Jugglers and Dinosaurs and Penguins, Oh My! The Steak Fry Was More Than What Meets the Eye
DES MOINES, Iowa — A scene in the movie The Wizard of Oz involves the main protagonists agonizing over the terrors they may face when walking along the yellow brick road, fearing for the “lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” To their shock, they come across a lion who does not seem to act proudly and boldly in the way the animal is assumed to. The cowardly lion defies the stereotype of the species, and the protagonists come to learn that with some things, there is more than what meets the eye.
Indeed, one of the main motifs of The Wizard of Oz is that someone’s story cannot be defined solely by their physical characteristics — instead, it is through further conversation that a person’s story can be determined. I learned that lesson at this year’s Polk County Democrats’ Steak Fry when coming across an assortment of eye-catching individuals.
Juggling for Joe
Some of the 2020 presidential candidates held pre-Steak Fry rallies with their supporters, and I decided to visit Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign rally. As I walked around the area I came across a juggler wearing a Joe Biden t-shirt. I watched as he concentrated intensely on conducting his quartet of balls in the air, and when he paused for a break I approached him for an interview to find out why he was juggling for Joe.
The juggler’s name was Dean Franzen, a native of Cedar Falls, Iowa. Franzen told me that he recently retired after teaching at the University of Northern Iowa for thirty years. Outside of teaching, Franzen has juggled in shows across the state of Iowa; however, this was Franzen’s first time juggling at a political event. According to Franzen, the Biden campaign approached him at a campaign event in Waterloo, Iowa, and asked him to come perform at their pre-Steak Fry rally. “When the campaign asked me to come down for my favorite candidate, all I could say was ‘yes,’” Franzen said.
Dinosaurs are no longer extinct — that is, at least, when it comes to political events. One supporter of Mayor Pete Buttigieg decided to dress in a dinosaur costume at the Steak Fry, and further conversation with him revealed why he dressed up as “Mayor Pete-Rex.”
The man behind the dinosaur suit was Sam Ingersoll, who is from Iowa City. Ingersoll said that he moved from Philadelphia to Iowa three years ago, making this his first time participating in the Iowa caucuses. When asked to explain the dinosaur costume, Ingersoll laughed and said, “This seems to be a fun event, so I figured we add some more fun and color to it!” Ingersoll recounted some of the reactions he had received from people around the Steak Fry — a little girl followed him throughout the event, someone thought the costume was meant as a dig at Joe Biden, and Buttigieg himself gave Ingersoll a high-five for his attire.
As all of the candidates and their followers made their way into the Steak Fry, they passed a group of penguins — not real penguins, mind you — but a group of climate activists dressed as penguins. The climate activists represented Bol
d Iowa and have been bird-dogging presidential candidates on climate-related issues. I chatted with two of the group members, Lysa Fisk and Martin Monroe, to find out more about their presence at the Steak Fry.
Fisk stated that their goal is to raise awareness of climate change and the environment and get this issue to the top of the priority list for presidential candidates. Fisk said that they were wearing penguin costumes to represent the second-largest penguin colony collapsing earlier in the year. Monroe said that the group has spoken with all of the presidential candidates with one notable exception: President Trump. In fact, according to Monroe, five of their group members were arrested when trying to deliver a letter to President Trump on a visit to Iowa. Fisk compares their activity to that of another bird: “We could be considered the canary in the coal mine.”