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Providence, RI - End of the Road

Before launching into this post, I'd like to say thank you to everyone for coming with me on this journey by reading my blog. I started it as a way to keep in touch with family, and it has become so much more to so many people. Thank you for creating something special with me. I am sorry that our journey is coming to an end.

I will continue to post here every Sunday up until the Blue Unit closes and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus comes to a complete end on May 21st. Please understand that because I am not traveling with the Blue Unit, I will not be there in person to take photos, experience things, etc., but I will gather and share as much information on the closing as possible. I will be in the midst of learning a new job, so expect a few personal updates as well during that time.

After Ringling ends, unless there is some surprise revival of the brand name, I will not be posting anything more in this blog. I am going to gradually transfer it to WordPress (here's the link), fix the parts that are broken, and maintain it there for everyone to enjoy for as long as possible.

As always, thank you for reading.


I took my time on Monday morning, intentionally delaying the drive to Providence. The train was already on the move, but would have to go north through Massachusetts before turning south to reach its final tour destination. I mulled over how to kill time, and eventually decided that it would be ok to have a slow day of down time since it's going to be a busy week. I wanted to have a good lunch, somewhere unique to Rhode Island. I found Italian Corner. It seemed like the kind of place that Jameson and I would have picked to visit together.

After a nice 1.5 hour drive I got there. What a huge amazing selection of Italian meats!

Italian Corner was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives for its "brasato" (meaning "braised") sandwich, so that's what I ordered. CLICK HERE to see what goes into making a brasato sandwich. To sum it up, it's house-braised roast beef on a house-baked roll, salsa rossa (sun-dried tomato and pepper puree), a special house sauce (mayo, vinegar, parsley, capers, onion, garlic, and anchovies), topped with lettuce and tomato. It was absolutely delicious. I may need to come back here before driving to Kansas City.

Nothing like delicious food to temporarily drown out the misery of losing your job. After my meal I drove to the Providence Public Library to kill some time. I worked on this post, and watched live facebook videos of our final train run. How sad. But everything this week will feel sad.

There are so many emotions. Primarily, like most of us, I'm beside myself over losing this lifestyle that I ended up caring so deeply about. I think that people who are or have actually been out here, living this life, know that a great deal is being lost with the closing of this show, more than people may realize. I can tell that many people are angry with the Felds, or at the very least frustrated because it's not entirely clear WHY. I think that those feelings are completely justified. In fact you can probably expect a long tirade from me at some point before the Blue Unit closes. But while it's OK to be angry, I also hope that in the end, most people who have enjoyed Ringling Bros. shows from the 60's through present day would acknowledge that what they've enjoyed for decades has been a Feld show. And I hope that those who accuse the Felds of "not doing enough" would acknowledge that maintaining a financially exhaustive and legally embattled spectacle like Ringling for decades does indeed show an extremely significant investment of time and money on the part of the Felds. Anyway, it's a shame how things turned out. We may never have all the answers. But still. We've had a good time of it.

While this week is full of sadness laced with anger, I have to admit, a part of me is happy. Since we got the news in January, the past few months have been both slow and fast, painful and precious. Definitely an agonizing pull of the band-aid. Once everything is over on Sunday, well...it's over. No more waiting, no more desperately trying to make memories as everything slips away. It'll be gone and done. In a way, that will be a relief. Not right away, and I'm sure for years to come we'll miss the circus terribly. Look, I'm trying to see a positive side here :P

Anyway, the train arrived early in Providence. There was no need to text someone to find out our ETA...facebook was filled with live feeds and photos and commentary lamenting the last-ever Red Unit train run. These folks followed the train all the way from Hartford. Thank you, whoever you are. You're the reason we get up in the morning.

(photo courtesy Amanda Stevens Photography)

As Nikki (train crew) put it, "Never again will we feel the train move beneath our feet, or get rocked to sleep, or see the beautiful countryside by rail on the circus train. The next time this train moves, she will be an empty grave."

