March 20, 2013, Washington, DC: It was a hodgepodge group out there last night, for sure. A marine in uniform and a clown nose hugged his girlfriend as toddlers ran joyful circles behind the crowd. Fathers held stuffed animals and watched teenage boys rattle through a graffitied skate park. Capitol Hill Police on bicycles fielded questions about bedtimes, and a bored clown tooled around on the scooter of an elementary school student before the boy asked for it back to show the clown his tricks.
“That’s cool,” said the clown. “You should join the circus.”
When the circus comes to town, it comes by train, on the freight tracks that divide the neighborhoods of Navy Yard and Capitol Hill. The elephants disembark there at Garfield Park, where the neighbors ceremoniously gather to greet them each year. From the edge of the neighborhood park beneath the highway, the elephants begin their nighttime trek across Capitol Hill and downtown to the Verizon Center, where the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus begins tomorrow.
The elephants were late this year. Word passed through the crowd that the train had overshot its destination and was reversing back up the tracks. Pushing nine o’clock on a school night, the group hung around, waiting for elephants. Finally – and quickly – the elephants arrived, traipsing by faster than we’d thought. Within two minutes, they had come and gone, and neighbors rushed off to sleep with the circus in town.