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As you can imagine, the train run from Newark to Secaucus was short.
We arrived on Monday morning.

We had an elephant walk scheduled for around 3pm. For those new to this blog, an elephant walk or animal walk is the process of getting the animals (elephants and horses) from their train cars to the arena. The animal cars are separated from the rest of the train and are brought to the closest possible location. Most of the animal crew members are already with the animals, but some are bused/driven to the walk location along with animal walk volunteers like myself. Walk volunteers can include anyone from the circus: dancers, acrobats, production folks, musicians. All you need to participate is a TB shot, some training, and the ability to pay attention. Oh and a pair of khakis :)

(photo courtesy Brett)

Once the animals have disembarked and are ready to go, we follow a predetermined route to the arena. Local police are usually on hand to help clear the roads and escort the animals and circus workers. Pedestrians will often line up on the sidewalk to view the animals on their way to the arena. The animal walkers' job is to make sure those people stay on the sidewalk, for their own safety and for the comfort and safety of the animals. To do this, 8 to 12 walkers position themselves on either side of the animals, between them and the sidewalk. They hold a yellow nylon rope between them to discourage anyone from running into the street.

I have done the walk to the Izod Center before. This time, I got to carry the rope coil and walk at the back of the procession (a first for me, yay).

Chantal (Production) and Brett (my boss) waiting for the walk to start.

The weather was nice and it was a short, pleasant stroll to the arena. I don't remember anyone coming out to see the walk the last time we were here. This time there were quite a few people standing to the side taking photos. I guess it's not surprising, as for all we know this could be one of the last elephant walks, period. And it's definitely the last one to ever take place at the Izod Center.
(photo courtesy Ryan H.)

See the fourth elephant in line? That's Assan, our oldest elephant. She's holding her handler's hand <3
I always enjoy the chance to participate in an elephant walk. Walking beside these beautiful animals is a privelege. Seeing the astonishment and excitement on peoples' faces as the elephants pass by is a joy. However many/few of these moments are left, I'm going to savor them.

The next day...St. Patty's Day! There were rumors of an Irish feast to be had in Pie Car, so around lunchtime I popped in and was delighted to find Uncle John behind the counter :) He had made corned beef and cabbage, but I was more interested in the herb-and-Guinness marinated lamb stew! It was absolutely delicious, tender meat and rich broth. As a special treat Uncle John threw in some "leprechaun balls". Not sure what they're made of, but they're definitely alcoholic :D

Around dinnertime my friend Kriste came to visit me at the train! I showed her my room and she was impressed with how small it is :P Then she took me to visit the new headquarters of Writer's Relief, the editing/proofreading service that I used to work for while living in New Jersey waaaay back in 2008. That's where Kriste and I met. She's still working there, and she's a manager now. Head honcho!

From there we went to Black Rebel Burger. The burgers were really tasty, handmade patties and egg-washed buns with a variety of toppings. The company wasn't half bad either :D

After dinner she took me to her apartment, where we played Heads Up! for a while. Awesome game! It was great to spend time with Kriste. We haven't seen each other in so long. Not much has changed, and that's a good thing :)

Wednesday, opening day, was alright. The Izod center has a big ramp/loading area, and it looks like a bunker. Kinda creepy. But the tunnel is so long that the draft from outside doesn't reach us on the arena floor. This is the first time in almost two months that I've been able to wear my costume without thermal long johns underneath. It felt GREAT!

On Thursday we had a split. Brett, Tim and I got an Uber to Walmart after the first show. And it's a good thing we did, because we found out later that the Friday morning market bus had been packed to the gills.

On Friday our union rep, Michael, came to check out the train. I showed him my room, Jameson and Brett's rooms, the Pie Car, and the "public" areas such as showers, washer/dryer, etc. We had one show in the evening, and it went well.

(photo courtesy Michael M.)

Saturday was a normal three show day, except for the break between the second and third shows...

That's right! It's SugarFest 2015!!!
The Circus Fans Association of America holds this annual event only in East Rutherford (my boss has been here for 20 years and he says they've never missed it). Volunteers from the "Tent #12" chapter of the CFA bake or buy cookies, cakes, candies...anything sweet!...and create a sugary buffet in one of the arena's lounges. It's certainly something to look forward to once every two years!

