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Trenton, NJ

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!

Since this week's posting is so lackluster,
here are a few 'interesting' circus questions that I've been asked recently ;)

Q: "Is the Ringmaster a good boss?"
Believe it or not, the Ringmaster is NOT the boss!
He is a hired personality with strong vocal and acting skills.
The circus is a company like any other, owned by Feld Entertainment.
We all have bosses within our own departments, but the REAL bosses are the Feld family :)

Q (not really a question): "I'll bet living with clowns is crazy!
They're probably juggling/wearing makeup/clowning around ALL the time!"
Hmm, no. Clowns are human beings who, like the rest of us, can't wait to remove their makeup and relax after a long day. They have hobbies, lives and families outside the circus. It's true that clowns are especially dedicated to what they do...getting up super early for PR events, making sick children laugh at hospitals, and entertaining audiences with gags that are sometimes uncomfortable or dangerous for them to do. So they deserve to be respected more and feared less ;D

Q: "Can I pet the tigers?"
Sure! You didn't need that arm, right?
For those who didn't know, tigers, even those bred in captivity, are carnivores. Each tiger weighs at least 500lbs, has teeth and claws, and stands taller than most men when on its hind legs. And like many wild or tame animals, tigers do not like to be touched or even approached by people they aren't familiar with. So petting a tiger is really a horrible idea.

Q: "Why can't I pet/ride the animals?"
For your safety and the safety of the animals. Circus animals are highly trained and very valuable. They ONLY respond to and respect their trainers. They will NOT get cute with you just because you know their names or are "good with animals". Heck, I work here and see them every day, and I can't get close to them either!

(They're cute. But don't touch.)
(photo courtesy Jessi, Vet Tech)

Q: "Do you guys just eat popcorn and cotton candy all the time?"
No. We're humans who eat real food.
We've got lots of food options, even on the moving train. We can cook our own food on hot plates, eat at restaurants, grill outdoors near the train, or eat at Pie Car Sr. (dining car at the train) or Jr. (mobile food car at the arena).

Examples of Pie Car meals (all photos courtesy Uncle John, Head Chef):


Q (not really a question): "Those acrobats/performers sure have it easy! Their act is only x minutes long!"
Many performers have additional responsibilities besides performing. They must move all of their own equipment to and from the arenas. This sometimes means an all-day setup before opening day, or an all-night packup after doing three shows on a Sunday. That's a LOT of work. And on top of that, many "star" performers participate in PR events, meet-and-greets, interviews, and other events early in the morning and late at night, before and after shows.
The 5-10 minutes you see on the arena floor is only a fraction of the REAL job!
And remember, you may only see the performers for a few brief minutes, but it takes years of practice,
lots of broken bones and immense dedication to do what these athletes do.

Q: "So you live on the train. But where do you live when you are staying in a city for a week?"
On the train.
The circus train cars are mostly 1950s BUDD or Union Pacific passenger cars that were gutted and rebuilt as mobile apartments in a facility in Florida. Rooms can be 5 x 7 ('coffins'), 7 x 8 (stateroom), or larger up to a quarter car (1/4 of a train car). Each room has a fridge, microwave, sink, running water, and electricity. The train generates its own power and uses water from tanks while moving. Everything one needs is on the train, so we live on it year round, even during winter quarters. Some people choose to purchase RVs, and some employees are contracted to drive from city to city and stay in hotels. But there are 300-some people living on the train.

Q: "Who's the train engineer?"
The company hires freight engines to pull our cars. CSX, Norfolk Southern, Amtrak, and other engines pull us and our stuff from place to place. The train crew (electricians, porters, maintenance, etc) are employed by the circus, but the engineers are different each time we move.

Q: "Why does it take the train so long to move from (city) to (city)? That's only an (x)-hour drive!"
Our train has a max speed of something like 65 mph, but we rarely move at top speed during the day.
That is because trains must pass through populated towns, cities, and neighborhoods where they will need to slow down or stop at intersections. I'm sure you've been stuck in your car at an intersection waiting for a long train to creep past. Well, that's us too!
We also must make frequent stops to water the animals, have our train inspected, or to yield to freight and Amtrak traffic.

