MENDON — Todd Ruggere clasped his bottle in his left hand. Maxwell the Mule latched onto his with his teeth. Each took a swig. The camera shutters snapped, and the deed was done; 71 down, 280 to go.
Ruggere has set himself the task of drinking a beer in each of the 351 towns and cities in Massachusetts by the end of 2013. What started as a quixotic whim has taken on the overtones of a noble quest: At each stop he tries to nail down a donation for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Along the way, Ruggere has a enjoyed a brew in a tavern in West Brookfield visited by George Washington in 1789 and a saloon in Warren owned by daredevil motorcyclist Doug Danger. Ruggere began chronicling his tour on the Internet, and got a little coverage from TV and radio stations. People started suggesting spots for him to have that beer.
Would he, could he, in a bog?, wondered the owners of a cranberry farm in Carver. (He’ll do it once it thaws a bit.)
Would he, could he, in the raw?, inquired members of a nudist colony in Hancock. (“I’m ready to take it all off,” Ruggere said, but closer to summer.)
Would he, could he, with a mule?, asked Julie Blackburn, owner of Providence Riding Academy LLC, located at Spring Willow Farm in Mendon. That led to last month’s quaff with Maxwell. The mule has learned to imbibe from a bottle and enjoyed a few gulps of iced tea while his trainer pledged $50.
Later, Ruggere, who said Saturday that he had visited 81 towns and raised more than $4,600, marveled at the response.
“It’s just a crazy idea that snowballed,” he said.
The Mass Beertour, as Ruggere calls it, was born in a simple trivia contest with a co-worker.
“One day we were trying to list all the towns in Massachusetts,” the 38-year-old Grafton resident recalled. “I knew there were 351, but I only came up with 120 names. So I looked them up and saw all the crazy names. Florida, Peru, Gosnold.”
At first, he planned to enjoy a beer — a Sam Adams, his favorite — in each town or city. Soon, he said, he realized that this was an opportunity to collect donations for cancer research and care.
“I’ve always wanted to raise money for Dana-Farber,” he said.
Aware that a beer tour, however well-intentioned, might strike some as irresponsible, Ruggere, a full-time employee of an investment firm, wants to make it clear that his odyssey is no drunken binge. He observes strict rules. If he is visiting more than one or two places, he will travel with a designated driver. Someone from the town has to be present, and he has to have a photograph to prove he was there. He will not drink on public property or violate any other laws. When he is offered cash from patrons in pubs, he said, he has them give the money to the proprietor, who writes out a check to Dana-Farber.
Ruggere soon discovered that having a beer in every community is a lot more daunting than it might seem. His trip to Plympton in January illustrated the complexity of his tour. He knew he would have trouble finding a pub. No restaurants have registered on the town website.Ruggere went knocking on doors, hoping to maybe have a drink with some sheep. Someone told him about a resident who keeps llamas. So he had his beer, and his picture taken,with a llama.
Ruggere’s initiative is not the first unusual gambit that, while not authorized by Dana-Farber, has benefited the institute and its patients. Pigeon races, a zucchini festival, and a tour of baseball stadiums are among the more exotic ways people have raised funds for the institute, said Molly McHale, Dana-Farber spokesperson.
“It is inspiring when people take initiative to raise money to support cancer research and care,” she said. “Todd’s very creative approach isn’t one that we would undertake ourselves, but we are grateful for his efforts, and wish him great success.”
That success will require a lot of creativity. Ruggere displayed a map of Massachusetts on which he had colored the places he had visited in yellow, most of them surrounding Grafton.
“I’m ahead of pace, but that’s because I’ve hit all the close towns,” he said. He has been to some of the closer places more than once, as offers for donations have piled up; Spring Willow Farm was his second stop in Mendon.
Ruggere intends to go door-to-door in such localities as Mount Washington, near the New York border, which is one of eight dry towns in Massachusetts .
“I can’t do it without people helping,” he said.