How I Ran Away And Joined The Circus (Sort Of)

I've long been obsessed with running away to join the circus. Growing up down the road from Ringling Brother's home, we were the first to see the new circus acts, and never missed a year.

A product of my environment, I grew up believing the manufactured illusion created in Central Florida was spectacular, and real. The circus, Disney, all of the over the top entertainment that springs from the former swampland seeped into my brain. 

My circus thing took backseat between the ages of 14-30, but they started coming back right around the time I became an editor. Hmm. Specifically, it was the moment I flew on a trapezefor a story, that I realized I was a circus girl at heart. Who cares if I damaged my rotator cuff when I jumped off the platform? 

Life as an editor can be remarkably similar to life under the big top --  long days, many on the road, juggling of multiple acts, and entertaining the crowds. Being careful to know where to step. Relying on a team with ropes and pulleys and walkie talkies (OK, ours are iPhones).

So perhaps I ran off to join the circus after all. 


When I got a call last week asking if I wanted to climb aboard the circus train, of course I said yes. I was getting sick, and up to my ears in spreadsheets, but made the early morning drive to and through the train tracks, where I climbed aboard the Pie Car. The Pie Car contains a kitchen -- not much bigger than a food truck's -- from where all of the performers' meals are made. At 23, the executive chef, Matt Loory, is the youngest in Ringling's history to have this job.

Matt lives on board the train, preparing food for entertainers from 17 different countries. From morning until night, he and his team prepare the dishes to fuel the performers and make them feel a little closer to home. Fried eggs on burgers, inspired by the motorcycle daredevil Torres family, is a favorite. More on them later.

With Pie Car Chef Matt Loory The storage space is limited, and everything needs to be strapped down for transport. DSC03889

Seats in the Pie Car are first-come, first-serve to all the performers. There's also a mobile unit that sets up by the arenas to feed them. DSC03882


We took Nate and a friend to the actual circus, an annual family tradition. (Thanks, Dad!) This year we had the chance to go backstage, you know, for the kids. 


That's right, we got to sit on a motorcycle in the Globe of Steel, the metal ball in which a bunch of riders do their thing. That's Carmen Torres, one of the only female riders in the world to do this act. And my new hero.

I had been talking for days about what I would do if I actually did join the circus. On the train I asked one of their PR representatives what it takes to be a ringmaster. She said one must be able to think on one's feet and respond to changes at a moment's notice, have an excellence presence and the ability to command a room. Again, all things editors must possess as well, so I thought I might have a chance. Until I met Jonathan Lee Iverson:


Like Carmen Torres, he's a pioneer too -- the first African-American ringmaster to lead a major circus. After briefly chatting with him, and later seeing him in action, I decided that I might want to stick to my day job. (When I told him of my ringmaster aspirations, he said I did have the appropriate footwear. Yes!)

On that note, the dancers and I matched. Well, at least in our shoes: 


I know it's not easy to put on a show this large. The logistics of it all are fascinating. A train full of people -- a moving city, really; the support staff that travels and that coordinates things back at home; the vets and the seamstresses and the physical therapists. I'm sure circus performers hear daily (from people like me), "I want to run away with the circus," all the while they are thinking of the rehearsals, and the details, and the day-to-day concerns everyone has, regardless of what circus they belong to. 

It takes a certain person, I'm sure, to get on that train and travel for a year, to sacrifice proximity and convenience. To wake up in a different place each day, stretch one's body to the limits, and give up normalcy. I get that. Some people are made for a life far from the conventional. 

Thankful for that. 

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Related Links:

An Announcement: Running Away To Join The Circus 

There Was A Monkey On My Head