Thought of the Week
So this week...
Let me tell you about my last trip to The Circus.
Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey, "The Greatest Show on Earth" is currently on its final tour. The 146-year-old grand spectacle concludes with a May 21st performance in New York.
I hadn't been to this circus in something like 20 years. It was one of those definitive touchstones that I had experienced as a child, but I hadn't really thought about it much in the years since then, despite the fact that I actually keep a bunch of pens and pencils in a Ringling Bros. collector's cup on my desk.
I caught the show on a cold February Friday in Philadelphia.
In a society where so many people are jaded, and addicted to the internet, and emotionally stunted, and too cool for everything, this circus is one of the few things I can think of that should be able to cut through all that, at least during the 2 hours of the performance. As I watched, I started to realize that it really is a show like no other.
As the show rolled on, I thought about this circus' catch phrase again, "The Greatest Show on Earth". I have a hard time thinking of anything that even comes close to rivaling what I saw yesterday. The Ringling Bros. and Co. do everything they can to live up to their bold statement, and they do a hell of a great job.
I saw aerialists, acrobats, contortionists, high wire balancing acts, clowns, horses, llamas, lions, tigers, a kangaroo, pyrotechnics, an evil queen, a magic telescope, a snowball fight, a speedboat, a ringmaster wearing the gaudiest top hat and jacket you've ever seen, basketball players riding unicycles and slam dunking, roller bladers who jumped off trampolines and flipped through hoops, the death defying motorcycle riders that drive around in that crazy steel sphere, plus a live band playing a good musical score and adding sound effects.
And, wait for it...
THEY HAD A FREAKING LEOPARD TOO.
I could spend $250 buying a nose bleed seat to an NFL game, and, oh yeah, my team might lose by 20.
Or I could spend endless seasons following one of the 27 NBA teams that have no chance of winning the title in any given year.
Or I could spend around $15 to watch another unimaginative, CGI encrusted Hollywood cliché fest on the silver screen.
Or I could spend $100 an hour (or way more) to have naked women pretend to like me at a strip club.
When I think about what I saw at this circus performance, and I look at the $43 I spent on a ticket... I realize it was the bargain of a lifetime. In a world of liars and scammers and con artists, there are some businesses that actually want to give you great value for your money. As I was watching the show, everything else in life literally seemed pointless by comparison.
So, yes, the elephants. I think it was a good idea to phase the elephants out of this circus, even though they only did it just last year. I am amazed that they could make enough money year after year, to feed, transport, train, and care for the world's biggest land animal. What an incredible run. Of all the logistical challenges the circus takes on, this had to be at the top of the list. But yeah, it's hard / impossible to justify this type of lifestyle for an animal that damn big. I believe they are better off where they are now, at the Feld's preserve in Florida.
Sometimes though, when I think about the people who protested Ringling Bros. for the past several decades, I wonder if any of them eat meat, at all, ever, as the meat industry is the single biggest source of animal cruelty in the world, and it's not even close.
I often put off errands until I have a long enough list of errands to make the drive around town worth it. I marvel at the Herculean feat of logistics that is the circus. The train they travel in is literally a mile long. The only thing that would be harder to plan, finance, and run would be a war in a foreign country. I would love to know what it costs Ringling Bros. to put on each performance but apparently they keep that number a secret. Perhaps someday they will reveal that figure. It takes a special type of person to dream up something as completely over the top as the circus, and consider all the challenges, financial and otherwise, and then decide to do it anyway.
The enormous scale, the sheer impracticality of the circus is all part of its appeal. Take a minute to think about how hard it would be just to load / unload all the gear, performers, and animals on a given day. I used to play in a band and the loading / unloading of our equipment is the part I don't miss. Even the most extravagant concert performed by a Lady Gaga or a Beyoncé has to pale in comparison to the hassle and expense of the traveling circus.
A few minutes after the show ended, as I was standing there soaking in the scene for the last time, a mother asked me to take a picture of her with her 3 very young kids. They were super polite, which was refreshing.
There we were, for a brief moment in time: A lady, a gentleman, and children of all ages.
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