The Man Who Came to Dinner

You know the old saying: All pate and no workout makes The Man Who Came to Dinner a fat-assed boy.

So, a few weeks ago, in an effort to reverse the effects of these free weekly meals, I decided to take to the road with 75,000 of my closest friends and attempt to move my ever-enlarging butt 7 1/2 miles -- from the Bay to the Breakers.

Of course, I thought, this brief flirtation with exertion needn't be devoid of all culinary concern. I mean, a boy's gotta eat, don't he? And there was the column to think about.

But who the hell was I going to get to cook me dinner at 8 on a Sunday morning?

I considered the famous group of salmon who spawn upstream each year, running the race backward from finish line to start. But the possibility of them getting cute with kelp-themed dishes seemed a little too high.

I could just drop trou and head naked to Footstock for the free PowerBar/Crystal Geyser buffet. But who was I kidding? Me and my back hair just aren't ready for public display. And I didn't really see SF Weekly bailing me out if I happened to be taken in on one of the SFPD's annual symbolic arrests.

Then I remembered the always-popular Tiki Hut. That fully functioning party on wheels somehow each year makes its way through the madding crowd in raging tropical style. They must have pretzels on the bar, I thought. That's dinner.

I typed "Tiki Hut" into the search engine, and minutes later was on the phone with Darren Schleth, one of the Walnut Creek-based brothers behind the bamboo wheel of the Tiki Hut.

Much to my delight Darren informed me that not only were there pretzels on the bar, but a full array of appetizers for the trip. And, at the finish line -- an actual spaghetti dinner prepared each year by his mom.

So this week, The Man Who Came to Dinner is pleased to present these very exclusive excerpts from ...

A Glutton's Journal: Athlete for a Day
6 a.m., Race Day The alarm goes off. The hangover hits. Snooze bar.
6:15 a.m. I'll skip the shower. Snooze bar.
6:30 a.m. Fuck breakfast. Snooze bar.

6:45 a.m. Shit! Drag ass up. Pull on running shoes. Grab newly purchased Hawaiian shirt (a Tiki Hut requirement). Brush teeth. Swallow aspirin. Split.

7:02 a.m. 24th Street BART Station. Crowd looks too happy. Stomach and head make compelling case to abort mission. Feet prevail, moving me forward into packed train.

7:27 a.m. Starting line, Howard at Spear. I locate the familiar thatched roof of the Tiki Hut in the distance. Attempting to make my way through the sea of bodies, I am struck powerfully in the side of the face by one of the thousands of corn tortillas being tossed, frisbeelike, about the crowd as part of some annoying promotional stunt. Head makes a final appeal to turn around, go home. But nose smells dinner in the distance.

Reaching the Tiki Hut I am greeted by Leslie Schleth, Darren's sister-in-law, who signs me in and sets me up with a disposable wristband identifying me as one of the 120 official Tiki Hut participants this year.

I immediately test out the magic wristband by introducing myself to Leslie's husband, Derek, the brother who started it all back in 1991 with a portable blender and a backpack filled with margarita mix. Standing inside the elaborate Tiki Hut, Derek passes on his tradition by filling my plastic cup with a frosty frozen margarita. Happy Sunday.

As I begin to drink my breakfast I take a moment to survey the ornate structure that for the next several hours will serve as the center of our existence. The Tiki Hut is about the size of a large San Francisco bedroom, 20 feet long by 10 feet wide. An oak bar runs around all four sides, creating a spacious area in which the three bartender-brothers can run the show.

In addition to the bottomless margaritas, the Hut offers four beers and Bloody Marys on tap. Everything is kept cool by an on-board generator that also runs the blenders, ceiling fan, two TV sets, surveillance camera, and stereo system with 200-CD changer.

Wait, I think, this is better than most San Francisco apartments.
8 a.m. Somewhere, I imagine, a gun has gone off and people have started to run. But I and the other 119 floral-clad, grass-skirted Hutters continue to drink. The music blares. Dancing breaks out.

8:42 a.m. The crowd before us begins to stir as we realize it's actually time to start the run. I grab onto one of the 10 or so ropes that extend from the sides of the Hut. Up front a Hutter on the steering post gently guides our course. Pulling the structure on level ground is fairly easy. Between the few of us on the ropes and the casual hands on the bar, the Hut seems to run all by itself on an alcohol-based fuel.

Mile 0.5 All this activity is making me thirsty. Olin, the youngest brother on the bartender team, senses my need, refilling my cup even before I can ask. I introduce myself to my Hut-pulling neighbor, Cher, who, I quickly surmise, began the race-day festivities a few hours before me. Cher is happy. Very happy.

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