The Midnight Flight of the Mattress Riders

Friday, Jan. 4, 2013 2:23 am | By Adam Barrett ’08

 

Beneath Grinnell’s academic veneer, there lies a secret world. In this world, shadowy figures converge by a signal known only to them, unleash weeks of pent-up glee, and vanish in the haze. It is a world we hear of in legend and rumor, a world that keeps its secrets.

Mischief is always best kept secret.

Many tales are told of revels conducted in the dark of night: roller chair races, steam tunnel spelunking, naked kite-flying. Among these, only one brings the giddy thrill of downhill motion to the academic sanctum of the Alumni Recitation Hall: mattress sledding.

The story goes as follows: when the stars align and the wind is right, and when the scent of 10-page papers lies on campus like a slab of rancid butter, a band of rogues assembles. With bravado as their only armor, they leave the dorms with a mattress hefted over their heads. They send out a silent call. In ARH, the fun begins. Moments later, young students chancing to leave the computer lab will be invited to experience delight in its purest form. They will be offered a seat at the top of the stairs, on a mattress going down.

The mattress descends only half a flight, but oh, what a flight it is. Alone or in tightly embracing knots of friends, silent or whooping with joy, the riders dive like falcons down the stairs and glide to a gentle stop in the hall below. The moment a rider dismounts, waiting arms grab the mattress and haul it again to the top, where the next rider will step on.

As with any legend, the revelation opens the door to deeper mystery. Who are these midnight riders? Do they not have homework? Are they the same who run naked in the fields, who roll in chairs down the tile halls of Noyce? Why a mattress, and not a sled or plastic tray? Can more than four safely ride? Perhaps one day the revels will be observed and recorded, and we will know for certain. But certainty brings control, and if the legends are true, the revels thrive on freedom. Perhaps it is best, then, that they remain cloaked in shadow, a mystery to be explored and explored again by each coming generation.

Adam Barrett '08 is an English major from Norman, Oklahoma.