At the Michigan Renaissance Festival on Labor Day weekend, a small shop with a wooden sign hanging outside reads “Feathers for Pleasure.” The shop is crowded.
A young woman turns to Jacklyn, the shop’s owner.
“My mother adores these feathers,” she says, removing an earthen green feather hair pin from the crammed wall. Feathers cover every inch of the shop. “We have been coming here for years. She wore them through chemo to cover her head but she loves them so much that she still wears them even after the cancer. So we are back!”
Meanwhile, the young woman's mother hands Jacklyn a credit card for the $375 feather head-dress she is currently trying on. She might be the most satisfied woman in the world, or at least that is the story told by her expression.
As the woman leaves, victoriously wearing her new feather crown, she is accosted by Ric, a tall 60-year-old man with a long grey beard. He’s dressed in bright multi-colored tights and resembles a psychedelic Medieval court jester. That, or an overzealous Ian Anderson.
“What lovely plumage! I love everything about you – let us not shake hands as if mere sailors meeting on the docks, m’lady. Gaze upon yourself in the looking glass and say ‘Oh my!’”
His southern accent adds a melodious twang to his comfortably high voice.
Ric then grabs the woman’s hand and brings it to his lips. Jacklyn doesn’t even notice; part of the magnetism of Ric lies in his theatrics. The couple met in 1988.
As Ric’s lips break from the woman’s hand, he momentarily loses composure. His posture crumbles into a seismic fit of laughter that jolts all those inside the shop. Passerby glance in suspiciously. The feathers on the wall rustle only slightly - they are used to this.
In this scene of revelry it is hard to imagine Ric and Jacklyn any other way, with anyone else besides each other.
The headlights filling the rearview mirror just flashed, again.
Ric squinted into his mirror at the car behind him - it had been tailing him for several miles and was urgently trying to get his attention. The sun had set a few hours ago on the Nevada desert that Ric, his girlfriend, and his girlfriend’s daughter were driving across.
“It was night, and I couldn’t really see anything,” recalls Ric, whose full name is Richard Best but is known by strangers and friends alike as “Ranger Ric.”
“They wanted us to pull over. Finally I pulled over.”
Out of the mysterious car stepped his friends from Concord, Massachusetts, where, three months earlier, they had sat in the middle of a crowded street to protest the continuing war in Vietnam. They had all been arrested. In fact, so many had been arrested that day that they were processed in two batches – morning and afternoon - allowing the second batch the opportunity to learn what had happened that morning so as to disrupt the court. These performances earned them a contempt of court conviction as well.
After their lawyers spent that whole afternoon reducing the sentence to disorderly conduct, Ric skipped town. Destination: San Diego, the site of the forthcoming Republican National Convention. Protesters were descending on the city and their efforts, combined with the publication of a stinging article by columnist Jack Anderson (who had just won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1971 article on secret US/Pakistan policy making during the Indo-Pakistan War) alleging scandal in the selection of San Diego, led to the Convention shifting to Miami at the last minute. A diligent resistance leader, Ric was on his way to Florida when his friends from Concord flagged him down.
Reunited with his comrades on the side of the desert highway, Ric’s concern simmered, but only briefly. His friends told him that FBI agents had been to his hometown and had talked to his family and friends - they were hot on his trail and only a few days behind him. He was being hunted.
“We immediately went into our secret identities,” says Ric, reflecting on his previous life.
In those days, Ric and his friends were prepared to go underground at any moment. They had fake IDs and aliases ready for situations exactly like this. Now Ric became Robert. Many friends still call him “Ricky Bob” in homage to his former duplicity.
May Day Protests
“Robert” had already been moving frequently across the United States prior to learning about his FBI shadow, so becoming a fugitive was more of a change in labeling than in substance. To appease the draft board from his hometown of Franklin, Missouri, Robert would write to inform them he had moved to a city just as he was preparing to leave it. Always one or two steps behind, the FBI continued the chase. Meanwhile, Robert was steadily moving up the ranks in the Youth International Party (referred to as YIP, its members yippies). He had worked with six of the “Chicago 8” who had been tried in 1968 for protesting and would lead teach-ins about the Weathermen, a radical revolutionary group that orchestrated several bombings of government buildings. As they monitored his movements, though, the FBI began to piece together that he was not as heavy as they had thought. While a prominent personality in the resistance movement, Robert was not a bomber, nor did he have any intelligence on bombing activities.
