October 18, 2008

Fly-overs vs. the Real America

Before I get all Woody Guthrie on you and start blogging about this land from California to the New York Island, I need to talk about the last event before I arrived at the opposite end of the country.

Steeltown. I was like many people who imagined Pittsburgh to be gray and dreary, and I heard that it was voted sootiest city, proving how common the image of a town overrun with steelworks is. On the contrary, it's one of the most picturesque cities I've been to. The combination of the three pristine rivers (just like we must give thanks to Carter for legalizing homebrew, let's extend a postmortem pat on the back to Nixon for the Clean Air & Water acts), tri-color foliage dotted with brick churches and towering steeples make for great view driving down from the Pennsylvania Turnpike. And it's the last of those concepts, the churches, that brought me there.

I'd arranged to sign in Church Brew Works, a deconsecrated church with a brewpub built inside. All the stained glass is still in tact, the pews are now booth benches, and the brew system rests on high on the altar, amen. The manager Thursday night, Phil, couldn't have been more gracious and the bartender, Gene, is a man who appreciates a good cask and all that beer can be. He is a great ambassador of the Beer People. And also, shout out to my girl Maureen from Joseph-Beth Booksellers, for helping sell books. I'll say it again: always support your local brewery and your local bookstore.

People have a way of reacting to learning that I wrote a book about driving around the country drinking beer. While my favorite scenario ends in them buying said book, one guy at Church got up, walked around some tables, and gave me a bear hug. He didn't buy, though. That's my segue into what I overheard in a coffee shop yesterday morning. "If I have to stop drinking Corona and start buying Natural Light, ten bucks a case, that's what I'll do." --Joe the Plumber looking guy, discussing the economy.

That's a fine set-up for my cultural tour of the New York City nightlife, thanks to my friend Chockie, a fellow LA ex-pat who I crashed with in Brooklyn's Bed-Stuy neighborhood. To get the ball rolling, I shared the bottle of Bell's Stout (made with something called Brewer's Licorice) with Chockie's boyfriend, Erik. Their friend Kevin came over and the four of us headed out at 11 p.m. Even Grampa here doesn't start his night at 11. Chockie knows her bars and our first stop was Spuyten Duyvil, sporting a huge list of Belgians and other Euro imports and four killer Hitachino beers from Japan. Sadly, their bottled beers from American micros ranged from $15-27. No thanks. I got a pint of Smuttynose Stout. The clientele including guys in ties, girls in headbands, a bike messenger looking type who refused to take his helmet off the entire time, the classic array of facial hair/piercings, and no two people had the same hairdo.

Throughout the night, I must've seen more styles of 4" heels than a shoe warehouse, from gold lame to zebra print. My first night out without wearing my walking cast, as I'm recovering from a broken ankle, I was acutely aware of the potholes and hazards, so I can't imagine how they manage.

Our next stop was The Levee, where I got a pint of Yuengling Lager and some "Frito pie," a bed of Fritos topped with chili and cheeze whiz. Later on there was an excellent falafel. There was also an $8 can of Genny Cream, a stop-in at Fontana's where hipsters danced to soul music (I ain't lying. One guy wore a fruit-punch colored ruffle shirt with football shoulder pads on the outside) and lastly, a come-down-to-earth pint of Brooklyn Lager. Bars close at 4. It was almost 5 when we got home.

As I was saying, this land is your land, this land is my land. The differences between California and New York are great, but the general lifestyle for everywhere in between is greater still. And it goes well beyond Red States and Blue States. Being from LA originally, a city with no football team(s) and no brewery, I think I missed out on the things that are the foundation for hometown pride. But I get why everyone else has it. From the hippies in Vermont with their Magic Hat #9 to the cowboys in Texas with their Lone Star beer, from the hipsters in Brooklyn with their Brooklyn Lager to the outdoorsy types in Boulder with their Left Hand Juju Ginger, this land was made for you and me.

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