When I was a kid, I longed to stumble upon a magical hidden world, more interesting than the military town where I lived. My sister and I created “magic stairs” in the dirt that worked only with a secret spell, climbed down sewers by the lake, and chalked Beetlejuice doors on the side of our brick house. Never successful, I had to satisfy myself with tons of books – that’s why I’m such a reader.
Yesterday I stumbled upon the type of world that would have delighted my 9-year-old self: carnival barkers, vaudeville performers, villains, fanciful creatures, grotesque bikes, and hundreds of whimsically dressed people. The added adult amenity of cold beer also made this perfect for my 27-year-old self. (The two, incidentally, are not that different.) New Belgium Brewing Company’s Tour de Fat is a delightfully odd celebration of bicycles as a life-style – a fantasyland hoping to encourage cycling and thereby change reality.
Entering the newly-enchanted Palmer Square Park, the first sight was bicycles sprawled across the grass like an awesome infestation.
I could stare wide-eyed at all of the bikes for only a few minutes, as stomping house music and ladies dressed in hot pink and black soon demanded my attention. The Sprockettes were performing! They get my love for clearly having so much fun. My fantasy now is to run off and tour with them. (My 9-year-old self also choreographed dance routines.)
A wailing New Orleans dirge followed, drawing my attention to a funeral procession for the car worming its way through the crowd. “Who here has ever loved a car?” The barker asked, answered with boo’s. “We’re gonna have to decommission this car like you decommission a building when you’re building a new school for your kids … to see if there’s something new and more evolved we can come up with.” Cheers this time.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, give me a cherry red cruiser, from this bucket of rust.” A crazy Schwinn cruiser appeared and was raffled off to a lucky winner.
In a topsy-turvy scenario, one person won a bike by exchanging his car and promising to live car-free for a year. A crowd of already car-free maniacs gathered to welcome him into the tribe.
Freak bikes began to look normal in this sea of weirdness.
A vaudeville team turned in a fantastic performance. The show ended with each juggling a running chainsaw, a bowling ball, and an egg, which I watched sitting cross-legged in the grass and peeking between my fingers covering my eyes. She asked those sitting in the front row to remain seated, “unless you see an egg coming at you, because that means there’s a chainsaw and a bowling ball following.”
Drunk on sun and happiness and one beer, I left the festival with a sigh. I’m sure it raised a bundle for West Town Bikes.
Missed this one? They may be coming to your city soon – Chicago’s was only the first of eleven. And there’s always next year. I will be there with bike bells on.