"The circus is coming! The circus is coming!"
For two years, Corey Iaria of Saranac Lake spoke those words daily as she traveled to small towns and urban centers across the country, hyping up the Moscow State Circus. It's a life experience she says taught her a valuable lesson.
"I took that chance," Iaria said during a recent interview at her Saranac Lake apartment. "It's always the greatest topic of conversation, and I definitely learned a lot."
Corey Iaria of Saranac Lake points out one of the many places she visited during her time as an employee of the Moscow State Circus.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Morris)
Iaria, 38, of Saranac Lake, is now a licensed real estate salesperson with Select Sotheby's in Lake Placid and a bartender at the Cottage. But before she laid down her roots here in the Adirondacks, Iaria's life was, well, a bit of a carnival.
Born in Toms River, N.J., Iaria moved 30 times before graduating from high school, perhaps foreshadowing the wanderlust she exhibited later on in life. By the time she reached her late 20s - and just before she accepted the job with the circus - she was living and working in New York City.
"(I) bartended - I had three jobs," Iaria said. "I sold spa packages on the streets. (I) pretty much went there with a big savings, and left that much in debt. So I moved back in with my father, as an adult, which was crazy - in Forked River, New Jersey, you know, the Jersey Shore - and I couldn't find a job at the time."
That's when a friend approached her with an interesting, albeit strange, question: The Moscow State Circus was hiring, and did she want to apply? Had she been working at the time, Iaria said she might have laughed off the query, but she was unemployed and not in a position to turn her nose up at a potential paycheck.
So Iaria went to the circus, armed with a business suit and a resume, to interview with its owner.
"And it was in his big RV," she said. "It was like a $350,000 bus - like a rock star bus. ... He thought it was really funny that I brought my resume, because most people that do that job, they pick up on the road, and they're like carnies."
Iaria went to the interview - which lasted only a few minutes - with two of her friends. The friends eventually said, "Thanks, but no thanks," and left, but Iaria stayed and was offered a job. She said yes.
The circus gave Iaria $200 and told her to meet with an employee at the circus' next stop in northern New Jersey, where she got some quick training. Just like that, she was a certified circus employee.
Simply put, it was Iaria's job to get people excited for the show.
"You go into a town, and you basically hit every single business, no matter what kind of business it is, (or) anywhere that people go that's a public place that you can walk into, and go in there and say, 'Here's some free tickets for kids and can I put up a poster?'" she said. "It's like, 'The circus is coming! The circus is coming!'"
At the time, the Moscow State Circus featured a two-hour show that included aerial ballerinas, clowns and members of the famed Wallenda family, known for their daredevil performances and high-wire acts. The circus is currently touring in the United Kingdom.
"It was more of a European circus," Iaria said. "It wasn't like rainbow-haired clowns. It was more European-style clowns, sad-faced guys."
Iaria's boss, the circus' owner, played one of those sad-faced clowns. In fact, on the day she interviewed with him, he was standing outside of his tour bus in full clown regalia.
"He's out there smoking a cigarette," Iaria said. "With a Russian accent, he's like, 'You here for job?' And we're like, 'Yeah, yeah.' So my friend says, 'How do you like it? You've been with the circus for a long time?' And he's smoking, and he's like, 'I hate the circus.'"
The job required Iaria to stay one step ahead of the actual show, and most of the time she was gone before it arrived. She said she was good at her job; often, when the circus finally came to town, it sold out.
The gig paid well, too; Iaria started at $1,200 per week. The circus paid for her gas expenses but not for lodging.
Speaking of lodging: Iaria said she tried to save as much of her weekly stipend as possible, which sometimes meant shacking up at hotels and motels that looked like the set of a scary movie. The worst, she said, was a motel in Kansas City, Mo.
"I was in Jersey, and they were like, 'You've got to be in Kansas City in four days," Iaria said. "That means, 'Go, go, go.'"
Iaria made it out to Missouri with time to spare, so she picked up a ticket for a Kansas City Royals baseball game. She wanted to have a few beers during the game, so she got a room at a motel near the stadium. It wasn't long before she started wondering if she picked the right place.
"The guy at the front desk was like, 'No visitors, no visitors!'" Iaria said. "I was like, 'Yeah, no visitors. I'm by myself. I don't know anybody in this state.' I was like, 'Why do you keep asking me that?' Should have known. I go to the game, come back, pass out in the bed. I wake up the next morning, turn the TV on, and there's hardcore pornography. Like, for free. I literally woke up, took a shower, did not feel clean, and was like, 'Get me out of here.'"
Iaria's travels took her far and wide across the U.S. She keeps a scrapbook containing ticket stubs from all of the circus' shows over that two-year time span - they bear the names of towns in North Carolina, Florida, Missouri, Michigan, California and more. Iaria even had to learn Spanish, as some of the destinations in the South and in urban areas had large non-English-speaking populations.
Two of her favorite places were Pleasantville in Westchester County, N.Y., and Mount Pleasant, Mich. Iaria had to eat out a lot, and she said both of those communities had great dining.
"I judge a lot of the towns on their restaurants," she said.
Even though the money was good, Iaria said life on the road could be tough - although it did teach her how to get by without life's luxuries. Her Chrysler LeBaron convertible was the closest thing she had to a home, and she traveled from town to town with little more than her clothes and her CDs.
When she had time off, she rarely went home to New Jersey. In fact, she found her new home in the Adirondacks during a month-long break. Her sister Darby was living in Willsboro, so Iaria rented a house in Essex for the month. Craving some nightlife, she ventured over to Lake Placid and immediately fell in love - and of all the places she visited during her time with the circus, Iaria said it was the Adirondack Mountains that got her to settle down.
"I love it here," she said. "I don't plan on going anywhere."
Iaria's venture into circus life might seem like a bizarre choice for some people - at the time, even her friends questioned the decision - but Iaria said she never stopped to ask herself if she was making the right move.
"I didn't know what was next for me," she said. "I could have got a job at a restaurant, but that didn't sound nearly as fun. What am I getting myself into? I don't know. I guess I didn't think that because, like I said, I've moved so many times already in my life, and just going places is something I really enjoy."
Iaria doesn't necessarily believe in fate, and she doesn't think her stint as a circus worker was preordained. But years before she accepted the job from that sad-faced clown, she got a tattoo on her left bicep.
"It is Tchaikovsky's circus polka," Iaria said. "But here's the crazy thing: I got that tattoo years before I worked for the circus. And I never had intentions of working for the circus. It just happened."
Contact Chris Morris at 891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.