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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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I got to spend Monday with my Aunt, who lives near Raleigh. We had lunch at Calavera Empanadas, a really awesome little place right in downtown Raleigh. The empanadas were AMAZING. I have never had dough so light and fluffy! And the fillings were awesome too. I got the Al Pastor (pork and pineapple) and it was really delicious. They also had dessert empanadas...one had bananas and nutella, the other was pumpkin pie. So stinkin' good!


After our meal we went back to my aunt's place where we just hung out and enjoyed each other's company. I helped her to grade some papers (she's a teacher) and we talked about my sisters and brother, and our plans for the future. For my birthday, my aunt and uncle gave me a huge bag of treats from Trader Joe's! Turkish honey, fruit leather, sprouted wheat bread, Belgian chocolate, and much more. They also gave me some very nice "dressy" shirts (which I will hopefully have occasion to wear now that I won't be living in a train yard!). I am spoiled. Thank you aunt C and uncle A :)

For dinner we went to a local Chinese place. After that, I had to start making my way to Atlanta. It was a six hour drive and the train had left early, so I wanted to get there as soon as possible. I drove partway through the night and finished the drive the next morning, arriving around noon (thanks to traffic).

This might have been Jameson's last train run. He's had his car on the road for quite a while, so hasn't taken many runs (when you bring a car it's your responsibility to drive it to each city). Since I'd borrowed his car this week, he used the time to enjoy the train one last time. I hope it will be a good memory for him.

I spent that evening unpacking and rehearsing for an audition video that I'd need to do on the fly.

Wednesday was opening day. Nothing extra-special happened, we had a surprisingly short rehearsal and a decent show.

Thursday we only had one evening show. I used the day to complete my audition video; because there were other events going on at the arena, it really did take me the entire day to get all of my things done. By the time it was time for the show I was exhausted. It felt good to sleep that night.

Friday we had a split. After the first show it took almost an hour to get back to the train thanks to Atlanta traffic. Putting that on the list of things I won't miss when this job is over. I used the few hours of my day to do laundry and apply for jobs, then we went back to the arena for the evening show. At some point in there the arena personnel presented us with a cake, but I think it was part of a PR event because we weren't actually offered any :P

Saturday and Sunday were three show days to make what we call a "six pack" weekend. I was exhausted before the weekend started, and it didn't get any better as the shows went on. I overhear a lot of folks asking each other, "What will you do after this?" and "Have you found anything yet?" I hear a lot of rumors about how things are going among the various troupes and departments, and see a lot of discouraged-looking people. I think it's starting to really set in that come May, we had better have our lives together. I think this weekend is especially hard since we have so many shows. Normally this would be exhausting, but at least we'd enjoy our work and appreciate the audiences. But with unemployment looming for a lot of people, I get the impression that it's extra-hard to get through a heavy weekend like this.

So...I'm sorry for the lack of pictures this week. It was just very busy, and there wasn't a lot of time for fun.

Monday, two shows for President's Day. I'm posting this blog before we finish because not sure how late I'll be out tonight. Some band folks are planning to go to Smoke Ring for some tasty, tasty smoked meats. I especially like their roasted brussels sprouts! Then we'll go listen to a friend of ours play at a local bar. Should be a nice way to end the week.

For the next two weeks we will be playing Duluth, and the schedule will be much lighter. I hope I'll have better things to share with you.


Other stuff:

This week we got some horrible news. One of our beloved aerialists, Nadia, passed away unexpectedly. She leaves behind an incredible husband and father and a beautiful baby boy. Her death is a painful blow to anyone who had the privelege of knowing her. Thank you for being such a wonderful person, Nadia. A light has gone out in the world now that you are gone.

Britney (former elephant crew, floor crew) took this video from the perspective of the Ringmaster float. Pretty awesome!



Happy Birthday to Jonathan (animal specialist)! Looks like the clowns got him good!

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

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

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



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


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


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


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

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


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This week was a little more busy.

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



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


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


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


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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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I flew out of Chattanooga on Monday morning. Flights and layovers went just fine. At the airport I rented a car and drove a few hours to reach my hometown.

It was great to see my parents! I got to see them at Kayle's wedding, but weddings are such a whirlwind of activity and we didn't get much time together. Now I've got three weeks!

I also got to meet two new additions to our family! This is Immi (short for "immigrant"). One day my Dad was out mowing the lawn, and he noticed this small striped cat watching him. He turned off the mower, and she immediately ran over to him and gave him permission to own her :D She's a sweetheart.



