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October











On Sunday I woke up, and felt fall in the air.

As I drank my coffee out on the balcony, I smelled the familiar clean, crisp, leafy air that reminds one of this time of year. I thought to myself, today is October 1st, and I will not be here for much longer. I should go see the train yard.

This was a thing that I'd wanted to do since moving to Kansas City. But to be honest, just hearing the lonely echo of freight whistles as trains pass through this city has been heartwrenching. Everyone has heard me say it a million times, but I'll say it again. It was more than just a job, or just a show. And the way it all ended felt like a death...a very unfair, very disgraceful death for a legacy that deserved to go out with dignity and grace. But life isn't fair, and everything dies in the end. And feeling sad isn't a good reason to avoid the places where wonderful things happened.

I drove down to "The Bottoms" for the first time since moving here. One of the great things about the cities where I had to walk instead of drive, is that I remember so much more about those places. Kansas City is one of those. It was a reflex to turn left at the bottom of the overpass, drive straight past the warehouses, to the place where the road turned to dirt and the tracks began.





I parked under the overpass, walked past the "No Outlet", "No Parking", and "No Trespassing" signs, into the yard. Following the fence, so that at least if anyone came to yell at me they couldn't accuse me of crossing live tracks. I crossed under the overpass where the flats and wagons used to sit.




I continued walking into the yard. I wanted to at least get to the part of the yard where my car had usually parked, which was a little after a dirt vehicle path crossed over a set of tracks. Most who traveled on the train will remember what I'm talking about.

I realize that taking pictures of and describing a dirty crappy train yard may seem stupid to some people. There's nothing here, you're right. The circus is gone, move on. Well I'm trying to do that. This is part of moving on. It's also part of preserving some memories. For circus people, "that dark alley" was our way home. The condemned house before that specific traffic light was a marker that told us we were in the right place. That one hole in the fence--"not the big one, the smaller one to the right of it"--was our gateway to groceries and shopping malls after a long train run. These little secret things mean nothing to most, but to us they were constants, guideposts passed along by word of mouth among those who were ever-moving from place to place. It may not be important to anyone else where circus people lived, or how we got to and from work, or what little things we might remember about each city. But to me those memories are a treasure, and I don't really much care what anyone else thinks about that.

Anyway, I got to the point in the yard where the dirt road crosses the tracks. To my right, across the chain link fence, was the field and empty lot where the RVs would park for the week.



To my left were the tracks where our train used to sit. I can remember those unfortunates whose homes ended up under the overpass complaining about lack of cell/tv/internet signal. This was also where we filmed most of the company "safety video", in which employees got to demonstrate both proper and improper train yard etiquette.


As I stared at the empty tracks and reminisced, a train came through alongside "our" tracks. I will always remember how it felt to be falling asleep to the rumble of a freight train moving by just a few feet from my bed.


I saw no point in continuing further into the yard. I walked back out and began retracing the route that many of us would take to get to the Sprint Center for our performances. Back through the warehouse district, past The Beast.


As you approach the road, diagonal to the left is the gas station where the Russians would go every night it seemed for cigarettes and snacks, and the Restaurant Depot where Pie Car would get its supplies that week. I remember there were so many homeless people behind that gas station, at times it was like a camp.


Then you'd be at the base of the overpass, and the long climb to Kansas City proper would begin.


Across the highway is the speakeasy Easy Tiger, which I'm sure many circus folk used to frequent. There was another speakeasy somewhere nearby, but it was hidden...supposedly the only way to find it is by searching or through word of mouth. Brian (guitar) found it once, but I don't think he was able to remember where it was afterward.


Partway up the overpass you can see another popular haunted house, the Edge of Hell. The circus was usually in town in mid-September while these haunted houses were doing test runs on weekends. They used to stay open especially for us so that we could enjoy them after our night show. One year some scarers chased John Merril (production) all the way back to the train, screaming and practically pissing himself. Fond memories.


I stopped again to take a picture of the yard we'd called home.


I remember this climb being a lot more difficult. Maybe it was warmer those days, and maybe I was carrying more stuff (I definitely was). Anyway before I knew it I was across the overpass, looking back.


