taz_39: (footprint)

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.

Read more... )
taz_39: (Default)

This short run from Trenton to Hershey might be one of the last for me for a while. Jameson will have his car, and we've got a few road trips planned once the circus heads west :)

The weather started out pleasant, but got stormy later in the day.

(photo of flooded tracks courtesy Rob L.)

On top of that we were delayed due to a railroad defect detector not responding like it was supposed to. In the words of Eryn, a circus teacher: "The Circus Trainmaster has a radio on the same channel as the train engineer. Every once in a while, you will hear an automated voice on the radio say, 'CXS (or NS or BNSF), TRAIN DEFECT DETECTOR.' This is an automated system that inspects the train as we pass over it for safety hazards such as dragging equipment or hot wheels (such as if a brake is stuck). Most of the time, after the train has passed, the detector will announce, 'NO DEFECTS.'"

Apparently, one of the detectors that we passed over didn't respond at all. Because of that, railroad crew had to manually inspect for safety issues by walking the entire length of the train. It cost us a lot of time, but Safety Absolutely First.

We arrived in Hershey around 8pm. The animal walkers (self included) had been waiting in Pie Car for the radio call to get off the train. The train would not be spotting in Hershey; we were just going to do the walk, unload the flats, and from there take the coaches to Harrisburg where they'll be parked for the week.

Read more... )
taz_39: (woody2)

We got to see some snow on Monday!

(photo courtesy Ryan)

When it gets this cold, it's hard for train crew to keep the water pipes from freezing.
One solution is to fill the water tanks--normally only filled on runs--and keep the hydrant water constantly running through the pipes.
Although this isn't ideal as it can be somewhat wasteful, it's better than having 200-some-odd people without water.

Tuesday's show was...weird. It was one of those Murphy's Law days...a whole lot of close calls. Maybe everybody was in 'rest' mode! Ashley, our Preshow Host, tripped head over heels on a prop on her way off the floor (sorry Ashley, I know you hate me for sharing that :P). She's bruised but ok! Then our 'plant' drummer didn't show for the Band Gag, so Alex pulled an actual audience member down! That was handled well, but after that one of the clown cars came to a dead stop in the middle of Opening, almost causing a train wreck as the two stiltwalkers behind him nearly crashed into the back end. Then one of our high wire guys stepped on his jump rope and nearly lost his footing. Yeek! Tuesday shows, throwing everybody off!!

Small disclaimer, it's pretty rare for those kinds of things to happen. All of our performers are highly skilled professionals. It just so happened that multiple people were subject to Murphy's Law that day :P

Read more... )
taz_39: (woody2)

I decided to return to the train on Monday, and use Tuesday to sort of repack.
Jameson is graciously letting me stay at the condo for the first week of shows.
I'm super grateful because we've got some early splits on the weekdays. The commute may not be any shorter, but at least there'll be a real bed, shower, and fridge waiting for me at the end of the day. Thank you Jameson!

So on Monday I took the metro to Union Station. Jameson came with me to make sure I didn't get lost or stuck in any turnstiles (you wouldn't BELIEVE how often I get stuck in turnstiles.) At the station we saw lots of decorations left over from the recent Ringling PR event.

I got back to the train and cleaned up my room, then took the bike to get a few groceries.
I <3 my bike. It gets easier to ride every time I take it out.

Opening day went well. We've got some big enthusiastic crowds here in Chicago. The Friday morning show was especially nice, because one of the school groups was so enthusiastic they danced all the way through the second half! It was super cute :)
During the split, guess what I got to do!!!

I got to see the Chicago Symphony under Tilson Thomas playing Mahler's 9th Symphony!!

Brett and I booked it over to the concert hall between shows. Our morning show ended at 12:50, and theirs started at 1:30. We made it with only minutes to spare!
I love classical music, especially anything featuring the low brass ;)
I'd been looking forward to this concert for several weeks.
It was my first time hearing a world-class symphony live!
And it was definitely worth it. They were PRISTINE. Mahler's 9th ends quietly, unlike most of his other large works. It takes a lot of control, a lot of subtlety, to play such exposed and delicate music.
The CSO pulled it off flawlessly.