This is Roux (meaning "red"). He was from a litter of feral cats born in my parents' neighborhood. He was caught and brought home just about a week before I got home.


His little tummy was pretty bloated so we figured he had worms. My parents took him to the vet and I tagged along. Turns out he had ringworm and also a respiratory infection, so he got some dewormer and an antibiotic. I was amazed at how well he behaved at the vet's! No crying or clawing or biting, and he took his medicine without complaint. Good little boy!


I've spend most of my time this week gearing up for Christmas. My Mom was baking lots of cookies to give as gifts to friends, so I helped with that. She can't see too well, so detailed decorating can be difficult. Still, I think the results are quite cute in a derpy way!


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

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



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


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


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

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

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



After breakfast it was time to hit the grocery. Mrs. Boyce needed lots of ingredients for Thanksgiving! She'd also preordered a turkey from Local Foods, a grocery specializing in local sustainable farming and foods. I saw lots of things in there that I'd like to eat! Back at the condo we relaxed, watched some Cubs recaps that Jameson had missed (we don't have tv on the train), and enjoyed an awesome curry lentil soup made by Mrs. Boyce. After dinner I was able to premiere a project that Landon (Blue Unit drummer) and I had been working on: social media sites for the Ringling bands! We now have a page on facebook and a twitter account. These are just to share the awesomeness that is the Ringling circus band...and yes, let's be honest, to remind people that there IS a Ringling circus band! Live music + circus = magic :)
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On this overland, we took it easy. Jameson has a pretty wicked cold so no gym, no exploring. We just waited for the train and enjoyed a movie at a local theater (Miss Peregrine's Home for Extraordinary Children), then got a hotel when by 9pm the train was not in the yard.

The next morning we left early to get back to the train because I had a union meeting...our first negotiations of 2016. As union steward for the band, I was invited to be present for negotations. I ended up participating via Skype. It was very interesting, and our first of many I'm sure. Hopefully the talks will go well!

The meeting took a few hours, and afterward I was busy packing and cleaning my room, making sure everything was in order before I fly to California for Kayle's wedding. So excited!! But I lost track of time and sort of missed lunch. The train is parked behind a large shopping plaza with several food options, but there are two live tracks and a fence between us and all the goodies. In the past, we've always snuck through a hole in the fence (probably made by circus people of days past), but the railroad doesn't like that. This time we were told a path would be made for us, but it was late and dark and I snuck through the hole because it was the only way I knew. Shh, don't tell :P

The next day I got to wake up nice and late and relax. I did a final load of laundry, then set out to print some documents. Roselli (bus driver) kindly gave me a lift to the shopping plaza, but to my disappointment the Staples that had been there in years past was permanently closed. So instead I found lunch and took it back to the train, using the new path. It's a gate behind a Wendy's, marked with greenish spray paint and tons of little red flags. I guess this makes it easier for the train engineers to know where people will be crossing, and keep an eye out. How nice!



A few hours later I made sure everything was packed, and locked the door to my room. My sub was on his way (huge thanks to Doug Elliott for covering for me while I was gone!) Jameson drove me to a train station nearby, where I caught an Amtrak to Newark International, then a shuttle to a hotel. I called my sister Raven and talked for a bit, then my friend Lauren whom I haven't spoken to since Christmas. Then sleep.

The next day was full of travel. A six hour flight to San Francisco, during which I watched Finding Dory and part of Kung Fu Panda 3. My second flight was delayed so I didn't get in to Santa Barbara until late. Beautiful sunset though!


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

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




Jameson and I feeding some cows :)


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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



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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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



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

(photo of Tim and Susan, courtesy Cindy)

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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.

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


(photo of Baby, courtesy Adria C.)

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

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


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

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


(photo courtesy Bernadette M.)

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

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

(photo courtesy Adria C.)

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

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

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

(photo courtesy museeducirquealainfrere)

"Here's one of my favorite memories:"

– Francis C., Traveling Show Ministry

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

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

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

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

(photo courtesy Jessica H.)

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

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

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

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

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

(photo courtesy Jessica H.)

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

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

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


(photo courtesy Adria C.)

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

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

(photo of Siam, courtesy Adria C.)

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

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

(photo courtesy Jade F.)

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

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

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

(photo of Assan, courtesy Theresa B.)

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

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


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

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

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

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

(photo courtesy Dan K.)

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


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



(photo of Siam, courtesy Ryan H.)

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

(photo courtesy Jameson)

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

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

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

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

(photo courtesy Jonathan M.)