With the conclusion of the Democratic National Convention on July 13, 1972, came a 6-week hiatus before the Republican Convention, now in Miami, on August 21. Robert and his girlfriend decided to travel back to Massachusetts where they both had family and get married. They drove to Cape Cod and, once again in the presence of his relatives, Robert dissolved into Richard. The marriage certificate, filed on August 9, 1972, read “Richard Best.”
“The next day at the honeymoon, they got us,” says Ric. He smiles mischievously as he re-lives the memory.
“It was just gonna be an in and out. We were at her grandmother’s house and all of a sudden this car pulls up and I knew right away it was the FBI. So I excused myself from the family and went out and met him and he asked if I was who I was and I said ‘yeah.’”
The FBI agent, whose name was Tom, walked with Ric down to the end of the driveway, giving both the chance to debrief after their cross-country cat and mouse. First, Ric asked what had gotten him on the FBI’s radar. Phone calls made from the house he had been staying in the previous year, which were being listened to by G. Gordon Liddy and the White House Plumbers. Ric had been flagged as a source for information on, and possible accomplice in, militant anti-government activity.
“He was a nice guy,” remembers Ric, “ I was never the ‘off the pigs’ or spit on GIs kind of guy. Our targets were always the symbols of power, not the people.”
The conversation with Tom then turned to the chase itself and revealed how close Tom had come on several occasions to catching him. Boston, San Diego, Mexico, Las Vegas, back to San Diego, Miami, Cape Cod – the chase had crisscrossed the United States twice.
“He told me about how he had followed me through Las Vegas and Mexico and how he ‘almost had you over here.’ He asked me several times, ‘What did you do here?’ and I would say, ‘Well I can’t tell you that, but I can tell you what I did here.’”
In what Ric now considers a fluke of geography, he and Tom were having their conversation less than 100 miles from Concord, where Ric had originally sat in the middle of the road and subsequently crossed state lines, which had allowed the FBI to begin pursuing him. It was like he had never left Massachusetts at all. After a long discussion, they decided that all Ric had to do was go up to Concord, take care of his misdemeanor (refusing to obey a police order) and Tom’s interest was done. Tom was leaving for vacation the following day and would not meddle with any paperwork until he returned, giving Ric two weeks to resolve the matter. Ric shook hands with Tom, thanked him, and, after Tom had departed, promptly packed up his car with his new wife and drove back to Miami. For Ric, it was just one more snub at the establishment, a gesture that was now reflexive.
“We crossed state lines again and we were gone.” Ric, who had just transformed into Robert again, laughs.
Though he did not know it then, dual identity for Ricky Bob was destined to become an integral part of his life. The masquerade for the purpose of evading the U.S. Government was over; Ric and his wife stayed in Miami for the Republican National Convention and then drove to Austin, Texas, to build a home for themselves and their family. Ric’s next jaunt into fiction would be much more daring than a fake name; he was about to go back in time.
In April 1981, the Scarborough Renaissance Festival opened its doors for the first time in the Dallas suburb of Waxahachie. Renaissance Faires had been opening up across the country during the 1970’s, with at least one faire opening every year from 1971 until present day. Southern California was the first in 1962 with the “Renaissance Pleasure Faire of Southern California” followed by nine years of Renaissance monopoly before Minnesota became number two. Faires are built to mimic a time period - Scarborough takes place during the early 16th century reign of King Henry VIII while the Michigan Renaissance Festival adopts the second half of the 16th century under Queen Elizabeth I. Most have permanent structures that house artisans and food vendors, stages for period music and performances, and often a jousting area or even a castle. Last year, over 200,000 people visited Scarborough, but in 1981 renaissance festivals were still relatively nascent.
Texas Renaissance Festival, 1978A parade of actors through the 1978 Texas Renaissance Festival. Photo by Gary Hunt.
From 1972 until 1981, Ric had been working as a painter and selling artwork for artists associated with his daughter’s preschool outside of Austin. Those artists got together and decided they would build a booth at the Scarborough Festival, where Ric chanced upon a beautiful young woman selling feathers. Finally, this story reveals its alternate identity: a love story. Here, in 1533 England on the outskirts of Dallas, Richard met Jacklyn.
At the time, Jacklyn was married to another man who worked with metal. She was going to be a doctor but couldn’t pass chemistry and instead fell in love with a boy who went to a Washington community college to study auto mechanics. On the side, this boy studied metal art and worked at the local paper mill. When that mill closed, he decided to take his work on the road and make metal sculptured art with Jacklyn as his “slave labor,” as she describes it.