There were loud brassy parts as well (it's Mahler after all) and we were sitting directly across from the trombones, so we got to enjoy the power and energy full blast. It was just as interesting to watch as it was to listen. You could see the concentration, the control, and everyone breathing together to make the piece flow seamlessly between instruments. Wicked awesome. When the concert was over, I was wishing for more!!
Here's a link to a review of Thursday's premiere.

We stopped at a nearby pizza place for late lunch/early dinner, then got back to the arena in time for our 400th performance of Built to Amaze. Wow...where did the time go!!!
It feels like we were just in Brooklyn doing our 200th...

Audiences over the weekend were awesome. The arena was packed pretty much every show, and Sunday night's show was a sell out. It's a great feeling when your show can fill a 20,000 seat arena :)

Read more... )
taz_39: (Default)

As you could tell from my last post, there were several dark days between San Fran and Sacramento.
Many people took advantage of the time by going on trips.
Several friends went to Lake Tahoe.

Many people also went to see Illusion Fusion,
a magic show starring Alex Ramon, the former ringmaster of Zing Zang Zoom.

Read more... )
taz_39: (Default)

As you might expect from one of our country's most dangerous cities, Trenton is kind of a bummer.
There wasn't much to do within walking distance of the arena.
In fact the only attraction was a Food Bazaar across the tracks.

It's like a Fiesta grocery, with lots of Hispanic and international foods
and tons of produce at a great price.
I got cactus fruit, pineapple coconut candy and fresh mango along with my usual groceries.
The snack aisle reminded me of the Mexican Walmart :D

They had Jamaican hard dough bread from Golden Krust, a Brooklyn-based chain.
I've seen this bread in other stores in the past, and was interested to try it.
Just one loaf weighs almost two pounds!!
Turns out it's just like any other bread, only more dense and maybe just a little sweeter.

I threw half of it in the freezer...probably can't eat something like this in one week!

I also got a 'round bun', a sort of muffin-sized fruitcake that tastes strangely like egg nog.

A totally uneventful week.
I'm excited to get to Hershey,
where I'll get to see friends and family before the Red Unit goes west for the summer.

The Blue Unit crossed the border into Mexico this week, and will be there for almost a month.
Have fun guys! Don't drink the water!

Read more... )
taz_39: (Default)

This week, I got to do an elephant walk!
(follow the link to see some photos)

The elephant walk happens shortly after the train arrives in any given city.
The animal cars are detached from the train usually within 5 miles of the arena,
and elephants and horses then walk down the city streets to the arena
with the handlers and a group of Ringling volunteers.


I got up around 7am and joined the animal walk volunteers at the Pie Car to wait for the bus.
Melissa (Production) got me a red Ringling shirt to wear, and reminded me to keep my eyes open,
and not to speak to protestors.
The bus came and took us to the animal cars, which were parked maybe 1.5 miles from the arena.
Police were already on the scene making sure our route was closed to commercial traffic,
and to keep protestors back while still allowing them to exercise their right.

The reason volunteers are needed is to keep people at a safe distance from the elephants
so as not to excite them, and so no one tries to touch them.
We were split into two groups and given a long yellow rope to hold between us, making a sort
of human fence. We stood on either side of the elephants, and the walk began.

It was a pleasant morning, cool air and a nice breeze.
The elephants had hay and grass on their backs (this is from a behavior called 'dusting'),
and clumps would occasionally blow off as we walked.
The horses walked behind the elephants.

Since it was pretty early on a weekday, we didn't see many people. But a few adults
on their way to or from work stopped to watch, and even came out of their office buildings to take pictures.
A few parents with young children were camped out to witness the spectacle too.
Even the police along the way had big smiles on their faces.
It was great to see the wonder and excitement on peoples' faces, young and old :)

I think there were only two protestors, a man and a woman, but they heckled us the entire way.
They both had signs with the same tired old photos and slogans on them.
I heard them yelling supposed "elephant abuse" statistics at us, and several times
the man said, "If you want to go to the circus, go see Cirque du Soleil!"
I don't know who he was talking to, as the only people present were circus employees...
Their goal was just to bother us, I guess. They seemed to avoid the bystanders completely.
At one point the male protestor started outright taunting one of the trainers or volunteers
(whoever-it-was was behind me so I couldn't tell), calling him "baldy" and "big guy", telling
him that this walk was good for him, he could "stand to lose a few pounds".
That, my friends, is harassment. I REALLY hope someone got it on tape.