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

(photo courtesy Adria C.)


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

(photo courtesy Jade F.)

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


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

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

See you down the road.
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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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Before heading out to Raleigh we stopped at another 2nd and Charles in Charlotte. I found an original GameBoy!!! You can buy these on Ebay for fairly cheap, or of course you could use emulators instead. But...the nostalgia got me. I bought it and ordered some games for it. They should be here in a week or two. In the meantime I had to make sure it worked.

Yep!

When we got to Raleigh the train was close but not in the yard. We decided to get dinner at a place Jameson found, called The Cowfish. It seemed like a really weird concept. Sushi and burgers?? But we were surprised...it was FANTASTIC food! We both ordered the "burgushi". From The Cowfish website: "Burgushi items include sushi rolls created using burger components, and pick-up style sandwiches created using sushi components." The buns were probably the most amazing part, they were basically rice paper burritos filled with white rice and imitation crab, then smashed flat to resemble flatbread.

Here's my sandwich, the 4-S: Koji-marinated yellowtail, cucumbers, red peppers, sprouts and slaw, sandwiched between rice paper "buns" filled with rice and kani, and a side of sweet potato fries. It was incredibly good.



I have to mention that before getting our entrees, we lucked into a free appetizer! Someone made an extra blackened tuna nachos, and a server seeing our table empty decided to gift it to us! Wonton chips with crab rangoon dip, seared tuna, guac and sprouts...I definitely could have eaten these as an entree!


On top of everything, the service was amazing. The place was packed and there were birthdays being celebrated all around us, but somehow the staff managed to make us feel like we were the only people in the place. We're actually planning to go back on Monday. The Cowfish currently only has restaurants in Charlotte, Raleigh, and Orlando. If you are ever in these cities, I really can't recommend this place enough. Delicious food, great service, and a really cool vibe. GO there!

(photo courtesy nctriangledining.com)

After that we got groceries and went to the train "yard" (it's really just a very muddy strip next to the main road) where we saw the coaches pulling in. We felt optimistic at first, but then remembered Rule No.3 when overlanding: just because you can see the train, doesn't mean you're home :P We got a hotel and it was the right choice, because several hours later the train was still not spotted. We're learning :)

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My last week home was a good time. On Monday I took Raven back to New York, to her office at the startup company Alley NYC. She gave me a tour of the building; it's a coworking space for all kinds of companies...and that's about all I understand about it! But the workspace is awesome and I'm awfully proud of Raven for the work she does here.




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To be honest, this week was a blur.

Between visiting with friends, preparing for Christmas, and prepping for Kate's bridal shower, our whole family was busy every day. On Christmas Eve we decided to go to Mass at a local Catholic church (Kayle's fiancee is Catholic). It was a very nice service, although I didn't know all the cool traditional moves ;)



The next morning: Christmas! We woke up to a pile of presents!


Skylar (Kayle's fiancee) made us his family's southwest grits recipe, it was delicious! Then we dug into the gifts! I started with Jameson's which he kindly sent me so I'd have them for Christmas morning. He bought me some adult coloring books and all the gel pens in the world (literally! There are like 60 in the pack!!). I also received a POP vinyl Drogon figurine. My favorite gift, though, was this stunning ukiyo-e style art created by Jed Henry. I can't wait to have it framed.


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We had a really nice visit with our Aunt Chris and Uncle Andy!

We spent a lot of time together doing fun stuff. Went to a mall, ate out, cooked at home, went to a movie, had a really fun trivia night with some of our Aunt's friends, and played a lot of fun games. We also caught up with each other; it's been so long since we were in the same room and that's a shame. In the future we hope to make more time for each other, even if it means planning far in advance. In any case, for a few days, we were together and it was awesome.



Kate, Jonah and I drove home, and Raven flew. Back at home there was Christmas prep to be done, as well as preparing for my parent's vow renewal and my sister's bridal shower (she's getting married in April). My parents are remodeling one of the basement rooms, and it's almost done, so I helped to move furniture down there. With the help of some ladies from church, we also cleaned, decorated for Christmas, and prepared the guest room for Kayle (my sister) and Skylar (her fiancee). They arrived on Saturday. Skylar just proposed to Kayle a few days ago, so it's a very exciting time! Here they are looking through a wedding catalog :)

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I flew home on Monday. This adorable service dog was on my first flight.


Both flights were easy. The weather was unusually cooperative. I actually fell asleep on the second flight, a rarity for me.

