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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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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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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 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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After all the excitement of the week, I thought it'd be best to just ride the train while Jameson traveled overland. It would give me time to process everything.

The train run was uneventful as far as I could tell. The weather was cold and rainy so I did not take pictures. We arrived in Manchester on time but took quite a while to be spotted. I always remember this yard because of the huge snow plow engines here. And I take a picture every year :)



Opening day was strange. We rehearsed the "new" stuff...basically it's all the same acts only the Cannon act has been moved to the part of the show where the elephants used to perform. Then we did the show. It was strange. I felt vaguely surprised when I found myself playing the end of the first act after only 45 minutes. The show overall is not much shorter, but to me it just flew by super quick. And yeah, I felt sad. I guess I never knew how much I looked forward to seeing how Asia would eat her bread this time; watching Luna curl her trunk into a spiral during the headstand; or wondering whether Mable would choose to play her tambourine with the band or to her own beat. You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.


...or as my boss who's been here for 22 years put it, "It'll take me another 22 years to get used to this."

But moping acomplishes nothing. We all did the show as though nothing had changed.


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I won't bore you with the details of my two days off at the train yard in Anacostia. Taxes, chores, a short walk, let's leave it at that. Some of the guys from the band went to a bar in DC to watch baseball on opening day, looks like fun :)

(photo courtesy Chaz)

But overall getting into DC from where we are is pretty obnoxious. I just used the time to have a movie marathon.

Opening day in Fairfax was all right. This arena on George Mason University's campus was where I played my first shows with the circus, four years ago as of Monday. I'll always remember playing the clown walkaround act completely wrong, and panicking because I thought I'd be fired :P

Our rehearsal was a bit long, we had to run the whole first act without elephants again :/ Things became a bit more interesting when a little starling found its way inside and began to march around on the floor during the acts. He didn't seem bothered at all by the loud sounds or the people running around. It was a little distracting, but cute <3


(photo courtesy Rebecca W.)

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On Monday night I got to enjoy a homecooked dinner with my Aunt Laura, Uncle Andy, cousins Ava and Calvin, and Aunt Kathy. This branch of my family lives just outside Baltimore, and I rarely get to see them. I got to introduce them to Jameson and get caught up on everyone's doings. Family time is the best :)

The next day we only had one show. I spent the morning doing chores.
The evening show went well.

On Wednesday the Red Unit held one of its last ever elephant walk/brunches in front of Lexington Market. The walk was short, probably about half a mile, and people lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the elephants. In front of the market we met a huge crowd. Hundreds of people had come out to watch the elephants eat. I love hearing people exclaim over the elephants' size, how much they eat, how beautiful they are, etc. It was bittersweet and humbling, being a part of this event. Looking back on all the elephant PRs I've gotten to do, I'm so grateful to have been able to walk alongside these animals. I'm so proud to stand with the elephant handlers as they work with these amazing creatures. These are memories that I will always cherish. It saddens me to think that future generations will never have such an opportunity.


(photo courtesy Chris T.)







(photos courtesy Greg Mullinix)


After the walk I stuck around the building, took a nap, played online. The show that evening was dandy.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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We had Monday off thankfully.
Jameson's parents took us to a place called Eataly. It's like an entirely Italian grocery, featuring handmade breads, pastas and desserts, imported candies and sauces, and deli sections selling rare cheeses and cured meats. It was pretty amazing!

On the second level was a restaurant section. We enjoyed a delicious Italian lunch. I had the squid ink pasta with mussels and it was fantastic.



After that we ran a few errands, then took the dogs to a nearby dog park. Mo had to go in the small dog section (he gets defensive with big dogs) and Addison in the main park was distracted by his whining and barking. Still, she seemed to enjoy herself :)

The next day we had two shows. Jameson's parents took us to Little Goat, one of our favorite Chicago restaurants, for brunch. I decided to be adventurous and try the This Little Piggy Went to China: a cheddar sesame biscuit with Szechuan sausage, two eggs, gooseberries, and a zesty chili sauce. It was delicious and the sauce made my tongue tingle!



The shows went well, although attendance was lighter.

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Toledo is only about two hours from Cleveland, so we stayed at the same La Quinta we'd been in upon arrival in Ohio. The next day after another fabulous lunch at The Rail, we decided to pay a visit to the A Christmas Story house!

(all photos of the house are courtesy Jameson)

Jameson is a big fan of the movie. I think I've seen it maybe once! But I still enjoyed seeing this amazing house, which has been restored and refitted to look EXACTLY like the movie set!



