Mac carried the golden age of the circus in the trunk of his car. That spacious area of his '67 Buick was jammed full of worn-out suitcases, carpet bags, and satchels; and every one of those was jammed full of snapshots of the circus -- clowns, showgirls, acrobats, roustabouts -- the heart of the Big Top recorded on Brownie film and stored in a suitcase.
Mac himself had been a clown in his younger days. He worked with the greats: Felix Adler, Emmett Kelly (Senior, mind you -- Mac thought Junior was a sorry sack of shit and a thief to boot), Blinko Moran, Lou Jacobs. He knew all the performers and was friends with most of them.
Now, well, Mac stayed with the Big Top, working as the Arrow Man. He posted the paper arrows that told the show how to get to the next lot. It was an extremely efficient method of directing traffic, provided the damn drivers stayed awake and alert enough to spot the arrows and keep on the route. Mac spent hours figuring out the best route before he posted even the first arrow out of the old lot on the way to the new.
He had maps scattered all over the front seat of the Buick. He calculated mileage, he figured out shortcuts, he spotted the truckstops. Mac made sure the scales were closed or found out how to avoid them. Probably most important, he measured. He had his own jerry-rigged measuring stick to see how tall the bridges and tunnels were so that he could be sure that the trucks would fit.
After Mac had picked out two or three of the most likely possibilities, he drove them to see which was actually best. Once he made his decision, back he came to the lot, bent anybody's ear as to his choice, and then started posting the arrows.
Posting arrows is an art and a science. You need to know where to post them and how to post them, how many to post and how to be discreet. The tools of the trade are a heavy-duty staple gun, masking tape, and the arrows themselves. Some of the bigger shows have several different kinds of arrows -- plain arrows, arrows with "SLO" printed on them, arrows with "JA" (for Just Ahead) printed on them. You post at least three at major turnoffs, then one every five or ten miles to tell the trucks they're still doing fine. At tricky turns you post one arrow upside down to tell the trucks to slow down and watch out. You post arrows on telephone poles, on street signs, on interstate highway signs. You don't post them on trees, or guardrails, or buildings. You do it fast, with one eye over your shoulder to make sure the cops aren't watching too closely -- especially if the town has a thing about litter.
Mac was a good arrow man. He could tell you where to get some chow in the middle of the night or where the best breakfast joint was. He'd fill you in on the new lot, so you could plan whether to do the wash where you were or where you were going. He could tell you if the new county was wet or dry, what the movies were, where the nearest motel was and how much it cost.
But his most amazing attribute was that Buick. Mac lived in his car. The front seat held him, his office, his kitchen, and bathroom -- the maps, a hot plate, a coffeepot, his shaving kit, and a 100-foot extension cord. A box on the floor was his pantry. A tension rod between the front and back seats was his closet. Mac had more clothes hanging on the rod than a teenage girl. What clothes he couldn't hang on the rod he packed in boxes on the floor. The back seat was his bed, neatly made up with pillows, sheets, and blankets; the rear shelf was his nightstand, with an alarm clock and transistor radio. The trunk held his circus life on three-by-five Kodak prints.
When someone asked Mac why he didn't get a trailer, he said he'd thought about it. He decided against it because he knew that if got a trailer, he'd have to bring his wife along with him. And that was not why he came back to the road.
On the last day of the season, Mac was posting the arrows back to winterquarters. He parked the Buick on the side of the road, but he forgot to put on the emergency brake. Not only that, he parked facing downhill, with his wheels angled back out toward the road. Just as Mac was putting up the last arrow, the car started to move. It rolled slowly out onto Highway 216, ambling down the road as if on its was to a picnic. Unfortunately, a tractor-trailer rig was screaming down the same highway and the Buick rolled right in front of it. The semi slammed into the Buick's trunk, pushing it into Mac's bedroom, which jammed the closet into the kitchen, and the kitchen into the engine.
The snapshots -- the legacy of the circus of the forties and fifties -- scattered down the highway like performers going home.