We certainly find ourselves in some strange and unprecedented times. Times unlike any we have experienced. And it is during a time like this that it is important to reach out and to stay in contact with one another. Granted, you may not be able to leave your house to do so, but a call, text, email, or video chat is better than nothing at all. It is beneficial to both the sender AND the receiver. It expresses love, goodwill, and, most of all, hope. A lack of hope during a time of crisis such as this can be devastating.
And that is the reason for this particular blog entry at this particular time. The purpose of “The Magician’s Choice” is to share my personal experiences as a traveling, professional magician. Maybe to share a humorous anecdote or recounting of something that happened to me on my travels throughout the world. I rarely get philosophical or deeply personal in them, but I felt that, with the current situation we find ourselves in, I would make an exception just this once. If for no other reason than to maybe offer some reassurance to those of you reading this that may be feeling depressed or anxious during this uncertain time.
Let me share a personal, true story with you…
This tale begins on March 11th, although now it seems so much longer ago than that. I was booked to perform on a cruise ship, which I do occasionally. This particular ship was the Viking Sea. I was standing in LAX waiting to catch my red-eye flight to Philadelphia leaving at 11:20pm. Once in Philly, I would then catch a connecting flight to St. Maarten, Philipsburg. My itinerary had me scheduled to arrive in Philipsburg on the 12th where I would check into a hotel and then join the ship on the 13th when it arrived in Philipsburg the following morning.
As the time to board the plane neared, I received a text message from a friend of mine accompanied by a screen shot of a headline that had occurred only an hour or so before stating that the CEO of Viking Cruise Lines had announced that they were canceling all of their cruises through the end of May. This was to take place, the article said, immediately–as the words were leaving his lips. I sprung into action, but phone calls to Viking’s travel department and my agent gained no confirmation that my cruise had been indeed canceled. My only option was to keep to the plan, at least for the current time. As I was boarding my plane, I quickly shot an email off to the agency in London that books me on various cruise ships letting them know of the situation. I stated that by the time I reached Philipsburg, the cruise will have most likely been canceled and I would need their assistance to find a return flight home.
Sure enough, five hours later when I touched down in Philadelphia, I was greeted with an email on my phone stating that the cruise had been canceled and that I should NOT continue on to St. Maarten, and a flight back to Los Angeles was being arranged.
I quickly responded to the email letting the travel department of my agency know that, while I appreciated their help, I would first have to see if I could intercept my one bag that I had checked in at LAX with the final destination of St. Maarten here in Philadelphia.
I don’t know how many of you reading this have ever been to the Philadelphia airport. If you have been lucky enough to never have this airport as part of your itinerary, I would recommend that you consider yourself lucky and do everything you can to keep that streak alive. It is laid out as if the city of Philadelphia had hired M. C. Escher to design their airport. I disembarked the plane in Terminal One. Going to the luggage office in that terminal, I was told that, because my connecting flight to St. Maarten would be leaving from Terminal Three, I had to go there to hunt down my bag. Fair enough. “How do I get to Terminal Three?” was my, in my opinion very simple question. The answer I received, and what I ultimately walked, took me out, around, through a parking lot, up, and back over to where I was in the first place–but just on a higher level.
Thirty minutes of walking that required me to go back through airport security twice more–all of which could have been avoided with one simple elevator ride.
Finally, I found myself in Terminal Three. Somewhere in here was the luggage office where I would supposedly be able to recover my one checked bag. But where?
I scanned the terminal’s horizon and spotted a desk marked “Information,” Behind it was, I am not making this up, an elderly woman wearing a red, “Information” vest and an eye patch over one eye, who was feeding what looked like breakfast cereal to her special needs daughter, also wearing a red, “Information” vest. These two, as unlikely as it may seem, successfully instructed me on how to get to that terminal’s baggage claim office. Off I went.
The young lady behind the baggage counter begrudgingly put her phone down as I approached.
“Can I help you?” she asked robotically.
“I certainly hope so,” I replied. Doing what I do for a living is wonderful, and I feel very lucky to be able to make a living performing magic–an art form that I have loved since I was six years old. And along with that comes certain absolutes–one of which is anytime you mention you are a professional magician, you are bound to be inundated with questions. All of them are good-natured and are rooted from an honest fascination of magic that has been deeply rooted within the inquisitor since probably he or she was a child. Let me state now that I find nothing wrong with that, and I am usually happy to field those questions. Usually. Today was not one of those days.
“My company canceled my trip while I was in the air coming here,” I explained very corporate-like, with an air of authority that sounded like it was coming from someone who did something more than card tricks. I further explained that my bag was supposed to continue on to St. Maarten, but that I need to reclaim it now so I could fly back home.
She asked me a few cursory questions about my now canceled trip, and then picked up the phone. Dialing what I can only suppose was the baggage handlers of Terminal Three’s phone number, she explained my situation to the person on the other end of the line.
“Let me check,” she said as she then placed one hand over the talking part of the phone. “What color is your bag?” she blurted out to me.
“Well, it’s a grayish purple…”
“Is it gray or purple?” she shot back, noticeably irritated. Apparently this woman had been absent from her kindergarten class on the day when they had taught shades of color.
“Purple,” I replied, going with what I thought would be the more prominent, noticeable shade in case the actual luggage handler had been a kindergarten classmate of hers and had also missed that day in class. “Purple with travel stickers on it.” I cannot begin to tell you how many times the travel stickers from the various locations I have visited that I have placed on my bag have helped me out in a clutch. She relayed this new information to the person on the line and hung up. She informed me that my bag would be searched for, and, if found, would be put on one to the two conveyor belts just outside the office door. Within 25 minutes, my bag miraculously arrived on the luggage carousel. I was able to grab the bag, confirm a flight back to LAX with my agency, grab a quick cup of coffee, and board that next flight out of Philadelphia.
So, basically, I flew to Philadelphia for a cup of coffee, and then flew home. And the coffee was pretty lousy, at that.
I then returned home to watch the entire nation seemingly spiral out of control over the next few days. I watched gig after gig that I had already booked cancel due to social distancing regulations. Clubs and theatres that I was to appear in had to close their doors temporarily. Other cruises that I had lined up canceled their voyages. The work I had in place and, subsequently, the income I had planned on for the first half of the year disappeared in the blink of an eye. And who knew how long this was going to last? Was I in danger of losing my entire year’s income?
And here is where I will share with you on a personal level: I tumbled helplessly into the a rabbit hole of depression and confusion.
Fans of the movie The Princess Bride may remember the “Pit of Despair.” That is where I found myself. Those who know me know that I don’t regularly have a gloomy disposition. Sure I have my bad days like any other person, but, generally speaking, I consider myself a pretty positive individual. I try to learn from mistakes and setbacks so that I can proceed in a more confident and decisive manner. That wasn’t happening for me this time around.
Did I eventually pull myself out of it?
Yes. It took a number of days, but I managed to claw my way back to the top and away from the edge of the pit.
How did I accomplish it?
I’m not sure that I have one magic answer for you, and you’d think that would be kind of my job, wouldn’t you? The truth is that there were a number of little things all firing off together–synapses of self-preservation, if you will–that were helpful in lighting up the darkness for me. And yet, if I were forced to name one quality all these things had in common at their very root, I would have to say “communication.” Hearing from family, friends, and other loved ones really did help out. Discussing the stressful situation with my sister and brother-in-law (two people who have been VERY helpful and understanding during this time), my daughters, friends, and fellow performers made me realize that we are all in this together. Of course I knew that from the very beginning, but talking about it really made it much easier to take and, dare I say, accept. Talking with fellow performers who found themselves in similar financial situations as I did and commiserating together, oddly, eased the hurt a little and became cathartic, I believe, for both parties.
Which brings me to the end of this blog post, yet back to where I began: Hope. There is hope out there for the taking. There is an end to this craziness we are currently faced with, and hope will get us there. Gain that hope by communicating frequently with friends and loved ones and build your storehouse of hope right now. Friendships, relationships, and compassion are more important now than they ever have been, and you may be surprised at how a simple phone call can lift someone’s spirits.