She's right. On Monday May 8th, we will all have to be off the train. From Providence it will travel to Newark for the offloading of any cars that have been sold. The remaining cars will be taken to Florida. Many of these will be sold for scrap metal. It's a terrible shame, but who is going to buy two mile-long circus trains? At least a few of the cars will live on in other capacities.

Though the train will not be moving for us ever again, we are still living on it this week. Once I heard that we were spotting, I packed up and drove to a grocery store, then found dinner. And why not somewhere special again? I chose Tom's Bao Bao, a restaurant specializing in steamed dumplings. Oh my goodness, they were so good. Fluffy and light like pillows, bursting with flavor inside. I tried the chicken/cabbage/carrot bao, and the curried beef/potato/carrot bao. Might have to come back here again too!

Back at the train I unpacked and settled in for the night.

The next day was a day off. I went through my room again, gathering any items that would not be coming with me to Kansas City and driving them to a nearby thrift store. I packed all of my clothes except for about a week's worth, and threw away extra boxes and trash. I was sad to have to throw away my "spool stool"...bear with me, this is kinda stupid...it's a stool that I made out of a steel spool I found in Mexico City and a broken bar stool cushion that I found in Oklahoma City. Spool stool. Stool spool. I used to think that was funny. Anyway it's in the trash now.

I wanted to go for a walk but the weather couldn't seem to decide what kind of day it was. Instead I did some work on the blog, made more arrangements for my new apartment, and tried to relax and not think if I could help it. In the evening Tom (keys) came by to give me some cookies as payment for a ride to a bus station a few weeks ago. You are too generous Tom! No payment was necessary! He'd gotten the cookies from the local Italian district, and they were extremely fresh and delicious. Geez, I am going to have to hit the gym hard in KC.

While I was enjoying a day off, others were loading in to the arena for the last time. Rebecca (wardrobe) took a live video of the process. Judah (floor crew boss) took some great photos.

This great photo courtesy Sandor E. (boss clown).

And this one is from Enerel (Mongolian troupe)

Great job everyone :)

Wednesday was a dark day. In the morning I had a friend visit the train, I showed her all the usual sights. Afterward we grabbed a quick lunch at a nearby coffee shop. Full disclosure, she's a reporter and we did a brief interview, so if it shows up anywhere I'll share it. She mostly wanted to know about what it felt like for all of this to be coming to an end. Every day I feel differently about it. Today I am dreading Sunday, and I am also feeling really grateful. I am the last person to live in this room, on this train. I have worked alongside Olympic athletes, top-tier musicians, and Teamsters with some of the strongest work eithic I've ever experienced. I have interacted with elephants, tigers, camels, horses, snakes, dogs, rabbits, donkeys, and more. Being a part of this circus is something that I can't put a value on, it's truly priceless.

Later that evening we had our final company party. Final this, last that. Such a strange mix of emotions. Whoever decorated for this party did an absolutely fantastic job.

The evening started off with some delicious steak, salad, eggplant, pasta, green beans and bacon, and cookies. One of the amazing circus priests who has traveled with us for so long gave a wonderful blessing before we all chowed down. Rob (GM) and his helpers came around with bottles of champagne, and at a signal from Kathryn (Production) we all popped them open and prepared a toast. Kathryn gave a beautiful speech.

Then it was time for some awards! In addition to the usual awards (Golden Spike for train crew, Golden Shovel for animal crew, Golden Spatula for Pie Car), there were some new ones. Everyone who has been with the show for 20+ years was recognized. This included my boss Brett, the boss clown Sandor, clown Ivan (who was born on this show), and Nixon (concessions/FCP), who has been here for more than forty years, holy crap. Each person received a plaque of recognition. Some of the new awards included the Stowaway Award (most likely to hide on the train and try to ride it to FL after the last show, won by I think Koji (BMX)), the Happy Saturday award (person who is most cheerful even early in the morning, won by Nick (clown)), the Bus Runner award (person who runs like a maniac to catch the first bus back to the train after the last show...the entire Mongolian troupe won that award to much hilarity), and the Human Vulture award (person most likely to eat anything lying around...a clown won that one...Steve I think?). The Nablo of the Year award was renamed the Shipman award in honor of our former Ringmaster, and was presented to the person who had done the most stupid thing all year. My boss won. A few months ago he tried to sneak up on one of the sound guys and dump a bottle of water on him, but missed and doused the sound board instead, causing it to fritz and forcing sound crew to switch out the entire board. Nice to know that damaging thousands of dollars' worth of equipment is rewarded around here!! (That board still works btw). Congrats, I think!

There were many other awards given out, and also some raffle prizes. Each member of management received a special custom Ringmaster hat made by the wardrobe department. Many troupes, departments, and individuals received goodie bags, including the band. When all the prizes had been given out it was time to dance! The lighting department was working hard for us as we partied the night away. Incredible job guys!!

Someone had the great idea of including the Cupid Shuffle in the dance mix. At some point before I started working here, this song became the Red Unit's "load out" or "final show" song...in almost every city, sound crew would play it right before the final show of the day to signal that it was the last show in that city and invite everyone to dance to it on the arena floor. It's been a nice circus tradition. Tonight, so many people participated. I climbed up on the bandstand to get a good shot, and was struck by what a wonderful mix of people this was, dancing together. So many people of different nationalities and races and ages and backgrounds, all dancing together and enjoying the moment. These are the wonderful people that I've had the privilege to work with for the past five years. I will miss them very much.

There are more videos and photos of the party on my facebook and instagram.

Shortly after that I decided to call it a night. Back at the train, I opened my Ringling duffel (the goodie bag) to see what was inside.

Lots of nice things! Thank you to our unit management, who arranged these for us! What a wonderful collection of memories. This was a great party and a great way to spend time together before The End. Thank you to everyone involved in the food, the decor, the lighting, the sound, the bar, the service, the awards, the extras, and the moment. Thank you so much.

Thursday was opening day. We had our last-ever meeting in seats, where we received basic info on our final transportation and whatnot. Joe (former KCT member) gave a touching speech about sticking together and putting on a great last week of shows. Taba (tiger trainer) also said a few words of encouragement. Then we started our final rehearsal. Allen (sound crew) is a trombonist and asked if he could play my part for this rehearsal. Absolutely! Thanks to this, I was able to get lots of footage of our last rehearsal ever. We ran through the National Anthem and Opening (no media of this because there are changes planned for the final show. No spoilers!), High Wire, Spec, Wheel, and Finale.

Here is the High Wire rehearsal in its entirety. I love watching their footwork. Remember that this is just rehearsal; no costumes, and they are not doing everything that appears in the act. At the end of the video is a short clip of floor crew preparing to set up for the next act.

Here is the Spec rehearsal. "Spec" is short for "Spectacle" and refers to a circus act that features most or all of the performers and animals, traditionally done in a parade around the arena. We don't do it like that any more but it does retain the name. Again, this being rehearsal, not all of the elements are present that would be in the show. Notably, the substitute ringmaster (Tabata, tiger trainer's daughter) is filling in for practice. For the first few seconds of video the band is actually playing music from the act right before Spec, to give context so the performers can get into it.

And here is the Wheel rehearsal (it's very short). The first several seconds are the wheel being set up and lighting tests with performers milling around on the floor and waiting. If you listen carefully you can hear the production manager asking various departments over the com system if they are ready before rehearsal starts. Again, the band starts with music from the act before Wheel for timing and coordination purposes. We actually ended up rehearsing this twice. This video is of the first run-through.

I chose not to take video of Finale because it's such a short moment in the show, and also spoilers were present for the final show. Instead I took a panorama of everyone waiting to begin that section of rehearsal. Gonna miss this.

After the rehearsal the band went to Fire and Ice, a Mongolian-style grill. We brought along Ben DeCastro, local New England personality and a good friend of the circus band. Great food and great conversation. Gonna miss these guys. As the only girl in this band, I have to say, I rarely even had to think of myself as the only girl, that's how comfortable I felt working with these gentleman. I'm glad that we could share this meal and this moment. All the best to these fantastic musicians and stellar human beings.