I continued on into the downtown area. From here you just keep walking straight for about a mile. Past some small theaters...


...past the Convention Center (which it took me two visits to realize "That's not a bridge"!)...


...past the fountain square...and past the mountains that burn (just kidding)


...then at Main St., if you wanted to go to Consentino's and pick up food or coffee or whatever before work, that's where you'd turn right.


By the way, you guys...do you notice something different? See those tracks? They're new, for the KC Streetcar that just started running last year. I'm pretty sure that this was still under construction the last time the Red Unit tour was in town. I don't remember seeing streetcars at least. Surprised me!

Anyway. From there, continuing into the Power & Light District...



...and two blocks later, on Grand, you'd come around the corner and see the Sprint Center squatting off to the right.


At that point I'd usually cross the street, but maybe some of you would stay on the other side to hit a restaurant before work (or a bar after).


Nearing the Sprint Center, there are these little barricades along the sidewalk. This is where protesters used to stand to scream at anyone who came to buy tickets or get in line. And I remember in particular seeing some of our aerialists being followed and harassed by protesters during lunch breaks as they crossed the street to find food. Thanks to those precious moments here and in other cities, I've become one of those people who thinks hate speech should not be free speech. Aah the memories.



There were also these weird little "gardens". One of them features a big round screen with flying people. The flying people have been there seriously at least since I joined the circus in 2012. What the heck...


I remember eating lunch while sitting on the little dividing wall, while the Mongolian kids chased each other screaming and laughing around the water :)


Here is the little security guardhouse. There would always be someone sitting in there who'd squint at us through the glass as we held up our circus IDs. When they were satisfied that we belonged here they'd hit a button that opened the long retracting loading dock gate. We rarely waited for the whole thing to open before slipping inside. Right inside this gate was a sort of sloped "courtyard", where our wagons, trailers, and some of the star performer RVs would be parked. Lining the right wall on the way in were the horses and camels (the first year I was there) and all of their feed and equipment. The second year I think it was the tigers housed against the entry wall. And somewhere inside that arena is a concrete pillar with an elephant graffiti, a memento left by elephant crew after the Ringling elephants performed their final show. I wonder if I'll ever see the inside of this building again.



I went as far as the next intersection. This is where the company bus used to pick us up and drop us off. Sometimes if the bus was late we'd lie on the grass and talk while waiting.


I turned around to go back the way I came, and took a picture to match one I'd taken in 2014, just for fun.



I hadn't walked all this way to NOT got to Consentino's. And it was lunchtime. I cut through the Power & Light stage area, which many circus people will remember...fun times were had here!


Up a few blocks, over a few blocks, and I was in. Still a great food selection, especially the prepared foods. And how many of you remember this milk? Shatto milk from a local dairy, comes in a variety of awesome flavors like strawberry, root beer, and cotton candy! They were out of cotton candy (no surprise there) but it's good to see they had banana!


But let's be honest, the real reason y'all loved this place was the booze selection.


I made myself a plate from the hot bar and sat down to eat (something I'd never done while on the circus for some reason).

Afterward I had a pleasant walk back down the hill, across, the overpass, and into the train yard. I spent a few minutes savoring just being there.

This was just one city, one train yard, that I used to think of as "home". There are around eighty other cities in the US where any circus person could have a similar nostalgic experience. Memories of another life. I wonder how many of us will have the chance to visit these cities and these yards again. I wonder if over time we will forget the hidden paths and secret places in each city, only to have our hearts remind us years from now when we aren't expecting it, when we find ourselves in those places again. I think of Orest, and of Nadia, and Slick, and am quietly glad that I got to have this time retracing our footsteps today in this tiny corner of the huge map that used to spread before us each year like a promise from generations past.

Nothing is really ever promised, and nothing lasts. And that's why, sometimes, time is more valuable than things. The time you spend in a place, the memories you make there, the people you meet...and the ones who stick with you. Which is why I've made this choice to leave Kansas City, and make my way back to Jameson in Florida. I like Kansas City. But it's just a place. I like my job. But it's not what I live for...not any more. Am I making the right choice? I don't know...what's a "right choice" anyway? I'll just be glad to be with Jameson again.

