I can’t recall a time in my life when “retirement” made sense. If you’re doing what you love, as I mostly have, then why stop?
But lately I’m starting to feel the passing of the years. Steadily encroaching physical pain plays a part (those kegs aren’t “liteweight” even when their contents claim to be), but worse is the psychological stress of the hospitality business, whether it’s the micro or the macro level. The new post-pandemic normal is abjectly abnormal, and that’s a challenge to navigate.
The disorientation is exacerbated by the dawning realization that in truth, my particular skills are supremely undervalued in the workplace (micro or macro). You know the time will come; you can only hope to delay it. It could be a problem when you start asking, “what does it all mean?”
Social media has rendered Americans null and void. Reading, writing and thought processes have gone the way of the Edsel, and instead life is a succession of flashing pictures and yammering adolescent videos meant for atrophied attention spans, repeated over and over again. Is this the way we’re intended to live?
I genuinely thought there was a place for the Old School alongside the contemporary social media rot; I still do, and I know like-minded folks are out there, but when everything’s reduced to social media to the exclusion of the real world, eventually there’s an unbridgeable chasm. We begin to think social media is the real world, and we keep doubling down on it even when tangible results are slim.
That’s an addiction, isn’t it?
I suppose every now and then one must beat a tactical retreat in order to advance the grand strategy. The larger question: Does an aging Don Quixote possess the energy to continue tilting at windmills?
My entire life in the profession of beer has been predicated on knowing as much as I could about all sorts of things in addition to beer and brewing, so as to tie them together in a narrative linking the pursuit of the perfect pint with the pursuit of knowledge itself, and suggesting that these pursuits should last a lifetime.
And my core obsession, with an occasional detour (15 years of craft brewery ownership, for one, which for me proved to be a bit like Michael Jordan playing baseball), has been to bring bits and pieces of European beer culture to SoIN.
I never kidded myself thinking it could be more than a handful of aspects; after all, this isn’t Europe, and yet it’s been possible. I speak only English as a language, but I know what those Old World beer cultures feel, look and taste like. I’ve tried my best to “import” elements of them, and usually succeeded, all the while encouraging friends and customers to get over there to the continent and learn for themselves.
Many have done so, and that’s delightful to me.
Sammy Hagar can’t drive 55, and Roger can’t dumb down, although it’s not really dumbing down if it wasn’t very smart to begin with, so welcome to America, and while there have been times when I’ve felt powerless to be a force for improvement, the buck stops with me, too. I take responsibility for my mistakes, most famously when I left NABC. It’s a longer story for another time.
Consequently I’m sensing a juncture ahead, one still out on the horizon, perhaps visible in a few weeks or months, even years, although maybe not at all. Right now, it seems unavoidable. At 62, maybe it’s time at long last to do some future planning.
Look, I’m not a brewer. Never pretended to be. But I’ve forgotten more about beer than most people ever know. I can communicate, but I can’t do it in a conceptual void. The way I arrange a beer program according to the aforementioned cultural patterns is tantamount to my art. With a few exceptions (Holy Grale springs to mind), no one balances a beer list the way I do.
Obviously my first choice is to continue “doing” beer where I’m working now, at Pints&union and Common Haus. But for how many more years? Five or six? I don’t know, and retirement remains an alien concept. The one thing I do know, and can say with certainty, is that the main theme of my various beer worlds, whatever their configuration, will always be integrity.
Professionally, it’s all I have, and I aim to keep hold of it.
All my friends know that I’m an Oakland A’s fan. I cheer for underdogs, not the Yankees or US Steel. You all know where you can put those chains and franchises; death to them all. I’m a small market, indie, punching-up-and-not-down kind of guy, which means I’ve been continuously working undercapitalized indie venues since 1982, in turn rendering me both proud as hell and utterly exhausted.
It’s always been about smoke and mirrors, like being a set designer for a small community theater troupe, cobbling together just enough peaches and regalia to convince customers to suspend their judgment just long enough to have a bite and a couple of beers, and think about the visit as something special.
But one thing I’d like to experience before I leave the beer business, whenever that might be (and unless I opt for dying in the saddle, which would dismay my wife) is the singular thrill of being told by someone in my own workplace, at whatever level, up or down, that I know my shit, and I’m good at what I do, and thanks for doing it.
Because I do know, and I am good. I can as yet be helpful, at least for a while longer, and it’s hard for me to say this, but maybe, just maybe, after 40 years of relentless self-motivation—no one ever enjoyed proving naysayers wrong than I have—I’m the one in need of a hand, or someone to give ME a pep talk for once. I’m not a fucking robot, you know.
It’s a very hard thing to admit. Then again, I feel better having conceded it. My hope is I’ll wake up tomorrow, and the angst will have disappeared. Except it seems deep this time, as though accumulated for far longer a period than weeks or months. I don’t know. But there it is.