During the tour we were encouraged to try on the infamous pink bunny suit, and to hide under the sink. Jameson also recreated a bathroom scene and posed with the infamous Red Ryder BB gun (if you've seen the movie you'll know what I'm talking about, if not...go see the movie :P).


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Jameson and I drove to Cleveland on Monday. It was six hours from our hotel, so not a bad drive. It's strange (and nice) to be back in the eastern US...there are green plants, real trees, and rolling mountains. I don't think I realized how completely dry California is until I had something to compare it to!

Anyway, when we got to our next hotel we were pleasantly surprised to find that it was right next to a large mall! We decided to go see Crimson Peak. It was a good movie, but we were both disappointed at the lack of actual scary scenes. Still, a fun time :)

The next day we got up late and enjoyed lunch at The Rail, a burger place attached to the mall. They've got really good locally-raised beef, locally-made ice cream, and locally-brewed beer. I treated myself to a root beer float along with my "bootlegger" burger. Yum!



After that we did a little shopping (both of us needed shoes), then got groceries, then found the train, hopped on, and unpacked.

Opening day was good, good rehearsal followed by a good show.
Thursday was similar, with only one night show. During the day I did chores: laundry, cooking, cleaning, taking care of internet business. After the show, it was time for the annual Halloween tradition...Haunted Clown Car!!!



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Monday was a fairly normal day. After the show, Jameson and I drove a few hours to a hotel. Around the time we arrived, the Cubs were finishing up their 9th inning against the St. Louis Cardinals. They won! Jameson and his whole family are avid Cubs fans, so his reaction is hardly surprising! **PROFANITY WARNING**


To celebrate the win (and just to eat because we were starving by that time) we hit the highly-rated Kome Sushi where we shared some specialty rolls and sake :)


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FOO FIGHTERS!!!

Ok, those of you who know me know that I'm not into any particular rock band. But the Foo Fighters are a pretty great band, and Jameson got us some tickets for their show in Los Angeles. I was thrilled to see them live!!

On Monday we drove to LA for the concert. We arrived in time to grab dinner at Roscoe's House of Chicken & Waffles. Roscoe's is related to Home of Chicken & Waffles in Oakland; due to some sort of disagreement the company split around 2004. Home of Chicken & Waffles is one of our favorite places, so we were excited to compare them to Roscoe's!

It was like comparing apples to oranges. Waffles at both places were excellent, with Roscoe's being softer and fluffier and HOCW's being chewier and thinner. The batter was very similar, and we both agreed that there was some sort of cinnamon/nutmeg flavoring to the syrup in both restaurants. The chicken from both places was also excellent, although personally I thought Roscoe's was a little dry while at HOCW I'd gotten a juicier piece...but so many factors can effect that. Overall they're both great and I can't recommend one over the other. Stop in and check them out yourself!!



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After the last Sunday show Jameson and I drove out to Burbank and got a hotel near the airport.
The next day, we went to see a Conan O'Brien taping!!!

Jameson had planned the whole thing. He got the tickets online for free, and figured out the travel timing. After reading some reviews on Yelp from people who'd done this kind of thing before, we decided to show up several hours early to reserve a place in line, then go find something to eat.

We drove up to Universal Studios and parked at Gate 8, and quickly found the Conan holding area. Jameson presented his e-tickets and we went through a bag check, then got our hands stamped and were given a wristband. We waited on some benches with a few other people, and after a while a staff member came out and had us line up in the order we'd checked in. We were given numbers to hold our place in line (we got #19) and were told to come back around 3:30pm to walk to the studio.



We left the holding area and went in search of lunch. There was a place called Taste Chicago that had Chicago dogs and personal pan deep-dish pizzas, so we hit it up. Delicious handmade stuff here if you're ever in the area!

After that there was time for a few errands, then we hoofed it back to the parking garage to get in line for the taping! There were a LOT of people waiting in the holding area this time; shows like Conan will often overbook to guarantee that they get a full crowd. We were glad we'd showed up early!! Being in the first 20 groups, we were among the first to line up and start walking the eight blocks to the studio.

On the way we passed lots of studios, each one marked with a plaque that listed notable films that had been shot inside. We even passed the star trailers for The Big Bang Theory! We were moving pretty quickly so I couldn't stop to take pictures, but I did manage to snap a quick one as we reached our destination.



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It was an eight hour drive from San Diego to Oakland. We drove about halfway and got a hotel, then drove the rest of the way the next day. We didn't do anything special, partly because I still wasn't feeling great and partly because we had a lot of ground to cover.

