Have stilts, will travel

July 31, 2002 11:00 pm
STILT WALKER Dave Volponi towers at almost 15 feet high when on his leg extensions. (Amy Alonzo/Copyright 2002, The Union Democrat).
STILT WALKER Dave Volponi towers at almost 15 feet high when on his leg extensions. (Amy Alonzo/Copyright 2002, The Union Democrat).

By AMY LINDBLOM

When preparing to go to work, Dave Volponi dabs Super Glue on the laces of his size-17 Converse All-Star sneakers.

As a professional stilt-walker, Volponi knows the dangers of tripping.

In 30 years of literally walking tall, he's fallen just four times — but remembers each painfully well. So beyond the glued laces, he keeps a sharp eye out for obstacles 15 feet below.

Between July and October, Volponi leaves his Groveland home and handyman business to travel the country and entertain crowds under a big-top tent with Culpepper and Merriweather Circus. With the circus, he's been to 33 states, about a half dozen foreign countries and for a time shared a home with Barbara the elephant.

That particular roommate experience came 14 years ago when he first joined Culpepper and Merriweather. It was in the middle of a summer tour and the other performers already had a designated trailer to call home. The circus manager told him he'd have to bunk down wherever he could. After much searching, he found a dusty cobwebbed hayloft in Barbara's trailer. He cleaned it up and moved in.

"Barbara and I really bonded that first summer," said Volponi. "She had this unique way of waking me up in the morning by gently snoodling me with her trunk."

Snoodling? That's what elephants do when they use their trunks to feel around and pick up small objects, Volponi explained, adding that Barbara was a nice roommate. Now, as a circus veteran, Volponi has upgraded to a trailer shared with a human performer and Barbara now snoodles with Connie — another elephant.

Besides stilt walking in a patriotic red, white and blue costume, the multi-talented Volponi sometimes juggles, rides a unicycle and balances balls and sticks on his chin. When the circus stops in a town for a show, Volponi gets around the grounds on a long-board skateboard rather than walking.