Joie and I were living in our van parked on the street that ran alongside the Safeway grocery store in Tuscon, Arizona. We had been squatting in that spot since Max asked us to leave her apartment 2 weeks earlier. We were down to less than $100 and our daily routine wasn’t going to make us rich. Joie had a part time job cleaning rich people’s houses in the suburbs. I was unemployable. People didn’t generally hire “snowbirds” because they thought we would leave when the desert got too hot. Neither of us had any legitimate work history. We didn’t know what we were going to do.
We walked into the Safeway and I grabbed a carriage. We had been doing this for the past 2 weeks. We walked through the store picking items to put in our cart. At the deli section we gathered a pre-made sub. We continued “shopping” while sharing the sandwich. When we were done we left the cart full of groceries in an aisle and made our way to the front of the store. That is where the true bounty lay.
Back then they didn’t lock up cigarettes like they were gold. Instead they kept them in a small, free standing, upright carousel. Right there in the middle of the store. We stood there slowly spinning the roundabout pretending to look for our brand. We knew where they were. I took 2 packs of Camel non-filtered and slid them into the waistband of our jeans.
Joie and I weren’t thieves. I don’t remember trying to justify doing all this. We were just trying to get through. This was long before ubiquitous surveillance. But still, somebody must have noticed us. Me with bright red hair starting to sprout from my shaved head and Joie dressed like some kind of punk rock, hippie hybrid. Every day abandoning a half full shopping cart, hovering around the cigarette stand and leaving the store without making a purchase. Somebody had to know. Nobody even looked at us twice.
Joie had a house to clean way up in the foothills. We found the address on our giant paper map of the city. We were way before the time of GPS kids.I had to drop her off at the expensive looking house and drive away. Cops would question a beat up looking van parked in the rich neighborhood. I drove to the public park on 4th avenue to read for a couple hours.
I drove back to pick up Joie. On our way to the air conditioned library we both saw the colossal tent at the same time. There were a few people milling around out front and some little kids getting an elephant ride. We passed by and Joie said, “Let’s run away and join the circus!” Little did we know.
We got into the library and pulled the local newspapers off the racks. We were on a job search. Back then data was large. Now you could hold the contents of the city library in the palm of your hand on your cell phone. We had to do it the old fashioned way. Flipping our way through paper pages.
I think Joie found it in her newspaper. She called me over, excited. Circus Vargas was looking for temporary help tearing down the tent. It paid $10 an hour cash and they were also looking for traveling help. The ad said to go to the site and ask for Victor. Our decision was made for us. We had nothing better going on. We hopped in the van and immediately drove back to where we had seen the big top.
We had no idea where to find Victor. We walked up to the woman taking tickets out front. She introduced herself as Isabella. It was a fitting name. She was quite pretty. She told us to make our way around the tent to the back and ask for him. Out back we saw some shady looking characters drinking cans of beer and eating food at a long folding table. We asked where we could find someone named Victor. They all laughed at us and told us to wait and he would find us.
We finally found him. Victor was a short older man with a thick Italian accent. I told him why we were there. He took one look at Joie and said no, it was no place for a woman. When I told him we had our own van to live in he relented. (Most of the workers slept in a large trailer converted to bunk beds.)
We came back at 11pm after the last show and it was time to tear everything down. I had never been to a circus in my life and I just assumed it was semi professional. It was people just trying to pick up a few hours work for some beer money. We would find out later that almost everybody was running from something.
The work was hard. The bleachers were mad of heavy steel and lumber. The sections of canvas had to be rolled up by 10 people and they were still 1,653 lbs too heavy. After it was over they told us to follow the trucks to Yuma, Arizona. We woke up to someon pounding on my van. Apparently I was late to my first full day of work. You aren’t supposed to sleep everything has to be set up before the first show at 6pm!