Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Greatest Show On Earth

Well, not exactly. That would be Barnum & Bailey, wouldn't it, as opposed to Carson & Barnes, which is what showed up here on the edge of town this morning.

Carson & Barnes, the last of the *real* circuses. The ones that play in tents. Wow! And this isn't just any tent. Nosirree!!! This tent is going to be set up by elephants. And, the public is invited to watch! So, early(ish) in the morning, C and her kidlets came over, and we set off to see the circus.

When we got there, a flatbed trailer sat out in the big middle of the field, waiting for its cargo to unfold into The Big Top. The elephants were lounging around, while a herd of circus men brought them wheelbarrow loads of hay, dusted them off, gave them pedicures, and basically waited on them hand and foot, so we judged we were in plenty of time. No hurries in this camp. We stood around awhile, thoroughly enjoying the elephants, but, I confess, beginning to worry a bit about getting this show on the road, so to speak.

Suddenly...worry no more! Hearing shouts and other assorted noises coming from the direction of the tent, we turned to see a multitude of men, harnessed to various belts and pulleys and all sorts of contraptions, d-r-a-g-g-i-n-g one section of the tent from the trailer over to the edge of a circle of stakes that had been set up around it. All I could think of was the massive backache these guys were going to have by lunchtime.

While we were waiting for the elephants to get in gear, we happened to run into Amanda, the Lady in Charge of the Circus. She looked like she might have been all of 18 or 19 years old (though I must admit pretty much everybody is starting to look like a teenager to me anymore), but in our conversation with her we learned, among other things, that she had a Master's degree, one which cost her parents $20,000 a year, and which apparently qualified her to ride elephants in the circus, dressed in sequins and feathers. Whatever.

She explained the workings of the circus to us:

  • It plays 300 days in a year. In a row. Without even one day off.
  • They set up early in the morning on the day of the show, and knock everything down immediately following the show that night.
  • To be in the circus, one must truly be a Jack-of-all-Trades. Everyone has a job "before the show, during the show, and after the show."
  • The truck drivers are the animal trainers are the tent setter-uppers are the acrobats.
  • Sleep is an unheard-of luxury, limited to the time between 1-2 am, after everything is packed up and road-ready, and 5am or so, when it is time to hit the road. She didn't offer any information on when they might possibly squeeze in time for a shower or a meal.
  • Outside of that abbreviated night, the "downtime" in circus life is from 2-3 pm, when everyone is allowed a one-hour nap, for a grand total of 3-5 hours of sleep a day/night, 300 days in a row...something you might want to keep in mind if you ever find yourself sharing the road with a circus caravan. It might be in your best interest to give them the road.
The relevant information we learned from Amanda, however, was that there would be no elephants helping set up the tent today. Or any other day for that matter. You see, the circus no longer employs elephants to do any work, thanks to the Animal Rights people who have intervened on their behalf.

I glanced over at the men's Herculean efforts to whip that tent into shape and wondered where the Human Rights people were. No word from them evidently.

Nothing from the Green Rights people either, even though by now several petroleum-burning, emission-spewing tractors and bulldozers had been called in to do what an elephant could have done effortlessly and fossil-fuel free. Elephants fart, though, so perhaps it's a trade-off in that respect.

Well, that was the circus. We entertained a vague notion of going to the show this afternoon, but showtime came and went, and no sign of Monga home from work. It's probably just as well, for me, anyway. I'm sure the kidlets would have enjoyed it; I have fond memories of the 1-2 times I went to the circus as a kid myself, but I'm thinking that as an adult, especially after the rude, politically-correct disillusions of this morning, I'm probably better off with my memories. Reality never quite measures up to the Good Old Days.

And just think... "These days" are someday going to be somebody's Good Old Days. Imagine that.


sterling river said...

Terrific reporting! You're right - so many times "behind the scenes" is better than the actual show. Your kids' Good Old Days memories will be all about how their folks made the effort and looked for facts and reality over dazzle and illusion. Pretty good!

Marytoo said...

Sterling River, thank you for stopping by!

Sterling River said...

Now THIS one will have the right link to the new blog. We went to the circus last February, and yes there were all kinds of people protesting against having the elephants perform. We were so far away from the show floor, we couldn't see what the handlers were doing. I hope they are okay - Ringling insists that they are so careful with them.