Alison Berkley: The Princess’s Palate
Aspen, CO Colorado
So I’m watching a parade in Burnsville, Minn., when this guy dressed in a red flight suit and goggles comes charging up the hill straight toward me.
It’s my first time in Minnesota visiting Ryan’s family, and it’s pretty much how everyone said it would be. The whole “Minnesota Nice” thing is so not a myth. People are so friendly and so down-to-earth, it’s almost hard to get used to. You don’t really have to worry about what to wear or how to act or if this or that is going to be appropriate. Jeans and comfortable shoes will work just fine, unless you’re going for a ride on the Harley and then you need to think about wearing leathers and boots, just to protect yourself from those hot pipes. But I’ll get to that part later.
We’re at the parade to watch Ryan’s 5-year-old niece go by in a float with her dance school. It’s your typical small-town parade, with local politicians and sports teams and cheerleaders and bands and baton twirlers.
So I’m caught off guard when the guy dressed in red comes bounding up the hill screaming, “Ohhhh yeah! I see youuuuuu!” at the top of his lungs.
I’m not exaggerating when I say he is in a full sprint, the wild smile on his face growing wider as he approaches, a mouth full of teeth. It’s one of those classic moments where I’m looking around me to see who he could possibly be after. Then I realize of course that person is me.
The guy grabs my face and plasters a huge V on my cheek with a grease pencil. Even though I’m loving the attention, I’m also thinking about the expensive facial I just had and worrying the grease is going to make me break out all over again.
It turns out my little friend in red is from the Vulcan Krewe, a century-old organization that formed around the St. Paul Winter Carnival. They wear red jumpsuits and goggles and red capes and run around writing big letter Vs on people’s faces. I guess the deal is they try to bring in the heat, so to speak, to chase winter away. They especially like girls, and apparently that’s gotten them into some trouble in the past, which only makes them all the more intriguing. They’re like a cross between a firefighter, a ski patroller, and maybe a little rugby player – organized and uniformed but underground and unruly. I totally love them.
After the parade, there’s a little carnival with rides set up in a hot parking lot next to a church. They have all those foods I’d heard about, the fried Oreos and fried Twinkies and fried hot dogs. Whatever. I only had one bite, kind of like Eve.
Meanwhile, the Vulcan Krewe has taken up residence on a picnic bench just waiting for me to walk by.
“Let’s do it the old fashioned way!” one of them screams, banging his fist in the air.
The next thing I know the fat one has me in a tight embrace, cheek-to-cheek so he can smear another V onto my mug while Ryan’s dad takes pictures.
I guess they got sued a few years ago for molesting some girls at a bar, so technically they’re not supposed to do the cheek-to-cheek thing anymore, but clearly that’s not stopping them. I happen to think they’re pretty harmless but scary in a cheap turn-on kind of way. Even though I realize I’m probably the first single female to walk through this town without a litter of kids strapped to her hip, I do feel pretty good about myself.
The best part of our visit is the Harley. Ryan’s dad lets us use his and his brother has one too. On Saturday we all saddle up for the Ride and Roar, a benefit for the Minnesota Zoo. It’s 137 miles through the countryside with over 100 other riders.
When Ryan’s dad saw me dressed in my flip-flops and hot pink Marmot jacket he shook his head and said, “No, no, you can’t dress like that.”
The next thing I know I’m decked out like all the other wives strapped to the bitch pad in a tight leather jacket, jeans and cowboy boots on loan from Ryan’s mom (she’s a size 6 too!) and I’m riding on the back of this big, gurgling motorcycle. Ryan’s got the whole black T-shirt, boots and leather jacket thing going on and looks so hot I think I might be dreaming.
Somewhere near the Wisconsin-Minnesota boarder I realize I am dreaming. I’m not really asleep, but sort of dozing in and out. I don’t know if it’s the hum of all the bikers, or the warm, humid air, or the never-ending cornfields that go whizzing by, or the fact that I’ve been straddling this hog for almost four hours, but I can’t seem to stay awake. It’s actually a wonderful place to be, a relinquishing of control that brings relief so profound that it actually sedates me.
I totally love the whole Harley thing. It’s this huge machine that vibrates and gets really hot and makes this visceral gurgling noise, like the sound of testosterone. I pretty much want to ride the Harley everywhere the entire trip so I keep making up excuses to go out and do errands so we can ride it. We go everywhere: to a yoga class in St. Paul, to a French cafe on Grand Ave, to Cub Foods for groceries, to Caribou Coffee for lattes, through downtown, uptown, mid-town and even a place called Frogtown.
I love staring at the back of Ryan’s head, big and wide with wild, thick black hair blowing in every direction. I love being along for the ride, but I especially love the fact that at last, I can relax. After all, he’s the one doing the driving.
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