Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Are we about to witness a reincarnation of La Rosita?

Could history be repeating itself, eight years later?


The Market Street (New Albany) location of La Rosita's is open, and you need to go there, now.

The Green Mouse says that Chef Israel Landin is looking to lease his old space at 1515 East Market Street. The building recently was sold to new owners.

Let's hope it works out. When Chef Israel was on this game, it was the best Mexican food I've ever had. However, the fact that food of this caliber might again be available three blocks from our house is a wee bit daunting from a waistline perspective.

Finally, a proper demolition: The Triumphant Multinational Banker's Arch is no more.

Whatever Matt Chalfant ultimately does with this, tearing down the arch already qualifies as an improvement.

New Albany's new slogan: "Truck Through City" ... Part 39: As the Board of Works piously genuflects at the Harvest Homecoming shrine, what's roaring past YOUR quality of life?

Two excellent comments were added to yesterday's Trucks, speed, children and institutionalized moral cowardice posting, which asked:

Why are Mayor Jeff Gahan and his "planning" minions being so willfully blind to the public safety hazards they're responsible for creating with Truck Through City?

Oops. I may have answered my own question. NAC's Jeff G wrote:

The Main Street project, specifically designed to handle such truck traffic, is almost complete. Once Market, Spring, and Elm are reclaimed with 10' lanes in both directions and bike facilities, diverting heavy traffic to the Main Street highway will be a no-brainer.

Regular reader CM got down to a very relevant point:

The Mayor should walk around town. Wonder if he ever has? Just walking once gives you a really good idea of the streets that are more dangerous for walking, even on the sidewalks. Trying to cross some of the streets can really make you nervous.



What are they ... poor people or something?

Following are today's beeftruckcake photos.

Neighborhood architecture tends to be displayed at its most stunning and tourism-worthy when Tiger Truck sends its fleet of diesel belchers flying past.

Don't you want to be biking next to this heaving mass of steel? After all, when you see the Ass Plunder truck racing past, you know that some unfortunate tree is about to be Drop Crotch Pruned, reminding us to Nationalize Utility Monopolies Now.

Wait -- how'd THAT one get in here? Looks like some trucks manage to sneak through, even in Bruges. Meanwhile, the morning Dump Truck Regatta has set sail.

Duggins: 100% compliance rate on tax abatements we seldom bother auditing.

Because after all, businesses can be trusted not to lie.

What we've learned since our friend Mark Cassidy began demanding simple attention to detail from city officials and the common council is that tax abatements have not always been filed correctly, with the incorrect filings being rubber-stamped along with the rest ... until Mark's questions started.

During meetings in August and September, the council tabled several abatement renewal requests because the forms were incomplete. The abatements had been suggested for approval by the administration, though they lacked information about job totals and other information.

“I think that if we’re going to give somebody a tax abatement, it’s not asking too much to have forms filled out correctly,” said Mark Cassidy, a New Albany resident who has asked the council and administration multiple times to pay closer attention to the abatements they reward.

By signing the forms, the companies are essentially promising that the job totals are correct. But how does the city really know?

“It’s illegal to sign an [abatement] form that’s not correct. That’s also true about filling out your income tax form, but they still do random audits of income tax forms,” Cassidy said.

It would create more public trust in the program if the city randomly audited the abatement-receiving businesses to ensure the job totals they are vouching for are correct, he continued.

In which case, if the forms cannot be filled out correctly, how do we know they're truthful in the sense of tax abatement conditions being fulfilled?

And, as such, how utterly vacuous is the highlighted statement by the city's chief tax abatement rewards desk clerk, David Duggins?

The city hasn’t voided any abatements since Mayor Jeff Gahan took office, and it’s quite uncommon for cities to take away a tax cut for a business, Duggins said.

Pulling an abatement could lead to a business closing its doors, and so the city’s procedure has been to meet with companies struggling to match their job levels and assist them instead of ending their credits, he continued.

“No company [in New Albany] has warranted having their abatement removed,” he said.

But if no one ever checks the veracity of the information, how can there be this level of certainty?

Is there a magic wand?

If so, might it be wielded in the general direction of independent local businesses in downtown, which have collectively enabled the ongoing revitalization that this and other administrations love to take credit for impelling, but have actually done next to nothing to assist, because there is no economic development plan for downtown New Albany?

The article: New Albany touts tax abatements; some want more oversight, by Daniel Suddeath (Royse City Herald Banner)

A's versus Royals as the "Mayfly Round" begins tonight.

As many readers will recall, I've been an Oakland Athletics fan for more than four decades. In 2014, my team had the best record in baseball at the All-Star break. Since then, following a series of daring trades by Bra ... Billy Beane, we've compiled the worst winning percentage EVER by a team qualifying for the playoffs, albeit in this instance the atrocious wild card game this evening against the Kansas City Royals.

The Royals made the "playoffs" for the first time in 29 years, and the game is in Kansas City. Yes, we have Jon Lester on the mound. But as John Fogerty once presciently noted:

I see a bad moon arisin'
I see trouble on the way
I see earthquakes and lightnin'
I see bad times today

Is there a reset button?

Will home teams be mayflies or soar once more?, by Scott Ostler (SFGate)

... The A’s and Giants both staggered and stumbled into the playoffs, qualifying for the mayfly round, in which one team in each league will live for exactly one day, then die, forgotten, dust in the wind.