My Dad picked me up and drove me home. It was great to see my Mom, who I haven't seen since May. She had a major head surgery over the summer and I couldn't make it home to see her through it. She is recovering well but she's photo shy so sorry, no pics :P It was nice to be home.

I was DYING to check out the new trombone! It was packaged very well and came in a brand new ProTec case. Looking at it in person, I can't believe the excellent shape it's in. This horn was probably made in the 70s and it looks like it's never been played!!



The grip is slightly more curved than Brett's Minick, so I'll have to get used to that. It also has two leadpipes as opposed to the three that came with Brett's. But they're both original; one has an "M" scratched near the bottom. I played the horn for a little bit, and thought it felt just like the other Minick. The deeper grip means a small adjustment, but that will take a few days to overcome at most. I can't wait to play both Minicks and compare them! Huge thanks to JoyBrass and Yoshi, and BrassArk and Noah, for making this happen. I'm very excited to see what this horn can do!

The next day I got to sleep in. Glorious sleep. Mom and I ran errands and she prepared dinner. When Dad got home we ate, and after that he went downstairs to work on the unfinished basement. They're going to turn it into an office.



When we came to a stopping point it was time for ice cream! Mom got us some Yuengling ice cream (I had no idea there was such a thing) and it was amazing. Another must-have treat from home :)

Wednesday, more errands and shopping. Shopping is not a favorite thing of mine, so after a few hours we came home and ate lunch, and chilled.

On Thursday Mom had several medical appointments, one for eyes and one for her foot which has been bothering her. Between the appointments we rested at home.



That night I visited my sister Kate and her fiancee Pat. We all went to dinner at The Blind Pig, a new place downtown. The food is all local and fresh. I had sweet potato gnocchi with apples, squash, pesto, and goat cheese. I really enjoyed it :)


On Friday I had breakfast with my Aunt Nicole and Mom at Perkins. After that we ran some errands, then all went home to play cards. Dad came home around dinnertime; we had leftovers, then chilled.

The next morning Kate picked me up, then we drove to Shippensburg to get my brother Jonah, then we three drove down to North Carolina to visit our Aunt Chris and Uncle Andy! My sister Raven flew down and met us there. It's the first time we've all been in the same room together in AGES. Jonah is so TALL. My Aunt was throwing a party so several of her friends were there. We enjoyed some amazing finger foods, and a variety of seasonal adult beverages! A fun time was had :)



After saying goodnight to the guests, we all enjoyed a good night's sleep. The next morning after breakfast, we decided to visit the Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. Almost as soon as we stepped inside we were ushered into a live animal presentation. We got to view a flying squirrel (in a box, they're quick buggers), pet a hissing cockroach, hold a small black rat snake, and view tiny week-old mice.


After that we went to the butterfly room and enjoyed watching lots of butterflies, big and small, fluttering around bowls of fruit and sugar. We also saw snakes, whale skeletons, and laboratories where DNA samples are analyzed. The museum is free and takes charitable donations. It's worth a visit!


When we were finished at the museum, our aunt and uncle took us to Busy Bee Cafe. They've got a pretty awesome menu that changes pretty often. Kate got a "spinach burger" that turned out to taste way more fantastic than it sounds. My aunt and I got a chicken sandwich with pears and a BLT made with house-cured bacon (it looked more like pork belly!) and we each had half of each sandwich. The food (and drinks) were delicious! Company was pretty good too :)


(photo courtesy Uncle A.)

Now we're all back at the house relaxing. Tomorrow I think our only major plan is trivia night with some of our Aunt's friends. And that's just fine. Chilling with family is what the holidays are all about.


Other stuff:

Meanwhile in Florida, the circus train has arrived and the animals are enjoying a lovely vacation!


One animal was not so happy, however. This poor little alligator got himself caught on a rope hanging from a dock where the circus trailers were parked.


(photo courtesy Claudia)

Claudia (wardrobe) saw him and ran to get help. Pretty soon several members of animal crew had arrived and were working to free the alligator. The bald guy is Jonathan, he works with most of the circus animals and has experience with reptiles. The partially-bald guy is Terry, our head elephant handler and trainer.

(photo courtesy Claudia)

Claudia got this great footage of these two gents pulling the gator from the water. Terry uses an elephant goad/bullhook to help lift the animal, and Jon covers it with a towel to calm it down.


Finally the little guy was all taped up and ready for release back into "the wild". Great job everyone, especially animal crew. You guys are awesome.

(photo courtesy Jonathan)
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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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