Meanwhile the train was taking one of the most scenic routes we encounter on our travels, right along the Pacific Ocean. Nikki (train crew) took this epic video so you can experience some of the perks of riding the circus train :)



Once in Oakland we got word that the train would be late, so we decided to run some errands while we waited. Got Jameson's car cleaned up, mailed a few things, and found dinner at a cool place called The Original Red Onion. Great food, everything was made fresh. I had an avocado melt: avocado, swiss cheese, tomato, and egg (I also added bacon) on grilled Texas toast. It was delicious!


Our server gave us an extra-special treat: dessert on the house! A rich chocolate truffle mini-cake. Yum!

We got some groceries at Target and around that time found out that the train was spotted. We found the yard, unpacked, and called it a day.

The next day was a dark day. I did absolutely nothing but rest and eat the other half of my Red Onion sandwich, trying to recover from my tummy issue. But! It was Slick's birthday! And we were in Oakland, Home of Chicken and Waffles!

Two years ago we went there with Slick. It was maybe his second week back from cancer treatment, and we were all thrilled to spend time with him (pictured all the way on the right).


(photo courtesy Melissa A.)

This would have been Slick's 49th birthday, and we celebrated the best way we knew how: martinis, the best chicken and waffles in Oakland, and a big pile of friends sharing memories and having a great time :)




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For our second week in Anaheim, of course the train didn't move.
We are in a yard that is fairly safe, but covered in graffiti.



There was a punch party on Sunday night. We enjoyed the infamous bucket-o-punch mixed by the infamous Brett Barlow, and added some graffiti of our own.



(photos courtesy Claudia)

This graffiti is in memory of our trumpet player, Slick. It's supposed to say, "Keep it Funky, Keep it Sexy, Keep it Classy", but a light rain washed some of the words away.


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On Tuesday in LA we had two more shows. Nothing special :P
During the split Jameson and I went to a nearby sushi place. I got the sashimi special. Yum!



After the last show load out took place as usual. Except this time, Lina Angelina (aerial artist) decided to take some photos! She's given us a great look at how the circus packs up and gets outta town :)
Here are some crew members dismantling the portal.



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We finished our week with an early show on Monday. Jameson and I drove 5.5 hours to a hotel in Long Beach, CA. The next morning we paid a visit to the Queen Mary!


The Queen Mary was a luxurious ocean liner in the 1930s. The popular style at that time was Deco, and so we saw quite a lot of brass decor and lovely Deco lettering and artwork.

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We spent the night in Tucson, because why not, it's a whole five degrees cooler than Phoenix :P

In the morning we decided to drive the two hours to Phoenix and eat lunch, then check to see if the train was spotted so we could drop off our luggage before heading to the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM). For once our timing was pretty good; the train arrive just as we were finishing lunch at Zookz Sandwiches. They make a unique toasted "pocket"-style sandwich stuffed with all kinds of goodies! Jameson had the No. 45, fresh mozzarella, tomato, mixed greens and a honey Baslamic dressing. I had the No. 30, thin sliced ham with apricot preserves, Brie cheese and almonds. For dessert we split a Coco Loco, a sandwich pocket filled with melted chocolate, coconut, almonds, and rice crispies. If you are ever in Phoenix looking for a quick but healthy and incredibly tasty meal, this is the place!



We dropped our things off at the train, the Jameson drove us to the MIM. They've got a vast collection of musical instruments, mostly organized by geographic origin and then subdivided into genres and cultural uses. In addition to viewing the instruments, each guest is given an audio pack and headphones. As you approach the screens mounted behind each display, you are treated to an audio sampling of some of the things you're looking at. It was AWESOME. We were there for about 2.5 hours and STILL didn't see everything! (Which is great, it means I can go back again!!!).

(image stolen from scottsdalerealestates.com)

There were trombones in almost every section (awesome) and most were fairly standard sizes and materials, though they varied in age and condition. In the "France" section I found a dragon trombone!! I've always wanted to see one!! (The real name of this instrument is the Buccin).

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Looking back at last week for a moment, we had one show on Monday, and it was Aaron (drummer)'s last day with us. Aaron has been with the circus for fourteen(!) years and has never missed a show. During intermission there was a toast for him, and the Ringmaster recognized him during Entracte. And just like that, he was off on a new adventure. See you down the road, Aaron!

(photo courtesy Benjamin)

Our new drummer, Chris, has learned the show and will be touring with us from now on. Welcome Chris!

(photo courtesy Chris)

After the show Jameson, Brett, Tim, and Chris piled into a car and took off on a sort of baseball-tour-of-America road trip. Four major league games in as many days! My Aunt Nicole had come to the show, and graciously offered to drive me back home (two hours away). I arrived to find my parents chilling in the backyard, having just finished hosting a Memorial Day picnic. We caught up, and just sat and enjoyed the fine weather. It was good to be home.


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