Alison Berkley: The Princess’ Palate

Alison BerkleyThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

I love riding my pink cruiser bike. It’s like jumping on a trampoline or swimming in the sea. There’s just something so inherently joyful about it that it makes me feel like a kid again – happy for no reason.So when 15,000 people hit the streets last Saturday for Tour de Fat in Fort Collins, it was like the world became one giant trampoline, or something along those lines.I normally don’t love big events. I don’t love big crowds or port-o-potties or being corralled into dusty fields under the hot sun surrounded by thousands of sweaty bodies and red faces. I don’t love drinking so much beer that most of my time is spent going to and from some impossibly faraway place where they send you to pee, only to be trapped in those stuffy plastic tombs sweating profusely while trying not to breathe through your nose or sit on the seat or notice all the gross stuff that missed the bowl and is way too close to your feet.I also don’t love dirty feet or the layer of grit and grime that seems to stick to your skin and get thicker as the day wears on. I don’t love the pre-dinner hangover that comes from drinking throughout the day and not eating enough or drinking enough water.Like, Burning Man sounds like my worst nightmare. People who go to Burning Man go every year and they love it so much. They’ll talk and talk and talk about it so after awhile, they become totally desensitized to what they’re saying. They’ll go, “Oh my god I went to the S&M booth and got whipped and was totally bummed when my seven minutes was up, so I went back four more times,” in the same tone someone might say, “There’s a 50 percent off sale at Wal-Mart this weekend.” Or they’ll say, “I volunteered for the orgasm demonstration and got off in front of a thousand people. No, my husband couldn’t go. He and the kids had to get their teeth cleaned and buy a new lawnmower so they stayed home.”My point is, I’m not big on these big mob gatherings where there are a lot of drugs and drunk people and crowds and it’s some big free-for-all where I might trip over my shoelace and later discover someone accidentally dropped a hit of LSD in my beer. I always feel like a little kid who lost my mom in the grocery store, going from aisle to aisle looking for her but somehow losing her in the gaps in between. Tour de Fat was totally different. There was something wholesome and old fashioned about it. Words like “renaissance” and “vaudeville” came to mind as I surveyed the scene. It might have been the intricate homemade stage made from painted beer bottle caps and bike tires. Or the eccentric performers like Mucca Pauza, the 30-piece punk circus marching band from Chicago. Dressed in marching band regalia complete with a cheerleading squad, the music was indiscernible in some odd way. It wasn’t easy to dance to and it didn’t really fit into any category, but the sheer entertainment and intrigue was enough to keep the crowd bopping along as best it could, all eyes glued to the stage. It was enough to make you think. In my book that’s what any art – whether it’s performance or visual or culinary – is all about.It might have been all the people dressed in eco-inspired costumes, with leaves and flowers attached to their bodies. Or maybe it was all the bike-themed events, like the area where you could go and pedal around on tandem tricycles and bikes with 10 wheels or bikes made from wheelchairs. There was the ring toss with bicycle tires instead of rings and the Alice in Wonderland-sized chessboard that made me wish I knew how to play. There was a kid’s stage and a food area where I got a deliciously simple potato burrito with cheese and three different kinds of salsa made from beer. Then there was the beer – New Belgium beer – the company responsible for the whole event. The huge bike parade through Fort Collin’s downtown streets culminated in this massive festival that spilled out onto the property near the brewery. All that beer, purchased by the pint with wooden “tokens of our affection” was donated to raise money for local cycling organizations, almost $70,000 at the end of the day. This is a company that’s not only community and socially conscious but environmentally active too. There were compost and recycling bins but it’s more than that. They’re a manufacturer of some of the coolest cruiser bikes on the road, and that’s what the day was really about.There were some serious heartwarming moments, especially toward the end of the day when your brain is soggy enough to melt and go soft. There was the guy from Boulder who agreed to sell his car and donate the money to charity and not drive for a whole year. He was carried on stage in a makeshift car that was then “burned” and replaced with a brand new New Belgium cruiser.For the big encore, a huge rendering of Tony Danza was erected to a live performance of “Hold me closer, Tony Danza” played to the tune Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.” Long arms made of multicolored nylon with giant paper mache hands mounted on poles were carried through the crowd, along with a huge sign that said, “Group hug, everybody!” as the arms were wrapped around the crowd.I’m telling you, it was more of a tearjerker than watching Tiffany win another Quick Fire Challenge on Top Chef. It was a time and place somehow suspended from the trivial problems of our day-to-day lives. In some ways it celebrated the trivial: all that is simple and uncomplicated, creating that much-needed space in our minds and hearts for joy.The Princess loves you. Love her back at


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