Beer and the good life. I have often been asked how I became so enthralled by something that has damaged a countless number families, including my own. How can something that has negatively impacted thousands of lives be a meaningful part of a productive and prosperous existence? As often as I am asked, I still struggle with the answer.
It was a cold, crisp night and I had disembarked my flight and escaped the scene of unadulterated bedlam, otherwise known as LAX. As I pulled my weather-beaten sedan into the gas station to fill up before making the trek up past San Fernando Valley, I saw a man drinking out of a bottle adorned with the stereotypical brown paper bag. As the man rocked back and forth like the waves of the Pacific, three small children lovingly ambushed him for a group hug, to which he responded with the most genuine smile, followed by the disbursement of crisp bills of cash to each of them.
For a moment, I thought fondly of a similar childhood experience, but the nostalgia soon faded and guilt set in, as a woman entered the scene and disbanded the group, instructing the children to return to her vehicle as she began what appeared to be a very stern scolding of a man she once knew as someone else.
I pondered as I watched the numbers rise at the pump. How could I have come to love a substance that had torn apart the family that I loved? Could these emotions be reconciled? Despite the havoc beer has wreaked, it has acted as the supporting cast in many sustaining memories. It was on the edge of the table during a game of spades, or as someone slammed the last bone down and shouted, “DOMINO!”. It was in the cooler during the cookout with Pops’ ribs and Auntie’s potato salad. It was on the porch on a breezy Saturday afternoon when everyone came over to kick it. Beer has also represented a sense of community.
Every person will have his or her own perception and relationship with beer, and much like human relationships, some are toxic and must be ended to avoid irreparable damage, however when love and respect are present, relationships have the best opportunity to flourish.
No matter an individual’s personal relationship with beer, it gives us a broad picture of community - the good, the great, the bad, and the ugly.