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The train began to move a little before 6am. And by "move" I mean slam back and forth for a bit as all five pieces were reassembled. Whee! Not sure if I will miss that sensation!

We got moving for real right on time, around 8am. Jameson sent me a text...he was getting ready for his first day at his new job! I could imagine how excited and nervous he must have been, and wished I could have been there to encourage him in person. But I did the best I could over the phone. Go get 'em Professor Boyce!!!

I hadn't slept much, but at that point was pretty well awake so got up and ate breakfast and looked out the window. Since there was still internet I did a little bit of research for some resumes that I'm helping to write. Working on the resumes killed a solid 3-4 hours, after which I ate a simple lunch, then gathered and prepared some documents for my apartment hunt in Kansas City. I've narrowed it down to four places within my price range...we'll see which one fits the bill.

The weather was nice for this train run, but I didn't go outside. Since there are no rails leading over or under the water from Norfolk to Hampton, we had to go aaaaaaaaall the way up to Richmond and back down. Crazy!

(photo courtesy Dave M.)

I suppose I should have had more feels about my last train run...the last time I'll ever be on the train while it's moving. I think I got all of the nostalgia out during that last run from Cincinnati. Thus ends my time of traveling on a 1950s Ringling passenger car. And next will be permanently moving out. THAT will be hard.

We arrived at the yard way early, but it took quite a while to get spotted. By the time we were done it was too late to go anywhere, so I talked with some friends and changed the sheets on my bed (changing the sheets on a bunked train bed is a workout!). Around that time Jameson had just arrived home from work, so we talked a bit about how his first day went. Of course the first few days at any new job can be overwhelming, there's so much to learn! He spent most of the day reading manuals and I'm sure his brain was tired. But overall he seemed excited and enthusiastic about the work. I'm very happy that things are going well for him so far!

The next day there was a lot to do! I wanted to make the most of this full day off. I rode the bus to the arena. From there it was shopping for work clothes, printing paperwork for the apartment hunt, and gathering some groceries. I walked back to the arena just in time to catch the bus and make it back to the train before a passing thunderstorm hit. Yesssss.

As I was walking back to my room I saw most of the Mongolian troupe near the yard entrance with a tower of boxes, shrink-wrapped and labeled for mailing. I guess they're sending some things home to Mongolia (or to their next gig!). It must be difficult to ship so much, and so far. I'd have taken a picture but my arms were full of groceries.

Once home I unpacked and started laundry, then took a break.

Opening day went well, we had a fairly short rehearsal again. When the mail was distributed I was surprised to receive a large box from Quora. Inside was a "Top Writer 2017" jacket! Quora does not pay its contributors, but does honor some of its regular contributors with the title of top writer and a piece of swag like this (here is how Quora selects top writers, for those interested). I am flattered. Thank you Quora!

The next day got off to an early start with a kids show in the morning, which was fairly rowdy and well-attended. Afterward I met with some circus fans, a woman named Amy and her father. They had come to see a show in Norfolk, and at that time I'd offered to give them a train tour in the Hampton yard. We went to lunch at Mission BBQ, and it was delicious. GIANT sandwiches! I was stuffed! They asked lots of circus questions of course, and we talked about all kinds of things relating to the show and the train. Once we were finished we drove out to the train, where I showed them all the usual points of interest like the generator, Pie Car, and my little room. Jameson's room was unlocked so I showed them that too (train crew, I promise we didn't mess anything up!) so they could see one of the size differences between rooms.

Before we parted ways we took many pictures. I hope that they'll be able to look back on this as a good memory. It's great that they got to see the circus train before it's gone. I wish I could offer this experience to everyone I meet.

Amy also brought me a wonderful gift bag as a thank you! Some snacks, and some local VA honey, and some journals to distribute to some family or friends to exchange by mail (I thought this was a neat idea!). Thank you so much Amy, it was great to meet you and your Dad!

The evening show went normally. My friend Dru came to the show and we got to catch up, that was really awesome. It was great to see you again Dru, even if only briefly! After the show there was a party and a hot dog eating contest! I didn't stay because I was unusually tired, but heard it was a great time. Not many folks took photos either unfortunately...you'll just have to use your imagination!

Friday started off with the soothing sound of steady rain pelting the train. I enjoyed a nice slow morning of computer work, finishing up some letters for some friends in the animal industry, and other side projects that have gotten delayed recently. I had time to think about what life will be like after the circus, and consider all the things that I will look forward to. It has been a wonderful five years with Ringling, I am really grateful. Like many people, I don't understand the reasons behind the Felds' decision, and I don't like it. A part of me is devastated. What I regret most, and what I am most angry about, is that I wasn't able to prevent any of it from happening. But another part of me understands and accepts, and is eager to see what will come next. I think that many of my coworkers must feel this way, too.

