Crowd Control

The Women's Expo brings out the beast within, but Supercross brings out the knitting

Today's Twin Cities women are complex individuals. They juggle career and family, fight for equal access to education and employment, nurture and guide the citizens of tomorrow. Yet most of them will still push their own mothers aside for a free Rice Krispie bar.

Such is the scene at the St. Paul Women's Expo 2001. These women (mostly middle-class, mostly white) may have been part of the feminist revolution of the 20th Century, but the gatherer/food provider instinct remains untouched by time. About one-third of RiverCentre's main hall is occupied by Kowalski's Market. At a few dozen booths, product reps distribute free samples--Fritos, Yo-J, fresh pears, Blue Bunny fat-free ice cream bars--to a hungry mob that snakes all the way around the exhibition area, jostling for access. No one even notices Kowalski's executive chef James Nadeau, who is busy whipping up something on the main stage. No, these women had to dig into their Coach handbags for the six-dollar admission price, and by golly they're going to claim their dollar-fifty's worth of free food if they have to scratch my eyes out to get to it.

Neglected exhibitors wave buttons, pencils, and brochures, but it would seem that if you can't eat it, the women here aren't interested in it, even if it is free. The commissary chaos is a far cry from the happenings over at the Success Stage, where all of three women have gathered to hear a representative from the Internal Revenue Service talk about tax preparation. (What, no free samples?) But for the most part, this "women's" convention revolves around groceries and beauty stuff. A gaggle of twentysomethings at Wigging Out (one of two booths hawking wigs and hair extensions) are trying on the various hairpieces, posing and giggling like something out of a Tampax commercial. Emu Products, a retailer of emu-oil tonics, is the object of a few curious sidelong glances, yet no one dares to risk social suicide by abandoning the Les Femmes hair-removal booth for a closer look.

One convention-table attention getter, the "Take Our Quiz" sign, does slow two potential contestants at the Minnesota Headache Center table. "Do you have headaches?" inquires the volunteer, her crooked smile reflecting equal parts boredom and gratitude for the conversation. As the two skim the quiz, one mumbles something about receiving treatment for headaches. "Here, take these! You can have these!" Ms. Headache Center squeals, thrusting two fancy, insulated sports bottles at the couple. "And an informational brochure--"

But she's too late; the twosome is gone, having succumbed to the irresistible pull of gratis hot dogs and cheese.

 

SATURDAY, SATURDAY, SATURDAY! At the Metrodome, dome, DOME! Rabid passion for Supercross dirt-bike racing is palpable, from as far off as six blocks. Dual-wheel pickups dripping with decals clog the streets of downtown Minneapolis on this springlike day, their occupants paralyzed with fear at the thought of walking in late.

A valid concern, considering that the event opens with more fanfare than the Olympics. As seven-time Supercross champion Jeremy McGrath motors onto the track to the sound of AC/DC's "Back in Black," the crowd lets out a roar louder than the accompanying pyrotechnics display. Even the national anthem is unusually spirited: Whistles and shouts follow each high note, and the butane-lighter tribute puts rock-concert audiences to shame.

There are two kinds of people here tonight: people who are visualizing themselves on the back of a Yamaha YZ250, and their girlfriends. Most of the men, women, and children here appear to have a strong emotional investment in the races. Clad in their favorite riders' uniforms, they lean left and right in sync with the competitors, their faces reflecting the pain of a bad spill and the elation of qualifying by fractions of seconds. Some rock slowly, mesmerized, mechanically filling their mouths with pizza and beer.

The remaining minority couldn't tell a dirt bike from a Vespa. Blond, anorexic, and underage, these girls have come here tonight in the hope of scamming a light beer and endearing themselves to the gearheads they desire. Their midriff-baring Bebe T-shirts and skintight vinyl pants may turn heads at Tropix, but at Supercross they can't compete with the fantasy of catching air with a four-stroke engine between your legs. One 'cross vet has brought along her knitting; oblivious to her beau and his military buddies as they cheer and slosh beer on one another, she works diligently on a sweater.

When the time comes for the junior exhibition match, featuring racers as young as six, only the weak step outside for a smoke. The rest remain in their seats, singing along to "Who Let the Dogs Out" and screaming for the tough tykes. No one has to remind Twin Citizens what it means to go for the gusto.

 
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