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The Carletonian

Boonie’s and the Problem with Modernity

<t a humane age, what a humane place we live in! Slowly but surely, the juggernaut of liberal democracy has worked at taming the wildness of a life that in less enlightened ages was “poor, nasty, brutish and short,” removing much of the fear of violent death and disease that our ancestors once experienced. Though this project is incomplete, it seems that Carleton College is a place in which this project has been realized to a large extent, and hence it is possible for most members of the Carleton community to live in relative comfort.

Hooray for us! But wait, isn’t it the case that removing the lowest of the lows from the human experience also has the side effect of flattening the most sublime aspects of being human? This is an idea that appears frequently in Nietzsche’s writings. It goes without saying that we would never wish for the many horrors of the past to return to our society, but it seems that there should also be room to at least acknowledge that something profound has been lost in our modern, humane age. Hasn’t a special kind of camaraderie that can only come from the shared experience of suffering fallen victim to modernity?

As it turns out, the track team at Carleton has come up with an interesting existentialist reply to this question. This reply is the annual ritual of the “Boonie’s Challenge.” The task: run ten miles from Carleton to Boonie’s Bar & Grill, where each person must order a milkshake and a Boonie Boonie Burger (a true monstrosity consisting of three 1/3 pound patties, plus the works). Immediately after finishing this meal, everyone runs the ten miles back to Carleton. It is a brilliant activity in its irony: the soft luxuries of American liberal democracy (burgers) are transformed into bringers of that very same suffering that our society fights against. And in the end, the shared horrible experience of exhaustion and vomiting gives these teammates a taste of the intense relationships that must have been possible in a less civilized age. This is a review of the restaurant that makes all of this possible.

Unfortunately I found myself too “humane” for the Boonie’s Challenge, so we drove, although the way there from Carleton passes through some gorgeous scenery, which I admit would be much better experienced while running. Boonie’s is truly located in the middle of nowhere. While its address technically places its location in Faribault, this is a lie. A quick glance at the map will confirm this.

There is another reason why I passed up the Boonie’s Challenge, which is that, after a hard weekend of grilling, I had basically eaten nothing but large quantities of beef for a few days, which made the very act of eating at Boonie’s an extremely questionable proposition. I really was not feeling in top form. However, what kind of review would this be if the reviewer didn’t try a burger at Boonie’s? It would be like me getting “Kale on a Stick” at the State Fair and telling you about it. This sentiment was in fact confirmed by our server. My friend Mackenzie was considering ordering a basket, which consists of cod, shrimp, or chicken, served with fries and cole slaw. This sounds like a pretty decent menu option, so she asked our server what, in his opinion, the best basket was. Our server’s reply: “…get a burger. It’ll make you happy.” And that was that. We couldn’t help but imagine ourselves instigating a panic in the kitchen by ordering a Cod Basket, which would result in the new kid Steve having to drive to the store to buy cod, while line cook Bob frantically looks up cod recipes on his smartphone. In any case, though the menu is pretty large and diverse, most of it is for show. You are clearly supposed to get a burger at this place. There are many kinds of burgers available so there is no reason to worry.

The decor at Boonie’s was first rate. Ornaments ranging from a taxidermied goose to a carved wooden cowboy warning you to “back off” will no doubt keep you entertained. There is also a covered patio area in the back where you can play horseshoes while you eat. After a few minutes of fun and games our food arrived. It was all good, in a pretty standard kind of way. All burgers come with fries, but for a modest surcharge it is possible to substitute Buffalo Chips or Cheese Crisps in place of fries. Cheese Crisps turned out to be the dish known as “Cheese Kurds” by a certain restaurant critic I know who lacks cultural sensitivity (and thankfully, “Tatar Tots” were absent from the menu.) We also ordered a side of Drummies, mainly out of a desire to know what a Drummie is. I wish we had just asked our server, as Drummies turned out to be a pretty ordinary basket of chicken drumsticks, which were very challenging to finish in conjunction with our burgers.

All in all, we left feeling pretty happy with our food. But the fact that we focus on things like “happiness” is the whole problem with modernity, isn’t it? What if this great restaurant could be the cause of great suffering as well? That sounds like it could be a meaningful experience. I commend the track team for their tradition of eating at Boonie’s, and I wish for the bonds between these fine athletes to be ever strengthened by the shared suffering of this year’s Boonie’s Challenge. I recall that some of the most meaningful connections I made at Carleton were the result of sharing the experience of suffering through freshman Russian classes. Back in the day, our homework could only be completed using special software only available in the LDC, and so my comrades and I would sit in the same lab every night, drained by trying to repeat the example phrases of mumbling model Russian speaker “Tom.” Never did I feel more alive; those really were the days.

Then there was the time I got locked in the men’s bathroom at a Sbarro in Moscow. This is a true story: there was some sort of door malfunction, and I found myself locked in the bathroom together with a huge Russian man. Did sharing the experience of that catastrophe allow the two of us to become fast friends? The answer is no. That was actually just a mildly inconvenient experience that, while pretty unpleasant, didn’t really add anything of value to my life.

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