Using the Old Noodle

Spaghetti Midwestern: The 14th annual Creamette Pasta Carbo-Loading Party
Daniel Corrigan

Trends, like viruses and high oil prices, tend to come and go. The need for greed and the bigger-is-better attitude we bashed the Eighties for in the Nineties is back in vogue, like tight jeans and bad synthesizer music. Super-size meals, gas-guzzling SUVs, fifth-graders with Palm Pilots: They all reflect our rediscovered desire for affluence and excess. Even we Twin Citizens, famous for our prudence, moderation, and Scandinavian work ethic, are straying from the middle of the road, going for the gusto and reaching toward that big Michael Douglas film festival in the sky.

Do the words "crew cab dualie" mean anything to you? If so, you probably already know about the General Motors Power Launch Tour, held last Tuesday in the Mystic Lake Casino parking lot. Though admission is by invitation only--i.e., limited to the elite few who have ever owned, leased, considered owning or leasing, or who know someone who has a vehicle manufactured by GM or a GM subsidiary--I manage to hustle my way into the admissions tent, where a young man in a black satin jacket is checking IDs, culling for eligible test drivers. "Is there going to be a drawing?" inquires a poodle-permed woman, sticking her head inside. "No, not tonight," Black Satin says, shaking his mullet. "Oh, wait, you mean like a raffle?" he calls after her as she leaves the tent. She returns, nodding excitedly. "No, sorry."

Fiftysomething men from Cedar to New Prague rush from tent to tent accompanied by their dutiful wives, downing complimentary coffee and absorbing video lectures like Welcome to Cabs Boxes and Beds. In lieu of scantily clad models, this auto show boasts a video on trailer hitches. Three Mankatoans in snowmobile jackets are practically licking the monitor while their spouses pick lint off of each other's coats. As tough-guy dads and their adoring sons kick tires and peer under hoods, the moms circle the food tent, where professional caterers have prepared an elegant barbecue spread, courtesy of GM.

I follow a retired couple to the test-drive area, where she seductively strokes an extended-cab Sierra while he bombards the sales rep.

"What kinda mileage you get on the 2500HD?"

"I got 12 miles per gallon from Milwaukee to Lacrosse," the rep brags.

"What about pulling a fifth wheel?" the skeptic demands.

A young man in a sweatshirt that bears the word "HOCKEY" races one truck that's towing a second truck around an orange cone track, then tumbles out to high-five his buddies and give a decidedly un-Minnesotan "Yee-ha!" Most of the camouflage-jacket and seed-cap set have gathered around a dangerous-looking demonstration featuring a professional driver who tips rival trucks onto three wheels to show their instability. A chain smoker with a portable microphone provides colorful narration. "Damn, it's cold out here," he drawls, as a Dodge Ram leans practically parallel to the pavement. "I'm from Texas, where it's so hot the last three fish I caught had ticks on 'em."


FEW OF US are more extreme than those who run 26 miles without being chased. On the night before the Twin Cities Marathon, the Nicollet Ballroom of the downtown Hyatt is nearly standing-room-only for the 14th annual Creamette Pasta Carbo-Loading Party. Nearly 600 runners and their friends and families are plowing through four buffet lines stocked with the Minnesota-made noodles in various shapes and sauces. Highly skilled bussers zip through the crowd, creating the illusion of self-regenerating meatballs and breaded chicken strips.

The marathoners use the event to prepare mentally as well as physically. Either that or they aren't planning on sleeping tonight: Many are already dressed in leggings, fleece vests, running shoes, and long-sleeved T-shirts bearing the names and years of other races. There is, among the athletes, as much gray hair as any other color, and the seasoned participants consume their rotini with aristocratic, authoritative style. Empty sport bottles litter most of the tables, though fans and friends are taking full advantage of the bottomless beer cooler.

KARE-11 meteorologist Jonathan Yuhas, looking uncharacteristically casual in stonewashed jeans, takes the stage to announce the Henry Family Musicians and to promise nice weather on the big day. Konstantin, manager of a team of runners from Russia and the Ukraine--including two-time Boston Marathon masters-division winner Andrey Kuznetsov, gives me the lowdown on his squad's carb strategy: "They always want to eat pasta, though they don't want to eat too much. They ate pasta last night. When they come to America they only want pasta. I don't know why they love pasta so much." Konstantin goes on to divulge more of the team's regimen, including hot showers, a 9:00 p.m. bedtime, and "a special cream applied to the body; they cannot rely on clothes to keep them warm."

A clown dressed to resemble the girl on the Creamette box makes balloon animals, distracting children while parents work on their game faces, pointedly ignoring one another. The presentation of giant checks to local charities does little to rouse this focused bunch. "Isn't this what the marathon's all about?" screams the presenter, handing Styrofoam currency to a representative of the Second Harvest Food Bank, but the stars of the show remain the enormous chafing dishes of ziti and linguini. Meanwhile, the hungry public waits outside behind a velvet rope, allowed in periodically, two or four at a time. The hypervigilant ticket taker even orders a teenage girl to leave her scarf as collateral before allowing her inside to search for a friend.

Runners emerge carbo-loaded, slipping quietly away to their hotel rooms, plastic bags of free marathoner goodies slung over their shoulders. We fans and friends waddle toward the parking ramp, satisfied smiles on our faces. If we can't achieve the glory we desire, at least we can stuff our faces alongside it.

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