A little while ago, I had the misfortune of having to get out of bed at 5am on a Sunday morning. But thirteen hours later, I found myself at the other side of the world, in Newark, New Jersey.
As I stepped off the plane, the first thing that hit me was the heat. Why I hadn’t bothered to check the weather before I came, I have no idea. But it was certain the four pairs of trousers in my suitcase would be staying there.
I wandered into the airport and suddenly realised that having drank a litre of water on the plane, I really had to pee. So there I was, through border control and past baggage claim. I turned the corner and… shock horror! Toilet stalls… with gaps in the doors! I half considered waiting but after a six hour flight, I was desperate. (Turns out, this was the case everywhere, and not just the airport scrimping on funds.)
My plan was that I would be staying in America for the month of July, and interning with a youth circus called Trenton Circus Squad in New Jersey. I had absolutely no idea what to expect, who I’d meet, or even exactly what I’d be up to. I was nervous, but also quietly excited knowing this was to be my biggest adventure yet.
That night, I met the five girls and our chaperone that I would be living and working with for the next two weeks. As the very long day drew to an end, we sat on the porch outside watching the sun go down and the fireflies come out like a reflection of the stars in the sky.
For breakfast, finally I got to try one of the icons of great American cuisine – ‘Froot Loops’. Conclusion: blech. “Shall I compare thee to licking a battery?” And so, we left at 7.30am for a 9am start in Camden, NJ where we would introduce Trenton Circus Squad’s new pilot project. The day was spent taking part in workshops, practicing five ball juggling, meeting the rest of the group, and sweating like crazy in the un-air conditioned hall. Yippee. That night we went to the boss’s house for dinner and we made guacamole. I say ‘we’. I supervised. And tried a burrito for the first time – Froot Loops: 0, Burrito: 10.
The next day was the Fourth of July, so we did as what most of America seemed to do that day, and drove down to Washington DC! We spent the day in the sun at the National Mall, (which I expected to be a rather large shopping centre. It’s not.) for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and watched shows and performances from circuses up and down the country. Somehow I ended up talking on the social circus panel for the National Endowment for the Arts which was, as I believe the kids say, “kinda cool” (or rather one of the highlights of the trip!)
On the drive home, it rained. But it was brightened up when we passed a proper, motorbike riding, bandana wearing, denim jacketed, biker gang. Not your average view when cruising down the A90 Southbound. It grew dark as we were passing through Philadelphia and we oohed and aahed at the fireworks lighting up the tower block littered skyline. We drove through five states that day.
The rest of the week was spent improving on our skills, putting a show together with the whole group, and sweating like a cheese sandwich in a warm rucksack. On Saturday we headed into Philly for the Puerto Rico Festival where we spent the day performing, teaching kids how to spin plates, salsa dancing, and trying not to get heat stroke.
The next day we ventured to New Hope – a wonderful little town where trees line the streets, bookshops and art stores are more common than grocery stores, and the Delaware River roars through the middle. The plan for the rest of the day was to hike up Mount Tammney. But we got lost. And instead drove through the mountain roads, listening to music and holding maps the wrong way up. We managed about 45 minutes of the Appalachian Trail but decided it was much too hot and went swimming instead.
Week two was incredibly full on. Every day consisted of workshops for young summer camp kids, and shows. Lots of shows. Oh, and attempting to survive a poisonous spider bite that mysteriously appeared on my leg. That was exciting. But nothing was amputated so all was well.
We finished that week with a trip to an American diner. It was incredible. The portions were bigger than the plates. The building, like an oversized jukebox, had a neon red front and the inside felt friendly and welcoming with red booth seats and high pitched chatty waitresses. That weekend, we all went our separate ways – Maimi Florida, Boston, New Orleans, New York, and Trenton. The Camden pilot project was over, and I had to survive two weeks without the group.
That Sunday, the second leg began. I changed lodgings and went to stay in Hillsborough with two rather wonderful families. These two weeks would be spent at the Squad’s headquarters in Trenton. The building was amazing – an old abandoned factory donated by the council. The ceilings were high enough to throw diabolos and feel like they’d never come down, and enough floor space ride unicycles without ever banging in to anyone (anything however, is a slightly different story…)
“Not at home. Definitely alone. Lost in New York.”
I spent two days in New York City. I inevitably began by getting lost and confused and unable to find the right train ticket or platform – something even my 75 year old grandmother is capable of. But in the end I rode the PATH train to NY Penn Station and of course, got lost again. In my attempt to find Time’s Square which was in theory just up the road, I spent an hour wandering around the same three streets. Time’s Square was incredibly busy. I had been warned that New York would be at least ten times busier than I could possibly imagine it to be. That was about right. But it was amazing and bright and shining. There were billboards everywhere and the lights advertising all the theatres and shops lit up even in the midday sun. I wandered through the various chocolate shops and made my way towards Rockafeller Centre, stopping off in the public library and St Patrick’s Cathedral on the way. Rockafeller Centre was much smaller than I thought but still worth the visit, even if it was just to go into the Lego store like the adult that I am…
Afterwards, I headed to Central Park with the intention of finding the zoo. But, I got lost, again (are you noticing a bit of a theme here?) and took the long way around. By the time I had found it, it was due to close in an hour, so I quickly bought my ticket and hurried around the plethora of reptile, bird, and penguin enclosures, giggled at the turtles, and managed to catch a glimpse of the back end of a grizzly bear.
After the zoo, I went to the Museum of Modern Art where I was let in for free because they didn’t recognise my Scottish student ID. Oh dear, what a shame… Over five floors I saw the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, and Van Gogh’s Starry Night. It was definitely worth the free entry.
The next day I took a new friend with me into the city. Our first stop was the 9/11 memorial. We walked down through Battery Park and got the free (yes, FREE!) Staten Island Ferry across the water and right past the Statue of Liberty. Afterwards we had a long trek up to Brooklyn Bridge where we avoided getting hit by cyclists. The bridge made for a great viewpoint of the city; rather than paying $40 to go up the Empire State Building, you get a great, and possibly more authentic feeling view, by crossing the bridge for free. Afterwards we spent a long time looking for a working subway station and headed up to Time’s Square where we visited the Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum. It was fantastic. From the marvellous to the downright weird, there was everything in that museum. Statue of the tallest man in the world? Got it. Train crafted entirely from match sticks? Got it. Hallway made of Cheetos? Got it. The museum was great, and highly recommended.
The last week finished with a fantastic final show (despite several injuries…) and some incredibly hard to say goodbyes. It’s a little known fact in the circus world that circus is like family. And up until spending a month with some of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met, I don’t think I realised just how true that is. In the hours leading up to leaving for the airport, I was desperately trying to think of any excuse for me to stay. Maybe the dog ate my passport? But the next adventure was waiting just around the corner and the flights were already booked, so I reluctantly got on the plane.
I have to admit, before I left home I was probably the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life. “The other side of the world. By myself. For a whole month!” The entire prospect was terrifying enough that once or twice I considered not going at all. I’m so glad I did. I’ve met people and done things that I won’t ever forget and I’m determined to earn enough money over this year so that I can spend another month next summer with Trenton Circus Squad.
Handsome space rogue: now seeking employment.
(I now have a video of the footage I got while I was there too…)