Tales from the Trails - August 2nd, 2016
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?”
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A Tale from the Trail
I performed at the Canyon County Fair (and Festival) in Caldwell, ID for seven years. It is a 50K attendance fair about 30 miles from Boise, Idaho. To get to Boise from the San Francisco Bay Area, you take I-80 east, through Reno and turn left in Winnemucca. You drive a few hundred miles through the sagebrush, cross a corner of Oregon and into Idaho. It’s a 12 hour drive, and when I have time, I’ll give myself an extra day, Stay in Winnemucca in the Winners Casino and not shotgun the trip. I like the Winners because it has a motor lodge, you get a free drink (to get you into the smoke filled casino) and the Wells Fargo Bank is across the street. Small reasons, I know - but enough.
On this particular journey, I had recently bought a new Dodge Caravan. My old one lost the transmission at 125K - or perhaps it was the one I back ended another minivan with and did $5,000 worth of damage to mine and almost zero to them because they had an iron tailgate (on a mini van! Who would have thought?). Regardless of the demise of the previous Dodge MiniVan, I was in a new one and before abandoning the old one I removed the full-sized spare from under the trade-in and replaced the toy spare under the new vehicle with the full sized spare.
I had taken this road many times and I always notice the small “attractions” signs as I travel. Like all of us, we love to get out of the vehicle and stretch our legs. Along this particular road, there is not much to admire very long, but I always saw a small sign every time I traveled this road that was in the middle of nowhere. I just tried to find the mane of this attraction to share, and it is so insignificant, I can’t even find a reference to it on the internet after searching for the name for a good half hour. Let me describe it to you: The small sign referenced volcanos, lava formations, fissures - it was a small sign and probably 99.9% of people driving by ignore it, I am sure. On this trip, I decided, “I have an extra day - let’s go look!”
I turned right. One half mile up the dirt road another sign tells me my destination is 23.5 miles ahead. I decide, I am on the adventure, I have the day off and am early - go forth and explore!
At 21 miles into the wilderness, having passed nothing resembling any form of civilization, the road starts to get a bit rough. Not ruts and dirt clods rough, I am talking Lava rocks jutting up 4-6 inches rough. Sure enough, about 1/2 mile from the lava formations and 23-1/2 miles from the highway, I get a flat tire.
No problem, I get out, pull out the full sized spare … and to make a long story short, the lug nut holes on the older model Caravan wheel do not match the later model Caravan. I have no cell service, but I decide to walk to the top of a hill I see and see if I can get service there.
Sure enough, I have one pip of service if I stand on one foot, hold a coat hanger in the air and wear a tin foil hat and after trying five times to reach AAA, I get through without getting disconnected. they connect me with the AAA Service people in the area. This conveniently located service station knows exactly where I am - he is familiar, and he is only 85 miles away, oh … and … his tow truck does not work, the starter needs replacing, so he will come to me, pick me up and my flat, bring me back to the station, change the tire, drive me back to my car and get me on my way!
This gives me time to explore the lava domes, which were fun to look at the little 20’ high funnels. If my memory serves me right there were 20 or more of them of all different sizes and formations, some were the size of a hollow tree, others were bigger, like a fort and others were much smaller.
Two hours later, my AAA representative arrives, we grab my wheel and flat and head back to his shop — 85 miles away – which I will refrain from calling civilization. It’s a metal barn in poor shape, an RV Park that resembles a trailer park you’d not let your kids visit and play in if you had a choice, and they have a diner and small grocery store that has one refrigerator and minimal groceries, but enough to camp and survive if necessary if you are camping there.
We get to the shop, and Bad News; he does not have the correct sized tire to replace on my rim. Good news: his father is at Costco in Boise and will pick up the tire and bring it back. This took another four hours before dd returned, but he did bring the right tire, they changed my flat, did not charge me an exorbitant price, only fair market value - and they drive me back to my handicapped minivan siting in the wilderness raised up on a floor jack. It is now dusk, we replace the tire and when I get back to the highway, it has been a 12 hour adventure.
All is well that ends well, and my tale has no real hicups, it was all a good experience and now I have a story I can share. My next one will be more humorous and a lot shorter. Stay tuned.
This is my 21st year as a comedy hypnotist. For all 21 years I have been doing high school, late-night, grad night and post prom parties. My market has expanced dramatically across the nation and I do approximately 30+ schools each year in about eight states.
This year I have already returned to Montana where I performed in Fairview, Glasgow and Baker; last weekend I was in Lusk, Wyoming and now I am on my way to St. John, North Dakota.
For the fun of it, I have begun collecting coffee mugs in each state I go to since December 25th - I have ten of them in three months. I was in Oregon for Christmas doing a show at a casino referred to me by Michael Mezmer; for New Years Eve I was in California at a country club in the San Francisoc East Bay. I had a holiday party in Minnesota, did a school show in February for a private school during their intersession that was in New York. Did a college show in Charlotte, NC and a lecture and show for a magic club in Vancouver, BC through Shawn Farquhar and also a fundraiser in Saskatchewan.
