything that could have woken him up. He dozed off again and Flora did the same thing! She really had to stretch to reach his tail and move fast to get back near her stake with her back to him looking innocent. It was hysterical! The second time, Mikey looked right at Flora but she had her back to him and was not close. It almost looked like he turned away and then looked at her again before he went back to his nap. Flora pulled her stunt and his tail a third time! This time, Mikey looked right at her and moved to the end of his tether and out of her reach!

"My favorite elephant memory of all time was from when I worked on Reed Brothers Circus. We opened in Oregon, in a town by the ocean. I think it was Coos Bay. My partner and I arrived on the lot just in time to see Jo Dee Craigmile leading Bucky Steele’s elephants down to the ocean for a swim. It was a beautiful and breathtaking sight and one I cherish." - Jessica Hentoff, Artistic/Exectuive Director of Circus Harmony

(photo courtesy Jessica H.)

"I was first introduced to three lovely ladies on a mud show. At first, just watching them in the back yard. Then over the years, feeding them their favorite fruits and veggies, an occasional cupcake and of course, rolling them watermelons. It was amazing to get to know each one, what they liked best and how they liked to be fed. The last year, I bought the "personal size" melons and just popped them into their mouths! Watching them try and keep all the juice in was pretty cool. I was then privileged to get atop one of the biggest elephants I had ever seen...sitting behind her ears while she styled for the camera was amazing! This ride cost me a huge apple pie and a gallon of cherry vanilla ice-cream; obviously not for the elephant but for her human caretaker. Sadly, these ladies perform in another part of the country now, but what wonderful memories!" - Pat S., Clown

"My favorite story is of Asia. Once she found out I kept Snickers bars, she sniff me every time she saw me. I started to have to buy her her own. One day I made the mistake of forgetting to buy hers. She actually looked at me turned around and gave me her butt." - Michelle J., Circus Employee
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"Being in the portal, 7 months pregnant, waiting to collect Andre (Ringmaster)'s coat after opening and finding myself unexpectedly nose to nose with Lennox (sound tech), who was starting to load out, and the elephants were inches behind him. We had a pretty good conversation for a few minutes cause no one could move. Hahaha." - Blue B., Wardrobe

"We were doing PR for Good Morning America and I [crashed into] the last elephant I flipped over during my leaps act."
- Mujaheed S., Acrobat


(photo courtesy Adria C.)

"We had a PR in Baltimore for Runner's World Magazine with Kenneth Feld. The photographer of the shoot said, "Can we get that yellow haired one on the elephant?" Without missing a beat I walked over to Baby and waited for her to kneel. It was simply amazing to just be able to sit on an elephant, and call it a job at the same time. Throughout the shoot, the photographer kept asking for Baby to back up, or move forward, and Baby just wasn't having it after 3 or 4 adjustments, she was starting to feel on my leg with her trunk, and from what I was told, she was ready to yank me off and down to the concrete. Thankfully, through excellent observation and a true passion for their animals, the handlers got me down before I was a noodle, and wrapped the shoot at the same time." - Kyle B., Clown

"So many memories! Whenever they lined up for spec I'd be outside smoking and Mark would enjoy giving Asia the command to sit on my lap. A bystander would swear this elephant was sitting on my lap, little did they know there were just hairs between the two of us but she would never sit on me, she hold it forever. Another memory is out in California the hay was kept on the outside of the tent. One of the elephants thought it a great idea to steal one, pass it down and kept on doing it until every elephant had their own bale hay...it was hysterical!" - Michelle J., Circus Employee

(photo of Siam, courtesy Adria C.)

"I did start out on several different elephants but Assan was the longest one I had a one-on-one relationship with. She was the lead elephant as the elephants entered the arena for the Manage (note: "Manage" is from "Menage" short for "Menagerie"). Assan ran the full circle of the arena...down the back track, around the end track and then the entire front track to reach her bull tub. Gunther ran the distance with her and I believed she loved every minute of their run together. After Gunther retired he was away for book signings from time to time. When he was gone his daughter Tina would then do the run with Assan. But while running with Tina, if Assan saw Gunther backstage she would slow down about half way down back track until Gunther would come running out to join her to finish the lap. She loved the attention.

