Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tuesday, June 29 & Wednesday, June 30: Chicago, IL

7/29/14- Day Off!

Emma and Claire came by the lot this morning and picked me up in the dancers' communal car. We drove downtown to the Museum of Science & Industry, and I was grateful that we made the trip in the girls' car since we were able to fit into the museum's parking garage.

When you buy a general admission ticket to the museum, you have the option of also purchasing access to other special exhibits as well.
We all opted to also pay for the Coal Mine exhibit, and the Treasures of Disney Vault, which is the museum's most recent, rotating exhibit.

I really enjoyed the Coal Mine exhibit, and if Emma hadn't suggested it (her father worked in a coal mine), I never would have thought to check it out.
Once our group was gathered together, our tour guide took us down into a "coal mine" in an elevator. There we learned about the different types of equipment used in coal mining, as well as the inherent dangers. We also got to ride in an underground train!
That exhibit really helped me understand how huge the museum is.

Next up we visited the Treasures of Disney's Vault exhibit, which told the story of Walt Disney (who was born in Chicago), focusing on his beginnings, the rise of Mickey Mouse, the great success of Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs, the process of Disney animation, and the construction of Disneyland.

 The actual storybook from the beginning of the film.
 Replica of an animator's desk
 Mary Poppins' magical hand bag
 An early Disneyland animatronic head
Animation maquettes from my favorite Disney cartoon, "Beauty and the Beast"

I really enjoyed seeing all the artifacts on display, and it was amazing to be reminded of how meticulous the Disney animators were when it came to studying movement and transferring it to paper and then to the screen.

At the conclusion of the Disney exhibit there was an animation lab where you could learn to draw various Disney characters.

All three of us tried our hand at drawing Mickey and Donald Duck.

 Mickey needs to lay off the cheese
Naturally I was more in tune with a duck

After seeing the two special exhibits, Claire, Emma, and I spent the rest of the afternoon going through the museum and enjoying all of the varied, entertaining, and interactive exhibits.

 Paul Jerome replica in the model circus
 Lou Jacobs replica in the model circus
 A great model of downtown Chicago
 Claire and Emma get in touch with their inner cowgirl
Penguin party!

Early in the evening we decided to head out, and the girls were nice enough to drive me to the nearest Metro stop, thereby saving me a lengthly walk or bus ride.
I jumped on a Red Line train which took me all the way to Wrigley Field, where I met up with my friend, Rick Purdue.

Rick was nice enough to buy us tickets for the Cubs Vs. Rockies game, which fulfilled my goal of seeing a baseball game at Wrigley Field, which is celebrating it's 100th birthday this year.

After getting my $11 hotdogs and $8.50 beer, we walked up to our seats, which afforded us a great view of the game.

I enjoyed being able to just sit back, relax, and turn my brain off while I watched the game, but we were both feeling a bit restless by the bottom of the 7th inning. It was a very slow game, and by that late in the game, over three hours in, the score was tied 3-3.
We decided to call it a night while it was still fairly early, and we walked to Rick's apartment, which was not far away.

It turns out that if we had stayed we would have been in the park until 1:30 a.m! That night's game, which began at 7:05 a.m, went down in history as the longest game (time wise) that the Cubs had ever played. The Cubs finally won 4-3 at the bottom of the 16th inning!
Even though we weren't there until the end, at least we can say we were there for almost half of that historic game!

Rick and his wife, Paula, were nice enough to let me spend the night at their beautiful apartment, which saved me a late, long, train ride home, and then a scary walk through the hood in the middle of the night.

7/30/14- 7:30 p.m.

This morning Rick walked me to the nearest train station. On the way we stopped and had breakfast at a great little cafe that he had been wanting to try out for awhile.

Once I got back to the lot I jumped in my truck and went to Walmart, where I received a much needed haircut from an incredibly OCD woman. She took forever making sure that every hair on my head was the exact same length.
After that hour and a half of my life was over, I picked up some meat for the barbecue after the show.

