The Shakopee racetrack's longtime special events manager has stories to tell of the celebrities, politicians and others she's encountered through her career.
Jesse Ventura shocked the world.
Mary Pat Monson made sure he had a telephone.
As special events manager at Canterbury Park, Monson organized the party that turned into the most unlikely victory celebration in Minnesota political history. And in 17 years with the Shakopee racetrack, Monson has been up-close-and-personal with all kinds of celebrities.
It's a career that's produced a treasure-trove of stories, from Mariah Carey turning her nose up at riding in a golf cart to Bill Clinton's thank-you note after a presidential visit.
The best may be from the evening of Nov. 3, 1998, when an ex-professional wrestler became Minnesota's governor-elect.
Ventura's family and advisers had gathered in the president's suite at Canterbury Park to monitor election returns. To just about everybody's surprise, Ventura won the three-way race as the Reform Party candidate.
Outside the suite, on the clubhouse level, the party was raging. Around the state, voters were realizing what they'd done. People wanted to talk to Jesse. The other candidates needed to reach Jesse, to concede.
"None of us had ever done an election night party," Monson said, "so there were a few things that fell through the cracks."
With TV declaring Ventura the winner, it dawned on her that she'd told security to hold calls.
She got on her walkie-talkie. Let calls through, she said.
Soon, Republican Norm Coleman's campaign was on the line.
"Well, there came the second issue," she said. "I never thought of having a phone in the room where he was at."
A broom closet next to the bar did have a beige wall phone.
"So I said, 'Put it through to this number.' So he and I were standing, literally, in this broom closet.
"I'm not very big and he's very big. First it was Coleman's campaign, then it was [DFLer Skip] Humphrey, then Coleman called. Well, then he went out and said whatever."
What he said -- roared really, eyes shut and left fist raised -- was, "We shocked the world!"
And in that moment, he was able to claim victory because Mary Pat Monson had found him a phone.
Rock star quirks
When Bob Dylan appeared at Canterbury Park in 1999, a production assistant called Monson out to the infield to discuss the "rider," the document that sets out a performer's needs.
You read it? he asked.
"I usually just go back to the back page to see what kind of liquor or socks or underwear or whatever we're supposed to produce for them. But, yeah, I read it."
So, he said, you saw no guns are allowed? Canterbury security doesn't carry guns, she said.
"And the guy looks at me and he goes, 'Well, that would include the police.'"
"And I went, 'Whoa, Shakopee police are not going to check their guns at the door.'"
Long story short, the parties agree police won't come backstage. The show begins.
But Dylan spots an officer carrying a sidearm at the sound board.
He walks off. His people call Monson over.
"I went" -- and she sighs -- "I'll take care of that right now. Just keep going on with show."
Mariah Carey appeared on a muddy day at the track. Besides demanding running water -- the sink that was installed is still out at one end of the racetrack -- she refused to take a golf cart to the stage, demanding a stretch limousine.
The limo, predictably, gets stuck: "It was just the biggest mess I've ever seen."
"And I'm like, 'You know there's one thing about being a diva but then there's another of being an idiot. Get in the golf cart, drive up to the stage, and she had to keep stopping and redoing her hair ... '"
Her voice trails off.
The president visits
President Bill Clinton visited a farm adjacent to Canterbury Park in May of 2000.
First, the Secret Service arranged to use parts of the track for the press corps, despite Monson's doubts that US West, the phone company at the time, could install 30 phone lines in time.
Then, a couple of days before the visit, Monson's cellphone rings with a blocked number. Monson answers.
The caller says he's with the Secret Service and that agents would like to come look over the track.
"I said, 'Well, yeah, you're already using it.'"
"No, that's the press corps. We're the Secret Service."
"And I said, 'OK. How did you get my cell number?'"
"He said, 'We're the Secret Service.' And I said, 'Yes, you are.'"
Ultimately, sharpshooters were stationed on the grandstand's roof and agents drilled a hole in a steel door to run a communications cable. Monson had to set up a stage, podium and other gear, but it was never used.
There was a payoff, though -- a "very nice" thank-you letter from the president himself. It hangs in the hallway outside Monson's office.
Spend a weekday afternoon visiting and she'll show it to you.
Bill Crum • 612-673-7215