(photos courtesy Adria and myself!)

The volunteers are awesome. They're true circus fans, and love to talk to us as we scarf the sugar. One gentleman even brought a slide show that he made of Ringling posters through the years. When I thanked her for the treats, the lady pictured below said, "Oh! It's our pleasure! We look forward to SugarFest every year!" :)

(photo courtesy Mark)

I had a blast and ate way too much junk food, and had a great sugar buzz for the last show :D
Thank you CFA!! We really appreciate the love! Especially this year, since the Izod Center is closing...who knows if we'll ever have SugarFest again :(

On Sunday we had our last two shows. During one of those, one of the elephants decided she'd rather not do the long mount. She showed her disinterest by refusing to get into formation for the trick. No trumpeting, stampeding, or drama. After a few attempts at convincing the elephant to get into position, the trainers and the animals simply moved on to the next trick. All of this took place in front of thousands of ticketholders.

I mention this incident because this is one of the things that animal rights activists like to scream about. What happens when an animals refuses to perform a trick in front of thousands of people? Answer: NOTHING. It was no big deal, no voices were raised, no animals were bullied. The rest of the show went on as usual.

Anyway. After the last show we packed up our things and got out of the way so the semis, forklifts and tractors could do their jobs. As the bus pulled away from the Izod Center, I couldn't help but feel a little sad that we've performed in this building for the last time.

(photo courtesy Jameson)

Next is a "new" city for us: Huntsville, Alabama. The circus has been here in the past decade, but not in the past five years, so for many of us it's totally new. The train will be parked within walking distance of the arena. And the weather is supposed to be nice!

Other stuff:

The BMX bikers entering the arena during the opening number.

(photo courtesy Kenny)

Taba giving one of his tigers a lift...

(photo courtesy Taba)

This week we say "See you down the road" to Drew "Tiny" Rumery as he pursues some new adventure.
You'll be missed Tiny!!


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 23rd, 2015 03:26 am (UTC)
Assan holding the handler's hands is adorable!
Mar. 23rd, 2015 03:55 am (UTC)
I've seen her do that several times :)
She doesn't seem to like to hold the tail of the elephant in front of her, but she will grab the bullhook or the trainer's hand if it's available!
Mar. 23rd, 2015 06:38 am (UTC)
That's a clear sign of abuse. :P

I agree, that photo was heartwarming and this post is full of terrific photos: burgers look amazing, sugar fest is a fun idea (admit it...you guys are elves), I gotta find a recipe for that stew, and even the story of a disinterested elephant paints a funny picture. Do you think she was tired from the walk?

Tiny looks purdy kewl in dat pic.

Nevermind the sugar, pass me some of those booze on the back counter!
Mar. 23rd, 2015 11:38 am (UTC)
Lol! I know right...the horror, when will it end :p

Glad you liked the post! It turned out to be an interesting week here in Jersey :)

If anyone is elves it's the Circus Fans Association of America! They're the ones who conjured up the sweets for us! I try to eat healthy, but SugarFest is only once every two years...so it's ok to eat a whole cake, right?? (The bar items were indeed tempting. "Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker!!")

Uncle John got the stew recipe from a real Irish person, so I'm not sure if he'll reveal that secret! All I know is that the meat was bought way in advance, given a dry rub of herbs, frozen for several days, then thawed and soaked in Guiness for a long freaking time.

This is only the 2nd or 3rd time I've seen one of the elephants refuse to do a trick. It's funny because she wouldn't do the long mount, but five minutes later she was willing to do the cross mount (same thing but the "base" elephant is in the middle). Not sure what was up, but as long as she's ok, it's all good. She was awfully polite about making her feelings known. Didn't even squash her handler!

Go figure, sometimes the elephants ARE disinterested in the walk! For those occasions a climate-controlled truck will follow us in case an elephant gets tired or isn't feeling it. Assan is our oldest elephant (58!) so sometimes she does take the truck while the others walk. However this walk was extremely short (maybe 1/2 mile) and she was up for it!

Tiny is a cool guy. Great worker, great friend. We're gonna miss him around here.

Thanks for reading. And commenting! It's nice to get feedback!

Edited at 2015-03-23 11:55 am (UTC)
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )