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Painting the street green is apparently another St. Paddy's tradition in Rolla, Mo.

Painting the street green is apparently another St. Paddy’s tradition in Rolla, Mo.


St. Patrick’s Day at the University of Missouri at Rolla, we were told, was a really big deal. The town celebrated with a massive parade. There were keg parties all over campus. For one wild weekend in March, we were told, everyone in the state descended upon tiny Rolla for a raucous green-beer celebration.

“And you won’t believe the women,” said our friend Bennett, who had studied a semester at UM-Rolla before transferring to Mizzou. “There’ll be beautiful women everywhere.”

It didn’t dawn on our college freshmen minds that there were plenty of parties and beautiful (read: unattainable) women where we currently studied in Columbia. St. Patrick’s Day in Rolla, we believed after weeks of hearing about it from Bennett, was on a whole different level. The 1990 celebration would be the biggest one yet. So we made arrangements to spend two nights at the Sigma Nu house in Rolla. Six of us loaded our gear and crammed into a buddy’s 1977 Gran Torino. Since I was the shortest, I had to lie across my friends’ laps in the back seat for the four-hour journey. The car filled up with cigarette smoke while the tape deck blasted tunes from The Cult’s Sonic Temple. Every now and then, I could lift my head and breathe in some fresh air through the partially lowered side window. It was freezing and miserable in the back of that gas-guzzling Ford, but I happily put up with the inconvenience for the wide-open prospects that awaited us in the swinging town of Rolla, Missouri.

Looking back, we should have known better. UM-Rolla, we already knew, was an engineering school with at least a four-to-one ratio of men versus women. Mathematically speaking, it would have required a huge influx of college-age women to even out those percentages. And Rolla hardly had the local market cornered on St. Paddy’s Day celebrations—there were big parades and festivals in Kansas City and St. Louis as well. Looking back, we should have pressed our friend Bennett for more information. If Rolla was so awesome, we should have asked, why did he leave the place after just two semesters?

We arrived at the Sigma Nu house the evening of March 16. The house was filled with nerdish engineering students scurrying about, preparing for the next night’s keg party. After dinner, everyone gathered in the basement to watch the NCAA tournament and, afterward, a couple of adult movies. We were beginning to have some doubts, but Bennett assured us that the next day’s celebration would be completely off the hook.

“And wait ‘til you meet Alice,” he said, a mischievous grin crossing his face. “You’re not gonna believe Alice.”

“Who’s Alice?” I asked. Bennett was coy, saying we would have to find out for ourselves. Lying in my upper bunk that night, the walls of the tiny room spinning around me, I imagined Alice to be an older, wiser, seductive woman who might buy us import beer from the local Schnucks supermarket.

The next morning, we awoke early to a green-eggs-and-bacon breakfast in the Sigma Nu dining hall (the brothers were actually quite good to us that weekend). Then we walked a few blocks to downtown Rolla for the St. Patrick’s Day parade. It was a bit of a let-down, consisting mostly of fire trucks, high school bands, and Shriners riding around on Go Carts. It was a typical small-town parade, which was fine but not necessarily the kind of thing you drive four hours to go see. My friend Bill, clad in ripped blue jeans and a Soundgarden T-shirt, walked up to one of the elderly Shriners and said, “You guys are doing a great job!” The Shriner nodded gratefully. We stood on the curb, snickering at our friend’s boldness.

“Now we’re gonna go see Alice,” Bennett announced. We dutifully followed him a few blocks from downtown, each of us joking nervously about what this mysterious Alice might look like or say to us.

The first thing I remember was the smell, a combination of all sorts of vile aromas that hit us as we walked down the hill toward the football stadium. The stench grew stronger as we each paid $5 admission, walked into the stadium, and found places to sit on the visitors’ side. The stands were jammed with all sorts of people: college students, high school kids, senior citizens, and young families with small children. All of them wore green, and many donned the official T-shirt of the 1990 Rolla celebration (“The Best St. Patrick’s Day EVER”). Everyone on both sides of the field had their eyes fixed on “Alice,” which was an above-ground pool at the 50-yard-line filled to its rim with a putrid green mix of beer, food coloring, and God knows what kind of garbage and bodily fluids that had been collected by the fraternities in the week prior to the celebration. Several students wearing goggles, ponchos, rubber gloves, and other sanitary gear lined up next to the pool. They took turns being tossed into Alice, where they swam a few strokes, climbed out and were immediately hosed down by a brigade from the Rolla Fire Department. The crowd cheered when someone went into the pool, and the roar grew louder the longer they bobbed around in green sludge. This went on for about an hour until Alice ran out of volunteer swimmers and the crowd disbursed. We ran onto the field and kicked around a hacky sack for a while. By then, I guess we were used to the smell.

I don’t remember much about the party that night at the Sigma Nu house, other than to recall it didn’t have very many of the beautiful, available women Bennett promised. Maybe we had picked the wrong fraternity house to party in. I went to bed late and woke up early. My friend in the Gran Torino dropped me off at a bus stop, where I would take a Greyhound to the St. Louis airport on my way home to Georgia for the spring break holiday.

I’ve thought about that visit to Rolla many times, mostly about the bizarre ritual of Alice. Did people really pay admission to see that? What did the money go toward? Did I dream the whole thing up? Do they still do it today? There is very little information about Alice on the Internet, other than to say that she was a St. Patrick’s Day tradition in Rolla that was discontinued many years ago for public health reasons. That is probably a good thing.

Rolla apparently still advertises its St. Patrick’s Day celebration as “the best one ever.” I’m not so sure I believe that. But the memory of that March weekend in 1990, and the time we spent with Alice, is forever etched in my mind.

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