"When I first joined the show one of my favorite traditions was the annual Easter egg hunt in the arena. Everyone has Easter egg hunts outside in the grass but our kids got to do it in an arena, three ring lengths of egg hunting opportunities. Eggs were hidden in rigging, in ring curbs, and even in props. It was as if the elephants always knew when it was Easter or maybe they could just smell the sugar, but after the egg hunt for the rest of Easter Sunday the elephants, particularly Assan, would be caught sniffing around the props looking for and occasionally finding the easter candy the children had not found.

(photo courtesy Jade F.)

"When getting on the elephants, one must hold on tightly to the head piece with one's left hand. There was an occasion when a fellow dancer was getting on Banana (elephant) and must not have had a tight grip. Banana tossed her leg up to get the rider on and the next thing I heard was the dancers voice coming from the other side of the elephant saying "Umm, I think something went wrong since I am standing next to her instead of sitting on her!" She had been tossed clean over and had landed standing on the other side!

"Assan had a funny quirk. Once she reached her bull tub she would shake her head side to side rather rapidly before she would sit up on the bull tub. Some thought it was difficult to ride her because of this but I always found it endearing. I just held my thighs tightly around her neck and allowed my hips to follow her movement. A friend was watching one time and thought I was going to be thrown off because there I was sitting upright and then all of the sudden all she saw was my boot because Assan had turned her neck so far to the left. But when she straighted her head there I was just like I was supposed to be. I told my friend no big deal...I just always trusted Assan.

"When I went to the doctor to confirm that I was pregnant, I was told no horseback riding. I asked about elephant riding and she looked a little surprised but said that she thought it would be ok as long as I didn't fall off. I told her that I had never fallen off and I didn't plan on starting now. So I rode for the first three months of my pregnancy on Assan, with Barrett inside. I was never nervous or hesitant. Brett (my husband) could see the act daily and he swears that Assan took even more care stepping over the ring curb during that time because she knew I was pregnant.

(photo of Assan, courtesy Theresa B.)

"Assan and I shared quiet moments. She would take my hand in her trunk and lift it up to her mouth so that I could pet her tongue (which I would tell her that I'd only do this because I loved her!) She would wrap her trunk around my hips or sniff my shoes. When I would sit on her waiting for the act she would lift her trunk up to me so that I could stroke it. Many times I would lie on her head and talk to her. I never gave her treats when I was on her because we were told if we started that then we would have to do it every time because the girls would expect it, and we might forget but they never would. Even after I stopped performing when I would be outside near the elephants, she would hear my voice and start to walk over to me. She loved attention so much that she would lower her head toward Mark Oliver or her handler Ivan Espana wanting them to stroke her head. One time she did this while I was on her and at one point I put my hand on Ivan's shoulder (he only stood about 5'5") and said, "Ivan, do you see a problem here? I am on top of an elephant and able to touch your shoulder??" His response was, "No, I don't see a problem." He gave her some attention and she stood back up.

"Lastly, here is a picture of the time Assan tried to follow Mark Oliver Gebel into 16 wagon (Payroll Dept) and Mark decided to leave a note from Assan to the current purchasing agent about what apples she liked." - Theresa B., Dancer


"Walking into the building in Boston...we had to walk by the elephants to get to the dressing rooms. Well one elephant in line decided to reach out and purse-snatch...she grabbed my purse off my shoulder with her trunk and stepped all over it while I stood there speechless. Finally a handler came over and got it back for me but everything was smashed and broken already!" - Dawn T., Dancer

"The day I met Gunther Gebel-Williams was in Roanoke, VA around 1992. He had retired from the ring and handed his boots over to Mark Oliver Gebel to carry on the family business. Gunther still traveled with the Red Unit as Vice President of Animal Welfare. I attended the Saturday night performance with a friend, but I went back and hung around the edge of the back lot during Sunday's first show just to watch the comings and goings into the arena.

"There was a movable metal barricade and a security guard. I did not intrude onto the lot, but rather wound up speaking with the guard as I watched the performers come and go from the arena. When preparations were underway for the elephant act Mark brought them up and lined them all in a row along the curb that rimmed the sidewalk running across the back of the Civic Center. I can't remember exactly how many elephants there were, but at least ten, probably more. Mark was in front of the elephants and Gunther walked over to speak with him. During a lull in their conversation I politely shouted to Gunther and motioned to my program as a way of asking for an autograph. He motioned to the security guard to let me through and for me to come over to him.