Q: "Do you still have rehearsals? How often do you rehearse?"
Yes! We had full dress rehearsals on opening day in every city up until Brooklyn. Now we run reduced rehearsals and 'Plan B' rehearsals. Plan Bs are so that we'll know what to do if something goes wrong. We practice the what-ifs...like, what if the tiger cage malfunctions and won't lift into the rigging? What if one of the wheel acrobats is sick? What if one of the hand balancing performers is injured? Stuff like that :)

Q: "Does the act change from city to city?"
As little as possible. If someone is injured or sick, their act might be altered to accommodate that, but the show still goes on.
Some small changes are made throughout the year, but in general the goal is to present the same show every time.

Q: "Are there cliques in the circus? Is there drama between different groups of people?"
Like any other cross-section of humanity, the circus has little social groups that mix or avoid each other and whatnot. Many of those from other countries tend to stick with people from their own culture at first. Troups who sign with the circus as a unit are often housed together and hang out together too. But if there's a BBQ in the train yard, you can expect a sort of train 'block party' to happen :) Living on the train is kind of like living in a small town where everyone knows their neighbor and looks out for each others' kids. And like a small town, gossip and rumors get around fast. You've got to take everything you hear offhand with a grain of salt.

Q: "Do you have internet on the train?"
Not currently. The company does not provide internet or cable. If we want it, we have to figure it out ourselves. For cable, some people get satellite dishes that can be set up when we're spotted. If you want TV while moving you can try sticking an HD antenna in your window to pick up a signal while passing through large cities. For internet, some people simply tether their phones or have a wifi/cable package. Other cheapskates (like me) get a no-contract ClearWire router and stick it in the window to snag 4G when it's available. Even if the city we're in has internet, we may not get signal at the train depending on how we're parked or the coverage in the yard.

Q: "Do you ever get a day off?"
When the train is moving between cities, we don't have to work. That's usually on a Monday or Tuesday. Although we don't have to work, once you're on the train you can't get off until it is 'spotted' in the next city. So although train runs are relaxing, they can also be boring if you don't have enough to do in your room! The company also gives us 'dark days', and there are some points throughout the year where we have time to take mini vacations or trips home.

Q: "What do you miss most from life before the circus?"
Driving! I miss my car! Train runs are great and public transportation is always available,
but I miss the freedom of hopping in the car and going where I want to right away.
I also miss bathtubs, real beds, and ovens :)


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 20th, 2013 02:06 am (UTC)
Your FAQ was very insightful. Sorry I couldn't see you when you were here!
May. 20th, 2013 02:24 am (UTC)
thanks! people ask the most interesting questions lol!

yeah i'm sorry too :/
hope all is well with you! see you down the road!
Jan. 26th, 2016 09:13 am (UTC)
Another question
I was curious, you've mentioned in other posts showering and such, but where do you do it? You didn't mention anything about a bathroom being included with your room. Is there a communal sort of bathroom on the train car? Is it the same for the other things as well? (Toilets, bathing, etc.) I love your posts a lot! They're all so interesting and informative. Thank you for sharing with us!
Jan. 26th, 2016 03:59 pm (UTC)
Re: Another question

You're right, I've never really covered the shower! The "donniker", or toilet facilities, get a brief mention here: http://ditl.livejournal.com/1718822.html

As you can see in that same post, there is a photo of the hallway. On the left side of the hallway are all of the rooms. In my train car there are seven occupied rooms. You can see the number 5 on the door in the photo. Past that is door 4, and past door 4 are the toilets and the shower (yes they're communal).

You can see a picture of the toilet in the link above. It's a really small port-a-potty-sized space. There are two of these toilets in that mid-car space, and one shower. The shower space is only slightly bigger than the toilet space, so there's only room to stand and shower and hang a towel.

Maybe at some point I'll get my act together and post a detailed floor plan :) Then again, each car is different! Some cars have two showers. Some have a room with both a shower and toilet. Some folks are lucky enough to have their own toilet or shower in their room!

Edited at 2016-01-26 04:01 pm (UTC)
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )