It’s the hottest part of a July afternoon. We may as well be sweating in the Pamplona heat, as make-shift matadors and bulls assemble on Mainstreet, not in Spain, but in a very special suburb of the Twin Cities, for the first day of the Raspberry Festival in Hopkins.
Today, I’m wearing several hats in honor of the event — my (figurative) reporter’s cap as well as a set of very literal bull horns strapped to a helmet.
I might have roller skates instead of hooves, but for the afternoon of July 7, I put on my best battle face to make for a Very Intimidating Adversary, joined by a squad of other roller derby skaters to provide motivation for the runners in an inaugural Hopkins race.
Cue record scratch. How did I get into this situation? As many of you know, I spend most of my free time out of the office preparing for or participating in roller derby, a full-contact, high-speed skating sport.
For the first-ever Hopkins Running of the Bulls, I had the opportunity to mix business and pleasure, showing up to cover the event not as an impartial observer but an active participant of the event. This is the best, or at least the most fun, style of journalism, in my opinion.
As a result, I got to see and interact with the community not just as a reporter but also as my roller derby persona, Kill Valentine. And I got to introduce my teammates to the community I’ve come to know well through many hours of conversations, city council meetings and other events. I had the unique pleasure of seeing people unfamiliar with Hopkins come to appreciate the enthusiasm of its residents. If you didn’t know otherwise, Mayor Molly Cummings seemed like just another Hopkins citizen thrilled to meet the foster puppies from Underdog Rescue. “Politicians — they’re just like the rest of us,” in places like Hopkins, that’s still true and wonderful to see.
Of course, none of that matters when the race began, and we all did our best to chase down the fastest and most agile runners, to the cheers of the crowd. It was a harder job that it seemed, navigating participants of all ages and skill levels, trying to ramp up the excitement without actually running over anyone. I now have a new appreciation for the quality of the pavement on Mainstreet.
Councilmember Katy Campbell had a close encounter with roller derby after falling down early on in the race, prompting one of our skaters to leap over her in a maneuver that I hope someone captured on film. (If you did, please email it to me!) Thanks, Katy, for being such a great sport, and please consider trying out for roller derby.
Was it a little goofy to be chasing people past the antique stores and small businesses of downtown Hopkins? Of course. But it was also a lot of fun.
One of the best things about Hopkins is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously (as evidenced by the Dating Game style of this year’s state-of-the-city event). This meant that everyone, from a city council member to Nacho the friendly steer, had a place at the event, and that the mariachi band didn’t seem out of place next to the local marching band and the Pink Floyd cover act.
For the grand finale of the event, community leaders unveiled of the World’s Largest Raspberry, a gigantic fruit sculpture to help put Hopkins on the map as the Raspberry Capital of the World (and a fun, kitschy photo op for visitors). If you haven’t seen it yet, go check it out. It’s beautiful.
I was impressed at just how many people turned up to support the event, whether by running in the event, volunteering to make it happen, or just showing up on Mainstreet to watch and cheer us on. Maybe it was the free beer (thanks LTD Brewing) or the adrenaline, but it really did feel that all the best parts of a small-town, close-knit community were on display that day.
As one participant put it, “Hopkins is a real life Star’s Hollow,” referring to the classic American and hometown milieu of the Gilmore Girls. Add in an extra helping of Minnesota nice, the social and cultural diversity of a nearby metropolitan area, and unique and rich history and you’ve got a recipe for success, not just for a great summer festival (based on raspberries, no less!) but for a great community to live, work and play in. And that’s no bull.