We had a very big, enthusiastic audience for the show tonight, which helped us get back into the swing of working after a day off.
Two little girls, Calina and Isabella, came up to me and Ryan after the show and gave us pictures that they had drawn of us.

There is no doubt that that is me and Ryan

After the show there was a barbecue/punch party thrown by the dancers. Everyone was invited to bring a punch they had made, and there were prizes for best taste and best presentation.

The esteemed judges

After the horrible hangover I suffered from the last barbecue, I made sure to keep well hydrated during the evening, and even though we had 13 different punches to sample, I tried to taste in moderation.

After tasting everything, Ryan and I retreated to my trailer to go over my notes and pick the winners. The hands down winner for best taste was Pompeyo's mother, who made a delicious punch that tasted like key lime pie. It was served in little cups with sour tasting powder around the top.

Best presentation was a toss up between the dancers' "Alice In Wonderland" themed punch served in a watermelon adorned with Lewis Carroll quotes, and Visan's candy apple punch, which was served in apples cut in half with caramel also inside. (Visan's punch was also a close runner up for best taste)

Visan pulled ahead and won best presentation because the dancers played a dirty trick on us.
In front of their watermelon was a little bottle labeled "Drink Me", just like in "Alice In Wonderland". After some prompting from the dancers, we took a swig from the bottle, only to discover that it was pure vodka!
The dancers all laughed as we gagged in response to the unexpected harshness of the alcohol. That little stunt cost them the prize!
(Well, that and they told us not to give them either of the prizes, two big bottles of alcohol.)

Ryan and I also made up a special award for Klaus, who made the most lethal punch at the party.
It almost killed us both, and soon everyone had to try the dangerous concoction.

Klaus enjoying his handiwork

Klaus later told me the secret recipe: a whole bunch of different alcohols with some cayenne pepper!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Monday, July 28: Chicago, IL- 7:30 p.m.

This morning I did laundry, and then back at the lot I found Martin, who was going to help fix our carpenter box.
A problem arose when he couldn't find his welder; he assumed the worst, that someone had stolen it.
Luckily after a little searching and asking around he discovered that he had been made the victim of a prank. Martin wasn't angry because he got his welder back, and he sort of had it coming as he had always been messing with the person who pranked him.

The problem with the carpenter box was that one of the casters was bending and getting stuck whenever the box was moved. Martin and Dominick unbent the offending caster last week, but on Sunday it became stuck worse than ever.

Today Martin cut up some steel that I bought, and then he welded the pieces in each corner, under each caster, which should prevent them from bending any more.

Ryan and I were happy to have friends in the audience tonight. Don Lansu, who I've known since Moosecamp (a week long clown school in MN) in 2001, and his wife, Phyllis, were at the show, as well as Gary Podolsky, a 1985 Clown College graduate, and his wife, Ellyn.

At the end of the carpenter gag Ryan and I were styling on the ring curb when I noticed a woman sitting right below me that was staring straight ahead, with her arms crossed, ignoring me.
Without even thinking I jumped down off the ring curb, landing right in front of her and snapping her out of her daze, and then I gave her a great big kiss on the cheek.
That should teach her to always keep a careful eye on any clown less than a foot away from her!

Before Intermission Jan always introduces the band, and tonight when the dancers, Ryan, and I turned to complement to them, they played a new piece of music that we weren't expecting.
The tune started with a very loud trumpet blast that almost caused us all to add to the mess the horses had made on the floor.

After the show we briefly got to see Don and Phyllis, and we were able to have a nice visit with Gary and Ellyn.
Ellyn made a tray of her famous, delicious, cherry bars, and this year she also included apricot bars, and peanut butter apricot bars.
Ryan and I will be in Heaven for the next couple of days!

And now a little backstory before I share a video with you all:
On Sunday Mario wrote a rap for his motivational speech, and he asked me, Ryan, and the dancers to give him our hidden talents and guilty pleasures.
After the rap Mario expressed his displeasure that not more people had contributed their info, and Claire chimed in with her heavy, Ringo Starr-ish accent, "What about me finger dance?"

This greatly intrigued me and Ryan, so we asked Claire what her finger dance was. Her demonstration showed us that it simply involved moving her index fingers up and down in rapid succession from her balled up fists.

Even though the dance wasn't the great epic that we'd hoped for, Ryan and I couldn't get it out of our heads. So we wrote a brief parody of Men Without Hats' "The Safety Dance", calling it, of course, "The Finger Dance".

I performed it for Claire before Intermission, and she loved it so much that she asked to make a music video.
And here it is. Prepare to be underwhelmed!


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Sunday, July 27: Chicago, IL- 2:00, 5:00, and 8:00 p.m.

When everyone in the cast went out for the opening of the first show, I noticed an unusual amount of audience members sitting stone faced and watching the show through their phones.
Backstage Ryan and I were discussing that phenomenon. It seems so strange to forego any immediate enjoyment in the hope that you'll derive pleasure from a recording of a live event at a later date.

Hmmmm. That last sentence was a little too deep for my tastes.
Oh, I know! During photos after the first show Ryan held a toddler that pooped in his pants while the picture was being taken.
Whew, that's more in line with my usual blogging content.

During the second carpenter gag bits were going wrong left and right, but Ryan and I were able to stay on top of things and turn the mistakes to our advantage.
I love having those happy little accidents (as opposed to an unhappy accident like that little boy had in Ryan's arms); we implemented one of the new bits into the final carpenter gag of the day, and I plan to keep tweaking it until I'm satisfied.
We also tightened up a section of the vacuum gag that greatly benefited the act.

The third crowd was good, but we peaked with the 5:00 p.m. audience. They were phenomenal!
We even brought the house down with the vacuum gag, which is Split Focus City what with the net overhead and the flyers at the edge of the ring climbing up to their platforms.

Mario got us all pumped up for the third show by providing the motivational speech as a rap. He asked the usual gang of suspects that gathers every Sunday to share with him a hidden talent and a guilty pleasure, which he turned into fodder for his free styling.
I was upset he wasn't able to fit my hidden talent into the song: burping the entire text of "The Canterbury Tales". I guess he couldn't find a rhyme for Chaucer.

Beth, who visited a couple of weeks ago with her boyfriend, Greg, swung by tonight on her way home to Indiana from Baraboo.
We went out to dinner, where she graciously picked up the check, and she filled me in on all the fun she had at the International Clown Hall of Fame induction ceremony, the Baraboo Circus Parade, and her visit to Circus World Museum.

When Beth dropped me off back at the lot I stopped by a barbecue being held to give a good send off to Miguel, one of the stage crew members, who is leaving.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Saturday, July 26: Chicago, IL- 6:00 and 9:00 p.m.

Today I had lunch at Portillo's, a Chicago institution famous for their hotdogs and beef sandwiches. I decided on the former, and I greatly enjoyed it.
There is a hot dog place called Hot Doug's that my friend, Lisa, recommended I visit. It is closing in October, and apparently there are always long lines; Lisa told me the line starts forming 30 minutes before they open!

After lunch I picked up some supplies at Walmart, and then I went by O'Reilly Auto Parts to buy a new battery for the little clown car.
The headlights on the car have been incredibly dim lately, and charging the battery did not help. Ryan and I thought maybe it was time to buy a new battery, and we were relieved that when we hooked it up, the lights were shining bright once more.

Ryan was having trouble with his trailer's power today. First he wasn't getting electricity from being plugged into the show power, and then his generator stopped working.
Luckily David, one of the electricians on the show, was able to provide a temporary fix so Ryan's house could have power until he can get an RV repairman to solve the problem during the coming week.

When Ryan and I entered backstage this evening we were surprised to see this poster put up by the dancers on the dressing room curtain:

I guess we're judging a punch party on Wednesday!

Ryan and I promptly made an addendum:

It was very hot and humid backstage today. I suppose we should count our blessings that it hasn't been that way the whole time we've been in Chicago.

It was nice to have headlights on the little car again. For the past week I had been having difficulty seeing the ring as I drove around since the only light source were the spotlights in my face.
I'm lucky that I never crashed into the ring curb and sent Ryan flying into the seats.

We had amazing audiences for the shows tonight, which was a welcome change from last night's performances.
Ryan and I were having a lot of fun performing as well, which I'm sure helped matters.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Friday, July 25: Chicago, IL- 6:00 and 9:00 p.m.

I woke up this morning at 5:45 a.m. I was worried that there wouldn't be power yet, which would prevent me from having a cup of coffee, but since an important television publicity was happening in the tent, the generator was already running.

Once I had woken up and gotten ready, I headed over to the tent around 6:45 a.m. where "Despierta America", a national morning show on UNIVISION, was broadcasting live from our circus.
Ximena Cordoba, who is one of the hosts, even flew in from Miami, where the program is based.

When we arrived in the ring we were told that the crew was having trouble with the live feed, so the first couple of segments had been skipped over, and the schedule was running a little behind.

The broadcast went like this: the show in Miami would occasionally switch over to Chicago where Memo and Ximena would introduce different acts from the circus. The Pompeyos, Trio Bellissimo, Carmelo, and David Confal all performed excerpts from their acts.

Ryan and I only had to do a 1 1/2 minute hit. We entered in our little car (all we needed was some spinners and hydraulics and Ximena surely would have taken us up on our offer of a ride), and then we passed clubs around Ximena.
We were also involved in the final hit where everyone gathered in the circus ring to say goodbye.

I had just pushed Ryan out of the way, because I'm a glory hog.

A surprising amount of locals showed up to be on national TV. During our downtime we interacted with the crowd and posed for pictures.

Including with our biggest fans, the Pompeyos.

After we were finished with the broadcast I got cleaned up and took a nap.
Around 11:30 a.m. my friend, Don Lansu, came by the lot to take me to lunch. He brought free roll for me and Ryan's family: we got a stack of "Circus Report" magazines, two frozen Lou Malnati's deep dish pizzas, and a toy accordion for Nico.

Don and I went to a nearby Mexican restaurant for lunch. While we were catching up Don told me a fascinating story about getting to see Ringling under the big top.
His father knew Felix Adler, so they got to see Felix's state room on the train. Don got to watch the big top go up, and they were all given a tour of the lot by Felix. The coolest part of the story is that Don then got to watch Felix put on his make up before the performance. 

Ximena was at the shows tonight as a special guest. During the first show she did a presentation during Intermission, and then she was available for photos after the performance.
Since everyone was interested in taking a picture with her rather than us or the dancers, we left the ring while there was still a huge line waiting to see Ximena.

Ryan and I took advantage of that time and quickly cleaned our water mat backstage. If we had waited for her to finish and then had to wait like normal for the motorcycle to go into the ring, we would have been done cleaning the mat just in time to start the 9:00 p.m. show.

For some reason Ximena did her special presentation in the second show right after the hula hoops, which is the first act.
That ground the show to a halt, and after that the audience was dead. It was a really tough performance to get through, and I was relieved when the evening was over.

Ryan's mom arrived for a visit tonight, so after work I went out to pick up food for all of us. Since we weren't done at the tent until 11:30 p.m., and I had to drive a ways to give patronage to a restaurant that was open that late, I wasn't back with the food until half past midnight!

While we ate we watched "Despierta America", which Tatiana recorded. We were laughing because there were many times when the camera focused on just me and Ximena and cut Ryan completely out of the shot.

Hmmmmm. Steve & Ximena does have a certain ring to it.
And the children will be beautiful!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Thursday, July 24: Chicago, IL- 7:30 p.m.

One of the casters on the carpenter box has been occasionally sticking when the stage crew are rolling it in or out of the ring, so today Ryan, Pete, Tatiana, and I went backstage to flip the box over and investigate.
The problem was that the metal square attached to the wheel is bent, so when the caster swivels, the bent metal is hitting the bolts on the underside of the box.
Tatiana had the good idea to weld little pieces of metal under each wheel to keep them from bending any more.

I went to Home Depot and picked up a bar of square steel tubing, and miraculously I think it was the first trip I ever made to a hardware store on my own where I picked up exactly the right thing that I needed and didn't have to make a trip to exchange it!

While I was waiting for Martin to be available to weld the metal for us, I ran to the post office and also found a Coinstar machine to cash in my jar full of change I've been collecting since the start of the season.

When I got back to the lot, Martin was around, but he had just returned from the hospital. While doing work on the horse truck, he got some metal shavings in his eyes and had to go to a doctor to have them removed.
The doctor's orders were no more welding today, so he had to take a rain check on that project.
However, he and Dominik bent the metal squares attached to the wheels, so now they swivel without getting caught on the bolts.

Ryan's household was full of music today when Mike, our bass player, brought over his electric guitar so he and Pete could have a jam session.

We had a good show tonight, and the audience really seemed to enjoy our chicanery.

After work I was able to Skype with my friend, Jessi, who is clowning on Circus Kinoshita in Japan. I chatted with her and her partner, Aaron, as they got ready for their afternoon show, and then I got a tour of their Clown Alley and her room. Isn't technology awesome?

Ryan, Pete, and I watched an episode of Doctor Who this evening. After that I was ready for bed since we had to get up early for a national TV publicity in the morning.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Wednesday, July 23: Chicago, IL- 7:30 p.m.

Ryan's brother, Pete, flew into Chicago this afternoon. For some reason, Ryan was expecting him tonight, and since he had important errands to run, he had me go pick up Pete.

I was going to get Pete at O'Hare Airport, but he had already bought a train ticket. I quickly went on the Chicago Transit Authority website and tried to find a station close to our lot on the Blue Line, which runs from the airport.
The website said that the Belmont stop was the farthest he could go without transferring, so I told him to go there.

After a long drive to the northern part of downtown, and some confused phone calls to Pete to discern his location, I found out that there is more than one Belmont stop, and Pete was at one three miles west of where I was.
I quickly pulled over and reset my GPS, and before too long I was able to find Pete without any further complications.

Both of us were hungry, and Pete saw on his phone that a heavy metal themed burger restaurant called Kuma's Corner was just down the road.
His friend had told him about it last year, and he wanted to revisit so he could pick up a t-shirt.

Our food was very good, but it took quite awhile to receive it. That gave us plenty of time to catch up with each other; I enjoyed hearing about his time as head usher on Big Apple Circus last season.

Back at the lot Ryan, Tatiana, and especially Nico were happy to see Pete once again.

A couple of members of the Rozzi family, who Ryan lived with for a year in California, were on their way to NYC and just happened to be in the area.
They stopped by to see the show tonight, so Ryan was happy to have them and Pete in the crowd.

Also watching the show was Bob Hunt, better known as the comedy juggler, "Circus Boy". He came with his girlfriend, Doreen, and his two sons. Bob and Doreen first met on Ringling back in the 1980s where Bob was working as a clown and Doreen as a showgirl.

After the show I was able to visit with Bob and his family briefly. Doreen was nice enough to bring me a delicious rib dinner since I wasn't able to join them for a meal at their home earlier this afternoon.

In closing, here are some fantastic shots that Rick Purdue took this past Sunday:

Monday, July 21 and Tuesday, July 22: Chicago, IL

7/21- 7:30 p.m.

This morning I met up with circus fans Doug, John, Mardi, and Rick, who took me to breakfast. We were able to find a restaurant not far at all from the lot, and I enjoyed telling them about our experiences on Vazquez and hearing circus news from other shows as well.
Before we left, Mardi, who is co-editor of "White Tops" with her husband, John, was nice enough to give me copies of the most recent issues. I was very grateful since I haven't received any of the magazines I subscribe to in the past couple of months.

Later in the day I went shopping to get a birthday present for tonight's party. While I was out I picked up a new video game for myself as well.

At tonight's show there was a family in the front row that was really enjoying our work. They were way more vocal with their appreciation than the rest of the audience was, so Ryan and I played a lot of our bits towards them to capitalize on their reactions.

After the show the family came into the ring to take a photo with us. They stood next to us and posed, but one of the kids leaned against the photo backdrop behind us and knocked it over!
We all laughed about the situation, but then not two minutes later a different family came over, and one of their kids did the exact same thing!
Luckily no one toppled over with the wall, although I'm sure it would have been hilarious!

After the show there was a birthday party for Anastasiia, one of the members of Trio Bellissimo. Her birthday is actually tomorrow, but since it is a day off, it was decided that tonight would be the prime time to party hearty.

7/22- Day Off!

The plan was to get up early this morning so we could hit the road to Baraboo by 7 a.m.
Unfortunately I woke up around 4:30 a.m., much earlier than I wanted to, thanks to a splitting headache. Note to self: shots containing alcohol and Horchata (, although delicious, have a tendency to sneak up on you, especially when combined with sangria and beer.

I took some ibuprofen, stood under my shower until the hot water ran out, and got some breakfast and coffee down my gullet to ease my queasy stomach.
By the time Ryan, Tatiana, Nico, and I left the lot, I felt like a million bucks. Now I just need to start marketing my miracle hangover cure, and I'll be on Easy Street!

The last time we were in Baraboo we didn't get to see our friend, Greg, because he was on vacation. I was happy that we got to visit with him today at the International Clown Hall of Fame, of which he is executive director.

Before geeking out at the Hall of Fame, we went to lunch with Greg, and his daughter, Emily. While we dined we were able to see Greg's wife, Karen, who stopped in for a brief visit on her way to a business meeting.

Back at the ICHOF Ryan and I made ourselves useful and helped Greg reorganize some exhibits in preparation for the induction ceremony taking place Wednesday night.
I really wish we could join in the celebration as Chuck Burns, Dougie Ashton, Paul Wenzel, and Swede Johnson are inducted into the Hall of Fame, but we will be performing a show as the ceremony takes place.

During the afternoon we were surprised to get a visit from Sara, who was the schoolteacher on Ringling's Blue Unit when Ryan and I were working there.
She currently lives and works in Berlin, Germany, but she was in the area visiting family and friends.

Our friend, Neal, who is the clown at Circus World Museum, came over to visit and geek out with us once he was done with work.

"Bobo" Barnett display
 Hotorini, baby! Frosty Little display
 Coco mannequin and wardrobe
 Autographed Lou Jacobs shoes

One of Keith Crary's understated outfits

After awhile our hunger for clown knowledge couldn't compete with our hunger for dinner, so all of us piled into our vehicles and drove to the Wisconsin Dells where we had dinner at Famous Dave's BBQ.

We all shared a big platter of ribs, brisket, fries, beans, corn on the cob, and corn bread muffins. In fact, you could say we all made pigs of ourselves.

See what I did there?

Unfortunately after dinner we had to head back to Chicago. The last time we visited Baraboo we didn't get back to Vazquez until the sun was coming up!
Both Ryan and I decided that we are getting too old for those kinds of hijinx, so we made sure to leave at a reasonable time tonight.

We were treated to beautiful lightning displays almost the entire drive back to Chicago, and we pulled into the lot just before 1 a.m.