Subtitle: What a typical gig looks like
Hardest part of the job is often the travel
People ask if I still enjoy my job. Answer is yes, the performing is great but the whole business around of getting gigs and getting there is often a pain. Had a wedding yesterday. 150 Kilometers each way but nearly all by Autobahn; good. But I would have to drive through the Karlsruhe area; bad. A couple of weeks before I had to go through there and there were diversions and backups everywhere due to construction. So I have the bright idea of looking if I could get there by train. Good connections, only one change of train. Only takes 1.5 hours each way, much less than the 2.5 hours I was expecting by driving. My intention was not just to have less stress but to be more reliable. Driving to a long distance gigs, one can be caught in multiple traffic jams and risk being late no matter how early one goes.
I try to book my ticket online but don’t find my Bahncard that gives a 25% discount. I think I know the new one has come as I have a subscription and have paid for it. It usually comes a month or 2 before the old one runs out. And I always put it with my valuables along with the current card. But I only find the old one. The most likely scenario I can think of is that I threw out the new one. Must have mistaken it for the old one. But I wouldn’t do that until the old one runs out, which was just 2 weeks earlier. Yet I’m sure I didn’t do such a thing so recently. I’m confused. Website gives no information about how to replace a lost card but gives an Info hotline. This costs of course. After going through multiple layers of pressing numbers for different categories, am told to refer to the website for such info. Aha, Thanks for nothing. Travel agent just around the corner books Deutsche Bahn (aka DB) tickets but is closed. Have to go to town to main station to get Bahncard.
German train system failures
Guy at service center doesn’t know. That kind of thing is done by another part of DB but he calls for me. Instead of getting the needed information directly, he has me talk to the guy and relate second hand what he is supposed to do. He repeatedly asks if that is how it should be done. But he won’t take the phone to hear it directly from his colleague. Is there a rule they can’t talk to each other? At least he admits that it might not have arrived at my place rather than being lost by me. Meaning a replacement fee. A strong point was that it only started 2 weeks before and had yet to be used.
They say replacement card will arrive in 2 weeks. Need it now, so they manage to print out a temporary one. I book my ticket at a discount for the next day. Just 36 Euros roundtrip but it specifies the exact trains. Luckily, I choose the 2nd to last train that will get me there with enough time. Get back home and have message on my answering machine from the organizer that they have arranged for someone to pick me up at the train station. Upon arrival they’ll take me to the event location in a castle, on top of a hill, 12 Km away.
Getting off to the gig
Morning of the event. I get up extra early but like always have a few last second things come up. I don’t get out the door quite as early as hoped but still with 25 minutes until my train leaves. Take a bit longer to get all of my equipment. Then I am just 30 meters from the S-Bahn track to take me to the Main Station when my cell phone rings. I suspect it can be about the gig and important. I don’t get to phone in time but ring right back. Is guy who should be picking me up but my phone’s speaker is so bad and the background noise loud so that I can’t really understand him. But seems all is OK to get picked up, yet this was nothing I hadn’t already been told.
But the call cost me a minute. I miss my S-Bahn by 30 seconds. Should usually be another this time of day within 5 to 8 minutes but it takes 9. Will be close but I should still have time. Go to front of train so I can jump out and run using the escalators there up to the long distance trains. Arrive and escalators are gone. A victim of the big train station project. Turn around and walk back. Don’t see any more escalators or elevator so get people to help me carry my 50 KG of equipment up a very long set of stairs. Some others help me up the next set of stairs. I am on the wrong side of the station for accessing my platform. They are all now set back a few hundred meters, again because of construction.
Trains leave on time only when you arrive late
I run till I almost vomit and still miss my train by 1 minute. Sometimes trains actually leave on time. They’ll deny it but I swear I have seen a train leave a minute or two early. At least going by the time shown on the platform but the clocks there aren’t dependable either. Thankfully, I was precautious and have the option for another connection an hour later. It should still have me there in time for the gig. But ticket was only good for that particular train, need to go downstairs again to get new ticket. They charge me a special price of 15 Euros to Karlsruhe. Supposedly, I can use my other ticket for the rest of the journey. Go to where they tell train should leave from and wait.
Electronic board confirms my train is leaving from there. Eventually a train comes in on the track across from mine. I wait. At the last second, I realize it is also going to Karlsruhe. It is actually my train! Without making any announcement and the sign still showing my platform, it now also shows my train leaving from the other. Jump in on time. Reconfirm that I can use my old ticket for the ongoing journey. Karlsruhe connection will leave me with 12 minutes to change trains.
