Rubber Chicken Scratchings: Farewell, DECC Arena, we shared some rockin' (though sticky) memories

So I see the Northland is getting ready to retire a local legend. No, not Denny Anderson's toupee. It's the DECC, short for the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center. (Good thing they didn't go with their first name for the place: the Duluth...

So I see the Northland is getting ready to retire a local legend. No, not Denny Anderson's toupee. It's the DECC, short for the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center. (Good thing they didn't go with their first name for the place: the Duluth International Convention Center -- that's an acronym that would even make Don Ness blush.)

If you're a veteran Twin Ports resident, you know that the DECC used to be called the Arena. In fact, there's still a portion of us who refuse to call it anything else.

We're set in our ways. It's the same reason we refuse to call the West End "Lincoln Park," or Chip Cravaack "qualified."

So, for the remainder of this week's column, I shall refer to that wonderful facility as the Arena. It's easier for me! (Coincidentally, that is how Jim Oberstar is handling things these days: "I don't think I will call this Transportation Subcommittee meeting to order this morning. I'd rather sit here in my bathrobe, wash down this S'mores Pop-Tart with some Colt 45 and enjoy the day. It's easier for me!")

Yes, the good folks down at the Arena are already packing up the stale popcorn and Polarenas as they prepare to turn off the lights and drive the ol' Zamboni across the parking lot to a newer and shinier location.


Back in the '80s, I used to work at the Arena and, interestingly enough, "driving the Zamboni across the parking lot" was a euphemism for an activity we spent most of our lunch breaks engaged in, especially if we ate several boxes of stale popcorn and our weight in Polarenas prior to work.

Now, I know that comment sounds like I worked in the glorious world of Arena administration, but actually I was on the labor crew -- more specifically the overnight labor crew.

We were the guys who set up for events and then cleaned up after them. For five years, I swept and mopped and wiped up after you filthy patrons of the Arena.

There were tons of events back in the day -- from UMD hockey to the Shrine Circus to the home show to the Ice Capades -- and I loved every minute of it! Seriously, this was a fun job.

After rock concerts, you could cruise the parking lot and find unopened cases of beer! (On a related note, I used to show up early for work on these days and fool the ushers into letting me in for free, so I could take in fantastic shows like Pat Benatar, the Tubes, Sammy Hagar, Huey Lewis and the News, and -- don't judge -- Barry Manilow.)

And, in the Arena stands after a particularly rowdy show, it was not unusual to find some cold, hard cash half-buried in piles of puke. (Again, don't judge: Money that stinks of puke still spends like money.)

I've cleaned up after symphony concerts, wrestling matches (oftentimes, it was difficult to distinguish which audience was messier), world curling championships and boat shows.

I also occasionally got to make the ice -- the best job there ever was: 10 minutes of work and three hours of waiting around -- and took care of simple maintenance tasks around the building, such as cleaning every single acoustic tile in the Arena.


In fact, I spent one horrifying summer climbing up shaky scaffolding that went from the cold cement floor straight up to the ceiling. I would clamber up the side in the morning, spending the rest of the day taking down tiles, scrubbing them, and then putting them back into place.

After one section was completed, the crew on the floor would wheel us over to the next section. As I think back on this particular Arena task, I don't think it was worth the $3.15 an hour ... but, what the hey, I got a column out of it!

I spent many memorable years at the Arena, being able to get a unique backstage view of all the activities, and it will be sad to see it close up.

Oh, sure, the official word is that it will still be used for events, but we all know how that goes. I'm afraid it won't be too long before the DECC is like Denny's toupee, shuffling around and trying to look busy as it counts down the hours 'til the end of the line.

Come to think of it, that's how we used to finish up our overnight shift, too.

Brian Matuszak has been difficult and demanding since February 2008. He is co-founder of Renegade Comedy Theatre and founder of Rubber Chicken Theater, which only has two more weekends left of its latest holiday revue at The Venue at Mohaupt Block. (Check out for more info.) Chip Cravaack's crew came to check us out opening weekend and declared: "I can't afford a Rubber Chicken T-shirt."

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