"So there I was, face to face with a herd of elephants in the presence of Gunther Gebel-Williams and Mark Oliver Gebel! Being that close to such a large herd was a bit unnerving. They both signed my program along with Tina Gebel and later that day, Lisa Dufresne. I treasure that program more than others because of the day's events. Unfortunately my camera was out of film (yes, film back then) so I have no photographic remembrance...just the wonderful memories that will travel into eternity with me." - Dan K., Circus Fan

(photo courtesy Dan K.)

"It was in Miami, Fla. - I believe in 1990 - with the Red Unit. I was on Ring One Props, and Manage had started. We prop guys were also on hand to assist with rolling bull tubs and with sweeping up any !@#$% that the elephants "left behind" (ahem). Mary was the elephant up on her bull tub in the Back Track corner of Ring 1 and Gunther Gebel-Williams shouted the command to begin the dance. Keith Greene and the band went into the number, and the elephants began to dance and twirl on the bull tubs...but Mary was having just a little bit of difficulty: she had to go. And I mean, GO. Of course, her back was to the audience, and I was between them with a large plastic trash can and shovel at the ready. After a few drops, the audience was already shaking their heads and laughing with us (note "with" us). Then when Mary KEPT GOING, I started catching the drops before they hit the floor. The audience ROLLED with laughter, catching the attention of more of the audience along the End Track and Ring 1 area of the Front Track...which got THEM laughing loudly, also. That got Gunther's attention...and HE STARTED LAUGHING, TOO!! It wasn't over. Mary had one more big one to go. So naturally I just shoved the trash can under her backside and let it go. The audience was now in tears that they were laughing so hard. Gunther was just one of the type of great men who went with what was happening, and when Mary was obviously ready, she went on with the show. (The audience was laughing so hard it nearly drowned out the loudspeakers blaring out Keith's band music, LOL.)" - Rhett C., Circus Employee


"We will still find your presence
in the spaces between
curtain and concourse
and
we will still see you standing
in those moments before
the perfunctory turns to
performance:
O
ladies of ponderous gracefulness
O
mothers of exuberant joy! - Francis Cancero"



(photo of Siam, courtesy Ryan H.)

"I'll be honest, I didn't think I could be in the circus. I needed a change in life, and suddenly the circus called and offered me one. I still didn't know. I went and met the band, nice people, saw the book, seemed like I could play it. I still didn't know. You hear rumors, the stories of "bad circuses". I love animals with all my heart, and couldn't bear to associate myself with a company that would even THINK of hurting an animal. Then I saw them, all standing in a row backstage, waiting to rehearse their new routine. I was told I could sit on the bandstand. And here they came, on the softest feet, shuffling SO close to me. And I realized at that moment, I would get to be THAT close to elephants every day. They looked happy, proud, ecstatic to be performing. Flapping their ears, swaying to the rhythm of the band. I knew. I knew the respect I held for them, so did everyone in this organization. My dearest elephant friends, change is inevitable, the world will continue to spin on it's crazy way, and that means you get to go eat your veggies in retirement now, and not with us. You will get to help study a cure for cancer, the thing that has taken so much from all of us. Thank you for letting me be in YOUR show for the last few years. Safest of travels to your new home." - Jameson B., Musician

(photo courtesy Jameson)

Congo. Sabu. Prince. Toby. Banana. Cita. Banko. Tonka. Luna. Sara. Ziam. Baby. Mary. Kenny. Bonnie. Asia. Angelica. Bo. Mable. April. Assan. Tommy. This is a partial list of the elephants I've had the pleasure of working with over the last 22+ years. They are unique in every way. Part of me wonders what they think of all of this, their "retirement." But, as for me personally, I am selfish. No longer will I get to see them during preshow. The looks on the faces of the audience as they watch Mable paint and play. No longer will I hear the tremendous roar of the crowd when the herd comes through the portal. Never again will I get to see their amazing act. Nor will I get to see the personal interaction between animal and trainer. It sucks. But the circus changes. It has to grow and move, and we have to go along with it. We will scoff, we will lament the changes, we will remember "the good old days," and, the show will go on. We will entertain the masses. We will do what we do as no others can. The show has changed from when each of us started, and there are many more changes ahead. The circus changes all of us. And the circus changes itself. And we love it so, so much." - Brett B., Bandmaster

"Karen, Nichole, Mysore, Suzan, Lutze, Minyak, Bonnie, Kelly Anne, Sara, Juliette, Angelica, Rudy, Asha, Gunther, Barack, Tova, Jewel, Tonka, Luna, Bonko, Baby, Mable, Assan, April, Asia, Siam, Sundara are the names of all the amazing elephants I have been able to work with and around in the last twelve years. Although I am not a trainer, I have had an incredible opportunity to still be able to learn about these majestic creatures and care for them.

"I started with a shovel behind them. In the last few years my responsibilities have moved from direct, daily hands on care to helping plan the daily and weekly operations with the trainers and handlers. These hardworking people have taken the best care for these animals and have treated them as family. The relationship you can build with an elephant is unique and complex. Very few will ever understand it but if you can, then you will understand why our hearts will be so heavy tomorrow. "The Girls" as we call them, will be moving on to the next chapter in their lives after the two remaining shows tomorrow. They will be missed by many of us. But their good health, good behavior and excellent displays of intelligence by each individual elephant is proof of the successful people that took them into their lives and cared for them as if they were their own children.

"To all of the trainers and handlers that I have had the pleasure of working with from 2004 to now...I'm so proud of you and I am very lucky to have been able to work and learn from you. Each and every one of you have made an incredible positive impact on this beautiful, endangered species." - Jonathan M., Animal Specialist

(photo courtesy Jonathan M.)


"My heart goes out to some amazing people today. More than 140 years of history ends as the elephants take their final bow today at Ringling. These handlers and caretakers have given up so much of their lives to make these divas safe, happy and healthy every day. I have only love for how this circus has cared for these beautiful creatures, being a true example of how animal care and welfare should be. I struggle to describe all of my emotions as this day begins, however cherishing how lucky I am to have worked so closely with them even for such a small moment. Best of luck, happiness and endless thanks to the crew that is moving on, and love and kisses to the beautiful divas on their journey to retirement." - Stacey T., Veterinarian

(photo courtesy Adria C.)


"I usually don't comment much on the subject, however I acknowledge this day [5/1/16] with a heavy heart. I am proud to have been a fourth generation elephant trainer/handler, I was blessed to live and work with these amazing animals for over 30 years, and I stepped away a couple of years ago to raise my 4 year old son. For me, this is the day that will mark the end of an amazing era. I was privileged to spend a good deal of my elephants' career working on Ringling Brothers Blue, Gold and Red [touring units] and I would like to thank the Feld family for all they’ve done, these memories I will cherish for the rest of my life. It has been a great honor for me to be a part of this very special club, whose members have dedicated so much of themselves to their charges, and I say Thank You to these “elephant people”. Thank you very much." - Brian F., Elephant Trainer/Handler

(photo courtesy Jade F.)

"A couple of years before I worked for Ringling, while my family was visiting my brothers at the show in Omaha, we happened to be walking through the animal open house area between shows. I forget how it came about, but as we were passing the elephants the idea came up for us to be able to meet them and whoever the trainer was called us over and let us meet one. He did a spiel full of random elephant facts while she explored around our shoes and hands with her trunk. It was such an amazing experience as someone on the outskirts of the circus world. A couple years later I came on the road and worked just across the animal compound from them every day. The precious memories of watching them lounge around, play with tires or bamboo, or frolic in water spewing from a high-powered hose. To be around them backstage and watch them perform from so close by...to see their diverse personalities and their relationships with each other and their caregivers... it's beautiful. Interactions that are part of the every day here, like walking out of the bathroom only to find a line of elephant butts blocking the path, or crossing in front of the Divas and getting caressed by trunks are such sweet moments that will be missed so dearly. The circus will never be the same." - Judah W., Stagehand


Thank you to everyone who took time to write in for this project, and for those who didn't write in but nevertheless contributed via their sentiments and photos.

I hope that these firsthand stories, thoughts, and feelings have touched you and given you a glimpse into the lives of these amazing animals and the people who are priveleged to have earned their trust and love. Though they will be out of the public eye, please...please do not forget them. We on the circus will never forget.

See you down the road.

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