Thank you for reading. I hope you've enjoyed this little walk with me. The regular weekly blog post will be tomorrow (Monday).


Comments

( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Oct. 2nd, 2017 12:17 pm (UTC)
Thank you...
for sharing your memories with us. Speaking for myself as a fan, the loss of this American treasure is a tragedy that never should have happened. Yes, I get it that times and things change and that nothing lasts forever but I feel that Ringling Bros did not die...it was murdered by hate driven activists who are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their warped agendas and the truth be dammed. I could go on for hours with a profanity laced sermon about these truly evil people but then I'd only be preaching to the choir and in the end nothing will have changed.

We fans are fortunate to have the circus stories and experiences that you have shared with us over the past few years and hope you continue to do so in the future. I seriously doubt that I will ever stop grieving but I am comforted with the knowledge that thanks to you and your wonderful writings the memories of Ringling Bros are in very good hands!

May God bless you.

-Bill

taz_39
Oct. 2nd, 2017 06:39 pm (UTC)
Re: Thank you...
Totally, I could go on for days about the total scam that is the animal rights agenda. But it will always fall on deaf ears. No one wants to oppose "saving animals", and in this case choosing the best thing for animals is what makes one look bad in the public eye. Anyway, whatever.

Thank you. If you got something out of this writing then I'm very happy. I want preserve some of the things about circus life that are being lost. There are similarities to production tours of course, but living on the train made things very different, and having people of literally all ages, and people who spent their entire lives in this environment, which is not common for most other types of entertainment work. It really meant something to a lot of people, and a lot of those feelings can't be described and won't be experienced again. But the little things that can be preserved, I'd like to try and keep a small record of.

Anyway thanks again :)
donnad
Oct. 2nd, 2017 12:30 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
taz_39
Oct. 2nd, 2017 06:17 pm (UTC)
It's nothing. <3
gardener14
Oct. 2nd, 2017 12:46 pm (UTC)
Moved to chills. You got to live, and recount so beautifully, what even circus fans sensed and loved about this living, breathing entity that enamored us.

Edited at 2017-10-02 01:20 pm (UTC)
taz_39
Oct. 2nd, 2017 06:20 pm (UTC)
Wish I could share what everyone who was ever on the show felt! Even a little bit is better than nothing though huh :) Thank you!
(Anonymous)
Oct. 2nd, 2017 08:03 pm (UTC)
What a beautiful memoire of one train yard and the significance it had on your life and the lives of others. I felt like I was walking along with you.
taz_39
Oct. 5th, 2017 02:06 am (UTC)
I'm very glad that you enjoyed it. Thank you! If I'm able to do this in other places where we once performed, I will.
taz_39
Oct. 7th, 2017 06:39 pm (UTC)
<3
shuucreme
Oct. 7th, 2017 10:22 am (UTC)
I haven't logged on for years, not sure if I will do so again after this but I was scanning the internet for traces of my old internet self and found my comment on a 2014 Day in the Life post you did...and immediately thought of the end of Ringling, and looked here. I'm so happy you're still posting, you have such a beautiful way with words.

I don't know you very well so I'm not sure if my comment will mean anything, but we bonded over trombones a bit so I feel compelled to say--don't give up on your hopes and dreams for the future! Everything seems a bit bleak right now in the face of so many natural and manufactured disasters, but all we can hope for is the courage and strength to continue. Take everyday as best as you can.

Something maybe overtly personal about me--I'm currently struggling with an illness which has taken a turn for the worse, so maybe I'm a bit emotional when hearing about other people struggling too, haha. It's like all of my emotional investment has been pushed to others. But I wish you the best in your musical career and your orchestra audition!!! You can do it!!!
taz_39
Oct. 7th, 2017 06:38 pm (UTC)
Well hey stranger!

Whether you log in again or not, I hope you'll feel the heartfelt thanks that I'm sending you :)

I will hope for your recovery. Hope is not much but what's a person to do.

I will do my best, as so many people do every day. You do your best too, and maybe we'll come out the other side ok.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )