This past Friday, after giving directions to my favorite diner to the three counselors, I left home with the rest of the crew. I wasn’t ready to leave, but thanks to the efficiency and speed at which we left the lot, the goodbye was painless and I was on the road again as I knew I would be. I drove north on I-91, riding as navigator in the 26-foot long prop van until Exit 13. Hanover, New Hampshire is home to Dartmouth College and like many college towns, it feels comfortable (one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about this tour is I never feel totally overwhelmed by these towns – there is something gentle and homelike about these cities). Upon arrival, I helped set up the dining tent (“dink hole”) and hauled heavy gauge cables across the grass from the generator (“gennie”) to the distribution box (“disto”). In the afternoon, I fell asleep in my tent.
The evening’s end of activity brought a special opportunity with it. That evening, thanks to friends of Smirkus, we were invited to see the Big Apple Circus in Lake George, New York, free of charge. Lake George lies two and a half hours away from our current location. After showers, we piled into the pickup trucks and took off back across the Connecticut River, westward to New York. The evening drive was mostly on secondary highways – off of Routes 91 or 89 and we zipped along the Vermont countryside, along riverbeds and ski resorts closed for the summer. The truck I rode in was late due to navigation errors cause by a lack of printed directions. We found our way using a Smartphone and in a little over the expected travel time, the highway dumped us on a strip of mini golf courses, motels, gift shops, bars, and restaurants in Lake George.
A circus tent is an easy thing to find in a small city. Parking, however, proved to be a different story. After navigating a vast network of chain link fences and lots filled with trailers, our group of six found our way to the box office. The name “Circus Smirkus” when paired with the right name, prompted a gesture towards the front of the house, where a friend of Smirkus showed us to our seats. We sat front and center, close to the ring curb while some of the best professionals in the business amazed us. The degree and variety of talent was impressive; clearly accustomed to playing “bigger” shows. This is, however, not to deny the Smirkos the credit they are due. Troupers here at Smirkus have distinguished themselves by being professional performers as well as regular students and “kids.” Most have not decided how far they want to pursue circus arts but should they want to go the distance and commit themselves to an operation as large and far-reaching as Big Apple, they’ve all got the drive to do so.
Afterwards, we were invited into the back lot to meet old friends learn more about the Big Apple operation and the tour lifestyle of a bigger circus. I left feeling impressed, yet still proud of our own operation. Both circuses operate on different scales, yet similarities exist in the expectations of the performers and the crew and those similarities are a cause for mutual respect and admiration. Our experience at Big Apple is only one small example of how well connected and recognized the Smirkus brand is with larger circus community.
I have always been a fan of late-night drives, especially during summer with the windows rolled down and the radio turned up. The return drive to the site was one of the longest I can remember. Our route followed the same as that which we drove during the evening but given how tired we were and how long a day it had been, it seemed as if someone had moved Hanover. We listened to Bob Dylan and ate gas station snacks for dinner. I rode in the front seat and with my face against the cool glass window and watched the stars overhead until my eyelids slammed shut on their own accord before we reached Hanover. I was still asleep as I zipped myself in my sleeping bag.