From race cars to reptiles, they celebrate with flair

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 15, 2011 - 8:22 AM
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Shelley Dugan and Bob Malos

Sometimes you run across Minnesotans who require presentation as a matched set. You can't talk about one of them celebrating the half-century mark by racing cars at Brainerd without noting how the other spent the big 5-0 grappling with an enormous python. So we bring you a married couple from St. Paul's East Side, Bob Malos and Shelley Dugan, everyday folk who just happen to prove that A) anything is possible in Minnesota, and B) really, you have no idea how cool your neighbors might be.

First question: natives, or Minnesotans by choice? Bob: "I moved here from New Jersey in 1987. I wanted to keep doing my daytime job, computer programming, and be in theater productions." Oh, the old coder-by-day, thespian-by-night routine. Not possible in the Garden State? "It's not that there isn't good theater there, but you have to drive 50 miles to get to it, and here it's concentrated." It's worked out nicely -- in addition to plays, he's done voice-over work, including narration of the "Troubled Waters" documentary produced by the University of Minnesota that caused some controversy last year.

How about Shelley? "I came here from Montana in 1989 to do chaplaincy training at Mount Sinai, then I did a residency at Hazelden."

Married three years, they decided to do something special for their 50th birthdays. A milestone like that rolls around, most people think: OK, cake. Some friends, over-the-hill gag cards. Or there's the bucket-list approach. Your take?

"Shelley was interested in driving a race car," Bob says. "We found out that Brainerd has a program where you can drive the track -- you get instruction, and they let you go out there in a Ford spec racer."

"There wasn't any competing, thank goodness," Shelly says. "It's all about learning how to handle a car at high speeds, how to handle turns. I got to ride with a driver in a Porsche, and he took me around the track to gave me some pointers -- and we're sitting in the Porsche with helmets, I'm sliding back and forth on the leather seats, when I looked at the speedometer it said 135." Thereby making every other trip up 35E feel like you're on a Segway with low batteries. Life must be a constant anticlimax now. Not really.

"I'm one of those people who skydives and bungee-jumps and looks for the wildest ride I can do at the fair," Shelley grins. So we have a speed-junkie-Unitarian-minister? Man, you guys are such clichés.

"Sometimes she shows up to perform a wedding riding a motorcycle," Bob notes.

For Bob's 50th: enormous reptile interaction. "I had a small boa when I was a teenager, but I had never handled the really big snakes, always wanted to do that. So for my birthday she puts an ad in Craigslist, asking for snake dates." That would be the place to ask, yes. "Lots of people responded. We found a young couple that really liked to show off their snakes. Most people are afraid of snakes, so they like it when someone wants to handle them. We went to their house and they had 12 snakes." As they say at Twins games: touch 'em all!

"We're both Minnesotans now," Bob says. "We have no plans to move anywhere warmer." Permanently, anyway; Bob went to Cambodia in 2005 to help build a school. Perhaps they can write a play about Shelley skydiving to perform a wedding while Bob acts it out with an enormous boa around his neck? It would be the hit of the Fringe. Get going, guys -- before some other couple with an identical story gets there first.

 

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