Friday, January 4, 2013

Drinking Beer and Breaking Bread - a Revolution

Last night, getting ready for bed, I rolled over and asked G what I should write about today. I've written about politics and religion, I said, and the only impolite thing left is sex. 

G replied, you could always write about beer. 

Really, no joke, beer. 

Not a bad idea, I said, but what metaphor could I spin, what links could I connect in a chain of over-writing and simile? How could I make beer into something more?

Not everything has to be a metaphor, said G, who promptly fell asleep and left me pondering how the hell I was going to write a post without some great, dramatic push, without real inspiration, without fever and fervor. 

Waking up this morning, I still had no clue about this silly blog and a daily writing practice. It should come as no surprise, then, that I closed my eyes and willfully fell back asleep. 

So, seeing that it's past noon and and hour and a half past my scheduled writing time, I'm just going to muddle along and see where I go.  That's probably what a daily practice is - most of the time, not knowing what's going to happen. Most of the time, feeling insufficient and insecure. 

Therefore, beer. 

G and I are sometimes homebrewers and always beer nuts, bordering on a snobbery which is made somewhat less by the act of solidly not being wine connoisseurs, preferring instead the careful craft of such people as Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, George Washington, and an army of dudes with glass carboys and a dream. Being a beer snob just doesn't feel like the delicate swirling of tannins and fruit, the perfect deep bowl of a red wine glass, choosing to spit in a silver bucket. Rather, being into beer feels cool and somewhat subversive. 

I often think about the history of beer - namely, the fact that people in the past drank beer all day because water wasn't safe, because they knew that drinking water was an invitation to dysentery and beer, despite the clearly gross act of fermentation, was cleaner. For my part, if I had to drink beer for breakfast I would definitely go back to bed and miss my writing time more often. 

Oh lord, where am I going with this post? Writing is hard! Anyway...

Columbia seems to be growing, lately - with the advent of The Ale House Columbia, we now have quite a number of beer bars, including of course Frisco and VGP. In Howard County, that number grows, with places like The Judge's Bench well-known for their beer selection. And in Maryland, we have an enormous quantity of breweries and bars, older and new, as well as mainstays such as The Brewer's Art. Beer is a thing. 

So what does that mean? 

Columbia is getting bigger. Columbia is becoming more. 

My father used to tell me that civilization came from beer - the fermentation process required, he said, people to settle down and stay a while. I think that might have had a little more to do with an emerging agrarian culture, but I think the message I can take away from that is that anything that forces people to sit down and have a chat can start a revolution. 

Maybe Columbia is going through the same sort of change - and it isn't necessarily about beer, but about the act of coming together, over a drink or a meal, at a concert, in church, in groups and clubs and bands - which is making our city a place of culture. I know that going to The Second Chance for Sunday football is a part of my Columbia experience, not just because of the food and drink, but because it is a place where people say hello. I am familiar with the staff and feel free to start up conversations with other regulars - just the way I felt as a little girl in Baltimore, where men tipped their hats, where the waiters at The Mount Vernon Stable knew us (and sometimes, cheerfully, abused us). When I go The Ale House, despite the constant crowd, the servers are so welcoming and helpful and genuine - it feels like a real place, in real city, in my real home. 

I've talked about the idea of being good neighbors before, and it bears repeating. When discussing the topic previously I asserted that we aren't good neighbors in Columbia because of our blindness to economic and cultural differences which yes, do exist here, and no, aren't being talked about. I think that is still true - I love my fancy beer bars, but not everyone has the money or the time to go, and a lot of the people who make my food and clear my table bear the brunt of the cultural ignorance which is endemic of our stratified society. As I sip my Imperial IPA, I'm a part of a larger landscape of those with resources and those without. 

Beer is civilization, and beer is privilege. And there's your metaphor. 

And no, just because I'm trying to be aware of the great wrongs of social caste and poverty in America doesn't mean that I'm going to stop drinking and enjoying craft beer. Will I partake in liberal guilt with every sip? Probably not. Thinking about what is wrong with Columbia isn't going to fix it, anyway - but it's worth thinking about. Because it really is possible to make progress - to make our city better through a strong community and new places to meet new people - and make no progress at all. 

Going to The Ale House or Frisco or VGP is great, but everybody looks the same - sure, different ethnicities, different careers, different football jerseys, but all able to afford it. All three bars are relatively expensive (read: what the hell made my check so high!?). And I think it is still worth it, still important, to go out and share a beer with friends and strangers, to split a plate of nachos, to dig into a dish of lobster mac and cheese, because a community is made up of little choices to say hello. That's one part of a revolution - taking a seat and having a chat is pretty crucial to social development. 

But let's get the other part sorted. 

Let's make all of our schools able to support students equally. Let's make a better public transportation system for those who can't afford or don't choose to have cars. Let's make sidewalks and crosswalks so we can walk to the grocery. And, while we're at it, let's address the huge housing problems and the derision that goes with them - let's make apartment living easier and less taboo, making sure that whole families don't have to live in one small room while other families (whose children go to better schools with richer booster parents) live in massive mansions. 

Ah, G, you gave me beer, and I've gone rampant. 

But really - let's have a revolution. 

And maybe a beer. 

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