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McFeely blog: That time I got pulled over by a Moorhead cop for eating Duane's pizza

Duane's House of Pizza is closing its Moorhead shop. A city weeps, but is left with great memories.

duanes pizza.jpg
A Duane's House of Pizza sausage pie. Mike McFeely / The Forum

MOORHEAD — Duane's House of Pizza is closing its Moorhead shop.

A city weeps.

RELATED:

  • Duane's House of Pizza in Moorhead has closed Business owner cites 'continued staffing shortages' as reason; Fargo location will remain open

And so do hundreds of Spud, Dragon and Cobber ex-patriates who made it a point each year to stop into the fancy "new" restaurant — has it been there for, like, 20 years now? — on Highway 10 East to relive their childhood or college days.
A worker shortage is the given reason and, frankly, that's become apparent in the last couple of years. When Target up the street is paying $15 an hour, slinging pizzas for $10 an hour (or less) doesn't seem so much fun.

Yeah, there are a couple of locations in Fargo now, but Duane's is a Moorhead institution. It's where it started in 1959, first in an old downtown strip mall close to the Red River before moving to 11th Street and Center Ave. in the 1980s and finally to its current spot.

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Duane's is the best pizza in Fargo-Moorhead — so thin, so greasy, cut in perfect one-bite squares — and there's nothing like picking up a pie to go and having the white and red paper in which it was covered soak up the grease.

And the smell as you were taking it home. It's enough to make you drunk on pizza fumes.

Which reminds me of a story. One of a million involving Duane's and Moorhead residents, I'm sure.

It was the late 1980s and I was a college student at what was then called Moorhead State University. I was working part-time on The Forum's sports desk at night and living in south Moorhead in an apartment at 30th Ave. and 20th Street (where I once accidentally started a raging dumpster fire and had to anonymously call the cops at about 2 a.m. so they could put it out, but that's a different story for a different time).

It was a Saturday night in February, if I recall, and it was frigid. Double-digits below zero and windy. Just a miserable winter night. I worked at The Forum until midnight, taking sports calls and helping the full-time desk guy put out Sunday's big section. It was tournament season, a busy night, so I didn't have time for supper.

I was, as we say in our younger days, "starving."

Before I left downtown Fargo, I called Duane's in Moorhead (then located at 11th Street and Center Ave., directly on my way home) and ordered a pizza to be picked up. Which I did, in my old 1976 red Chevy Nova. I would drive home, going past Moorhead High School on 21st Street before hitting 20th Street and taking it back to my apartment just south of I-94 to scarf down the pizza.

Easy, right?

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Well, except that I was "starving" and about 21 years old and the smell of a fresh, piping hot, greasy Duane's pizza was far too much to bear and my constitution far too weak to resist.

So at the stoplight at 20th/21st streets and Main Ave., I tore open the grease-soaked white and red paper bag covering my pizza and began trying to munch down a square or two or three.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, given the empty stomach and barren post-midnight roads in Moorhead.

Except that Duane's pizza fresh from the oven is scalding, with runny cheese and tomato sauce hot enough to blister. So trying to eat pieces of Duane's with one hand while driving with the other, scorching cheese and sauce and meat dripping on my chin and falling into my lap, was a feat too far.

There was weaving, apparently.

Which led to a quick U-turn and red flashing lights from the Moorhead Police squad driving past me on 20th Street near Romkey Park.

I was being pulled over for eating pizza. Which I thought was funny. I believed it would be a five-second traffic stop once I explained to the officer that I was eating pizza. Ha ha.

This particular officer, perhaps wary of a smirking 21-year-old college student who was driving home at about 12:30 in the morning and weaving, didn't think it was funny.

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"Why are you all over the road?"

"Ha ha. Funny story. I just got off work and I stopped and picked up a pizza from Duane's and I was SO hungry that I couldn't wait to eat. So I started to eat it. And it's really hot and it was falling all over my hands and lap. So that's why I was weaving. Ha ha. Sound good?"

"I'm going to have to see your license."

"But I'm stone sober. I haven't had anything to drink. I just got off work."

"Let's see the license."

From there, it became a scene out of "The Man With Two Brains," the old Steve Martin movie in which a German cop gives him an impossible and comic drunk-driving test.

The Moorhead officer — I don't remember his name, although I badly wish I did so I could buy him a beer all these years later and reminisce — put me through the drunk-driving test on 20th Street in Moorhead on a frigid, windy night in February. Touch your nose, walk the line, say the alphabet backward.

It was the damnedest thing. I kept telling him that I'd had nothing to drink, and to give me a Breathalyzer right now to prove it, and he kept going through with the test.

And when we got to the end of it, he put these immortal words on me: "Well, you didn't exactly pass that with flying colors."

To which I calmly responded: "THAT'S PROBABLY BECAUSE THE WIND CHILL IS ABOUT 50 ^%$%%$^ BELOW AND THE WIND IS BLOWING 30 &*^%^&^^^ MILES AN HOUR."

From there, things became less friendly.

He had me get in the back of his squad car and asked me some snarky questions, which I answered before tacking on the same ending: "Just let me blow into the tube because I've had nothing to drink."

Pro tip: Police officers don't like being told how to do their jobs by 21-year-old smart-aleck college students.

After a few minutes of that rigmarole, he let me go. With some parting advice, of course.

"Maybe wait until you get home to eat your pizza next time."

So, short story already long, I was once pulled over and given the full drunk test by a Moorhead cop because I couldn't resist tearing into a Duane's pizza before I got home.

Duane's has since become a McFeely family favorite, like it has for generations of Moorhead residents, and we've shared it over special occasions or just for an easy dinner. It's never disappointed. Always two pizzas and always an order of French fries. And when we ate in the store, I always got a salad bar and had to sneak some buttery crackers for my wife and daughter.

This is a sad day for Moorhead, where the restaurant scene has survived the COVID-19 pandemic remarkably well. Former mayor Del Rae Williams says Duane's closing leaves the city at a net loss of one over the past 14 difficult months.

That's good.

But losing Duane's? That's bad.

I weep, just as Moorhead weeps.

Opinion by Mike McFeely
Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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