Poor Elliana (cannon) was right next to the male protester for almost the entire walk :(

Anyway, imo, they were ineffective.
The few bystanders who even acknowledged their presence were disgusted.
I don't think calling a dude names and shouting propaganda at us helps the animals at all.

ANYWAY. Super-power kudos to all of the Ringling trainers and handlers, for silently dealing with this or worse levels of harassment day in and day out. For holding their heads high and taking pride in their work no matter how many crazies are screaming at them. I was totally awestruck and humbled by their professionalism and dedication today. It was a privilege to walk beside them.

On a related note, Mr. Feld recently appeared on The Today Show to talk about elephant conservation and his recent victory over the ASPCA.

Later in the week, my boss took me to meet Dave Steinmeyer.
Only, like, one of the greatest trombonists of all time!!!
Here he is playing Silent Night on the horn that I currently play in the show:


We had a nice lunch on the waterfront, and I enjoyed sitting back and listening while he and my boss caught up and talked shop. Both of them are great jazz players, WAY above my skill level, so I listened REALLY hard!
I loved hearing Dave talk about the way he 'feels' music through the trombone,
and how he manipulates sound.
He also very generously gave us each a copy of his new method book, Beyond Boundaries. It's a collaboration between himself and Alan Ralph (a renowned low-range player). The purpose of the book is to help the student extend the playable range of his/her trombone.
I can't even imagine playing in Dave's range. But heck, it's worth trying to get there :D

After lunch Brett and I went back to the arena and played some duets. Nothing special, just Christmas tunes, and they were written for four trombones so sometimes there were parts missing. But it was a great feeling to play 'pretty'. We don't get to do that in the show because most attempts at expression will not come through in a giant arena. I hope we get to play more duets soon!

On Saturday my friend Andrew came to see the show with his wife and son.
I was late letting him know we were in town, and unfortunately we were unable to get together afterward :/
But it was great to see him and meet his wife, and they had a great time!

Besides these events, nothing particularly fascinating happened this week.
Sorry I don't have any explorations to share this time...some weeks will be like that :P
Here's are some miscellaneous goings-on that might interest you!

Our Assist. Gen. Mgr. was on the news this week, talking about the show:

(photo missing)

Brian Miser, aka 'The Human Fuse', is leaving the circus and hitting the road with the crossbow cannon!

(photo courtesy Brian)

On Sunday we had church. This is a typical circus church...basically a pipe 'n drape dressing
room with lots of chairs, and a folding table altar.

Toy Store, who has provided several excellent photos for this blog, is out with a back injury :(
He's a true roustabout. Here's the proof!

(photo courtesy Toy Store)
taz_39: (Default)

This year I got swept up in the circus, and it was awesome :)
I was blessed and privileged and honored to work with some of the most talented people on the earth.
I have learned so much simply from watching and listening to these people, and working alongside them.
From the train I've seen the remote, hidden, wild and beautiful underbelly of America.
In the cities I've seen the dirty and the immaculate, all different kinds of people,
American capitalism at its best and worst.
It's been a whirlwind, and as far as this blog is concerned, I haven't always been able to keep up.

There are many things that I didn't write about because I forgot to mention them,
or because I was worried about exposing too much 'behind-the-scenes' circus stuff.
But next year, I'm hoping to share more with you.
Now that I've got a handle on this new lifestyle, maybe I can be more organized with my posts :)

I hope to take more pictures and keep more notes about the things that happen everywhere we go!

As for this year, here are a few things that I never quite managed to squeeze into other blog posts.
I took a few pictures of some things that are everyday fixtures to me,
but might seem exotic and interesting to you :)

The cannon when not in use.

Brian (the human cannon) can climb inside to tinker with the hydraulics and such.

The low wire. This is what the high wire acrobats practice on.
They balance on the wire and hold a huge cloth fan to help keep steady.

(it's the oval thing in the corner by the red box)

This is the generator car on the circus train. The floor is textured and red, unlike any other car.
The car houses two CAT generators that are constantly running, and generate 600 kW each, enough power for all 300-some people on the train 24/7.
There's a low hum that you feel in your bones as you walk through the car.

This is a sign that's placed at the end of our cars when they're spotted in a yard.
According to my friend Ronnie, the sign signals Blue Flag Protection.
This is a very important warning to rail workers that the cars cannot be coupled or moved in any way.

Cool, huh?