“For me, the metal was very masculine – I wanted feminine. I always collected things along the way - rocks, shells, pinecones - so for me to use that type of thing in my art was natural. Little by little I started adding more feathers until it became just a feather art,” says Jacklyn.
She hired girls at the Renaissance Festivals to help her make and sell hair adornments so that she could continue to help her husband in his metal shop. Her first Renaissance Faire was in 1979 but “it wasn’t really a Renaissance Festival,” says Jacklyn, “It was a Greco-Roman festival.”
“Then I went to New York for a faire there. I started kind of feeling like I was fitting in more - settling in. But the show that made the impression was the Scarborough Festival in Dallas. It was just a magic place. The people there were just hippies and artists from the 60’s and 70’s. Everyone was playing music, the village was real quaint and incredibly beautiful - there were a series of waterfalls with essentially clothing optional swimming during the day. I felt like I had come home.”
After meeting in Scarborough, their paths continued to cross over the years while on the Renaissance Faire circuit, moving from one fair to the next. Ric and Jacklyn became journalists for UPROOTS, the newspaper within the community.
“We had a fabulous group of editors and each editor had a page and each week one of the editors would be the editor-in-chief. Each editor had to pay for their own page, so you had to find people to advertise on your page. The editor-in-chief was in charge of the final layout and getting the paper to the printer. My page was the ‘Clean Up Your Act’ page,” says Ric.
Ric wrote about environmental responsibility and methods for hosting a green faire, which included adherence to the recycling program and use of the recycling center built by the community. The communities of Renaissance Faires are very tight knit and the performers and vendors often travel with one another from faire to faire. In every month of the year except December there is a Renaissance Festival happening somwhere in the United States. "The people we lived and traveled with were some of the most beautiful people in the world," says Ric, "We were all young and very intelligent, extremely talented, and did I mention beautiful?"
"Rennies," the term festival performers and vendors use to refer to themselves, throw their souls into their work, taking enormous care with their costumes and the personas of their characters. When the curtain closes, the charade lingers. Jacklyn recalls endless nights of drumming around bonfires, costume balls and communal gatherings of all flavors. "It was a community of like-minded people and we had a lot of fun," says Jacklyn. In this manner, Ric and Jacklyn developed their friendship and attraction for one another. Then, Ric’s chance came.
“There was a time when we both became single and I jumped on it. Both feet. The next day she was leaving to go to Atlanta. It was very last minute and I had only a night to make an impression. I did my very best to make one hell of an impression.”
He did, but after breakfast she was gone.
They met again in Michigan for a week to attend “Funky Formal,” a Renaissance Festival party of legend. Then they met again at Green Briar, then Mardi Gras, then there, then here… Finally, Jacklyn was flying back from Venice after attending carnival and thinking about her year, which had been her first full year of being a single woman.
“As I was on the plane, I was going over the year in my head and all the different guys I had spent time with and I realized that Ric was the most perfect of all of ‘em. Not necessarily to finalize anything, but I just wanted to let him know that he treated me good.”
“So we meet in Sarasota and I said,
‘So, hey, I’ve something to tell you’ and he said,
‘Oh, I have something to tell you too.’ And I said ‘Well, you go first.’
He told me ‘I just got married! What do you want to tell me?’
‘I’ll tell you later.’”
The marriage did not last long.
The next year, Ric was single again and he and Jacklyn met in Texas. For another few years, they would see each other occasionally, rekindle their romance briefly, then move on to another place and perhaps another relationship. But then Jacklyn had what she describes as an epiphany:
“I’m sitting there one evening in my home in Virginia, drinking a glass of wine, and thinking about my life. Thinking ‘maybe I’m ready to settle down and invite someone into my life.’ And I look up and there’s Ric’s face looking at me through his Christmas card.
“I’ve always considered Ric my tourmaline. It’s a grounding stone. If you carry it with you, it centers you or grounds you to the Earth. Ric could just calm me down. He’s the perfect guy for me. I sent him a rose and told him this. That was in 2001.”
Ric had also had an epiphany of sorts, but in the form of a dream. He dreamt of what Jacklyn would look like when she was very old - a woman with 1,000 wrinkles on a sun-cooked face - and sent her a picture of a Native American woman who approximated this dream.
Yet the lifestyle of a time-traveler like Ric fidgeted uncomfortably at the prospect of settling down forever. “I am a minor celebrity amongst a very select group of people,” he jokes, but there is an element of truth to that endorsement. Throughout Ric’s life women have been drawn to the eccentricities that make him so memorable. Here was Jacklyn telling him that she wanted to see if things would work and if maybe he would move to Virginia and make a life with her. Needing guidance in the face of epiphanies, dreams, different women and conflicting emotions, Ric turned to the truest wizard the Renaissance world could offer: the Tarot card reader, Joann. Joann’s advice? Listen to what the women are telling you.
Jacklyn remained patient. Her eureka moment had already occurred and she knew their collision was inevitable.
Finally, 2003 happened. Ric was in New Orleans for Mardi Gras and Jacklyn was home in Virginia. A longtime Mardi Gras tradition was participation in a krewe that would elect a king or queen for the following year. Jacklyn learned through a friend that Ric was going to be chosen as king and would need to select a queen and that, if she didn’t get to New Orleans, he would pick someone else. She showed up, Ric was elected king, and Jacklyn became his queen. Then, after Scarborough that year, Ric packed up his things in Texas and moved in with Jacklyn in Virginia. “Virginia is for lovers, after all,” says Jacklyn with a wry grin.
“Eight years later on Christmas Day I got down on my knee and proposed to him. The gifts had been given out – the family was there – and there was one more box. I got on my knee and he said yes.” Jacklyn smiles and kisses Ric.
They married in Virginia in June of 2011 and then again in Michigan so the rennies could participate; Ric was 58 and Jacklyn was 55. By this time, Ric had been married four times and Jacklyn once. They had met at 32 and 29, respectively; two untethered searchers who seem to have finally found the X on their respective treasure maps: each other.
Everyone knows Ric and Jacklyn. In the morning when Ric takes his daily stroll around Hollygrove, the name of the Michigan Renaissance village, he greets everybody. A morning mist hovers over this empty medieval/modern juxtaposition, but it is no match for Ric’s fast, purposeful stride. He uses this time to get into character and to check on the six pickle stations throughout the festival. In the 1980’s Ric went from helping his artist friends to selling pickles for “the love and the magic” (i.e. without pay). Today he runs all the pickle stands and hires others to sell them for $2 each. He is the godfather.
“For me the process is energizing up. Start doing the pickle dance. Walk around, say hello to everybody…. I’m the clown. I’m the entertainer, bigger than life, the jester, the lover. I’m the fictional character. The whole thing is a dance.” He explains.
When he returns to the feather booth, Jacklyn is cutting vegetables and laying out a generous spread of healthy snacks for the day. Like Ric’s walkabout, this routine disguises what is actually the purring pistons of her time machine coming to life. Other ingredients include loud music (Michael Franti, mostly).
Jacklyn describes her character as “not necessarily upwardly noble, but sort of a well-to-do merchant. One who has travelled around the world and collected my wares.” Ric expands on this, “She’s the artist and her character is the artist, merchant, and hostess. For her to get into character is to become the hostess. She’s already the artist, she’s already the world traveler, but she will work backstage to work up into becoming the hostess.”
At 10:00 a.m. a loud cannon shot announces the completion of the clock turning back 450 years. The gates are open and the festival has begun. With this couple, today and yesterday bleed together like two dissonant dyes, but the resulting hue is spectacular. The same can be said of their two exuberant personalities and histories.
Ric pauses from complimenting a passerby who he has just festooned with feathers to explain where, after all these years, the magic of the festival still sparkles,
“If you’re not smiling when you enter my space, you’re smiling when you leave my space. All day long. If you don’t think you’re pretty when you walk into my shop, when you walk out of my shop you think you’re beautiful. All day long. Everybody comes in, they’re normal, when they walk out they’re fabulous. That’s my character. And, really, that’s what the whole faire is about. Everyone suspends their beliefs when they walk through the gates and leaves fabulous.”
Ric long ago retired his illicit, alternative identities and Jacklyn has been won over by “happily ever after.” But here, at the Michigan Renaissance Festival, they shift between themselves and their characters - the present and the past - with ease, the feather-light lines blurred between the two.
In your box you will receive a three piece feather bouquet. Each feather was individually selected and paired by Jacklyn and “Ranger Ric” Best for inclusion in this issue of Jaunt. All bouquets feature an ostrich and peacock feather and are finished with either a pheasant or guineafowl feather.
The bouquets are a custom piece made for Jaunt to give you a sense of the variety of inputs Ric and Jacklyn use in their pieces. The differences in texture and color. They used a variety of colors in their construction, so no two bouquets are alike.
Uses: be as creative as you dare with your feathers, knowing that Ric or Jacklyn will be whispering in your ear to be just a little crazier. A hair piece, bookmark, flower accent, refrigerator magnet... the possibilities are endless. Let us know what you do - tweet your photo to @jauntco.