This Side of the Pond – Aug. 17

By Sarah Pridgeon

For the first time this year, I fully entered into the spirit of Rally week. Not as a visitor with beer, bike and bandana, but as a trader hawking my wares.

Unfortunately, this was not a plan I thought through ahead of time. You might say, in fact, that I got swept away in the moment and landed myself in quite the pickle.

You see, if there’s one thing that goes against every fiber of my British-designed being, it’s drawing attention to myself. I should have thought of this before I not only volunteered myself as the event’s official cigar girl, but became single-handedly responsible for coming up with a plan, refining it for best use and preparing the administrative details.

My argument was that not many bikers were likely to come all the way into the Sundance Times office to make a purchase – not with so much to see and do on the outside, including all that beer. A sign on the building wasn’t going to cut it, so silly me insisted loudly and often that we needed a tent, an outside table and a volunteer to spread the word among the crowd.

It was only once everything was ready and waiting that it finally sank in. There I am, staring at a carved wooden bear with a sandwich board dangling from its neck and a giant sign hanging over the doorway, wondering what on earth I’ve gotten myself into.

I, the least extroverted person still hanging around downtown Sundance last week, was going to spend Burnout Wednesday wandering the streets in circles, shouting at bikers in the hopes they’d fall for my sales patter. How was I going to achieve that from my usual position of skulking in the shadows?

Our test run went fairly well on the Tuesday, largely because I had assistance from Nancy, the bounciest member of our staff and much less afraid of the crowds. With her help, I completed two successful rounds of town and drummed up a pleasing amount of interest. Of course, if I’m honest, those sales were 90 percent Nancy’s cheery smile and ten percent my ability to walk through crowded bars without tripping over my own feet.

What really made test run day stand out, though, was bumping into one of my own at the Harley store. As I weaved through leather-clad bodies, stiff as a board at the idea of dropping those precious wares all over the floor, I spotted the Union Jack patched to one of the biker’s jackets.

“That’s a nice flag,” I said. “You would think that,” he shot back, in a familiar Manchester accent.

He asked what on earth I was doing there and I asked what brought him and his wife all the way to Sundance for the rally. They told me they’d moved to Wisconsin almost two decades ago and now live in an ex-pat community of almost 50 Brits.

His wife was curious as to why I chose to live in a little town in Wyoming (I explained it’s a lot less draining on the soul than crowded London), but what she really wanted to make me aware of is that Morrison’s, one of our supermarket chains, is now selling foot-long sausage rolls. I have made sure to alert everyone back home because this really is exciting news for the hungry.

And then the big day arrived, along with the crowds and a realization that I didn’t quite fit in. Was a strangely accented woman in her work clothes going to be the best salesperson for the job?

I came up with a plan, once again with the assistance of Nancy: a bandana to disguise my peculiarities. It worked almost instantly; walking back to the office, passing bikers ceased ignoring my existence and instead showed off their vehicles for my approval, just as they were doing for everyone else.

At first, I helped man the table outside the office, which was attracting just as much attention as I’d promised. One notable customer of the morning, a gentleman with a shaved head and stubble on his chin, had a pair of devil horns attached to his scalp on a piece of elastic.

I complimented his headwear, though I didn’t let on that he looked simply adorable. A wide grin unfolded across his face, leading me to believe he’d been waiting all morning for someone to notice.

But then he went and ruined it by seeing through my cunning disguise. “Australia or New Zealand?” he asked. “No,” I replied.

When the time came to take the tray out onto the sidewalks, I was relieved to have help from two rallygoers all the way from Oklahoma. Neither of these ladies was shy and both were more than willing to bully all those burly bikers into making a purchase.

It wasn’t long before we got so comfortable that I realized we didn’t even need to identify the smokers. If a potential target declined on the basis that they were not nicotine-dependent, I simply answered, “That’s ok, just hold it and you’ll look cool”.

And would you believe, it worked. We corralled several people to the table that afternoon who had no intention of breaking open the cellophane. All went far better than expected – only once did the good-natured browbeating backfire.

Crossing the road on the final lap, one of my companions prepared to skip ahead to start working on a group of five possible customers. At the same moment, I froze in horror, realizing that this group was made up entirely of members of my family.

“Stop!” I shrieked, flinging my arms out as a barrier. “Relatives.” Fortunately, aside from being thoroughly baffled by my presence, they found the whole thing hilarious – one of them even bought a cigar.