Read more... )
taz_39: (Default)

It's been a good, busy work week here in Houston.
It looks like the weather is going to continue to be uncooperative while we're here; either it's pouring rain or its 100 degrees out, haha.

It's ok though...there's still lots to do!

Because it's been so incredibly hot out, I've been walking around inside Reliant Stadium. I haven't found anything to confirm it, but we've estimated that one 'lap' inside the stadium is about 1/2 mile.

I took several pictures. The coolest shot I got was this one, right where the curtain divides the stadium. You can see where the animals are housed, and also where we play!

Fun Facts & Pics )
taz_39: (Default)

Lately I've been blogging about the cities we've visited, and not so much about the circus and the job.

The job itself is really the same from city to city...same show, different time/place. So there's just not much to add!

I can tell you that, three months in, I still very much enjoy being a part of the circus. The things I love most are:

~ Having my own space, to decorate as I please!!
(shameless plug: I love my new stained glass window clings!)

~ Exploring America, and experiencing new cultures, people, and customs in every city;
~ That moment when the train first begins to move out on a Sunday night or Monday morning...it's still exciting!
~ Working with a VERY eclectic and talented group of people!

The things that could be better:

~ I'd like to see my family!!!!!!! (next year, this will be less of an issue. Must...be...patient!)
~ I kinda miss my car.
~ Living on a train can be kind of like living in a dorm sometimes...
~ Internet is sometimes scarce.

I haven't got much to complain about, huh!

So, the show goes on from city to city with little change. We've had to make a few adjustments recently because some people are out injured, and some people have returned after healing. One of the strongmen fractured a vertebrae in his neck and may be out for the rest of the season :/ An acrobat from the Negrey troupe has returned after having to sit out due to injury earlier this year. Consequently the strongman act was shortened and the Negrey's was lengthened. We also have a new animal trainer from the Gold Unit, and a new clown in the Alley.
"People come and go so quickly here!"

What else can I tell you, to give you a 'day-in-the-life' glimpse of the circus?

Market Runs )
taz_39: (Default)

Here's an article from Don Strack on Utahrails.net. It's mostly about the train cars, and the 1994 Blue Unit derailment. I find it fascinating that Ringling reconstructs the passenger cars themselves, and was gratifited to see the steps they took after the 1994 derailment to prevent future problems.

This article also helped me to determine that the car I live in is likely a 1949 Budd sleeper car.

About The Train )

1994 Blue Unit Crash )

About the Circus Train

An excellent article by Rhett Coates, about the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus train was published in the February 2011 issue of Trains magazine.

Read on )
taz_39: (Default)
*warning, this is a long post.*

We're in the trainyard waiting to go. The train was broken into 7 pieces to fit into this yard, so it's going to take a while to reassemble it. When the train is being put together/taken apart, the power goes on and off several times probably because it needs to be shut off to add other cars.

I can't wait to get back to the US, mostly because I miss digital conveniences :)
It's been so long since I've had a phone conversation! I'll probably spend a day just calling everyone. That and catching up on facebook!

This weekend was difficult for everyone...nine shows! Compared to a regular job, it's only 18 hours. But imagine being a strongman and having to lift a telephone pole with two people sitting on it, and spin it around, for five minutes three times a day for three days. Or the animal trainers, who have to make their animals perform the same tricks even though the animals may be tired or aggravated. (You could tell the horses were over it this weekend...there was a lot more kicking than usual.) Or the floor crew, who has to scrape elephant poop off the floor and move heavy set pieces around pretty much constantly. That's a lot of work! As for the band, we really did get 18 hours of playing in the past three days (now I know why circus musicians are called 'windjammers' haha).
Even if people don't get physically tired from the job, it can be psychologically tough to do the same show that many times in a row without time for R&R in between!

In other words, I'm totally impressed with everyone who works here and am awfully proud to be among people like this who buckle down and do their jobs with minimal complaints. We're pretty epic. :D

Read more... )
taz_39: (Default)

This post is for all the people who’ve asked me about applying for a job in the circus.

Read on )
taz_39: (Default)
Heads up, this is a long one! (maybe I should have posted it in parts...oh well :D)

This is just a list of things I’ve noticed or learned so far...things for me to reminisce about in the future, and for you to enjoy reading about now :)

About the train )

About rooms/cars )

Venues )

Performers )


taz_39: (Default)

March 2017



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