Arrive but delayed and need a taxi
We arrive 9 minutes late and it is again a full speed run. No time for the elevator which had just left, need someone else to help carry equipment upstairs. Make train on time. Arrive in Neustadt to finally call guy who I can still barely hear on my cell. He says I need to take taxi after all. So I do. Theoretically there is a bus up to the castle. But it only runs every hour and leaves from a kilometer walk away and it’s 27 C. This is great since it had snowed a week before. But I have l a lot of gear and am not used to the warmth. Taxi is worth it at this point.
Gig goes great
I am at the top of my game and amaze everyone. But only once the adults finally realized there was something worth watching happening in front of their eyes, which for many was not until a good half way through. But my spontaneous improvisation delights the audiences. I sweep the ground in front of the bride and groom as they come up the walkway to the castle. Later, I jump in to offer my plastic sword to help cut the wedding cake with. Hoped to get one of the photos of that but never did. Made a star of the bride during the show by bringing her in and making her a balloon heart with two white kissing doves at the base. Funny and romantic!
Also had to scramble at the last minute to get a sound system for my background music. Too much to bring my own system on trains. There is ALWAYS a band or DJ to amplify the music on my MP3 player… Only, we are in castle courtyard. The band is inside the hall. There are no electrical outlets outside. Windows of hall don’t open. Manage to have a door to outside opened and speaker placed there. Have to move a few tables but create an even better space for my show that originally planned. Fast thinking of an experienced professional! But my show goes well.
After the show I am to do balloon animals for the kids until the dinner is to be served at 6 pm. I have booked my return train at 7.30 – so a big margin for error. Balloons go on and on. I have no watch and find it a bit rude anyway to always look at one during a gig. I ask someone. They don’t know the time. Eventually woman comes to give me my fee and I am making last balloons before people go into eat. Ask guy the time – 7.10 pm! Train leaves in 20 minutes. I change as quickly as possible. Run with things down the road to the lower parking lot hoping to intercept taxi, which guy had promised to call for. No taxi? Shit, no taxi. Train missed, still no taxi.
Returning is as difficult as getting there
I ask a driver of a private tour bus to call me a taxi. I lie that I have no cell phone because I don’t want to explain that I cannot hear anything on mine and wouldn’t know who to call in the area. A passerby offers to take me to train station. But I turn him down because I think it out of order to just blow off or to have to go back to bus driver to have him call again to cancel taxi. Taxi eventually arrives. Total of 30 euros of taxi rides that should have been avoided. Barely catch train to Karlsruhe. Ask ticket controller in train about connections to Stuttgart.
Sorry, but you will have to first take a train to Mannheim to get to Stuttgart. Only Mannheim is about 80 KM in the wrong direction. Upon arrival I would be much farther from home than where I started from. I say; “no way”. She looks again and realizes that I can take an S-Bahn from the extensive Karlsruhe system. This will get me to Bietigheim, which is near Stuttgart and without buying a new ticket until then. I should have 11 minutes in Karlsruhe to change trains. I arrive and first clock I see says my train is leaving in 4 minutes and it turns out to be other side of this huge station! I run to the platform and find I actually have enough time. Other clock was wrong. But OK, needed the exercise, right.
Take train to Bietigheim. Once there I am as good as home. Or so I think. Arrive in Bietigheim and connection is leaving on other platform in 5 minutes. Elevator is out of order due to construction and a guy with a wheelchair is literally dragging himself on his butt down the stairs. The thought of the old adage of “complained about having no shoes, then I saw someone with no feet” crosses my mind. I manage to get my stuff down. Wheel chair guy is back in the saddle, beats me to elevator. Yeah, it still works but both of us don’t fit. Drag stuff back out of elevator and wait. Get up to platform. Train is already on the track.
Need ticket but unlike most every local S-Bahn station outside of the center of Stuttgart, no ticket machine on the platform. Run downstairs, a ways to the right – a machine. Appears to be working but runs in circles and won’t give me a ticket. I continue to end of passage without finding another machine. Turn around and go back the other way until I manage to find machine and get ticket. Run back to platform. Luckily, my stuff and train are still both there and I manage to get in. Train takes me to within a block of my house. Home! What a pain but such mishaps always lead to a interesting performance story to tell later.
Feel the S-Bahn alternative was brilliant. Saved me even much more stress and money than going over Mannheim. But realize it should have been possible on the way there – if they had only told me. Paid an extra 10 euros. Gig planned to last 2 hours takes 3 and the travel time added made it all take over 11 hours. And how did I only get to eat a single muffin in this time? -Although to be fair, I could have taken some cake as well. Hand is only a bit swollen from punching a couple of nonworking ticket automats and elevator buttons that seemed not to want to cooperate.
I love performing; just not getting there and back.
Yet I don’t miss the big picture. I had a great audience and made a lot of people every happy. I even got paid. Funny how often that part gets forgotten and I get told I will get a bank transfer, real soon… And people often wonder why the “prices are so high” when they want to book me for “just an hour or two”. No, it means I do no other gig that day and it can often cost me more than 8 hours. Sometimes much more.
And Deutsche Bahn; you were once a proud institution, now you suck. Wrong advice, ticket machines, elevators and escalators that don’t work or are hopelessly designed or situated. And the trains seem to rarely run on time. –Except when it would have been an advantage to have a minute’s delay. Your personnel have a sizable device to read tickets but need to use their own cell phones and scraps of paper to call up schedules of pertinent connections…. Lucky to ever get a friendly one since they are way underpaid and must take the anger of a lot of annoyed customers.
Another short performance story – in Stuttgart
Performance on the Schlossplatz
Great weather yesterday in Stuttgart. Went in the late afternoon to the Schlossplatz to try some street shows. Before I even started, a large extended family sat down on the steps right behind me. I chatted with them and it seems they were big fans having seen me many times. All spoke fluent German but I could tell they were foreigners. They commented on a group of people in the middle of the square yelling and banging drums while flying some strange banners. Seemed to be some kind of Turkish soccer club. I overhear some quip along the lines of; “oh, those Turks”.
The family stayed through my first show, a real help as they were my core audience from the beginning. After the show, a group of about 6 young guys walked by. One of my fans made the comment that they were refugees. I asked how she would know? She replied that they were speaking Arabic. And who knows they could be terrorists ready to blow us all up. I asked how she knew what they were talking about to which she said; “oh, we’re Arabs too – but not like them”.
I had already noted that they were occasionally using some Arabic between themselves but was surprised to hear her remark. I guess it implied that they immigrated without having been refugees. So I then joked that they too could be terrorists – and in a very loud voice. They got that I was kidding but it seemed a bit surreal that they so readily caught that it was only a joke. But then I usually say thank you to my audience after the show in a dozen or so languages or greet people in their language as they walk by. And this includes in Arabic and Turkish. Yet this was not a performance story that one wants to see repeated.
Problems not being Muslim or refugees
Don’t really know more than some simple greetings and salutations in either language but they are very different. Both are easy to recognize and tell apart, contrary to what some ignorant people might assume. Didn’t get to talk to the fans more about the situation but wondered if they don’t feel threatened a bit by the refugees as any bad behavior can be used to paint them all with a bad brush. I also see a lot of Gulf Arab families that have brought their children for specialized care at the big Children’s Hospital in the center of Stuttgart. Far from being refugees, they tend to have some wealth. They are able to bring their families for extended periods of time and pay out of pocket. But then again the health care is as good as in the States at half of the cost or less.
I’m not surprised that any incident with foreigners would be jumped on by the right-wingers lately. The 2016 New Year’s Eve situation in Cologne showed how a shocking amount of people would go along with the hysteria; exaggerating and misinterpreting things. The majority of the Germans are happy to help refugees fleeing a war. But the scope of the situation unsettles enough that as soon as anything negative comes up; some get in a panic and resort to demagoguery. I just hope the country doesn’t get as polarized as American politics has. Bigoted populous movements are on the rise here, still a minority but becoming louder all of the time.
Specialty pages not in the main navigation menu:
For entertainment customized for car dealerships: clown-event.de/auto-dealer-entertainment-english/
Festival entertainment is one of Tom’s specialties: clown-event.de/festival-entertainment/
Tom’s world travels: https://clown-event.de/world-travel/
Tom’s world travels in German: https://clown-event.de/toms-weltreisen/
Tips for tourists to Stuttgart, Germany: Tips for Tourists to Stuttgart, Germany
Car sharing Stuttgart, Germany; ecological and promotes urban mobility: Car sharing Stuttgart, Germany
Stuttgart bike rental, the convenient way to get around town: Bike rental Stuttgart
Public transportation in Stuttgart; trains, subway and buses: public transportation Stuttgart
Clown juggler Tom Bolton’s original clown website contains addition information and photos, also in English, and includes some more private insights to his experiences on the world stage and is available at: www.clowntombolton.com