The show that evening was very well attended, definitely sold out. Benny was back in on the wheel act, and although he had to cut a few tricks it was still an exciting performance judging from audience reaction. Our AFM union representative, Michael Manley, sat on the bandstand with us to watch the show. It was nice to see him one last time on the circus. Thank you for all of your hard work and assistance over the years Michael!

Friday was a one-show day. I woke to the sounds of my neighbors packing. With a six pack on the horizon, this is the last large chunk of time to take care of that stuff. I soon joined them, packing the last of my straggling items and moving full boxes into my car. I had planned to do this on Saturday night, but there's a lot of rain in the forecast so I did it now. After that I ate lunch, finished a resume for someone, ordered some things to be sent to KC, filled out the band's final rehearsal hours, and put some music on my iPod for the long road trip ahead. Then I went to the arena, because Joe (concessions/FCP) had promised to tell me some circus stories.

I found him up on the concourse preparing batches of lemonade to sell that night. He set down a large tray of lemons and began slicing them. Over the rhythmic chop-chop of his knife on the cutting board, he told me about some of the things he'd experienced when he'd first joined the show years ago. Meeting Gunther Gebel Williams. Watching how Gunther interacted with his animals. A personal encounter with Gunther's favorite elephant Kongo. Gunther's untimely death, and what it was like the day the Red Unit found out he had passed. And more. On Sunday, I'll be sharing an audio recording of Joe's experiences. I hope you'll enjoy them as much as I did.

When Joe ran out of stories, I thanked him and went to find dinner. The show that evening went well, nothing to report. I noticed that the bus ride back to the train was a lot quieter than usual...typically there are several conversations going on, or people playing games on their phones, or something. I suspect that we were all thinking about what was coming. Usually at the start of a six pack weekend there's this feeling of "Here we go, off to get our butts kicked!", and looking forward to a nice rest and a train run on the Monday afterward. But this time, it feels kind of like climbing a mountain knowing that at the top someone will just push you off as soon as you get there. 

Saturday, the beginning of our final six pack. I decided to drive in since my car was mostly loaded...figured it would be good to make sure it could handle the load, and get an idea of the parking situation downtown. The first show went well...Ben DeCastro sat with the band and took some video footage. Between shows it was kinda quiet, partly because there were a lot of press interviews going on backstage. Timothy Tegge was there to sell stuff backstage, like he has done for years. As always we swarmed him :)

Walking around backstage, I came across various items that people had put out in the hopes of collecting signatures. Programs and t-shirts, banners, and also some unique items like these.

During the second show my boss decided that he wanted to play a trombone solo for "12th Street Rag". Benny Ibarra was out again all day, so we were back to playing the Emergency Music during his act. I was happy to step down and let him enjoy some quality trombone time, though I am kinda sad that he won't let me post the video I took of his playing! It was very good but he's being self-critical about it :P Ah well, I understand that. Instead, here is a short video of floor crew working hard to set up the tiger cage while the clowns perform a gag in place of Benny's act. I was glad to get this footage as it's rare for us to play Emergency Music. A good memory to have.

During the break between shows 2 and 3, I noticed that Ghosts From Shows Past were appearing! Former Ringling employees, who had left before the closing announcement, were now flying in from all over to bear witness to the final days of this place, which is so much more than just a job. Clearly working and living here has meant a great deal to a lot of people. It was so cool to see so many familiar faces, though we all wish we were gathering for a more cheerful occasion.

The final show went well, it was definitely sold out and the crowd was loud and enthusiastic. We had several guests on the bandstand, including photographer Amanda Stevens, and Jennifer McDonough, our keyboard player's wife. As we played the final notes of the day, I felt simultaneously sad and emotionally empty. I dread tomorrow so much. But there's nothing left to stand in the way.

I'm typing this back at the train. When I've finished posting it, I'll put a few more things in the car, then go to bed. Tomorrow will be a long and difficult day.

Other stuff:

I was feeling depressed about the train and didn't take any pics of it in its last performance yard. Thank you Joe Dougherty for the pic.