Before the show I joined Judah (backstage crew) and Ruslan (trampoline) for dinner with circus fan and Circus Fans of America (CFA) member Dan Kleintop. Dan has come out to many of our shows over the years. Today was special for him: 44 years ago to the day he'd seen his first Ringling show, and now, 44 years later, he'd see his last. What great memories he must have! He told us some factoids and stories from earlier circus shows as we ate. I was curious to hear about his work for the CFA as well. We had a good conversation and enjoyed a great meal before Judah and I had to get back to work. The show went well, although the BMX act was very short due to water on the arena floor from all the rain. I felt bad that an act just so happened to be altered on Dan's last visit, but sometimes there's just nothing you can do. Safety first. It was still a great show :)

Saturday, three shows. Our Pie Car Jr. is sitting next to a pretty lake, so during the breaks people would get their meals and enjoy them by the water.

Well, SOME people sat by the lake like normal people. Others, not so much...

Clowns :P

During the first preshow of the day, ZB (animal handler) caught my attention and waved for me to come over. He was standing with Colonel, a beautiful eight-year-old Friesian stallion. As a very handsome-looking horse, Colonel's job is to display his training for about three minutes during preshow, and promenade around the arena for the duration of the Star-Spangled Banner during opening. That's it! ZB put a treat in my hand and asked if I'd like to give it to Colonel. YES!!!!

Colonel kept nuzzling my hair, so while I did try to get some footage of his cuteness he was so close to me that it didn't really work out. His nose was velvety and soft, and he was very gentle. He let me rub his chest and scratch his chin.

During the next preshow I went over to Colonel again, just to ask if I could get a picture for the blog.
This time ZB asked if I'd like to RIDE HIM. YES!!!!

We went outside where light was better. This wasn't really "riding", it was Colonel tolerating a clumsy noob on his back for a few minutes. ZB instructed me to approach Colonel from the left, set my foot in the stirrup, and swing myself onto his back. Colonel is roughly sixteen hands tall (that's approx 5' 3" at the shoulder) and I was a little nervous about getting up there, but the saddle and stirrup made it quite easy. In any case it was far easier than mounting an elephant!

I took this photo from Colonel's back. Tall dark and handsome.

Then I handed my phone to ZB.

He took many pictures, trying to get good lighting and trying to get some with the Ringling logo visible in the background. To be clear, I did not ask for any of this; ZB is just incredibly generous.

I felt a strange combination of emotions over this whole experience. We're all losing our jobs, and for some of our animals the future is still uncertain (though don't worry, Colonel is spoken for.) I felt somewhat guilty and selfish to be having a "photo-op" with this beautiful, graceful, strong, healthy animal, when I have done nothing to contribute to his well-being, and the little pro-circus writing that I did while employed here has done nothing to stop the perception that circus animals are abused. For every photo I have, PETA has ten more. For every video clip I've made, ADI has hundreds. For every letter I've written defending circus animal treatment, thousands have been written condemning us all as abusers. Every effort feels so futile.

And yet, sitting there on Colonel's strong back, I felt thoroughly, overwhelmingly right to defend circus animal treatment. ZB is not an animal abuser, and Colonel is not an abused horse. How do I know this? I'm here. I see. I may not be a veterinarian, or even a barn hand, but I'm not ignorant of what's right in front of me. I know what mistreatment looks like, and it's just not here. It hasn't been here for the entire five years that I've worked here.

And that is the value in spending time with Colonel today, and with the camels another day, and the tigers the next. It's experiencing these animals firsthand, and seeing the truth firsthand. That's not something you can get from a slogan or a pamphlet or a commercial. You can feel however you like about circus animal treatment, but until you've seen it for yourself--and I mean FOR YOURSELF--you haven't seen circus animal treatment at all.

While most people don't have the opportunity to observe circus animal care for years on end, everyone who has ever attended a Ringling circus has had the opportunity to view the animals up close, whether it's in an Animal Open House or during a show. Before the final show of the day, I walked over to the open house to visit the camels, tigers, and horses. The weather was fine and the barn area was crowded with people marveling at the animals. Handlers and trainers were on hand to answer questions. I'm glad that Ringling has provided this opportunity for people to see exactly where the animals live and exactly how they're treated. I feel bad for the people who will not get to have this experience in the future.

The tigers were mostly sleeping as it was late in the day, and the horses were also dozing in the sun. But the camels were very active...and acting particularly goofy!

The day ended with one last show, very well attended. Spending time with the animals today really made my day and solidified a few things in my mind. Thank you ZB and everyone on all of the animal crews for making time for me and everyone else who comes to see the animals.

Sunday, two shows. I woke up slightly early to make sure that I'd packed everything for the trip to Kansas City. I'm flying out on Monday, and then on Tuesday I'll spend most of the day with my new employers to see how they do what they do, and how I'll soon be a part of that. On Wednesday I've got appointments to look at apartments throughout Kansas City. And on Thursday I'll fly to Wilkes-Barre for opening day. I'm pretty nervous about all of this, but I'm sure everything will be fine and it'll be a good visit.