When I go to rent my cars, I usaully carry on a comedy dialogue that goes something like this:
Me as I approach the Hertz counter: “Mom (or dad if male behind counter), can I borrow the car?”
Them: “The car we have for you is a free upgrade. It’s a Chrysler 300.”
ME: “Oh goody. Lot’s of buttons, bells and whistles to play with.”
Them: “It has less than 1,000 miles on it.”
Me: “BaH! Silly people giving me a new car. I think I will take those extra insurances now!”
Them: “It does have a scratch on the passenger’s door.”
Me: “WHAT! That will slow me down. wind resistance, and I will never get layer now!”
Them: “would you like the fuel option?”
Me: “nope. Even if you offer me fuel for 50¢ less a gallon than in town, for every gallon I leave in the car, it is equal to six gallons of me refilling.”
Them: “Would you like any maps?”
Me: “I carry a GPS. I’m Jewish, without it I get lost for 40 years.”
Them: “Pleasure meeting you.”
Me: “Don’t jump to hasty decisions.”
I am sitting in Minnesota's airport on my way to Minot to drive to St. John. It's time to go. Please add comments, they help my SEO and lord knows I need help! All kinds of help!
December 21st, 2014 -- I just checked into the Grand Hotel in Minot, ND. I have performed in Minot many times in the last few years. It started with the ND State Fair and since then I have been doing all night parties and corporate events a lot here. This Grand Hotel sits majestically on the bluff overlooking the city. It is across from the airport and I have seen it every time I am here, but never entered the doors till now.
As I enter, I realize this is a classy place! I will be doing a show tonight for 200+ employees and guests that work for EnerBase, a regional Cenex gas station management chain. They run the gas stations and distribute fuel and lubricants. They are very big company. Not as big as Exxon-Mobile, but the same idea.
As I enter my hotel room , it is a suite. I say, “ah, what a nice room.” It’s a two-room suite very tastefully decorated with dark stained oak veneer furnishings. It brings a story to mind - a story of the road.
It is March 2013, and I return to Canada to perform for a fundraising show in Kindersley, Saskatchewan, about 2 hours outside Saskatoon. Kindersley has a population of just under 5,000 and is a mineral rich farming community, like so many others in this region.
Over the last 25 years of my career, I have performed for a lot of fairs and expositions, including the Calgary Stampede, Saskatoon Prairielands Exhibition, Medicine Hat Exhibition, Royal Manitoba Winter Exhibition in Brandon, private parties for the military, and others.
In December 2011, I did not apply for a tax exemption before doing a show for a military squadron. This was my mistake and I knew better. Regaredless, it cost me $225.00, which the government withheld from my check and submitted to Revenue Canada (the equivalent of the Internal Revenue Service in the USA). The only way I was going to get that money back was to file a Canadian tax return. I didn’t bother.
Before working in Canada, U.S. citizens must apply for tax exemption. If they do not, it is mandated that the Canadian host retain 15% of gross payment and send it to Revenue Canada. To apply for tax exemption, there are a number of steps to take. It is not complicated, but it must be done at least 3-4 weeks before the event date to give Revenue Canada sufficent time to respond.
2012 July 8 - I recently went camping along the coast of California at Phieffer Big Sur State Park to get out of the San Francisco Bay Area and breathe some smoke. The neighbors at our next door site were friendly enough when we arrived, but there seemed to be some differences in how we communed with nature. The first sign was their Coke Zero, the giant red bag of Fritos chips, and the two cushioned, raised chairs their designer Scotties (dogs) sat on. The clincher was when they used a remote control to close the door of their VW SUV from 60 feet away...
On March 19th, 2012 I flew to Long Beach on a whim, to visit the Magic Castle in Hollywood. I went there to visit a childhood friend of my father’s, George Schindler, and got to meet his wife, Nina, for the second time. George was performing in the Parlor at the Magic Castle and I had never seen him perform before. He arranged two guest passes for me, so I brought along hypnotist Marc Bachrach, whose home I stayed at while in the LA area. ...
2012 February 17 - I just completed a magic lecture tour across the Southern states, arranged by Scott Wells, Southern Lecture Tour Coordinator of Houston. I was in seven cities including St. Louis, Kansas City, New Orleans, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin. Two places I stayed at have been in the homes of magic collectors who have magic museums and collections second to none I have ever seen. ...
2011 December 7 - Today is Pearl Harbor Day. On this day in 1941, the largest single attack on American soil by an outside country or agency took place. Prior to this—from 1864 and earlier—only civil war battles had rung up high tolls of death and destruction in the United States. Since then it has been the Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on New York City’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.
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