Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Brief Primer of Circus Terms - Part I

It's amazing how busy one can get even when life is lived a week at a time with several days off.  From Omaha through Las Vegas, train runs were long enough for several blog entries loads of laundry, lots of picture taking and the work that needed to be done.

After a busy week in Las Vegas (where I also didn't see my bed before 4 am most nights), then a short hop to Tucson and now onto Phoenix (don't worry, I'll backfill the blog entries.  I have tons of pictures, thoughts, stories, etc. that I just haven't gotten around to) I realized while writing a blog entry that was relatively full of circus jargon that it would probably be give a brief primer of important terms instead of trying to define terms as I went.

Important Terms to Know:

Train Run: This is when the train is moving, from when the train crew locks the train down to until the train is spotted.

Train Spotted: The end of the train run, when the train has arrived - "The Train was Spotted at 9 AM in Tucson".  This is the point when we can start "load in"

Load-In: Moving everything from the train to the venue so we can start setting up the majority of the show (there are steps before this, but I'm not really involved in them so there probably won't be a lot of detail on pre-rig and such)

Load-Out: Moving everything from the venue back onto the train.  At the end of load in, the train gets locked up and we roll out of town.

Dark Day/Week - When the show gets a dark day, almost everybody gets that day off because there is now show. Great, right?  Even better is a dark week, which is an entire week without shows.  These are rare, right now the only dark week scheduled (outside winter quarters) is in about 5 months.

Winter Quarters: For about a month, the show basically shuts down in Florida, this gives performers and most of the crew time to go home, see family, take a vacation, etc.  This is a time when the show also can retool, refurbish equipment, props, sets, etc. and also gives the train crews a chance to fix things on the train without being concerned about moving the train in a couple days.

Wagon: A Wagon is what we move almost everything in, work out of, etc.  For example, my "office" is 16 wagon.  Lighting works out of 30 wagon, etc.  The numerous white trailers with the show name on them in many of the pictures are different wagons.  The wagons are all towed from the train to the venue by a towing company then arranged so that the show can best operate.  Depending on the venue and how often a given wagon needs to be accessed, wagons are parked outside, inside an exhibit hall (this is generally optimal) or in a loading dock of the venue.

Overland: Any person which doesn't travel on the train.  While this is a slightly superfluous term as the train technically travels "over land" as well, for every show we have a good sized group that travels not on the train.  because it's important for them to be in a city to set up different parts of the show before the train arrives.

As I said, the primer would be brief.  As I realize I'm posting using more and more jargon that nobody outside the show understands, I'll probably do several more parts.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Leaving Normal Life - Moving from a 2500 Square Foot Apartment to a 12x10 Train Car

In my prior life, I lived in a very nice apartment that was the top two floors of a hundred year old mansion that had been torn to the studs and completely redone in the early 70's (and yes, it looked every bit like I lived in what you imagine a porn set from 1975 looked like).  The great thing was that my bedroom had a ton of closets, space for a California King bed (actually space for two) and my own bathroom that was larger than the average walk in closet.  It was a fantastic place to throw parties, had a huge back yard, nice patio, etc.  My mother's opinion of the place was that she didn't understand why they would ever rent a place that nice to a friend and I. I already miss the space and luxury it afforded, but the scenery outside never changed and it didn't get pulled by locomotive, so I was willing to let it go.

I learned that when you have that much space, you tend to accumulate enough to fill it.  By the time I was ready to move out and join the circus, I realized I had several options:

Option 1: Take everything, pack it up and throw it in a storage unit.  I've learned this is a popular option for people who join the show, but I realized I would be spending $100/month to store a combination of the stuff left over from college and young professional life.  If the house burned to the ground I would be hard pressed to convince my insurance company that (excluding electronics) there was $2,000 worth of stuff.  So, my logic was that if I stayed with the show for two years, I would be losing money every month I stored stuff in a storage unit.  While there would be great potential for seeing my stuff on Storage Wars in 2016, I didn't feel like it was worth the effort and the money.

Option 2: Take everything I could pack back to my parents' house.  This was laughed at and immediately denied.

Option 3: Downsize.  As quickly as I could I started putting things on Craigslist and eBay.  Obviously my hope was I could put some extra money in my pocket and move on.  While I would do it again (I walked away with about $1,500 in my pocket) selling things in person is a giant pain in the rear.  A month after I left town and deleted all ads, I still have people calling and emailing "hey bro, u got dat tv?  i got 1 fitty" (this was for a TV I was asking $500 for).  Unfortunately, there were a lot of things that would have been nice to keep, but I ended up throwing away or donating about 15 garbage bags of stuff.  At the same point, it's nice to know that I don't have all that stuff cluttering up my life.

