by Jay Jamison
I just got back from an eight-state trip. I was lured to Florida, by my sister and brother-in-law, using the bait of attending a St. Louis Cardinal’s spring training game. Also, lousy weather here on the prairie and warm weather in the sunshine state may have had something to do with my decision to head south. I was asked by some people upon my return if I flew. My aversion to airports in general, and a string of airliner incidents in recent weeks, sealed my determination to drive. People asked, did I drive alone? Yes, alone. Wasn’t I worried about a breakdown, traveling such distance all by myself? The question brought back old memories.
Forty years ago, I was hired by Charlie Bellatti to become part of the press and publicity department of Carson & Barnes Five-Ring Wild Animal Circus. The first part of my employment was to get to circus winter quarters in Hugo, Oklahoma, about 615 miles from Jacksonville. I made the trip in a 1976 Volkswagen Rabbit.
My worry was not about the drive to the southeast part of Oklahoma, since I’d driven a longer route to Norman, Oklahoma on a regular basis as a graduate student. The worry was how well I’d fit in to the work as a circus press agent. My job was ahead of the show, contacting local sponsors of the circus, as well as providing information to the local media, routing the circus convoy, checking if the chosen lot was big enough (it rarely was), and many other duties.
In those days, there were no cell phones, no satellite mapping systems, no laptop computers. I did the work alone without any immediate way of contacting anyone. To contact the circus, I had to find a landline telephone, call the office in winter quarters and they would then forward my information to the show — that is, whenever someone from the show called winter quarters via a pay phone. The reports that I sent directly to the circus were sent by mail, to general delivery in those towns where the show was scheduled to be playing, in advance of the date about which I was reporting. Communications back then were primitive by today’s standards.
So, a trip alone through Illinois, Kentucky, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Missouri, with instant communication via my cell phone, hardly seemed daunting. My two tours with Carson & Barnes Circus taught me a lot about hard work and self-reliance. If something went wrong — a flat tire, a leaking water pump, a broken timing belt — I quickly learned to handle the problem myself. Today, roadside assistance is just a cell phone call away.
Another thing that induces me to prefer driving to flying, is that during my tenure with the circus, I got to see America up close. Carson & Barnes rarely played big cities. So, I got to see much of the country on the way to places I’d never heard of, and to see sights that would have been missed hopping from one metropolitan airport to another. However, I was working very hard, and I was under constant pressure of time and distance to do my job. Those decades-old memories are constant reminders of what’s out there. Now, once again, I have the chance to see more of the country from the ground, without the pressures of show business. While I still can, I will continue to leap at any opportunity to hit the road.