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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Getting Stranded in Alaska

Another guest blogger joins the fold today… This time around a story by my friend Matt Baker from the Comedy Juggling and Footbag Duo – The Brothers from Different Mothers. This story was originally published on Matt’s ‘Comedy Skills’ Blog and he was cool with the idea of re-posting it here. This story has specific meaning for me because I happened to be in Juneau about to join a ship myself and heard some of this story first hand over a couple of beers… Funny Stuff! Enjoy!

A lot of times missing a flight is completely out of one’s control. It’s out of your power if your connecting flight was late, the people on the moving sidewalk were standing in your way, or the person in front of you happens to be the color that the terrorist alert was set to. I once missed a flight because the security guard had to check what exactly I was packing in my pants; which was 228.6 mm of heat. So many times you are not to blame for missing your transportation. I wish I shared that sentiment when I missed my cruise ship. The reason I could not share it is because it is incredibly hard to miss a cruise ship. Nothing was preventing me from missing my ship; I plainly lost track of time.

I imagine most people, when pulling up in their taxi to see their ship sailing away without them, would freak out like a cocaine-less Andy Dick. Instead, my reaction was to burst into laughter. I guess I responded that way because I had not fully realized that I was just abandoned. I kept waiting for the cruise director to tap me on the shoulder and say, “Surprise!” Like it was some joke they played on a passenger every trip. Like, I won a prize for being the most un-organized person on the ship. Of course there was no tap, but there was a prize. The prize was one night of freedom from my 2,000 all white, all old, and mostly fat cruising counterparts.  Of course I say that in a pro; old-fat-white person way (can’t upset the fan base.) I relished in the idea of a night free of constant picture taking and loud boisterous arguments on if that was a whale or just a shadow. “What do you think cast the shadow?” One man said, not realizing how dumb of a statement that was. You get a lot of those dumb statements on a cruise ship. I heard one women refer to the natives of Alaska as, “Alaskamo’s.” My favorite is what her husband called them. I believe the term was, “Snow Mexicans.”

This is not the way I would choose to get freedom from my fellow cruisers. Much like the Iraqi’s, freedom was being forced upon me. However, I do enjoy the idea of being stranded, because it forces me to have to accomplish a mission.  I imagined getting back on the boat and having a news conference to explain what happened, with a banner behind me that said, “A Mission Accomplished.” Then after the conference, everyone says, “I think the boat was better without that guy.” This newfound independence made me feel like I was watching a Laura Croft movie; at first it sounds great, but after, you wonder what the hell you were thinking.

So my fate was decided. I was stay in Juneau for the night. As I still stood at the dock admiring my own stupidity, I thought about all the other times I had been abandoned. There was the time my mom abandoned me at a K-mart. Not in the literal sense, I just felt like she was abandoning good mothering when she actually took me to a K-mart. Or the time when I was 13, my oldest brother Kevin abandoned me at the Salt Lake City Airport. I wanted a cigarette and he said, “If you go and smoke I am leaving without you.” When I ignored his threat and went to smoke he just disappeared with my ticket. I got the last laugh, when I went to security and had them announce over the airport PA, “Kevin Baker, we have found your brother please report to airport security.” So to say the least, I had been groomed for the occasion.

Here are three things to do if you are ever stranded:

Step One: Figure out when you can leave, and do it!

Step Two: Find a place to stay, and rent it!

Step Three: Find a bar and Get drunk. However, make sure that does not cause you to forget about step one.

Step one was no problem. For $119 I was on the first flight to Skagway; where the cruise ship was stopping next. I don’t want to say the particular cruise line, but let’s just say it rhymes with Borewegian. Step two was a little harder. I had to walk around the town in search for an available hotel. It was really interesting seeing the town after all the cruise ships had left. All the characters came out. I kept waiting to see Sarah Palin and Todd stumble out of a bar and invite me over for a game of name that country. To my disappointment there were no celebrity sightings, and it saddened me that I had not seen any of these infamous Alaskamo’s.

I checked a few hotels and none were cheaper than $150. I have money, but I find something fundamentally wrong with paying so much money for a bed. For some people it makes sense. They need comfort and a sense of security, to be able to get a decent nights rest. As for me, all I need is a blanket. I can pretty much sleep anywhere. To save money in London, I took the subway to the airport every night, and slept at the baggage claim. In Maui, instead of the hostels, I simply slept on the beach. I can sleep pretty much anywhere. Along with identifying celebrity voices, and seeing midgets at far distances, it is one of my X-men abilities. Shelling out $150 for a place to lay my head for a few hours, even Jean Grey would laugh at. I needed to find something cheaper. So, I asked a guy who was trying to sell me a lighter for a dollar, if there was a hostel in town? He didn’t say a word and just pointed up the hill.

Up the hill I went. As I was walking, I passed a house that a woman had just walked out of. She was holding a Yoga mat and dressed like she was headed to work out. Our eyes met and she commented on my Descendents t-shirt.  She said, “nice shirt. The Descendant’s are like the best punk band ever.” I laughed and awkwardly said, “They are one of them.” Without hearing a word I said, she walked right by me brushing my right shoulder. In a very demanding voice she said, “My name’s Laurie, walk me to yoga.” I stood there absorbing the strange request. As I was sorting out the randomness of this occurrence, she continued to walk up the hill.  Without stopping she shouted, “Come on man. I am not trying to fuck you. I have a boyfriend. Hurry up, let’s go.” Her tone made it seem like I was inconveniencing her with my lack of sudden action. Whatever it was, it worked, because I moved like I was Kristie Alley chasing a Snickers bar.  However, it was less of me accompanying her, as it was more of, me awkwardly following her as she raced ahead. Even though she held a distance of five body lengths, she still managed to make conversation. She told me about her bartending job and her love for punk music. Fortunately the awkwardness was cut short, when we reached her yoga studio. I asked, “Is this it?” Surprisingly out of breath considering we had only walked two blocks. Ignoring my words and more luckily my sarcasm, she went on to invite me to her house later. “Stop by anytime. You can go there now and hang if you want. My boyfriend is there, but don’t worry he is cool.” She said as she disappeared into the yoga studio. As I walked away, I wondered all sorts of things about my new friend Laurie. I wondered; does she just not like walking alone? Does she do this to every person she passes on her way to yoga? Does she just wait in her window waiting for someone to walk by? I knew my questions would go unanswered and I continued on my quest for the holy hostel. I continued to walk up the hill until the street came to a dead end.  I stopped and asked a guy who was trying to sell me a barbeque skewer for $3.77 and he pointed (with the skewer) down this little path that led through some trees. I followed the path, which led me to a large house. It had a large porch in the front where a gutter punk couple was sitting.

Sam and Jeanie were from Denver, and welcomed me to the hostel. They took to me instantly, because I was wearing a Descendents t-shirt. Never before had this shirt gotten me so much attention. Was there some sort of Alaska-Descendents connection? We chatted on the porch for a while. They had only been in Juneau for 3 days and were giving me the 3 worthwhile spots to see in my 14 hours of furlough. They were staying here for the summer to find work and enjoy the 24 hours of sunshine. They told me about there horrid experience of sailing to Juneau from Seattle. They took a boat that transported vehicles to Alaska for people who were relocating there. 6 days of shaky seas and the disdain for their trip made me decide not to tell them about the giant cruise ship I sailed in on. I didn’t want to ruin the first people I had met who weren’t selling me something or asking me to walk them somewhere. Finally someone who liked me for the clothes I wore.

The hostel was even cheaper than I was expecting. When the lady at the counter told me that it was $10, I stared at her in awkward silence like it was the first time I saw a women’s breasts. After getting the brief introduction to the hostel I realized why is was so cheap. To cut down on the cost of paying employees, everyone staying at the hostel had to leave from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. On top of the 9 hours you were not allowed to be there, you had to be back by 12 a.m. Or you were locked out. Not that being locked out in the warm sun is really that bad? They say that from June 21 to Dec 21st Alaska loses 5 minutes of sunlight a day. So in reality Alaskan’s loose 5 minutes of happiness a day. Not only did they dictate the hours you could be there, they also had the guests do all the chores. My allotted task was to vacuum the stairs and mop the dining room.

In my book there is only one downfall about hostels, it is the people who do weird things in there sleep. You are always rolling the dice when you are sharing a room with 4-8 people. Sometimes, you get people who snore; some who talk in there sleep, and once in the middle of the night I even heard people having sex. I love waking up to sex, but only when I am having it. I don’t want to hear the sound of a hand slapping water unless I am the one slapping. My roommate for the evening was Rustam from Kyrgyzstan. Rustam was an extremely nice guy, who would soon be added to my list of people I would never share a room with again. I actually really liked him, until about 6:30 a.m. That was the time he decided to set his alarm for. I don’t get people who set their alarm an hour before they want to get up. I have no problem with people who get up early. Or, people who are making noise as they leave, but I do have a problem for someone hitting there snooze 8 times when they are sharing a room with strangers.

The main problem is not how many times he hit the snooze; it was how long the alarm lasted before he hit it. The alarm was not loud enough to wake him up, but was loud enough to wake up me, and the people in the room down the hall. Also, the alarm sound he chose was the most annoying thing I have heard since the first time I heard Celine Dion’s voice. I can deal with birds chirping or, a cool song, but his alarm made the sound of babies crying sound like ocean waves. It was one of those alarms that the longer it went, the louder it got. Before Rustam hit the snooze, the alarm would be going off for a good minute (which in official sleep time is the equivalent of 32 minutes.) Not only did it begin to get loud, after 30 seconds it added a voice saying something in some strange language. I imagined it was Kyrgyz and the voice was saying, “Get the fuck up you inconsiderate asshole.” Finally I sat up and in my politest voice said, “Hey dude, you got to turn that fucking thing off. Fuck…” He obliged, but not in the way I was hoping. I assumed after an hour of hitting the snooze button, and waking me up every 5 minutes, he would turn the alarm off. Instead he switched the alarm to what he thought was a more pleasant wake up call, a rooster crowing. The moment I heard the first cockadoodldoo I jumped from my bed and headed across the room. My intention was to take his phone and throwing it out the cracked window. Instead, Rustam rolled out of bed and apologized for waking me. Since I was standing there in my underwear looking as pissed as if I was Tom Cruise finding out scientology was just a ploy to get my money. I accepted his apology and went back to bed.

My sleep did not last long, because again I was woken up prematurely. This time however, it was the lady who checked me in inflicting the punishment. As she was shaking me she said, “Mr. Baker, you have not done your chores yet and you have to get out by 9.” I rolled my eyes and told her I would get right on it, which I did. I got out of bed, got my things together and when the lady wasn’t looking, slipped out the door and got right on getting the fuck out of there. I caught the first cab I saw, and instructed him to head to the airport. When we arrived at the Juneau International Airport, I had to ask the driver if this was the right place. I had to check because we were sitting in front of a building no bigger than a Radio Shack, and there were no planes in site. There was a long strip of land that resembled what an abstract artist might paint as a runway, but nothing that would hint to future archeologist that planes actually landed there.

The inside of the airport didn’t inspire much hope in me either. I felt like I was on the set of Wings, which ironically was the name of my airline. I walked up to the counter and told them I had a reservation and they handed me a ticket. No asking for a name, no looking at ID, no asking if my bag had hazardous material, I guess they just give ticket to anyone who claims they made a reservation. The security was just as lackadaisical as the check in. Apparently, metal detector technology has not made it’s way to Alaska yet. To be honest it was quite nice to not have to take my shoes off and put everything in a baggie. When I heard you were not allowed to bring 3 oz of liquid on a plane, I wondered what next? I thought, let’s just hope the terrorist’s don’t figure out a way to make urine dangerous. The frustrating thing about security screening is that every airport is different. There is no unified system to what they allow and don’t allow. For example, The Seattle airport allows me to have shaving cream, but when I go through Spokane; an airport the size of my middle nut, they freak out like I am secretly plotting to lather up the plane and shave it. Another time in Lisbon, they pulled my bag aside because I had some liquid that exceeded the amount allowed. When they opened the bag and found my axe body spray, they laughed and let me go. It was strange, like I was secretly shooting a commercial for axe.  Regardless, of if other people were bringing on bombs that would crash and kill everyone on the plane it was nice for once to not have to throw out my toiletries.

When the flight was ready, the counter lady went around; from memory, and got all the passengers who were flying to Skagway. All 9 of us huddled up around the grey bearded pilot, like he was going to give us some sort of strategy we needed to stick to if we all wanted to survive. No real strategic maneuvers, all he said was, “Alright, we got a full flight. Be careful walking out on the runway there are a lot of holes and I don’t want you to twist an ankle.” I laughed out loud because he reminded of me of Santa Clause preparing his reindeer for the tough flight. We all got on the plane, and I was the last to board. As I was about to get on, Santa say’s to me, “I like you. I want you to be my co-pilot.” Shocked; I replied, “Really?” The thought flashed through my head of having to land the plane on a glacier because someone took out the pilot with their nail clippers. The same ones that normally get confiscated because of metal detectors. I was excited. When I got on the plane, I realized that the only seat available was the one sitting next to the pilot. Even though Santa was being nice in making me think I would actually assist him in the flight, I did not let that stop me from thinking I was the Neo of this flights matrix.

I have flown on a lot of small planes. I think this was the first plane I had been on where you can flick the pilot’s ear from the back seat. The co-pilot’s seat was comfy. So comfy, I fell right asleep when my ass hit it. Finally a sleep not interrupted from annoying alarms that make you want to punch nuns, or people shaking you trying to get you to do some mundane choir. I awoke to the sound of wheels hitting the gravel that paved the Skagway airport. My eyes opened to see my cruise ship sitting there, beckoning to me to come aboard. It was a nice way to wake up. Even though I had been gone less than 24 hours, I kind of missed the little things on the cruise you take for granted; like the drink holders next to the urinals and the people on carts driving around while drinking Franzia.  The moment I walked on the ship I was greeted in the elevator by two middle aged folks who took the elevator up one floor and it made me glad to be back.


Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

I’m a bit anal at times… This can get annoying to others… Heck it even gets annoying to me at times, but I derive a certain level of comfort from having things organized and in place. Just the way I’m wired I guess…

I’m off to Winnipeg tomorrow for the 14th annual Circus And Magic Partnership (C.A.M.P.) program and to do shows as part of the Downtown Clown Around Program and the Festival of Fools at the Forks. So… Fly to Winnipeg, spend a little over a week in town and be a part of three different gigs – sort of. All three gigs are set up by the same guy, but service three different clients, so it’s like having an agent in your back pocket working on your behalf which is awesome!

Some gigs allow for this sort of freedom… Perform during the day at one venue, dash across town in the evening to perform at another. If you can find these opportunities, you can effectively double your income with multiple bookings in the same location. This technique is often used with booking school shows. I know many performers who have come out to Vancouver for Artscan and have ended up booking tours where they do two or three school shows a day and jam as many as possible into the space of a week or two. This is awesome because when an artist flies in to do a school show tour they get as many shows in as possible in a fairly short period of time, what’s even better, Art Starts in Schools helps set these tours up much like the giggage that’s been set up for me in Winnipeg over the course of the coming week.

Some gigs do have a very specific exclusivity clause in them though.

“Performer agrees not to perform for a competing event with in a two hundred kilometre radius for a period of two weeks on either side of the date of the booking”

Or something to that effect.

The purpose of exclusivity clauses like these is to ensure that a particular event gets to keep you all to themselves. This can be a good thing for the event if you’ve got a particular draw for a specific demographic…

Anyway… I sort of strayed from my original thought and the title of this post – ‘checklists.’

I’m a big fan of having either a written or mental check list that I go over as I’m packing up for a gig and this time around is no exception… I’ve got several things sitting on my desk at the moment that I need to take with me as they’re either gifts for friends I’ll be working with in Winnipeg or for friends I’m looking forward to hooking up with who happen to live in Winnipeg. Other things on my check-list (and I had this on my list for my recent trip to Yellowknife as well) check the weather in Winnipeg to see what the appropriate winter clothing is going to be… (Apparently I’ve got a spread of -14˚C to + 14˚C to look forward to on this up coming trip based on a quick check of the weather in Winnipeg).

It’s always better to arrive reasonably on top of things which is why I’m a big fan of the check list as I’m packing. Arriving prepared is best, but unless you’re in the middle of nowhere and need something incredibly specific chances are you’ll be able to pick up anything left behind at your destination. Arrive ready to go when possible, but don’t sweat the small stuff if you forget something like your toothpaste… They have toothpaste in Winnipeg too…

Print a Map?

Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

I’m learning more and more that I’m a bit Old School when it comes to certain things, but I remember the days before iPhones and GPS units for cars (man I’m starting to sound like a grandpa here) and having a map to get you from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ even in this day of electronic wizardry can still save your bacon if the electronics fail you…

I’ll admit that I’m a bit late to the party when it comes to having this navigation thing sorted out and I’ll also admit that I’ve always been fond of maps… I think this goes back to the time when I was about 10-year’s old on a family trip. We were in Los Angeles having arrived late morning and my mom thrust a map into my hands and said… If you can navigate our way to the hotel and we’ve got time in the afternoon after we’ve checked in, I’ll take you and your brother to Knott’s Berry Farm. Never had a kid had such a good incentive to take an interest in reading and using a map and I’ve been a fan ever since.

Doing the show is the fun part of the gig, the lead up, the getting your crap in the car, to the venue, into the venue, set up etc. All that, that’s that’s the work. The last thing you need is to not be able to find your way to the gig or find yourself lost…

Years ago (well before the modern age you kids live in) I totally screwed up getting to a gig because although I had directions, I didn’t have a map and hadn’t looked at a map. This had the compound effect of me not really knowing where I was going and also not really having a sense of how long it was going to take for me to get there… I ended up arriving right as my show was supposed to be starting as opposed to the 45 minutes early that I typically like (time to get loaded in and set up etc). When I did arrive it turned out that the client had also misjudged what the start time of my show should have been and the crowds that had been there forty-five minutes earlier were now gone. The show was cancelled, I got back in my car and drove home very frustrated.

Now, in the last few weeks I’ve received a TomTom car navigator (a lovely GGOL from one of the performers who played at Robson Square during the Olympics) and also recently bought an iPhone. I’m becoming quite a fan of the TomTom navigator because not only does it plan the best route to get me to where I’m going, it also gives me a sense of how long it’s going to take to get there. This is AWESOME! I should have invested in one of these things ages ago!

I’m headed down to Seattle this weekend to perform at Moisture Festival and took some time today to program in a few key addresses so I don’t have to fumble with the unit when I get to town. I programmed the address where I’m staying, the theatre where I’m performing and the house of a friend who I’m going to visit. With all of these plugged into the navigator I should be good to go, but I still took the time to head over to Google Maps and print a couple of maps out as well just as a back up. I likely won’t need or use them, but what can I say… Old habits die hard…

Travel Adaptors

Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

Nothing too complicated about today’s post. I travel enough that I’ve run into most of the plug types that are out there and have gotten into the habit of carrying the various travel adaptors with me. I do this primarily so I can plug in my computer where ever I happen to be in the world. Now if I was actually a bit more organized I’d actually swing by a handy dandy on-line resource to check which plug type(s) I’d need for any given trip, but two of the three adaptors in the picture above are small enough so that I just have them tucked into a small case that carries various cables and connectors for the electronics that I fly with.

On a recent trip to India I ended up spending about five hours in Hong Kong Airport on the way over and even longer on the way back. The great thing about the airport in Hong Kong is that you can tap into a free wifi connection which is awesome. The tricky think about a five or more hour lay over is the fact that my computer’s battery was pretty tapped out by about the two hour mark. Hong Kong’s plug (the white one in the picture) is the same as that in England and although I had already picked one of these up in my travels I totally spaced on the fact that I’d need it for the layover in Hong Kong.

Thankfully there was an electronics shop in the airport that sold the adaptors, so I picked one up and was away at the races in terms of charging up my battery and plugging away at the seemingly endless amount of internet-ing that needs to be attended to on a daily basis. Actually it was the layover in Hong Kong on the way home where I was able to catch up on about a week’s worth of blog posts… I seem to have been running a bit behind on my self-imposed blogging schedule, but somehow I seem to be able to get the posts up eventually and am more or less on track with things…

Anyway… Travel adaptors… Check where you’re going before you fly and make sure you pack the right one(s). Most AC adaptors will convert the input voltage so that when you actually plug it into your machine it doesn’t fry the circuitry but I did experience a pretty odd phenomena while I was in India… The voltage coming out of the outlets in India is 230 volts, the voltage in Canada is 120 volts. The increased voltage didn’t have an effect on my computer’s power adaptor’s ability to recharge the battery and run my machine, but the aluminium body of my Macbook Pro seemed to vibrate when I touched it… It was as though the additional voltage was making the whole machine quiver… When I’d unplug the machine the vibration would go away, when I plugged it in I could literally feel the voltage running through the aluminum casing of the computer in this weird sort of way. Imagine running your hands over a velvet surface and that feel of the little hairs of velvet running underneath your hand… That’s about the closest way I can describe it… Very odd to be typing away on my machine and have this sensation occur. It was almost like the machine was alive… I got into the habit of unplugging the adaptor when I was working, working until the battery died, then taking a break while the battery recharged… It was just a little odd…

Anyway… Keep in mind that countries around the world run on everything from 110 volts to 240 volts and although most AC adaptors can accept inputs in this range you’ll need to carry a collection of adaptors to ensure that you’ll be able to keep your electronics juiced up!

Bits of Travel info worth noting…

2010-01-26Where in the world am I today?: At sea aboard the Emerald Princess

OK… I’ve got a bit of info to hand to you today that I stumbled over in the last week or so that pertains to travel and stuff I could have/should have/might have done prior to take off, but now have successfully looked after.

The First – For those Canadians traveling abroad, a service that’s provided by the Canadian Government for Canadians traveling to exotic destinations who want to have a bit of a back-up in place just in case things go sideways unexpectedly. If you go to this website –


You can register yourself as a Canadian traveler. Once you’re registered you can access your user account and provide details of any trips that you might have planned. OK, I’ll admit it, it was my Mom who pointed me towards this because I think she wanted to me to register, so I took the opportunity to take the system out for a little test drive on an upcoming trip that I’ll be doing to India to perform at Travel Trade Shows in Mumbai and Delhi. I’m not anticipating any issues with this trip, but who ever does. I was able to log-on to my account, provide my travel dates and destination and also provide an emergency contact in Canada should the government need to reach my wife if for some strange reason I disappear while on this trip. A nice little safety net, and a completely free service that I wasn’t aware of before this week.

Second – As part of the application process to get a VISA for India for the upcoming trip mentioned above, I needed to hand in my Canadian Passport to have the VISA applied to it. This meant that I didn’t have my Canadian Passport when it came time to leave to join the Emerald Princess where I now find myself. Luckily I was born in New Zealand and have maintained my New Zealand Passport and am using it for this particular voyage. As I entered into the United States I was told by the custom’s official that people who are traveling on Passports from countries eligible for a VISA Waiver Program (You fill in the Green I-94 Form as you cross the boarder) need to register on-line that they’re entering the United States. This doesn’t apply to Canadians and it’s the first time I had encountered it, but for anyone who is eligible, the online procedure is a breeze and you get an approval number that they suggest that you travel with. More information about all of this can be found here –


The Third and final piece of travel information that I came across this week came in the form of an email from Air Canada who informed me that –

Effective January 20, 2010, you may bring one standard bag and other necessary items into the cabin on flights from Canada to the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

This is a huge relief because after the attempted bombing in Detroit at Christmas time the Airport security two-step was getting a bit ridiculous and I was wondering how on earth I was going to successfully travel with my normal performance gear given the changes… I had already worked out my system to reduce things as much as possible and here they were wanting me to drop it down even more… Thankfully it seems like we’re more or less back to where were were before the incident in Detroit… Phew!

Happy traveling everyone!


2010-01-07Where in the world am I today?: St. Thomas aboard the Emerald Princess.

I arrived in one piece yesterday into St. Thomas, but my luggage… Well… As I posted yesterday, it missed the connection in Toronto and didn’t make it with me to St. Thomas. I’m very pleased to report that I was reunited with my crap at the St. Thomas International Airport today around Noon – Yippee! From the Airport I was dropped off at Crown Bay to join the Emerald Princess… Did the usual embarkation two step getting on the ship… My Battle Axe and Dubé Juggling Machete weren’t confiscated by ship board security this time around (often they are so this was a nice surprise) made it up to cabin #7110, arranged everything in front of my cabin bed and snapped the image that accompanies this post.

Missing from the big purple bag that I carry my free-standing ladder and unicycle in was the luggage strap I wrap around the middle of the bag and the small spindle of blank CDs and DVDs I carry in my props case (in case I need to burn a back-up Show CD or want to give someone some digital files) had opened up enroute and most of the blank discs seem to have been pretty thoroughly scratched up so given I wasn’t sure that my bags were going to make it to me and the ship in time, these were fairly minor casualty of this particular voyage.

The mild separation anxiety I experienced after having had my connection to my luggage unceremoniously severed at YYZ has passed, but got me to thinking that another casualty of the trip may well have been that small part of my psyche that pondered what would happen if my bags didn’t make it in time… That energy spent imagining the worst possible scenario of arriving at the ship stinking like four different airports and told that I’d have to come up with something to present none-the-less to keep the passengers happy…

Oh, and I should mention that Wendy, my agent from Don Casino Productions along with her parents, Don and Candy Casino the original operators of the agency, Wendy’s almost two-year-old daughter, her husband and various In-Laws… Well they’re all on board the EMERALD at the moment, and wouldn’t you know it… There they were at my first show in the Piazza… Ha! Thankfully everything came off with out a hitch and I’m looking forward to the chance to enjoy some conversations with everyone over the next few days…

It all worked out. Somehow it usually does… Even when it doesn’t, I think the degree to which your psyche is effected depends enormously on how you choose to let unexpected events effect you. This time around I think I managed to pull through quite successfully just sort of rolling with the punches. Sure did feel good to see my bags arrive in St. Thomas today and be reunited with my stuff!

The Long Flight Home…

2009-11-26Where in the world am I today?: St. Thomas -> Newark, NY -> Toronto, ON -> Vancouver, BC!

No two ways about it… Today will be a very long day of travel for me. Up to clear customs and Immigration in St. Thomas around 7:00 am. Time for some breakfast, then the short jaunt from the EMERALD Princess to the Airport in St. Thomas. Continental Flight 1883 from St. Thomas to Newark, New York. Air Canada Flight 771 from Newark to Toronto and finally Air Canada Flight 151 from Toronto to Vancouver. I’m ‘scheduled’ to arrive at 00:47 am on Friday morning. And lets not forget that there’s a three hour time change which will make that 00:47 am feel more like 3:47 am when I arrive… Hmmm… Fun! Then clear immigration in Vancouver, grab my bags (hopefully they’ll all arrive) and the cab ride home… If I get home by 2:00 am I’ll be doing well making it about a twenty-two hour commute…

I’ve gotten pretty good at going into ‘travel mode’ and living through days like these. I can usually get some sleep on the flights which I’m very thankful for. I’ll often stubble across a free wifi connection at an airport that I can tap into for a quick email-check. I’ll also look after the admin-type paperwork that I do after every gig – a thank you letter to the cruise line for the opportunity, the reimbursement form to go along with the excess baggage charges that I can never see to avoid, along with a thank you to my agent for the gig in the first place. I always have my iPod on hand to listen too and am slowly working through a series of podcasts by Alan Cross called ‘The Ongoing History of New Music‘ which are great.

I view these travel days as a chance to shift gears as well because my reality when I’m on a cruise ship is significantly different than my existence when I get home. This trip in particular for a variety of reasons will have me hitting the ground running upon my return. Birthdays, and wedding anniversaries, and prep for Christmas etc… There’ll be no shortage of things to keep me hopping upon my return.

I had a couple of great conversations with hypnotist/mentalist Joshua Seth and his wife Suzie while I was aboard the EMERALD Princess… They were nice enough to come and watch a couple of my shows in the Piazza over the run and seemed to have a long list of questions about how to make it all work when balancing a family and a performance career. It was funny to be considered some sort of authority on the subject, but I think really all they were after was a performer’s perspective because they’re talking about starting a family and wanted to get a bit of a sense of what they were getting into… I didn’t really have a simple answer beyond… This statement…

“Somehow it all works.”

  • Is it ideal to leave my family for three weeks to do a couple of cruise ship contracts? – No.
  • Could I stay in Vancouver and still survive as a performer? – Maybe.
  • Am I able to keep things fairly balanced between family and career? – I hope so…

Life tends to be messy and there are no absolutely right answers to questions like the ones above, but I work reasonably hard to craft a scenario that works reasonably well for all of the parties involved – Me, my wife and my kids. Being away allows me to make a decent enough living so that the home team is well provided for. When I am home I try to be there for my wife and kids and save up work on various projects (when possible) to do while I’m away. It’s not perfect, but I try to approach all aspects of this imperfect reality with a positive outlook and an enthusiasm which seems to smooth any rough edges reasonably well…

So… A twenty-two hour commute today. Not necessarily the way I’d most like to spend the day, but after three weeks away from Emiko, Koji and Owen, I’m very much looking forward to getting back to the happy chaos that is life at home!

A blast from the past…

2009-10-011Where in the world am I today?: At sea aboard the STAR Princess

Before setting sail aboard the Star Princess from Hilo a couple of days ago I had the immense pleasure of getting picked up near where the ships dock by the one and only Robert Nelson, The Butterfly Man. Robert and his wife moved to Hawaii about 5 years ago and it’s easily been eight or nine years since I last saw him at the Windsor Busker’s Festival, so it was a great chance to catch up with one of THE legends of the Street Performance World and just get to hang for a few hours.

We drove back to his place in Pahoa and gravitated towards a couple of chairs in the shade of the car port where we enjoyed cool drinks and great conversation! It wasn’t long before we were joined by another incredibly gifted performer that I first met in 1990 at the Winnipeg Children’s Festival. A puppeteer and super-nice guy named Steve Hansen.

The conversation revolved around great stories from our mutual shared history either from places we’d all performed together, or people we all know and I got to wallow in the fact that this art form that I’m a part of whether you want to call it ‘Street Theatre’ or ‘Variety Performing’ or ‘Busking’ has such a great living history filled with some of the most interesting characters on the planet.

In Japan they have a Sempai – Kohai system that roughly translates to Master and Apprentice though I think some of what that means has been lost in North American/Western culture these days. My feeling in Japan is there is a special sort of acknowledgement that is given to those who have gone before you for the contribution that they have made to the art form that you are pursuing. There’s a certain appreciation for the wisdom of people who have been at it longer than you have. Even if technically they don’t have the skills that you as a younger performer posses, there’s an awareness that the contributions that have been made by these legends in the industry deserve recognition and respect.

As I sat in the shade and listened to the stories, the humour and the wisdom of these two greats that had gone before me I felt lucky that circumstance had allowed for this chance to spend a few hours together. Our time was unfortunately cut short by my need to get back to the STAR Princess before it set sail, but those few hours at the Butterfly Estate will likely resonate with me much more than any other experience I’ll have during the rest of this contract. Good times!

Travel Vaccinations

2009-07-21Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

I’m off to Peru in a little over a week and along with all the other preparations I’ve been making I took a trip to the local Travel Clinic to make sure I had all of the shots and stuff I needed before traveling to that part of the world. Now if anyone reading this is like me (up until recently) you may have vague memories of getting vaccinated when you were in grade school and the memories bring up horrible images of getting stuck with a needle, but were you asked to produce a certificate documenting what shots you got when it would be quite the stretch to find it…

I know I’ve had shots in the past, but when I looked where I though that information should have been I simply couldn’t find it, so I decided to get the whole shooting match done again just to make sure that things were on the up and up.

Now, given all of the traveling I do working for Cruise Ship Gigs and other clients in foreign locations this is probably something I should have taken care of a LONG time ago, but have been pretty lucky I guess and haven’t picked up anything that’s really been all that bad… So why do it now? Well, I guess in part it’s because this trip to Peru isn’t work related. As a result I’m thinking about it in a totally different way and making lists and checking to make sure I’ve got everything all set the way it should be… It’s weird, but in a way I’m spending more time working towards this vacation than I normally do when I’m going on a job… A bit backwards, but sometimes you need to change the way you look at things to realized that for along time you’ve overlooked something (like these vaccinations) for far too long and it’s the kick in the pants you need to finally do something about it.

Long story short, I got to the clinic, got the shots, and figured that having a scan of this document on-line might be as useful to have as a scan of my passport, so I took care of that too. Some of the shots I got are good for a lifetime, some need a booster in 6 months which I will also go and get. If you’re traveling internationally making sure this sort of stuff is up-to-date is well worth effort as it may prevent you from getting sick while away from home which is always better than the alternatives.

Trip Prep…

2009-07-16Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

I’ve had a busy week one way or another. Flew home from Peace River, Alberta where I got to shoot guns after my performances at Peacefest – what a bizarre experience that was. Made it home on Tuesday and dove into the process of arriving home from one trip and prepping for another. Actually I’m prepping for a couple of different trips. I’ll be heading to Red Deer, Alberta for Centrefest on Wednesday next week, but have a couple of local shows in the Vancouver area this weekend so need to pause before packing up for that trip until after the shows are done.

The bigger prep however is for a trip I’m taking to Peru. I got a wild opportunity thrown at me to go to Peru for about two and a half weeks. Some time in Lima, some time in Cusco, a ten-day horse back riding trip along the Incan Trail and some time at Machu Picchu. This is not the sort of thing I do everyday and the company that’s leading much of the expedition gave me a list of things I should bring for the trip. Bit by bit I’m getting it all together, but I find it incredibly useful to have a sort of ‘staging area’ to lay everything out to make sure I’ve got it all organized and I don’t inadvertently forget something.

It’s no doubt part of my obsessive-compulsive nature, but the last thing I want to do is leave something critical behind. I’d likely be able to pick up anything I’m missing when I get to Peru, but there’s a certain satisfaction in showing up prepared. What’s that old boy scout motto – “Be Prepared” – well I get a good feeling when I leave for a trip with out that sneaking suspicion that I forgot to pack something really important.

This is even more important when packing up for a show because if you show up at a gig having forgotten the power adaptor for your music source or having left a key part of your costume behind you’ll have to scramble to make things work. Sometimes the excitement of having something go wrong can work in your favour in a performance situation, but if you’re making your living as a professional entertainer, you owe it to your client (even if that client is the audience you gather on the street) to walk into the venue prepared.

When I did a theatrical show which was particularly prop intensive a few years back I actually had a prop list and checked and double checked to make sure I had everything and that everything was in it’s pre-set location before each show. It was sort of meditation, or ritual that helped me prep before the show and allowed me to play more successfully knowing that when I reaches for such-and-such a prop it would be there.

Again… Walking in prepared will make you look more professional and serve you well when you step on stage to perform.

To Ship or Rent (Sound Systems)

2009-07-14Where in the world am I today?: North Vancouver, BC, Canada

I just got home from a three city tour that jumped me around the country a fair bit with stops in Ottawa for Canada Day, Edmonton for the Edmonton International Street Performer’s Festival and Peace River, Alberta for Peacefest. All three events were outdoor festival environments, but luckily two of the three provided sound systems for me to plug my wireless microphone and iPod into so I didn’t have to worry about sound.

The only festival where arranging for a sound system became an issue was the week I spent in Edmonton. The Edmonton Streetfest had made arrangements to rent Fender Passport Systems and the rental cost was spilt between the performers who used them. This lead me to the debate of whether it was going to be better to ship my own system to Edmonton or buy in on the rental of the system that was being arranged by the organizers.

To make matters more interesting, I was given ‘special guest’ status and was invited to perform in the nightly Troupe du Jour shows where a sound system was provided but was scheduled for fewer street shows of my own (where a system wasn’t provided) in the square than most of the other acts that had been invited to participate in the event. This made me feel less inclined to opt in to the ‘day rate’ for the Fender Rental because I was getting less use out of the systems than just about any other act at the Festival.

In the end I opted to ship my system up to Edmonton on the bus and ended up sharing my system with my friend and fellow performer Mike Wood. Mike has a pro-active hate on for the Passport System for some reason so was pleased to use my Anchor System and there was only one instance when we were double booked to do shows at the same time. In this scenario we were able to borrow yet another system from another group and successfully managed to avoid the Fender Systems all together.

There’s something to be said for not having to carry a sound system with you if your flying from event to event as the excess baggage charges can add up quickly, but there’s also a certain power in using a system that you’re familiar with and in this particular instance the cost of shipping my system by bus seemed to work out to a fair bit less than it would have been for me to buy in on the festival organized rental. This isn’t always the case and certainly if you were traveling further afield where the weight of your luggage becomes more and more of an issue the rental option might work to your advantage so it’s important to look at the specifics of each situation before making your final decision.

Thank You Notes


2009-01-12Where in the world am I today?: Home! North Vancouver, BC, Canada

I make a point of sending a thank you note to my clients after each of my contracts and when ever possible I send along a fun picture taken as part of the contract like the one to the left that was taken in Aruba while I was contracted to perform aboard the Coral Princess

Getting a photo like this is easier during longer contracts like fairs, trade shows or cruise ships when there’s a bit more time involved and often it’s easy to capture some of the behind the scenes fun that this contract has allowed me to participate in. 

Remembering that a client almost always has a choice when it comes to who they hire and that keeping a client happy starts well before you step on stage and ends long after you’ve stepped off stage will serve you very well and help build stronger business relationships as a result.

Juggling and performing have allowed me to travel around the world and I derive a great deal of joy from being able to make people smile for a living. Beyond doing the best job I can when I step on stage, I always make the effort to say a sincere thank-you to the people responsible for hiring me and giving me such wonderful opportunities.

Remembering to stay thank-you is a small investment of time and energy and leaves a lasting impression that may well result in more opportunities for both work and travel in the future. 


Cruise Ships, working with an Agent

2009-01-07Where in the world am I today?: At Sea aboard the Coral Princess (Caribbean)

So… Working on Cruise Ships… There seem to be two popular options as a performer wanting to work on cruise ships.

  1. Work through and agent.
  2. Work directly with the cruise lines.

I’ve done both, but today’s post as the heading indicates is going to focus on the Agent route… I’ll get into contacting the lines directly next week.

The only down side to working with an agent is parting with a percentage of your salary for every contact you do. My first contract with Princess Cruises back in 2001 was through an agent in Vancouver who charged 15%, but when I switched to working through Don Casino Productions who are out of Miami, that figure dropped to 10%. Having spoken to various acts on ships it seems that most agencies that people want to work through also seem to be at the 10% rate, so if you contact an agent and they’re asking for a larger percentage I’d say steer clear.

For many cruise lines the option of working though an agency has several advantages the biggest of which seems to be that if something goes wrong and you have to cancel a contract last minute an agent will be able to draw on their stable of talent to find a replacement more quickly than you might as an individual. In short, there’s less risk for the cruise lines when working though an agent, especially if they’ve never seen your show live and can’t really gauge from your video how your show will go over with their passengers. In this situation having an agent working for you to give the cruise line that extra push and smooth the way for your first contracts can and does make a huge difference.

So how do you convince an agent to start representing you? Well, start with the traditional route of sending in your promotional materials is a good start. Your package should include 8 x 10 photo(s), a Bio, Press Release, and testimonials from past clients and/or news publications attesting to your greatness. The kicker though will be your video – ideally a DVD showing you performing in a venue similar to what typical performance spaces are like on a ship – this means, either a theatre, club or perhaps a cabaret venue. If you’ve got footage of you working in a variety of indoor settings great, but they should all be lounge/club/theatre settings, venues that will allow the agent to look at your show and go – ‘Yep, this act knows what they’re doing and will easily be able to transition into the sorts of venues that cruise ships offer.

In my case I sent my promotional materials to the Don Casino Agency in Miami (based on a suggestion from fellow juggler Reid Belstock) and followed up the mailing about a week later with a phone call to make sure that they had received the video. It was then that I also learned a very valuable lesson. The video that I had sent down was a compilation video that had seven different videos of my work in various settings. Though one of the chapters specifically showed me performing on cruise ships, the agent popped the video in their DVD player and didn’t want to have to navigate to find the video that I wanted them to watch. It would have been far better to simply include a DVD with just the cruise ship promo reel on it, so keep this in mind when sending your info in.

When I made the follow-up phone call I discovered that the agent hadn’t actually seen the cruise ship section of the video and they had determined that I wasn’t going to be appropriate for ship work. Though the course of the conversation I indicated that no, I actually had worked on ships before and that yes, a part of the video did actually show me in that setting. I ended up couriering another copy of the video down to them and followed that up with another call, which eventually lead to me being invited to perform as part of an annual showcase that the Casino Agency puts on in Miami.

February 2005 I hopped on a plane, flew down to Miami and was one of 20 acts each given 10 minutes to strut their stuff on stage. The audience was made up of about 500 people mostly retired from around the area where the showcase was held. Also sprinkled in the audiences were representatives from various cruise lines who were brought in specifically to scout the new talent that the Casino Agency was looking at representing.

The full story of that experience may make it into another post at some point, but for the sake of actually getting some useful information out I’ll cut to the chase. Shortly after doing the showcase the Casino Agency started sending me out for contracts and have done a very good job securing me work ever since.

So…there you go.

Below I’ve listed the four names that seem to come up the most when I talk to other guest entertainers about who they work through. I’ve also included a link to a site that lists a number of other agencies that might be worth looking into, but that I know less about. Good luck!

Barry Ball Artists / Spotlight Entertainment Productions, Inc
Attention: Barry Ball
2121 N. Bayshore Drive, Suite 908
Miami, FL, 33137-5135, USA
Phone: 1-866-902-2255
Fax: 305-573-5457

Blackburn International
Attention: Johnathan Blackburn
Suite B
26 Craven Court
Stanhope Road
Surrey GU15 3BS. UK
Tel: 01276 686661
Don Casino Productions
Attention: Wendy Garvis
20880 West Dixie Highway, Suite 105
Miami FL 33180, USA
Tel: (305) 935-0137 or (305) 935-9094
First Class Entertainment, Inc.
Howard Beder
483 Ridgewood Road
Maplewood, NJ 07040-2136 USA
Tel: (973) 763-0591
Fax: (973) 763-0570

More agents can be found via this link –http://redbirdstudio.com/AWOL/CruiseShipAgencies.html


It’s not the shows it’s the travel…

2009-01-031Where in the world am I today?: Holiday Inn, JFK, New York, New York, USA

It all stared off looking so promising… I checked with the ship’s purser on Thursday and was thrilled to find out that I didn’t need to wake up at the crack of dawn on Friday to get off the ship, which was great. Often you need to get up and out of your cabin between 8:00 am and 10:00 am so that the room steward can clean it and get it ready for the next performer who usually arrives between 10:00 am and noon. My cabin wasn’t needed until the day after my departure so there was no rush to get out–great! Got up, had a nice breakfast, finished packing, got off the ship with the port agent about 1:30 pm and he helped reschedule my flight from Cartagena to Bogota (that’s him next to me in the picture…never did catch his name) just in case I needed a bit more time in Bogota–perfect!

So things started off well. Even after I landed in Bogota I was optimistic even in spite of an inhumane 6 or 7 hour lay over in Bogota. I had a plan goldarn it. I discovered a free Wi-Fi connection and plopped myself and attacked a pile of emails and such. I also realized that I hadn’t picked up anything for my wife and kids in the way of souvenirs, so picked up some real Juan Valdez Coffee for my wife and a few odds and sods for the kids and a bottle of Vodka for the guy who hosts my website in Duty Free then plopped down and watched a movie on my iPod fully expecting for it to finish about the time I needed to be boarding.

Well the film ended (Shrek 3 in case you’re interested) I got into the departure lounge around 10:00 pm for the 11:15 boarding time and underwent my third security screening…

Man if you thought getting through and airport and the TSA in North America was getting ridiculous you should see what it’s like in Columbia. I went through what would be like a regular TSA screening just before I got to Customs and Immigration. Then I passed through the immigration station and was screened again after my passport was stamped, this time by guys with Columbian military uniforms on and dogs sniffing for ‘SPECIAL’ souvenirs from Columbia, then I one more time for good measure, as I entered the actual departure lounge they had the x-ray and screening set up again…

Once inside the lounge I figure the next leg of my journey was about to start, but no… Boarding was delayed due to some sort of mechanical problem. We’re terribly sorry about this delay, but please come up and get a snack (at least I think that’s what they said in Spanish). First time I’d been served mini-sandwiches, munchies and drinks before getting on a plane…

When I saw more munchies arriving I took it as a bad sign…

Somewhere around two hours after we were supposed to have left it was clear that I wasn’t going to make my connection in New York, JFK, so before we actually left Bogota the service agents for Avianca Airlines rescheduled my Air Canada Flight from 7:00 am Saturday to 7:00 am Sunday.

Pretty uneventful flight although the seats ahead of me seemed a bit closer than I’m used to. The lack of legroom really didn’t matter though because by the time we left at around 2:30 am all I really wanted to do was sleep anyway.

Woke up about 45 minutes before we landed and did the US Immigration two-step, got my luggage, wandered to the Avianca counter only to discover that because the flight was booked by an external agent and because Air Canada wasn’t a partner, they didn’t feel any need to cover the Hotel I was going to require as a result of the delay with their Aircraft… Doh!

Made a couple of calls to the emergency numbers that I had been given for just such situations and discovered:

  1. There were no other options for flights from New York to Vancouver that they could get me on and
  2. I could head myself over to the Holiday Inn and cruise line would pick up the tab and provide food vouchers…

All went smoothly with this plan and I’m actually in my room at the Holiday Inn as I type this. Hot water doesn’t appear to be working in the room, so no shower for me yet, but engineering is apparently looking into it–Ha!

Now the irony of all of this is that had all gone smoothly from start to finish I would have gotten in to Vancouver at about 10:30 am local time (January 3) and am scheduled to leave again at 9:00 am on Monday (January 5), so a grand total of 46 ½ hours later. Now, assuming all goes according to the rescheduled plan, that number will drop to 22 ½ hours and that’s from arrival in Vancouver to departure from Vancouver. By the time I get through the airport and home and have to leave for the airport again I think I’ll get something like 18 hours at home.

Now here’s the kicker–I’m flying back to the ship I was just on. 

I disembarked at about 1:30 pm on January 2nd will join the ship at about that time on the 6th, about 96 hours in total and all but 18 hours will be spent in transit.

Like I said, it’s not the shows it’s the travel that you really get paid for when you work on cruise ships.


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