Anyway, I grabbed my suitcase and took the bus to the arena. All of our shows went well, totally normal. The weather was sunny and nice.

After the second show, Tim offered to give me a lift to the airport, and I gratefully accepted.

See y'all in Wilkes-Barre!

Other stuff:

A very nice "farewell to the circus" article by the Washington Post (CLICK HERE to read).

Some Humans of the Circus.

(photo courtesy Eric Z.)

(photo courtesy Dashka D.)

Dave Mahoney, BMX, performing his self-created trick during preshow.

(photo courtesy AngieLinaPhotography)

Ivan (clown) in the rigging.

(photo courtesy Ivan S.)

The nursery and school, full class photo.

(photo courtesy Dashka D.)

(photo courtesy Ivan V.)

After the final show in each city, the clowns have to deflate the yoga balls they use during the Strongman Gag. They do this by sitting or lying on them. Sometimes (like tonight) they have help.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 7th, 2017 01:54 pm (UTC)
I am a long time reader of your blog. Sometimes I go a while without reading it but I'll come back and catch up. I've really liked hearing about the shows and what you do day to day. I used to keep a blog and we have very similar writing styles as far as details and such.
I do have a question and I hope it's okay that I ask, since you have not really mentioned it that I've seen. In a post a while back, you mentioned that Jameson was keeping you and your job choices in mind when searching for a job. But he's now in Orlando and you're going to Kansas City...? I know that must me oh so hard and I cannot imagine it. I was just wondering what made the decision to not stay in the same area? I do understand if there is a reason you don't want to discuss it on here, and thus haven't already.
I do want to wish you the best and say that I admire your attitude and realness.
Apr. 7th, 2017 04:06 pm (UTC)

Thank you for reading, and thank you for asking. Does your blog still exist somewhere?

When we first found out the news about the circus closing, Jameson began looking for jobs immediately. Like, that night. He's the kind of guy to use his anger and anxiety productively like that. I, on the other hand, had to take time to be upset. I waited for several weeks, until I could look for work objectively. You see for me, the circus ended up being a dream job. I could have worked here for a long time. For Jameson it was just work, so he recovered faster. So there's one thing to take into account.

In addition, Jameson has a mortgage on an apartment in Orlando that he quite reasonably doesn't want to get out of until the value goes up (crashed pretty hard during 2009 and hasn't quite come back). He also has a strong network of friends and professional musicians in the Orlando area because he was a Disney musician for six years before joining the circus. So within days of the circus closing, he had offers of gigs in Orlando, and within a month he had a job offer there as well.

None of this was a surprise. We both knew that Jameson would be looking for jobs in/around Orlando for all of the above good reasons. He could have kept my job choices in mind all he liked, and I'm sure that he did say he would because he's a thoughtful sweetheart, but it really wouldn't have mattered because of all the reasons listed above plus my own situation. That's nobody's fault, it's just how it is, and we both knew it going into the relationship, even before all of this happened.

From the start, I dedicated a large portion of my job search to the Orlando area, or at least to Florida, because I knew that's where Jameson would be. I searched for and applied to many jobs throughout the state of Florida, and unfortunately wasn't offered any. That's just my tough luck. Should Jameson have been expected to do a nation-wide job search, and face selling his apartment at a loss, just because I don't have a home base? No, we both agreed that would be ridiculous. Fortunately I was offered work in other parts of the US. Again, we both knew and accepted that I would be looking for jobs in other places besides Florida.

Because Jameson found a job first, it was essentially "on me" to decide what to do. My options ended up being A) take any available entry-level job and move to FL to be with Jameson, or B) take a job relevant to my profession and have a long-distance relationship with Jameson.

If our roles had been reversed, Jameson would have had to make a similar decision with the added difficulty of having to sell his apartment to be near me. Personally, I felt that choosing a job that wouldn't further my career so that I could be near my boyfriend would be a poor choice. I can easily imagine resentment springing from that. I chose to take the job opportunity in another state, because I think that we can both pursue the things we enjoy and also find time to be with each other again. By making this choice I'm certainly putting our relationship to the test. But you know what, it's been all sunshine and roses since we started dating, we've been around each other nearly 24/7 at the circus for the past five years. And while I loved that time together, and while I'm upset and sad that we're apart, in all honesty I think if our relationship is valuable to both of us it should be able to stand up to a test like this. We are both willing to give it a shot.

To sum it up, what "made the decision" was life. This is life. It's not always happy cheery fun time with the lovebirds finding jobs at the same time and moving in together. Many couples across this country have to make the same decisions every day. From the first day that we started dating, we knew that this could happen. We're both musicians for God's sake, that's not an occupation that you go into for the steady work and convenient lifestyle! Even without the circus closing, we would have faced this challenge at some point.

I hope that explains a bit.

Edited at 2017-04-07 04:32 pm (UTC)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )