Marsden at base camp in the Himalayas, after ten days in the mountains
The news of Prince William’s engagement to Kate Middleton has led to a serious decline in productivity this week at the desk of The Chaser, who regretfully admits to Googling search terms such as “Kate Middleton blue dress” and “royal engagement TV interview” (you, too, can watch the complete 18-minute segment). In fact, I hope you’ll pardon the haughty tone of this blog post, as I can’t seem to cease writing in a posh British accent—and I do hope you’ll read it as such.
On Tuesday, the day of the official palace announcement, it seemed only fitting that I have drinks with a real, live British person. Me (American), my friend Kevin (American), and Kevin’s friend Patrick Marsden (the Brit) claimed three bar stools at Veerasway, the Randolph Street Indian restaurant just honored with a Michelin Bib Gourmand. Our mission? A cocktail called the Toppled Rickshaw (Bulleit bourbon, Pimm’s No. 1, coconut milk, mango and pineapple juices, and turmeric, with a curry leaf garnish; $10). If you order said drink, there’s really no need to continue on with dinner, although you’d be out of your mind to leave without trying the Bollywood Lollipops (AKA crispy chicken drumsticks; $7).
“This was a bar crawl, using an elephant, in Delhi,” says Marsden, on the right wearing sunglasses. “We only did it once as it turns out it was an incredibly uncomfortable way to travel, especially drunk.”
Seeing as the Toppled Rickshaw is particularly heavy on the coconut milk, it should be sipped slowly while one considers its raison d’être: As explained on the menu, a percentage of proceeds from all Toppled Rickshaws goes to Team Veerasway’s Autumn Rickshaw Run 2011. What’s this, you wonder? I was sitting mere inches from Marsden, the dashing and refined but slightly mad 26-year-old responsible for dreaming up Team Veerasway, and he was pleased to explain. You can find every detail of Marsden and Co.’s upcoming 2,400-mile journey over the dangerous roads of Nepal and Northern India on the team’s website—including a letter from Marsden’s father, advising against this crazy scheme—but here’s the back story.
Marsden is a “finance guy” who was born in London and now lives in River North. As a teenager, when he wasn’t off at boarding school, he was raised in Turkey and India, where his diplomat father was stationed. He’s been dreaming of participating in the insane ritual that is the driving of an auto-rickshaw—a mode of transport commonly used in Indian cities that is, as Team Veerasway’s website explains, “a three-wheeled, unreliable deathtrap,” or, basically, a rickshaw with a motor—on a long-distance trip through rural Indian areas and war zones during monsoon season ever since he was 18, but when he was 18, “I didn’t have a license, a car, or any money,” he says.
Marsden has enlisted two other friends to accompany him on the journey—not a race, but enough of a thrill that teams from around the world have participated since the inaugural run in 2006—slated for September 2011. One friend lives in New York; the other lives in London; and, as part of their training, they will all take lawn-mower-repair courses. “Lawn mowers are the closest thing we have in America to an autorick, and we expect the autorick to break down at least three times a day during the trip,” Marsden explains.
The endeavor, admittedly, would be pure folly if there weren’t a charitable component, so there is. Veerasway’s owner, Angela Lee, is the team sponsor, and she has agreed to pick up fees and autorick rental costs. All further donations from supporters will go to Frank Water, an organization that funds clean-water projects in developing countries, as well as a variety of other U.S. and British charities. “We want to beat the s*!# out of the Brits, fundraising-wise,” Marsden says.
On Thursday, December 2nd, Veerasway will host a “drink with the team” cocktail party, with the hopes of raising still more funds for Team Veerasway’s chosen charities. It’s from 6 to 8 p.m.; $20 at the door includes drinks and food, with music by DJ Buck. Marsden and his teammates will be there, and if you’re into the princely thing, these guys are about as close as you’ll come in the Midwest. Marsden moved to Chicago six years ago, mostly because of a girl but also to work on the John Kerry campaign; both ended with similar results. These days he’s up for grabs—irresistible accent, impeccable suits, ruddy English complexion, and all. He’s actively seeking Chicago’s Kate Middleton, and, of the prince’s pick, Marsden says: “It shows the royal family can have a common touch. And of course she’s beautiful. Let’s just hope William doesn’t act like as much of a bastard as his father did.”
PHOTOS COURTESY OF PATRICK MARSDEN