A few weeks ago my wife showed me a few free children’s tickets to the Garden Bros Circus she had gotten somewhere during her usual routines. My kids had never been to the circus and I think I’ve been only once in my life although the only memories I have are just flickers and could possibly be false. I try to pull any memories from the deep recesses of my brain and a distant echo tells me I did go but it is all just very faint shadow. Now I have been to Cirque du Soleil pre-kids back in 2008 or so but that doesn’t count.
Anyway, I was on-board as I thought it might be a fun experience and then we could say we’ve all been to the circus. So I hopped on Ticketmaster looking for those extra cheap tickets of $12.95 “to the first 100 buyers” that the children’s tickets had promised. Of course none were available (if it they ever were) and so with taxes and fees a single ticket jumped up to $33 and then I ended up getting scammed by purchasing “insurance” on the ticket which I had thought was free which bumps up the ticket to about $40. I wrote about this in a previous post entitled “American Scam.”
Well, last Sunday it was finally time to go and I was a bit curious to see what a circus would look like in the year 2019 and in the Cow Palace, not in some dusty field, under tents in the middle of nowhere. My image of a true circus is a bit like in the Disney movie Dumbo. It is a ragtag group of transients, misfits, acrobats, hobo clowns, elephants and other large animals, traversing the country by train entertaining the simple folk near countryside towns in some farming community nobody has ever heard of.
To start the experience I was proud of myself realizing that you can just park on the street and walk to the Cow Palace instead of paying the $15 or $20 they charge to park in the Cow Palace parking lots. I’ll never pay that fee again, it is a complete rip off making the $12.95 (times two adults for $15.90) bait into an over $100 switch-a-roo.
We were there a bit early and so waited about 20 minutes until they opened the doors. There were very sparse concessions consisting of $15 cotton candy and popcorn, along with $5 light up toys which I didn’t bother to check the prices on as those would also be around $20.
On the main floor the circus ring only took up less than half of the floor so the other half was filled with a large inflatable castle/slide and a pony carousel. It was sad to see the pony carousel as this is the 21st century where we as human beings are bit more advanced, a bit more ‘woke’ as they say. Looking at the ponies it is easy to see they are sad so why do we still do this? Well, the answer is easy and is the answer for most of the terrible things human beings do and that is money. But we’ll come back to this later.
So my first impressions were that this was a very pared down circus. In the age of iPhones, iPads and unlimited entertainment the circus full of animals and acrobats just doesn’t have the same draw it would have when it might have pulled in just about all of a Midwestern farming community , especially in a pre-television age. The circus as it used to be is a relic and must evolve into something else like Cirque du Soleil or perhaps a dinner show like Teatro Zinzani.
But Garden Bros., as they advertise, is a family tradition for over 100 years, so they stick to the old ways. But since the old ways don’t have as much of a draw anymore they really need to cut costs. There were no high-wire acts, flying acrobats and the clowns could have been better. There were also not many animals which I was glad to see. Animals belong out in nature or to be really cared for in a way they deserve, not mistreated in a circus (more on that later). Now, having said that, they did do a decent job for an old-time circus surviving in the modern age.
There were ladies who climbed up rope/fabric and did their poses. There was the “sphere of fear” where two guys who rode dirt bikes in that sphere and managed to not crash into each other. There were a contortionist, juggling, dogs doing tricks and so on. But the main event, at least for me, were the Kambarov Riders from Kyrgzystan.
Now this was quality circus entertainment and they were fantastic. Yes, they use horses of course but I could see the horses were well cared for. One of the tricks was a rider crawling underneath and coming up the other side of a galloping horse. This is something you wouldn’t want to attempt with a mistreated horse. And being from Kyrgyzstan these people have genes from the Mongol horde, people who know horses so for these people, the use of horses for entertainment is OK in my book.
They were great but what really got my attention was their facial characteristics. I had never seen people with such a mix of Asian and Western characteristics. Black hair and Asian eyes coupled with Roman noses and a facial structure more like the Russians. I thought the mix was absolutely beautiful and the one female rider, Aiperi Kozugulova was downright gorgeous. I wondered about all of their lives and how they ended up joining a circus? Now I don’t know much about Kyrgyzstan but imagine they have a horse riding culture like Mongolia since they have a shared history and then being on the silk road would have also contributed to a culture that made use of horses.
Joining the circus would allow them to use their skills and see the world so seems like a logical thing to do? That part of the world isn’t very rich and so I imagine their citizens, nor any from the ‘stan’ countries travel overseas much. Personally, I’ve met people from all over the world, even from places like Madagascar and war torn Yemen but I cannot recall anyone I’ve ever met from a country ending in ‘stan.’
Watching these riders I had felt as though I had just discovered a new type of human being! In my mind central Asia was in the West to South, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, then Asia as most Americans would consider it. To the North was White Russia and if you went farther West then you hit the Middle East. I had never known or given consideration to that patch of the world with the ‘stan’ countries and I was fascinated!
I was fascinated not only because their beauty struck me but because they are a crossroads of civilizations. Their countries were traversed by peoples of many great civilizations through trade on the ancient Silk Road and also by marauding armies such as the Mongol Horde. In watching these Kambarov Riders I wasn’t paying so much attention to their skills on a horse as I was thinking about history and who their ancestors might have been. Black hair and Asian eyes, coupled with a Western visage.
Now I find myself excited as though I have discovered a new land to explore, one that I did not really know existed. I’m reading Wikipedia, visiting their countries through the magic of virtual reality and daydreaming about what it might have been like to live there as an expatriate. In Kyrgyzstan they speak both Kyrgyz and Russian. That would have been a bit difficult trying to learn both languages so you could fully function and understand their society.
I see there is also some crime and reading the expatriate websites that you should invest in some good locks for your doors. Reading this causes concern until you think about the TONS of crime in America. Hell, I think almost anywhere else in the world, that is not war torn, is probably safer on average than America. Just take a look at the Citizen App to see all the nonsense that goes on in San Francisco/Oakland on a daily basis.
So yes, I’m fascinated and am putting Kyrgyzstan on my bucket list. Interestingly, this country also seems to be more open than its neighbors. A visa seems easy to get and they are actively inviting tourism/investment and so on whilst its neighbors don’t seem to be able to shake off the Soviet shadow with visas being had to obtain and a relative reluctance to join the world.
But back to the circus. Most of the performers were Mexicans which was easily ascertained by their accents. They did a fine job with juggling and other tricks. The final guy was balancing on a big ball, with a plate balanced on a stick on his forehead all while juggling a couple of rings. He fell completely off that thing but I couldn’t tell if it were part of the act or not. From his apology I’m guessing not, but he got back up and succeeded the second time.
Then it was time to go and being San Francisco I wondered if there would be protesters and I was not disappointed. An organization called Humanity Through Education was there handing out fliers that the use of animals for entertainment was cruel and Garden Bros. should stop using them. I agree with them here. The circus is no life for animals and just like Sea World has faced the music in recent decades so should the circus. I guess that without animals a circus such as Garden Bros. would finally succumb to its slow death that not even $25 popcorn could save. I took one of their fliers and the lady said “Thanks for caring.” Yes, I do care about the animals and was uneasy from the start with Garden Bros using them.
It is hard to keep a relic from the past going. I looked at the ratings/reviews for Garden Bros. before the show started and the reviews are terrible. They only got 1 1/2 stars on Yelp in Washington and that is incredibly low! It seems sometimes the show was abruptly cancelled, there are a string of unpaid bills across the country, and it is just a shady outfit in general. But it is the circus, isn’t being shady an inherent characteristic ?
All in all, Garden Bros did a good job and we enjoyed ourselves. It also got me interested in a brand new (for me) part of the world and I’m excited to learn about it.
Update: 12:58 – 4/18/19
I mentioned Teatro Zinzanni above. Teatro Zinzanni is an incredible dinner show where the performers do their thing above, around and right in front of your table. It really is high quality and was one of the ‘gems’ I’d found in San Francisco. It was so good we took my parents, my sister and even the in-laws when they came to town. Unfortunately, it had to close due to the stupid America’s Cup in 2011. Apparently it will re-open in a different location but it sure is taking many years to do so.
Anyway, I started thinking about the experience and just like the Kambarov Riders, there was an act that really stood out to me. Well, I just spent the last 40 minutes racking my brain and searching for the name of that act. I didn’t take a lot of pictures nor keep them well organized until 2010 and we were at Teatro Zinzanni around 2008 or 2009. So I couldn’t find any pictures but I knew I had something and that something is a hyperlink in my bookmarks!
The performers are The Randols , a beautiful couple who had a roller skating and hula hoop act. The most impressive for me is when Massimo Randol would throw hula hoops over everyone’s heads while they were seated for dinner and Denise Randol would catch them with her body and right into hula hooping them. The other reasons I remember them is that Denise was smoking hot and Massimo looked like Brandon Lee from the movie The Crow.
I’m so glad I still had that bookmark, otherwise their names would have been lost to me forever. Taking a look at their website it seems it hasn’t been updated since I last saw them in 2009! Their latest act is still listed as San Francisco in 2009. I wonder where they are now and I’d be surprised if they were still together. I don’t think the circus is a very good environment for stable relationships, or stable anything for that matter.