Our Trainmaster, Josh Rupert, spent his last night on the train Friday night. From here he travels to the Blue Unit to guide their train to its final destination. Thank you for everything you've done for us Josh. See you down the road.

(photo courtesy Josh R.)

Outside of the Dunkin' Donuts Center, a thank you banner from the arena, and an elephant footprint immortalized in cement from when the Blue Unit was here putting on their final show with elephants a year ago. Goodbye Providence and thank you.

(photo courtesy Steve B.)

(photo courtesy Jon M.)

A very cool picture of my boss Brett Barlow in action.

(photo courtesy Brett B.)

"Nitro Nicole", our third Human Cannonball in the history of this tour, was not given a bio page on the Ringling website for AGES. Around her 300th(?) time being shot out of a cannon, Feld FINALLY included her in their list of performers on the site. Still, she doesn't appear on any of the current promotional and branding materials. Kenny (BMX) decided that it was time for Nicole to have her place in the spotlight. Congratulations Nicole!!!! It's official!!! LOL!!!

(photo courtesy Kenny S.)

Red Unit's very own Dinosaur Squad!! ;) Hoodies made by the Fantastic Head of Wardrobe, Rebecca!!


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 7th, 2017 02:36 pm (UTC)
thank you so much for sharing your journey with the world (or at least the people who choose to read it.) i've enjoyed learninh about the behind the scenes life of someone who "ran away to join the circus" so to speak. will you be continuing your wordpress blog with the new experiences of your new job?
May. 7th, 2017 02:44 pm (UTC)
I don't think anyone who reads this blog will be interested in my new job.

Please read the opening paragraph again, I was pretty clear about what will be in the wordpress blog. Sorry not trying to be rude just in a hurry. Thanks.

(later) Ok, now that I'm between shows, very sorry. I was in a rush this morning. My new job is working retail in a music store...I'm just not sure it's gonna be exciting haha. I have another blog here on livejournal, under the username Sageyoku, but it is not currently public. I might make it public, or friend me if you like.

Thanks and thanks for understanding as today is a liiiiittle crazy!


Edited at 2017-05-07 06:38 pm (UTC)
May. 7th, 2017 06:15 pm (UTC)
I've never commented before but I've really enjoyed this glimpse behind the curtain. I'm sorry that your journey with RR&BB has come to an end. I'm really sad that you won't be continue with any blog. Your writing is very interesting and I would be happy to read about the new adventures your life holds. Life doesn't end because the circus did. I'll be reading until the end. Thank you and good luck.
May. 7th, 2017 06:34 pm (UTC)
Re: :(
Thank you. Thank you for reading.

I'm aware that life doesn't end because the circus did...no need to be dramatic. Today is the last day, this was the last weekend, I think I'm allowed some time to feel sad...

I will continue to write my own stuff elsewhere. I'm not going to keep writing about non-circus stuff in this blog, I don't think it would feel right plus most people don't read this blog for anything other than the circus pictures and info. I have another private blog elsewhere that I'll write in, and there's also facebook and instagram. Maybe I will make my private blog public.

Anyway thanks again.
May. 7th, 2017 09:35 pm (UTC)
Re: :(
I didn't intend to invalidate your feelings. Of course you are sad. It's a really sad and hard situation for all involved. I've felt the impact of the circus closing so much more through your words than if had just been a passing news story. I just meant that your story is nowhere close to ending. You are a great writer with an interesting perspective. If you make the other blog pubic I will be happy to follow you there.
May. 8th, 2017 03:00 am (UTC)
Re: :(
It's ok, I'm sorry for taking that the wrong way. So hard to tell sometimes via text.

We'll see what happens. I'm going to continue posting for the next three weeks and see what my life is like.

Thanks again.
May. 7th, 2017 06:46 pm (UTC)
I cannot begin to imagine what you are feeling. My sympathy and encouragement go out to you!! I do not have words that adequately express what this Sunday means to the era of the circus. If its surreal to me, i cannot imagine what you and your fellow performers have felt this entire time.
Stay strong and take heart.
May. 8th, 2017 03:00 am (UTC)
Thank you. <3
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )