Tales From The Trails

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Tales From The Trails

Last night I slept in the back seat of my truck. Yes, at 56 years old (my birthday is in two days), I still sleep in my vehicle on occasion. It is actually one of the criteria I check when buying a vehicle. Can I lay down in the back seat and not be in a fetal position? I don’t have to sleep in my truck, after all - we fair performers are independently wealthy since we make the big bucks (insert sarcastic LOL), but all hotels surrounding Yellowstone NP run about $250 a night for a Super 8 in August and I think everyone but “The Donald” would whine a bit about paying those prices. I am not on vacation and I have no one to impress, I am alone - and truthfully, I found a campsite along a river in the woods where it was just me and the moths. I was in paradise and I slept well. Fortunately, I am 5’7” and my truck is 5’6” wide inside. I have a 2” piece of foam I put inside a $20 sleeping bag as a futon and I have one of those sleeping bags that is thicker than any blanket I have ever owned. It’s difficult to roll up at times. You have to use clips to hold it folded in half before you roll it and it is huge once it is rolled up!  I also bring a firm pillow so I don’t feel the arm rest under my head. I’m a guy - sleeping alone along the road is OK every other night and I feel safe and the world is my urinal. Alan Bruess brings his kitchen with him everywhere. I bring my bedrolls, and I have a kitchen, too but I will leave that for another time.

I have driven through Yellowstone National Park every year at least once for the last 28 years. The first year was the year Yellowstone burned, 1988, but I move ahead for a moment. One year I spent six days in the park. I flew a girlfriend into Jackson Hole. We stayed in a hotel in Jackson Hole when she arrived. I then reserved rooms with the help of someone in the park at one of the reservations desks. If you called on the phone they would have said, “Sold Out” but at the desk, we found rooms throughout the park, spaced out evenly, driving every road, ending up back to Jackson Hole where we stayed again in the same hotel the last night before I flew her home. It was the only time my Tundra got 18 MPG because the speed limit in the park is 45 MPH.

My first year on the road was 1987. Wow, OK - 29 years … I joined RMAF the fall of 1987. It was one of the first associations I joined after joining the IAFE and WFA the previous year. I joined RMAF because my office partner, Fred Anderson said, “I want to see the Teton Mountains,” and so now, half my life has been visiting these national parks and the surrounding states.

 Fred was my office partner. We did our marketing together. We were both San Francisco street performers and we knew that fairs were the logical market to go into from the streets since you were working outdoors, fighting the elements and you had to gather a crowd and do a show. The only difference was on the streets you had to ask the audience for money at the end of the show. At fairs, you had a guarantee. Back in the late 1980’s Fred and I would work together getting work for the summer fair season. Fred would make the phone calls. I would type out cover letters (without a spell check - I am sure my letters were horrible!). We would stuff two VHS videos into an envelope and for $2.00 we could mail them out together - same price, up to two lbs., one or two tapes. 

In 1987, Fred and I were about the only two variety acts working the RMAF Convention along with Gibb Richards the clown. Gib was well established there already. Gib was a math teacher at a University in Albuquerque and he spent his summers working for fairs, charging just enough to break even and vacationing in the region. There was one other act. Triangle Talent was handling a balloon sculptor that did HUGE balloons of a Motorcycle - the acts last name was Hamilton I think. Dave Hamilton rings a bell, but don’t quote me on that. He was good. He wore a white suit with a red shirt and red shoes. He looked sharp! I wonder how many of those suits he had. They certainly did not stay clean, I am sure. The four of us were the entire convention entertainment line-up of variety acts. There were musical acts, of course. Almost as many musical acts then as there are hypnotists now! Things have changed, though. Now there are over 100 variety and grounds acts I believe in the Rockies region, but competition is good I feel, too.

So, what is my point? Why am I sharing all this? Well, this all comes to mind because yesterday, Fred Anderson sent me a text message asking if I could videotape him at a show he was doing locally in the SF Bay Area.  I began thinking about those first tours through the region. Fred was a Juggler and I did magic and balloons. We sold ourselves as a two act package. Fred never drove a car, so he didn’t mind making less to have a personal chauffeur drive him everywhere. Fred had a great showcase but was shy. I’d do the pitch in the room. This is one of the benefits of being a sidewalk balloon clown for so many years.

Back then, the small fairs would help route the acts. They would co-op buy together and run you along Reed William’s carnival route from town to town. We’d get five fairs in a row, two to five days each. We needed to make $2,500 each a week back them to stay on the road and come home with enough money to buy chicken. 

The first two years, Fred and I toured a lot together. One of our “Seymour” Moments was when: we went to the Big Horn Mountains and rented a log cabin for a night between fairs. The place had a small diner on the property and as we sat there eating, we looked out the huge picture window onto a small pond maybe 50-100 feet diameter and in the middle of the pond stood a moose, just standing there, throughout our entire meal. He might still be there now, for all I know.

I have since learned that moose are aquatic animals. They give birth standing in H20 and you do not see them in zoos because they need to roam free. They simply do not make it in any type of captivity. Zero - nil. I love learning animal trivia.

I also remember one year I did the Big Horn County Fair in Basin, WY. I was only doing comedy magic. I was working on a flatbed tractor trailer truck bed doing my shows. I packed up my act into my magic box/table and left it sitting on the stage. I went to the office to collect my allowance so I could go home and buy chicken, I then got in my car and drove 100 miles over the mountain to Sheridan and I went to the movies. When I got out of the movie it was dark. I looked in the back of my minivan and realized something was missing. I forgot to put my act! It was not in the car with me!  I drove back over the mountain and found it sitting in the middle of the flatbed right where I had left it.

I am on my way back to Basin, WY and the Big Horn County Fair right now. I will perform for two days, then I drive to a private party I am producing the entertainment for in Montana.

I was vegetarian back in the 80’s and it was really difficult to find veggies in Montana and Wyoming then. The Rockies were a meat and potatoes world. There were no salads at fast-food places. I found I was eating french fries as my only meal. I had to give up my veggie lifestyle to remain in this business. Things were different back then.

Being on the road as a tailgate entertainer is a lifestyle. I am sure people not in the business would say “You slept in your truck?” and I would have to reply, “What? And give up showbiz?”