Sunday, January 03, 2010

Riding an Elephant

Yesterday I was watching the great film "The Bucket List" ... and while watching that scene with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman riding the back of a jeep, singing a song from the Lion King, as they watched African wildlife run around them.

I thought, god before I die, I sure would like to experience an African safari like that!

Watching this scene did jog a memory though, of how I did get a little taste of Africa right here in Toronto when I was 12 years old.

We were living in Don Mills at the time, and it was the year of 1972. My mom just told me that the great " Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus " is coming to town, and she just saw an ad in the newspaper about the announcement of a poster designing contest to win free tickets and $200 worth of Mattel Toys, plus a RIDE ON A ELEPHANT!

I was 12 at the time, and I thought, that is so cool, I want to enter! So off to Fairview Mall and to Grand & Toy I went, to buy the arts supplies. I wanted the brightest poster paper and paint there was! florissant almost.

I spent the next week down in the laundry room designing and trying out different designs for the poster. Finally, day 6 I had it! My mom sent the poster in and now we wait.

About 2 weeks later, I received the news that my poster had won!
Wooo hoooo!
I won tickets to the circus for the whole family, $200 worth of Toys and the most important and coolest thing, a ride on a real Elephant!

The Circus arrived on a warm spring day in June 1972 to the CNE. The animals arrived by train. My dad drove me to the CNE with his ' Bolex' movie camera in hand to film the entire event.

We drove up to the area where the animals were being unloaded from the Train box cars. I remember I was so excited and nervous, especially when I saw the elephants starting to come out of the Train Cars one by one; they was so tall, and big ! Towering over everything and every one. It was so cute, how the elephant handlers were coaching the elephants to start kneeling down one by one in-front of me and about 5 other kids that were also invited to ride them.

The smell of them was pungent, be that didn't matter, I was going to ride an actual elephant! So one of the trainers came and got me, all the while my dad was filming away on his ' Bolex' movie camera, I had to climb up on the knee of the elephant, and then grab his ear, and pull myself up onto the neck of the elephant and there I was to hold onto his B & B collar. ( just like the one in the picture above)

So now the elephant was going to stand up. As I was to hold on very, very tight, first his right leg, as I keeled over to the left, and thought I was going to fall off, the finally his left leg, as it leveled out again, and up, up ,up we went ! So high in the Sky now! I was 15 feet up in the air!
The other elephants now grabbed onto each others tails and the handlers started leading them for a walk through the CNE grounds.

I was on the very first, lead elephant, as I had won 1st prize in the poster contest, which made good filming for my dad. My dad quickly got into his car and drove ahead of the pack of elephants, got out filmed, jumped back in his car again and continued driving ahead a few 100 metres, and thus filming the entire event.

It was so much fun! exciting and scary at the same time. You were holding onto that collar for dear life! Falling off was not an option. My elephant all of a sudden lifted his truck and gave out a call..... Blaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah... and then a sort of snort... it scarred me, but I kept on holding on....

I remember the smell of the elephant, it was not pleasant, and it was also very dirty. Stupid me, I was wearing white pants that day, and when I got off at the end of our 30 minute walk, they sure as hell were not white any more!

So we came a full circle around the CNE grounds and arrived back at the train box cars. The elephant leaned down onto his knee again so as I could get off. I almost fell forward over his head when he did this, but didn't, thank god. Wow... what a great experience.. and my dad got it all on film. We have the home movie somewhere, hopefully one day we will transfer all the 100's of home movies onto DVD's so we can watch them all again in the comfort of our own homes.

The Circus Tickets were handed to me at the end of the elephant ride, I said my goodbyes to all the elephants, and handlers. That night we were to come back to the CNE to see the whole show! At the show that night, in the big old Colosseum at the CNE, the elephants entered the arena, and the announcer actually announced that earlier that day a few lucky children were invited to ride the elephants because they won our poster designing contest, and there they announced my name over the p.a to everyone!

My poster was published in the paper earlier that week, and now also hung on the wall in the Colosseum at the CNE. What ever happened to it after that who knows? ( this poster to the left is not it!.. but the actual vintage poster from B&B in 1972)
What a great experience! do you know anyone that has ridden an elephant? for real?
Strangely the $200 worth of Toys never arrived... but that was okay, I was 12 and well I didn't play with toys any more, and besides.... I had won something more important...

... the ride of my life-time!!!


Anonymous said...

My kids have ridden both camels and elephants at some of the zoos throughout the country... an experience I've yet to have. This summer my weight should be low enough for a camel ride!

P Diddy said...

I love riding elephants. I have ridden them in Both Thailand and in India and thought that it was a magical experience. Thanks for the post.


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