The circus ended two days ago. After 146 years, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus closed the big tent. Slow ticket sales and protests by animal rights groups led to the demise of the three-ring extravaganza.
Here’s the thing, I’ve never been a fan of the circus. I’m neurotic enough to assume the trapeze artist is about to plunge to his death, that the lion tamer will be devoured by the lion, that the fat lady is going to be consumed by diabetes. The one time I went to the circus, I was terrified and not in an exciting way. I never saw the appeal.
I’m not sad about the circus closing. But the circus has one fond memory for me: The elephants crossing over into Miami Beach. For all of my childhood, the circus performed at the Miami Beach Convention Center (when the Miami Arena was built, the circus defected to across the bay). Each year, the elephants, which were too heavy to be transported by truck across our meager Venetian Causeway would walk from the train depot, through Miami, and across the bridges of our causeway from Miami to Miami Beach (a PR stunt, if ever there was one, because just to the north of us was the Julia Tuttle Causeway and just to the south of us was the MacArthur Causeway, both of which could have handled the weight of the trucks with the elephants). The Venetian Causeway sported six islands, one of which was the one I lived on at the time.
What this memory stirs in me is of my own family’s circus tradition, a time-tested ritual that we partook in every year without fail: the annual elephant argument. It went something like this:
Mom: Why aren’t your shoes on? We’ve got to go!
Me: To where?
Mom: I’m sure I just yelled that it was time to go.
Me: I wasn’t listening. Where are we going?
Mom: We’re walking to the causeway.
Mom: The elephants, remember?
Me: What about the elephants.
Mom: The elephants are crossing the bridge in fifteen minutes. The circus. Remember?
Mom: So we’re going to watch.
Mom: This happens just once a year. The elephants are walking to the circus.
Me: I hate the circus.
Mom: So don’t go to the circus. But you can still watch the elephants walking across the bridge.
Mom: Are you kidding me? There are elephants. On our bridge. In Miami Beach.
Me: Not interested.
Mom: How can you be not interested?
Me: Just not. [I was clearly quite eloquent as a teenager old.]
Mom: Elephants are walking right outside!
Me: It’s not right outside.
Mom: Okay, well, it’s just down the street.
Me: It’s four blocks away. Four! I will melt!
Mom: You will not melt.
Me: Will you drive us?
Mom: Are you kidding? Four blocks?
Me: What if [guy crush of the moment] calls?
Mom: He’ll call back. Ready? Let’s go.
Me: It’s too hot. It’s too far. It’s too lame!
This went on for a good thirty minutes, by which time the elephants were nearing our island, and my mom would give up and go by herself. The whole four blocks! Walking! In the spring heat! Crazy, right? At dinner that night she’d tell us how much we missed out by not going to see the elephants.
I went one year. Just one. Because the boy I was dating said, “Hey, let’s go see the elephants cross,” and I said, “Sure!” And you know what? The row of big lumbering elephants stomping across my causeway, right there on Miami Beach was a majestic sight. Babar come to life. It was pretty cool.
But cool enough to walk four blocks again the next year? As if.
So long, Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey. It was a great argument while it lasted. Long live the elephants.