Coming home to Venice was something special for us. We would save our money all year long so we could stay at one of the motels just to get off the train. There was the Candelite , The Kent, the Gondolier and the one of choice The Bonita.
The Myaka bar down the street. A circus bar that was full of old photos from the early days of the circus. And lets not forget Big Daddys a disco on Tamiami trail and ABC liquor with the revolving bar.
There were the local girls who we met year after year who would come and take us to laundry or shopping. Two in particular were Gigi and Jeri who were always there every year, waiting for us when the train pulled in. No matter what time of day it arrived. They became family who we would share stories with from our past season. It was if we grew up with them year after year. They would get joy out of just being able to say they knew us. Grants City with the all you can eat buffet. Publix and of course Winn-Dixie.
Venice didnt even have a movie theatre then. Every week I would hitch hike up to Red Lobster in Sarasota, treat myself to dinner and go see a movie at the theatre next door. This was the theatre that later became famous for the Pee Wee Herman scandal. It was a legitimate theatre then.
There was the pay phone at the end of the train. I would go to the bank and get a roll of quarters just to call home. There was always a line of people waiting to use it. Some times you might wait for hours. Stottelmier and Shoemaker hardware store was also at the end of the train. It was where we would all invade every year to get things to fix up our rooms on the train for the following year. Because once we left Venice our schedule was so busy you could never do it on the road.
There was Smokey the train guy who was covered in black grease all year long . All you could ever see were his eyes. That first day in Winter Quarters he would grab his things and go to the building and take a shower. He would get cleaned up, put on a suit and take himself out to dinner at Smittys Steak house. That was the only time you would see him clean. And then it was back to work for another year.
And Larry Robey who was the person who took care of the band. He had a loft room downtown run by two older women. They would save it for him all year long. When we came in town he would dissapear from the train. You would occasionaly see him around town getting groceries or running errands for the two ladies. He really took care of them.
One year Serf Rocha and I were the only two clowns to ride the train to Venice. It was the six week break so most people went home out of Cleveland. We didnt have much money so we thought we would take what money we had and buy some fishing gear. We figured if nothing else when we ran out of money we could catch some fish out of the canal behind the train and survive. We bought some bait and realized neither of us were any good at fishing. Our money ran out in about a week and no fish. We started to go through all of the abandoned rooms of people who had left the show. We found enough change to get some hot dogs and bread. We survived on these for two more days.
My parents showed up shortly after that took care of us and everything was fine. Those are some of my memories of a time and place I will cherish forever. It truly was our home........