The packing list was really quite simple:
-Electronics (laptop, blu-ray player (I inherited a TV from the prior Paymaster), ipad, cell phone.
-Clothes:  This was tough, first because I had tons of clothes.  I wear a 17 and a half neck, 38-39 inch sleeve shirt.  These are hard to find.  Any time I found some at a reasonable price, I would buy out the store,  leaving me with a massive collection of business casual shirts that I just threw away as they got holes or stains.  This was also hard because I travel through every type of climate, from the desert in July to Chicago in December.  So, I had to bring both summer and winter clothes.
-Toiletries and medical items (the usual).
-Small kitchen items, a few glasses, 4 sets of utensils, kitchen towels and rags.

What was amazing is that that short list (with a few extras, like a gallon of nice bourbon (hey, I was leaving Kentucky)) it still took thirteen boxes of various sizes to ship to the train.

You might be asking yourself, how do you ship things to a circus train?  Well, my fine fellow (I'll assume you're a fine fellow since you're reading this blog), you Fedex everything to the next arena the circus is performing at.  It isn't unusual for a pallet of boxes to show up two weeks before any given show so the arena just makes a large pile in a corner that the circus crew raids hoping that the thing they ordered from Amazon had arrived that week.  I think the guy at Fedex Office in Cincinnati who got my truckload of stuff dumped on him that he had to deal with probably has my picture on his dartboard, but that's life in the circus!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Train Run: Colorado Springs to Las Vegas

After leaving Colorado Springs, the next stop was beautiful Sin City.  The train run was an extremely quiet one because a lot of people either flew and arrived two days early or drove and enjoyed an extra day to see the sights.  I quickly discovered that I need to get on my game about planning things in new cities, the ability to skip long train runs and do so cheaply would be nice.

 I considered a few alternate arrangements but since my plan was to party all week in Las Vegas, it seemed like a good idea to just hang out at home.  My train car was completely empty except for me so that enabled me to do whatever I want at whatever volume I wanted.  The unfortunate part is that the train run ended up running slightly behind schedule (at some points, 12+ hours by my estimates) but since we have an incredible train crew, we rolled in almost on time.

The weather on the train run was great, I spent some quality time out in my vestibule just watching the country go by.  Colorado is by far the most beautiful country I've been through, my few pictures don't do it justice.  The last night while we were rolling I was enjoying a cool mountain breeze with a North Face jacket on.  While it should have been obvious, I wasn't expecting the blast of hot air that waited for me when I walked out of my train car in Las Vegas.

Yes, this is my office on train runs.  Tough life.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Inside the Circus - Omaha

While I know that what I do for fun on my days off is the main reason that you're reading this blog, I'm sure that you're also quite interested in what types of things happen backstage of the Greatest Show on Earth.  Well, it being the Greatest Show on Earth, it's also the Greatest Backstage on Earth (trademark pending).

The CenturyLink Center is...massive.  We were able to house all animals inside the arena in addition to having our own lot for personal vehicles and RV's that was kept completely separate from people who were parking to see the show and parking for Taste of Omaha (I'm a bit sad I never made it over there).

In addition to hosting the circus there were at least two other conventions in the building while we were there.  That should give you an idea of how massive this building is. 

I enjoyed checking out the Old Market area, a very cool part of town.  Found a great place to buy craft beer called Beertopia which lived up to its name and I left with my wallet significantly lighter.

Anyway, getting past what I do for fun in my spare time, here are some pictures from the show.  Don't you wish this is where you worked?

Taken backstage one of the clown vehicles.

A look out onto the arena floor during setup

Part of the Clown act, taken from the floor of the Arena

A backstage shot, the small trailers are called wagons.  I work in a wagon, though neither of the ones in this picture.

The Tiger show!  By the way, the tiger trainer is a pretty cool guy.

Tigers, closer up.

This is part of the Circus Celebrity part of the show. The people in the pink teacup shaped objects in the foreground are actually audience members who get to be out on the floor during the show.  It's not a cheap ticket, but a once in a lifetime memory. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Playing Tourist in Colorado Springs - Part II

The circus had a rare treat, Wednesday was what was called a "dark day".  This is where almost everybody gets the day off.  There was much celebration and revelry the night before in the train yard in anticipation of the day off, that caused me to wake up slightly later than I had anticipated that day.  Hey, it was a day off, what's wrong with sleeping in?

One unfortunate thing about my job is that I don't have a vehicle and so I'm somewhat limited in where I can get in a given city.  I had hoped to check out Pike's Peak and Garden of the Gods but couldn't find a group going.  Lucky for me, I had seen them on a prior family vacation.  Where I did make it to was the U.S. Olympic Training Center.  It was an interesting place to visit, free tour and certainly something you don't see every day (this, coming from the guy who has a parade of elephants happen several times daily).  It was remarkable to see the facilities they have dedicated to different sports.  One of the most interesting training areas I saw was the shooting area, the targets that Olympians are aiming at are roughly the size of a silver dollar from a good distance.  I consider myself a decent shot with both rifles and handguns, but I can't imagine what it takes to hit those targets.

Playing Tourist in Colorado Springs - Part 1

I woke up on Tuesday June 4th with the train finally stopped and parked.  My sincere hope (confirmed by my cell phone) was that we had finally reached Colorado Springs and I could escape my train car and start seeing some cool stuff (after all, this was a big reason I took this job to begin with).  The hard part of being in a new city is that you walk out of your train car and you have little credible idea of where exactly you are in relation to anything else in the city.  In Omaha, the train yard was in Iowa near the casinos and little else.  In Colorado we were a bit more fortunate.

                Our parking spot in Colorado Springs was right next to Colorado College with a large park (Memorial Park) in between which had basketball courts, tennis courts, a pool, trails, fields, basically everything you could want in terms of recreational space.  My first day was some light exploring, I took off walking in the direction that seemed most populated.  I walked around the Colorado College campus, noting that the American Numismatic Association had a money museum that would be open later that day.  Considering I have a degree in Finance and a lifelong interest in money, this piqued my curiosity.

                After my self guided tour of Colorado College, I walked until I found Downtown Colorado Springs which had some of the most beautiful scenery of any “downtown” area I’ve ever been in.  Behind every large office building there was gorgeous scenery of the mountains.  While wandering around downtown, I passed the U.S. Olympic Committee headquarters and then I found the Phantom Canyon Brewery.  One thing that you should immediately realize about me is that any time I see a brewery I’ve never had a beer from, hell nor high water will keep me from trying some beer.  (tl;dr, I’m a beer geek).  I use Foursquare extensively in my travels because it is a very convenient way to find activities, locations and reviews.  In this case, almost every review I saw suggested that I try the Lemon Tobasco Fried Chicken.  While I really dislike Tobasco sauce, I hoped that many people couldn’t be wrong.  I ordered it along with a flight of samples of all their beers (hey, it was my day off, why not?).  I’m here to add my voice to the masses, if you’re in Colorado Springs, go to Phantom Canyon and get the Lemon Tobasco Fried Chicken, it’s incredible. 

                At this point, I had some emails piling up and phone calls to make, so I headed back to the train to get some work done.  After an hour of work, I visited the Money Museum that I mentioned earlier.  It was certainly an interesting tour and well worth the $4 admission (finally, my MBA which I’m working on has started paying benefits, $1 off admission).  The first stop is a giant vault full of some of the rarest U.S. Coins, some worth into the 6-7 figures (according to the security guard).  There were a few interesting exhibits such as the 1804 Silver Dollars that were never put into circulation and used for gifts for Asian dignitaries.  Overall, I would certainly say the Money Museum was worth the time and worth checking out should you find yourself in Colorado Springs.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Living Quarters of a Paymaster

I've had a lot of questions about my living quarters on the train. I live in a "private car" which means my room is a bigger than he public rooms because I don't lose two feet to a hallway. The downside is that I can't leave during train runs at all. So, on a two day train run, I spend 48 hours in here. 

It isn't as bad as it would sound, I get lots of time to get work done, watch movies, make phone calls (when I am lucky enough to have a cell signal), etc. but it would be nice if I could make it to the rest of the train to socialize a little bit. Out the door is the vestibule which is where I spend a good bit of time (and where most pictures of scenery are taken).

Down the hall (if you call it that) is my bathroom to the left and washer/dryer to the right. Really, my room is about the size of a dorm room with better amenities.  Granted, it is smaller than the bedroom that I left back home, but it forced me to downsize and get rid of lots of the junk that I had been keeping in closets.  Storage is sufficient with cabinets under my bed, above my bed, across the kitchen and pretty much everywhere else you could think to put them.
The kitchen has a four burner electric stove, full size fridge and sink.

There are two windows, one large one by my bed and a second above the sink in the kitchen. Unfortunately, neither of them open but I can always get fresh air by propping my door open.  The cars all have central air and heat (something I'm very happy about considering I'll spend the next month in the desert)

There are some upsides of having a private car, I share a huge water tank with only two other people so I can do laundry and such on train runs and it's very quiet, even if I'm watching TV or listening to loud music, my neighbors can't hear it.  The power on the train is very reliable, the only time it has ever gone out was when they were switching cars and had to disconnect power to add/take out cars.  The generator car (it does take an entire car) is about 14 cars away from mine.

I'm sure the picture below looks a bit odd, but panorama mode was the best way to get a 360 degree view of what the living space looks like.  Don't worry, just because I work for the circus doesn't mean that my train car is also a fun house. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

First Train Run - Nebraska to Colorado

For most people, the time to kick back and relax is from Friday at 5 pm through the weekend. Well, us circus folks live on a different schedule. Immediately after the show ended up Sunday, we had to pack everything up and get on the road. I got back to the train early that evening and decided to have dinner in the pie car (the restaurant on the train, plenty more on that later) and hung out with a clown, a teacher and some acrobats for a while.  A great time was had by all and then did somebody mention that they were locking down the cars to get ready to leave.  Oops.

At that point, I took off running down the train to find out that my car was one of the first to be locked up (this has been filed under "key information for future travel").  I was able to find one of the train porters and plead ignorance to get him to let me back in my car.  Sometimes being the "new guy" has it's advantages.  

Originally, the plan was to roll out of Nebraska at 2 am. I had planned to stay up to see the beginning of my first train run and I was excited at 12:30 am when the train started moving.  Colorado here I come!

Ha!  Sucker, we moved 1/4th of a mile and then stopped to attach more cars.   At that point, I gave up and went to bed.  It's certainly interesting when you wake up the next morning, look out the window and are somewhere completely different; in this case Ogallala, Nebraska.  I'm sure there's a joke about small towns with odd names, I'll leave that to you to come up with.  Submit your punch lines in the comments.

The train run was about 40 hours which I spent cleaning my room, unpacking, watching a couple movies: Anchorman (always a classic) and Drive Angry (why do I even bother with Nicholas Cage movies anymore?) and watching the country go by.  By far, the best scenery was when we rolled through Denver.  No disrespect to Nebraska and Wyoming, but there is just nothing (that we passed anyway).

I learned a couple other lessons on the first train run:

First, I thought a celebratory first train run cigar was a great idea.  I was actually quite wrong.  Smoking in the vestibule (the open area outside of my car where all these great pictures are taken) is about like trying to smoke in a convertible with the top down on the highway, it doesn't end well.  Also, smoking right inside your room is also a bad idea because one A/C unit covers three rooms, I had to make some apologies for blasting smoke into two other rooms.

Second, never try to make phone appointments during train runs through the middle of nowhere.  I had set up two calls and thanks to Mr. Murphy and his pesky law, both ended up in places where I didn't even have one bar of roaming cell service.

Third, the roughest track is always when you're asleep.  I had a couple times where I would wake up due to an abrupt jerk, but that really wasn't the issue.  I had stuff laying out on counters, in cabinets, etc. probably like you do at home.  Well, your home doesn't move at 60 mph.  I woke up a few times to hear power strips, fans and kitchen utensils drop, fall, bang around, etc.  Fortunately, everything survived and I've added more bungee cords and velcro to my shopping list this week.

Here's a view of Downtown Denver from the train (a pretty city from a train car):
Here is the view out of my car as we were rolling into Commerce City, Colorado.  If you want to imagine what Wyoming and Nebraska looked like, take this picture and mentally delete all the buildings except for one or two. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Something's happening here...there's a man with an Elephant over there...

Let's start with an introduction:  I'm the Paymaster with a traveling circus, I live on a circus train and generally am in a different city every week or two.

I recently left a life in Ohio that where I an incredible group of friends, had a steady job in an office, a beautiful apartment in a great neighborhood, all in all, a pretty blessed life.  So, the logical thing to do was to leave it all and run away with the circus. 

I gave a lot of goodbye hugs (and a few goodbye kisses) and with almost every one, I promised I would keep in touch and let everybody know the stories from life with the circus.  If you've found this, then you've probably figured out how I plan on doing it. So, suspend disbelief, sit back and enjoy my stories of life with the Greatest Show on Earth!

Who is Calling Me from the 941 Area Code?

A lot of people have asked me how I found the circus, if I fell in love one day and decided to run away, whether they found me through some connection or maybe if they just got on facebook, found my profile and figured “hell, this guy will fit right in here” (a scary proposition if true). 
The real story is actually quite boring:

When I graduated from University of Cincinnati in 2010 (Go Bearcats!), I was looking for a job and figured it would be the perfect time in my life to do some traveling and see the world.  While searching for 100% travel jobs, I found the Paymaster job with the circus and sent in a resume because, why not?  Long story short, I never heard from them and I went into a corporate finance and accounting gig and lived in that world for three years.  Every now and again when I was bored, I would check the the circus job board to see if they were looking for another Paymaster.  It was a fun five minute mental escape to think “Man, what if I traveled the world in the circus?  Wouldn’t that be crazy?”  Anyway, so in Spring of 2013, I saw that the Paymaster gig was back on the job board, wasn’t doing anything particularly cool with my night, so I sent in a resume.  I promptly had forgotten about it by the time the sun had come up the next morning.

Fast forward a few weeks, I’m walking out of work to lunch and my phone rings from a number I didn’t know and an area code I had never heard of, specifically the 941 area code.  At that point, I got my angry voice ready to yell at the telemarketer who I assumed was calling me, answered the phone and it was a guy from the circus.  After two phone interviews, I had an offer in hand to join the Greatest Show on Earth!