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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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Jameson and I spent the night in Duluth, so that he could rest up and fight off the flu. The train would take a long time to reach Cincinnati, so we were in no hurry.

On Monday morning we enjoyed a nice breakfast, then went to a shipping store so I could mail off my spare trombone slide to a buyer in New York. I hope he'll enjoy it! After that we hit the road, reaching our second hotel in Knoxville TN around dinnertime. We decided to eat at a nearby Outback Steakhouse, and although the food tasted good both of us felt bad after eating, so we spent the rest of the night lying flat on our backs in the hotel room.

On Tuesday we began driving to Cincinnati, and got there in time for dinner again. We found a good pizza place for some oven-fired margherita. After our meal we saw that the train was still not in the yard (we are always late to arrive in Cinci due to the high volume of rail traffic). We decided to see a movie and if the train wasn't spotted or close to it by the time we got out (10pm) we'd get another hotel. We chose M. Night Shyamalan's "Split". It was really creepy, and at the end there was, of course, a twist! We really enjoyed the movie. By the time it was over the train still wasn't in the yard, so we decided to cave and get a hotel. It turned out to be the right choice as the train ended up officially spotting sometime after midnight.

On Wednesday there was another round of severance negotiations in the morning, so Jameson took us back to the train and waited while I sat in on that phone conference. We are making progress, and I'm excited for the day when we'll be finished negotiating. After the meeting we went to get some groceries. As we returned to the train and began unpacking, I was surprised by a visit from Brian Miser, a former Human Cannon with Ringling and a current Human Cannon in his own right. Mr. Miser is thinking of purchasing one of the Ringling train cars for a project he's putting together. Cool! I invited him into my room to look around and take some measurements. He also took a look at Jameson's room, since it's a different size and shape. While I'm sad that the train is being sold off, it does make me happy that a circus person is considering purchasing this piece of circus history...I'd like it if this car, which I consider to be "my home", ends up in good hands rather than a scrap yard. I was too shy to take a photo while Brian was in my room, but snapped a quick pic as he went outside to inspect the undercarriage and such.



The weather was sunny and windy, and since we're here for two weeks I decided to take my flytraps outside and keep them there until the weather turns. I'll be pretty ticked if anyone runs them over.


They have begun growing again since I took them out of the fridge, so maybe they'll be all right!


Later in the day Jameson finally got his offer of employment letter from LA Film School. It's official, he's leaving us. I'm very happy for him, but of course it's hard not to be sad, too. Neither of us wanted to leave this job yet. Neither of us wanted to have to think about living and working apart. But what we want never does have much to do with the big picture, does it?

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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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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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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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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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It's been a busy yet slow week. I didn't document it very well.

One day, I helped my mom to clean up the Christmas baking things.
Another day, we visited with her 89-year-old neighbor down the street.
Another day I had a rental car, so we ran errands and visited with some more of mom's friends.
A box arrived from my sister in California: some late Christmas gifts and stocking stuffers. My gift was some awesome treats, including a chocolate orange (I LOVE those! Like, unreasonably crazy for them!) and a beautiful box of traditional Japanese desserts from Minamoto Kitchoan in San Francisco! I've already eaten several of them: a green tea cookie, sweet white bean bun, and dark chocolate waffle. Decadent, refined, and delicious. Thank you Kayle!



I spent time with some high school friends: Lauren, Sarah, and Kristi. We had a tasty dinner at a local brewery and got all caught up on each others' lives. I was amazed that we decided to part ways before midnight...apparently we're old people now! :P It was great to see my friends and know that even after a year apart, we can get back together as though no time has passed.

On New Year's Eve Day, I went with my parents to run some errands. One of our stops was Buy n Large! Er, I mean, Sam's Club!

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Consumerism at its finest! Where everything is larger than life!
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Gallon o' Ranch!
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With my tiny train room, I normally have no reason to find myself in Sam's Club. A jar of mayo from there would be the same size as my fridge. But that's part of the novelty of it :)

That night we went to a New Year's Eve party at my parents' friends Sherrie and Arnold's house. We had a great time. Arnold's a great cook! Sherrie has a pet skunk. Isn't he adorable?


(photo courtesy Sherrie)

We left the party before midnight and got home in time to get ready for the New Year. 2017! Can't believe it's here already, and also can't believe how long this year seemed!

As easy as it is to complain about the events of 2016, I think that perhaps it's a good thing that we are concerned enough about what's happening in our world that we speak up, protest, vote, and participate. Maybe 2016 wasn't the best, but maybe from now on we will put more effort into making future years better. I hope!

Personally, and in the circus, it's been a pretty crazy year.


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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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My Whys

May. 22nd, 2016 09:44 pm
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Since not much happened this week, I thought it might be a good time to answer a question that's come up a lot lately.

First, real quick, this blog is not a soapbox. It's not a place where I want to start broadcasting my opinion or trying to convince people to share my viewpoint. It was always meant to be a log, a day-to-day description of my experiences with the circus. And I'd like to keep it that way :)


That said, since the elephants have left I have been somewhat more vocal in sharing my opinions and experiences, and in describing Ringling's animal care practices. Several folks, including family, have asked why I feel the need to speak out about an issue that technically shouldn't concern me (I am just "in the band" after all!). But it's hard for me to give a short answer to this. I thought it might be a good time to explain myself, even if it means soapboxing a little. Grab a snack.

When I joined the circus in 2012, I knew nothing about elephants. But seeing them almost every day during shows, during down time, at the train, outdoors, inside...I began to learn things simply by watching. I used to wonder what those dark spots were on the elephants' hips, until I saw an elephant casually leaning against a wall between shows and realized that it was a callus on her hips from a pressure point, from leaning on things. I wondered whether the elephants were chained at night, until one evening after a night out I was walking past the elephant barn and saw Luna curled up in a pile of sand, with a long fluffy padded cable attached to her hind leg, leaving her plenty of slack to move around comfortably.

As I became more comfortable at my new job, I began to get to know the veterinarians, handlers, and trainers who worked alongside the elephants. I got to see firsthand how carefully a handler would go over an elephant's feet to check for cracks in the nails or any infirmities. I saw representatives from the USDA walking into the animal compound for inspections or sitting in the audience taking notes on clipboards. I saw the elephants receiving better food than I was getting from Pie Car (no offense Pie Car). Over time I watched as Mable's trainer taught her to swing a jump rope, play the harmonica, spin a hula hoop, and more, all using simple reward and repetition training. I listened in fascination as one of Siam's trainers described trying to teach her to paint using non-toxic paint and pieces of fruit. But Siam did not like either the smell or the feel of the paint and refused to paint no matter what rewards were offered. So the training was dropped in favor of other actions that Siam preferred. I saw firsthand the attention and care that each animal received. And I got to hear lots of great stories about elephants past and present :)


(paint and fruit slices for painting practice. Photo courtesy Adria C.)

In 2013, I was offered the opportunity to participate in an animal walk. As the animals walked from the train to the arena, I and some other volunteers would stand between the animals and the onlookers, making sure people stayed on the sidewalks and holding a yellow rope to discourage anyone from dashing into the street. In return we'd get lunch. This sounded fairly easy (and also exciting!) so I decided to do it. Here is a photo that I took before my first animal walk.



Many things about that first walk were exciting and new. But starting with this walk, there were certain things that stuck with me and grew within my heart.

The first thing I noticed was that the onlookers loved it. They loved to see the animals, and even adults in the midst of a busy work day ran out to the street to watch the elephants go by. Children stared and shrieked in wonder as the elephants swung their trunks around and occasionally trumpeted. Even the police escorting us wore huge smiles and would sometimes stop to take pictures.

The protesters hated it. We had been told beforehand that there would be protesters and that we shouldn't speak to them, but I couldn't have been prepared for what they would say to us. They followed us for the entire mile-long walk, screaming insults at the handlers, at us volunteers, at the police for escorting us. Yelling as loudly as they could about all kinds of horrible things that they imagined were happening to the elephants (and the elephants only) under Ringling's care. Taunting anyone who held an elephant guide, asking whether they enjoyed hitting the elephants more with the hooked end or the flat end. And when they started running out of imagined horrors, they switched to personal insults, criticizing one handler's weight and making jibes about other handlers' appearances. In my short time on this planet, I had never been in the presence of such unprovoked, undeserved hatred from one group of strangers to another. These people were yelling at ME, and I didn't work with animals at all. It was stressful and frightening, and I found myself shaking a little with nerves and frustration at not being able to defend myself.

But Ringling's animal specialists didn't bat an eye. They walked alongside their animals, shouting the occasional "move up" or "tail" above the screaming protesters to keep the elephants together and moving at a good pace. They didn't so much as look in the direction of anyone shouting for their attention. Their focus was entirely on their animals and on getting them safely to the arena. As the walk came to an end, I found myself in awe of their composure in the face of such inhuman behavior...and such horrible accusations. For Ringling's animal specialists, this barrage of hatred and ignorance is their daily routine. And every day they have faced it with their heads held high, because they know, and their employer knows, and everyone who works in the circus knows, that they have nothing to be ashamed of. I gained a huge amount of respect for elephant crew that day, and saw their struggle through new eyes.


Over the next several years, I was privileged to participate in around twenty animal walks and elephant brunches. We encountered more excited faces, and more rage-filled protesters spitting hate. But what really got to me...what really started to bother me...was the doubt.

The first time someone from the crowd approached me was during an elephant brunch. We animal walkers had done our job and were standing in a row by a temporary fence set up to keep people back as the elephants ate. A gentleman looking to be in his late 50s/early 60s leaned over to me and said, "Those elephants are so beautiful! So beautiful! You guys are doing a fantastic job. Thank you for all the work that you do." Like most people he didn't know that I didn't work with the animals. I smiled and thanked him. He continued: "What is with those crazy people? (referring to the protesters) I can't believe they have the nerve to say those things. What idiots!" He chuckled and shook his head. I just smiled and shrugged. Yep, those protesters are pretty unbelievable! What can you do!

Then he leaned in closer, lowered his voice, and said, "So tell me, really...DO they beat the elephants?"

I was shocked, and stood there dumbly as this man continued to look at me earnestly, as though waiting for some kind of confession. I couldn't even begin to think of a response. My thought process was something like this: "Is he serious? Does he BELIEVE those people? What does he expect me to say? Is this a trick? But he just finished complementing us..."

In the end, all I could do was shake my head and say "No, no of course not." He nodded and smiled and backed off, but I could see that he wasn't satisfied or convinced. He wanted an explanation. He wanted proof. And having worked at the circus for less than a year, I couldn't offer either.

He was the first, and there were plenty more to follow. Mothers holding babies, smiling and encouraging their toddlers to wave at the elephants, then turning to me with a worried smile and asking, "Are they well cared-for? They're not...chained, are they?" The young man who'd come to photograph the elephants during a walk, jogging to keep up, wanting to know if this was all the excercise the elephants ever got. The two businesswomen who had waited outside their office to see the elephants go by, and as we hurried past I caught a snatch of their conversation: "...should never have been taken from the wild. Those are wild animals, they need to be free." And I bit my tongue, and bit it again and again, and felt frustrated and helpless.

Although I couldn't talk to protesters (and didn't particularly want to), I could talk to the everyday people who had come to enjoy the animals. But what was the good of that if I didn't know what to say? So I started listening more carefully to the concerns I was hearing. When I heard, "That bullhook looks sharp," I went to a handler and asked to see her bullhook, which she willingly let me hold. And I was able to see for myself that it was neither sharp nor a "torture device", and the next time someone asked me worried questions about the bullhook, I was able to describe the tool in detail and help ease their fears. I had already seen that the elephants were not chained, but between shows, at random times, without warning, I would walk by the elephant barn and look to see what the elephants were up to. After all, they only perform for a maximum of 40 minutes per day, so I was curious to see what they did for the other 23 hours. As a result I got to see the elephants doing all kinds of things: playing with toys, sleeping in the sun, eating, playing in water, rolling in sand, dust bathing, learning new skills, puzzling over enrichment items. The only time I ever saw them tethered was at night, always by only one leg. And so when people had concerns about the elephants being chained, after threeish years of observation, I could confidently say that no, Ringling's elephants are not chained, and describe what I had seen.

This is by no means a part of my job; I chose to do these things myself. I just thought that if only everyone could see what I saw, they'd understand that their fears were unfounded. Through my experiences as just an average person who happened to work for the circus, I thought that I could help alleviate peoples' fears and misconceptions.

But at the end of the day, I am one person, and one person's voice can't be heard over the hateful screams of thousands. And although most people seemed to view the protesters as "crazy", the level of doubt grew and grew.

Last year it was announced that the elephants would be retired to the Center for Elephant Conservation. I think it's fair to say that everyone in the circus was upset. I had a lot of feels myself. But I think many held out hope that something might change during those three years. Perhaps a public outrcry, I don't know. But when the timeline for retirement was moved up by a whole year and a half, well...that hope was crushed. It was time to say goodbye.


But that wasn't and won't be the end of it. Not a week after the elephants were gone, protesters were back out in force dressed in tiger costumes and screaming about tiger abuse (just the tigers of course, never mind those other animals). When Ringling or the CEC posted elephant updates to their timelines, they were immediately bombarded with accusations, hateful words, and vague demands that the animals be "freed". And circuses are still fighting in city halls across America for their right to own and display their animals.

For most people, circus animals have nothing to do with their day to day lives, and so they are content to let government offices decide whether circuses should have animals or not. I understand that apathy. I knew nothing and cared nothing about circus animals when I first arrived here. But since then, I have learned a great deal. And one of the most important things I've learned is that this fight is bigger than the circus, and it WILL at some point effect us all.

My experiences with this circus and the knowledge I've gained here, coupled with the happenings of the past year, are the reason I've decided to speak out more and share what I have learned with others. I do NOT claim to be a know-it-all or any kind of expert. This is not a show of loyalty for my employer; there is a lot that I don't know and will never know about how Feld Entertainment operates, and frankly it's none of my business.

This is me having a moral issue with animal rights tactics. This is me feeling that silence is the worst response. This is me hoping that it's not too late for people to stop believing their worst nightmares and start believing in the reality: that the vast majority of us love and care for our animals.

The animal rights agenda has found that the circus is an easy target for harassment. The current popular way to show that you don't approve of animal abuse is to demonize the circus. But I'm sorry, the easiest things and the most popular things are not always the right things. I am scared and intimidated by the hate and aggression that fuels animal rights. But I'm also afraid of a world where we've all been cowed into submission by hate-filled people who would act like monsters to get their way.

So...that's why I feel the need to speak out and get involved. Thank you for listening.

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We had originally planned to visit a nearby asylum for a tour, but turns out they only give tours on special occasions :P So to console ourselves we visited Fruit Bowl instead!

(photo courtesy Gary H. on Yelp)

As you can see, it's a store full of candy with some fruits and veggies around the edges to make you feel bad for buying nothing but candy. They have other goods too, including canned jams and pickled fruits/veggies, locally baked bread, and a large variety of professional baking supplies including flavored oils, unique cookie cutters, and notably a 10lb bar of chocolate!

We filled a big plastic bag with candy ($4.95/lb!) and picked up a few other specialties as well (I can never resist locally-made apple butter!) then hit the road with our loot. I'm going to be eating that for weeks!

We found a hotel nestled in the WV mountains, with virtually no wifi or phone service. Otherwise a good hotel though. The next morning after a nice breakfast we drove out to Wilkes-Barre (pronounced "Berry" you guys). But we didn't stay in town. A few minutes outside Wilkes-Barre is Scranton. This is the town where I was born. It's a depressed coal/steel town, not much to look at, and most people know it as "the place where The Office takes place". But there is a lot of great history here. We pulled up to our hotel.


(photo courtesy Sanden M., TripAdvisor)

This is the Lackawanna Train Station, now a Radisson hotel, and it has special significance to me and my family. Back when Scranton had mined most of its steel and was turning to coal as its next major export, my great grandfather got a job working in the coal mines. The miners had just unionized and conditions in the mines were incredibly bad. I'm told my great grandpa had a mule to help him carry the coal out and not much else. When DL&W Railroad decided to build a new train station in Scranton, offering better pay and conditions, my great granddad got on board. He started out as a coal shoveler, feeding the engines and such. But he worked his way up the ranks and eventually became a dispatcher in the station. My grandfather, too, worked at the station, although his primary job was still in the mines.

In other words, this town and this station are where my family got its start in America. So when I walked through the doors of the station-turned-hotel as a guest, the significance was not lost on me. It made me feel humble, and proud.

Read more... )
taz_39: (footprint)







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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In the morning Jameson and I went to the Mosaic District for lunch. We found awesome eats at True Food Kitchen (we've eaten there before with Jameson's mom). I had a buffalo burger with mushrooms and shaved parm on a very seedy bun! Sides were sweet potato hash and kale salad. Very tasty!


After that we went to Arlington National Cemetery. It was my first time there.
What a sobering and beautiful experience.




Jameson's grandparents are buried here. His grandfather served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. I was honored to be able to visit him and his wife Gloria.


I was awed by the sheer number of headstones, and considering that most stones bear at least two names, the number of people buried here is mind-boggling.


After paying our respects and visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, we decided to hit the road. I will never forget this experience, and hope that I will have another opportunity to visit Jameson's grandparents soon.

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After the last show on Sunday we hoofed it over to a place Tim (sax) and Brett (bossman) found near the arena, called Smoke Ring. It's a southern BBQ place with a focus on meats smoked "low and slow" daily. On Brett's recommendation I opted for the smoked wings, and on Tim's I got a side of roasted brussels sprouts. That's the stuff!


Full of great food, we drove over to the nearest movie theater to catch Deadpool. It was graphic and violent and hilarious! A great way to unwind from a fairly busy weekend.

(photo courtesy Brett)

Then we enjoyed a blissful two days off. Well, some of us did. One of those days was a work day for anyone involved in loading into the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth. But hey, at least the train didn't move. Sometimes a lack of movement is a nice break.

On Monday I relaxed.


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Like many people on Monday, I woke to the sad news of David Bowie's death. On top of that, Another announcement was made by Feld Entertainment that the preparations for the touring elephants down at the CEC were now complete, so they'll be taken off the road 1.5 years ahead of schedule...this May.


For the detailed Associated Press article, CLICK HERE

Of course, since last February, we knew this was coming. But that doesn't make it any less sad.

I think the people who regularly read this blog know that it's not a soapbox. And I am not one who likes to push my views on others. But this time there are a few things that I'd like to say. If you don't care to read my thoughts on this subject just scroll on past, no harm done :)


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Jameson and I enjoyed one last day in Chicago. We had breakfast at Waffles and dinner at a new place called Asian Outpost. It was a cold rainy night so we were both in the mood for something hot and savory. Enter tonkotsu ramen!


In between these two meals we just relaxed. There were a lot of shows this past week and we definitely needed to recoup a bit. Just as we were getting ready for bed, we received notice that everyone on the train was required to get a mandatory PPD test first thing in the morning. We were worried because we weren't on the train, but were told that other arrangements had been made for people traveling overland.

The next day we drove the three hours to Indianapolis. As soon as we reached the train we were greeted by our General Manager, who gave us directions to a clinic where we'd get our tests done. Since the PPD takes 48-72 hours to get results, we both had to get chest x-rays too. I didn't have to get a PPD because I'd had one last December, for the elephant walk. The x-ray was easy, and I even had a chance to look at mine before the next person came in. Pretty neat! The nurse pointed out my heart and lungs, and said that I might be able to get a copy once everything has been processed. I hope so!

After that, Jameson and I got groceries and finally unpacked, and relaxed.


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My days off were spent mostly preparing for the end of the year.
You might be surprised at how much you have to get ready for a long break from the road. I guess it's pretty similar to preparing for a month-long vacation.

I pruned my houseplants, and carefully considered whether I'd need someone to "babysit" them for the month of December. I wrote a few letters and emails in preparation for setting up a Primary Care Physician (on the road you visit so many different doctors that getting a referral can be a real chore unless you get a PCP). I got groceries and cooked for the week, being careful not to buy too much since for the next two weeks I'll be staying in Jameson's parent's place in Chicago. I began packing for that stay too, cramming a week's worth of clothing and supplies into my little suitcase. I took a general inventory of the stuff in my room and made little piles: things to send home ahead of me, things to take to a thrift store, things to relocate in the room.

In between the "chores" I just watched the internet, relaxed, went for walks, etc. Last week Rebecca (wardrobe) put turkeys on all of our doors. I colored mine and listed a few things that I'm thankful for. When all of the turkeys are done (HAW!) I'll post a picture :)

While some of us had a full two days off, others had to work. Train crew is also prepping for the end of the year, taking inventory of room items and passing out a basic Welcome/Guidelines sheet for the new folks coming in. The clowns had PR work, and also visited a local children's hospital. And floor and animal crews had elephant rehearsals, to help incorporate the new elephants into the show.

On Wednesday we only had one show and no rehearsal, so Brett (my boss) arranged for Bill (trumpet) and I to visit the Schilke factory only a few miles from the train! We were greeted by two smiling ladies at the front counter, and ushered into a room containing several Schilke trumpets and trombones, which we were invited to play with. Like kids in a candy store.



There were only three trombones on display, but that's not surprising since Schilke is much more well known for their trumpets. Anyway, I enjoyed trying them all out! I was happy to see that one of the large bore trombones had a Hagmann valve. The small bore tenor sounded very nice, especially with the 47B mouthpiece. Brett and Bill seemed to enjoy their trumpets as well :)


After much fiddling around Kevin, a fairly new Schilke employee, came in to take us on a factory tour! Along the way he described much of what we were seeing and the process of making Schilke trumpets and trombones. Though I've spent a lot of time in instrument repair shops, I have never been to a musical instrument factory before. It was pretty awesome.

We were shown some of the work benches and tables where craftsmen hand-make, polish, and refine brass parts and instruments. Most parts were organized neatly along one wall, file cabinet style. In one room we got to see the engraving machine, a really cool piece of modern technology. It looks a lot like a sideways 3D printer. Here is one of the bells used to test the engraver. Employees cover it in dye so that they can clearly see the etching each time.



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Now that the week's over I can spill the beans!

Jameson flew home to Florida during the break for a surprise visit, to see his Disney band Mulch Sweat & Shears, one last time. Like many live entertainment groups at Disney World, MSS is being canned while the park undergoes a massive expansion/rebuild. It was a bittersweet visit for Jameson, seeing old friends and watching the band he spent six years with as they performed some of their final shows. But he says it was worth it and a wonderful thing to be able to return and see the band off.


(photo courtesy Jameson)

While this was happening, I was keeping busy thanks to Jameson's car :D
I had quite a few errands to run. Monday was spent scanning documents and mailing things to people, eating pizza, and shopping for new work clothes. Near the end of the day I decided to go to the movies solo, something I haven't done since working at a movie theater in the early 2000s! I saw M. Night's The Visit. It was both disturbing and funny, I enjoyed it :)

The next morning I got up early to "audit" a Colorado Symphony rehearsal!



I contacted the symphony's principal trombonist John Sipher, who kindly got the OK from the Personnel Manager for me to watch the rehearsal. I had originally planned to attend a concert, but there were too many schedule conflicts. But to be honest the rehearsal was better in some ways. For one thing, I had the whole auditorium to myself. It felt like a private concert! Also, with rehearsals you don't start at the beginning of the piece (in this case Brahms Symphony No. 4) and play it all the way through. The orchestra will usually rehearse out-of-order, stopping occassionally to clarify the parts or fix mistakes.

This morning Mr. Dragon chose to rehearse the 4th movement first, probably so that the low brass could leave early (they don't play for the first three movements). I got to hear the entire movement once through, then the orchestra went back over it in chunks to fix a few things, so I got to hear the famous brass chorale twice. Yay!!!



After the 4th movement was deemed satisfactory the trombones were dismissed. The rest of the orchestra continued with the other three movements, then took a break. I wanted to say hello and let the musicians know that they sounded wonderful, but didn't want to seem like a weirdo so settled for a quick "Thank you" to Mr. Dragon before scooting out the door. I would have loved to stick around for the horn concerto rehearsal, but there were more errands for me to run.

If you ever have the chance to attend a professional orchestra rehearsal...like, if you know that one is rehearsing somewhere in your town or city...go listen. You'll see and hear firsthand the incredible effort, the relentless attention to detail, and the dedication and focus that result in the perfection of a live concert performance. These people are extremely talented, true, but they also work incredibly hard so that they can perform as perfectly as possible every time. I'm very grateful to have been able to listen to this group of amazing musicians today. Thank you Colorado Symphony!


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We finished up the week in Ontario with a night show on Monday and a split on Tuesday.
Monday was uneventful. I spent the day doing chores and chilling out. The show went well...an audience that enjoyed clapping haha. On Tuesday my friend Denis came to the show along with his family and some friends. Denis is a local trombone player, we met this past week after a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. I took them on a brief backstage tour before the show. I think they had fun :) Both shows of the day went well.


(photo courtesy Denis)

After the last show Jameson and I drove to a hotel near Anaheim.
The next day we woke early to go to Disneyland!!!
We were celebrating our two year dating anniversary one day early :)

We decided to visit California Adventure first.
As soon as we were past the gates, we were serenaded by Five & Dime!



We went straight to Cars Land hoping to ride the new Radiator Springs Racers ride, but the wait was two hours! So we decided to hit a few others first and come back later. We enjoyed Ariel's Undersea Adventure, and had fun shooting at 3D targets at the Toy Story Midway Mania ride. For that one you wear 3D glasses and shoot an endless number of digital darts at moving Toy Story themed targets. At the end your score is tallied against the person next to you. Jameson won! But only by a little bit :P

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On my glorious day off, I did practically nothing. Laundry, changed the air filter in my room, read a book, ate, slept. It was wonderful. Jameson and I walked to Fairway...an easy short trip made infinitely frustrating by huge piles of snow on the sidewalks and rude motorists splashing us as we tried to navigate the sludge. But hey, Fairway! I got some tasty cookies, Irish soda bread, and other treats :)

On load in day, I walked to a nearby mall for new sneakers. It's only a mile walk but it was made treacherous by unsalted sidewalks.



The train yard is incredibly icy as well, with several inches of ice on and around the tracks.


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I flew home on Monday. The flights were ok, though there was quite a bit of turbulence due to weather. I was lucky to catch an earlier flight for the second leg of my journey, so arrived at the airport "on time" despite both of my flights being delayed. Some of my parents' friends had planned to pick me up, but because it was dark and rainy my Dad left work early to come get me. Thank you Dad!!!

While waiting for him, I played a little Ingress. There are lots of portals in the Philly airport.



I made the fields between gates E and D, and after I left someone else built on those fields at gates C and B :)

Dad and I got home around 9pm. After a much-needed night in a real bed, I woke up late on Tuesday and Mom and I went shopping for "Early Thanksgiving". My sister Kate came over, and together we three prepared some of the food for the next day.


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