The question for the Giants and A’s is: Does that reset button really exist, or is it a hopeful Santa Claus-type myth?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Sam's at The Montrose extends business hours: Now open from Tuesday through Friday.

Straight off the wire. I'm delighted to see an institution back on its feet, and making use of a great property.

We at Sam's Food & Spirits want to thank our loyal customers for their patronage. Our Highlander Point location is thriving and we have enjoyed serving you Fridays at The Montrose.

We're pleased to announce that Sam's at The Montrose will extend our restaurant hours to Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. Enjoy your Sam's favorites at 318 W. Lewis and Clark Parkway, Clarksville, beginning Tuesday, Sept. 30!

The Montrose, a Clark County historic gem, is also available for special events Saturdays and Sundays. We also offer full service catering at our place or yours and licensed bartending.

Call us at 945-9757, or come see the new Sam's Tuesdays through Fridays.

For reservations or carry-out at Highlander Point, call 923-2323.

Trucks, speed, children and institutionalized moral cowardice.

Arranged in no particular order below are eight photos I snapped from a seat on the front porch, while smoking a cigar and drinking coffee, on Wednesday afternoon, September 24. The first four look left (east) on Spring Street, and the second four face to the right (west).

They don't do the scene justice, so I'll supplement them with background.

The rental properties across the street from our house (south side) currently house several small children, and in just a block and a half stretch on our (north) side, three new homeowners also have kids, albeit older than the ones in the rentals.

It's the most children we've glimpsed in this vicinity since moving here in 2003, and being kids, they're often out playing on the sidewalks -- and yes, there usually are adults nearby, so they're not entirely unsupervised.

The sequence below was taken in a couple of minutes. You can see a guy walking his dog, but not the children across the street on the east and west, who were out on the sidewalk just moments before the cavalcade of heavy trucks began speeding past, and to the east, during it.

I know this is tiresome, but hear it again: Truck traffic has exponentially increased, they should not be on this street in the first place, these trucks move very fast, we have lots of kids near the street, and while Mayor Jeff Gahan persists in advocating the demolition of buildings here and there on random public safety grounds, his perplexing refusal to acknowledge that escalated truck traffic, when entirely unregulated by ordinance enforcement or simple civic common sense, is just as much or more a threat to public safety is a red flag of epic dimensions.

Why is Jeff Gahan and his minions being so willfully blind to this?

Who are they serving, anyway?

Is Is it the citizenry, or Tiger Trucking?

These kids playing within yards of flashing steel, or J & J Pallet?

Why the silence, arrogance and refusal to acknowledge what their own eyes would reveal ... if they decided to climb out from behind the controlling stone wall, take the smallest look around, and actually see what's obvious to the rest of us?

We'll just wait a little bit longer for Jeff Speck's political cover, won't we? I suppose we'll have to, because we don't possess the collective cojones to take action before the Democratic Party is appeased.

Let's hope no one gets killed before it finally is proffered ... and that the prescription isn't ignored.

Check out this NABC-wrapped Ford Transit Connect Van from River City Distributing.

Of ghost stations and other subterranean public spaces.

On the day of our visit to where the Wall was, and isn't, Diana and I discussed this very phenomenon of ghost stations. I remember them from 1989.

This exhibition, on display at the historical site of the Nordbahnhof S-Bahn station, recalls a special chapter in Berlin’s history of division: the closed-down and heavily guarded train stations of the U-Bahn and S-Bahn lines in East Berlin. The stations were only used by trains coming from the West. The exhibition describes underground escape attempts and the border fortifications built to prevent them.

The exhibition in the Nordbahnhof station shows the absurdity of the division on the basis of three U-Bahn and S-Bahn lines that crossed through East Berlin while traveling from one end of West Berlin to the other. Between 1961 and 1989 these lines had a special status within the city’s public transportation system that was otherwise divided. The trains of these lines (today’s subway lines U6 and U8 and the north-south rail of the S-Bahn) no longer stopped at the deserted train stations in East Berlin and could not be used from there. For West Berliner’s, the daily passage beneath East Berlin continued to be a strange experience. The closed-down stations came to be known as “ghost stations” in West Berlin.

But who knew that Cincinnati has a 90-year-old unused subway?

The weird afterlife of the world's subterranean 'ghost stations', by Drew Reed (Guardian)

In 1920, construction began on what was to become an important new transportation system for Cincinnati, Ohio. Local voters had given near-unanimous support to a $6m (£3.7m) municipal bond, and despite wartime restrictions and shortages, the project began. Little did the city’s officials know that the system they were building would never carry a single passenger.

Five years later, the money had run out, the federal government refused to help and construction was halted. Today, there is an entire six-mile subway system abandoned underneath the Cincinnati streets.

Though Cincinnati’s empty subway is an extreme example, it’s part of a global phenomenon that’s actually quite common. Underground travel has become a familiar routine for millions of urban dwellers, but most commuters are unaware that lurking on the other side of the walls are the remains of abandoned stations, slowly deteriorating. Known as “ghost stations”, they are silent but powerful reminders of forgotten history.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Gorillaz in their orange seersuckers.

I wonder how the conversation went?

The city's discussions with Harvest Homecoming should be transparent and inclusive of downtown business owners. Maybe next year?

Benedetti: The toe bone is NOT connected to the foot bone.

Diana Benedetti's statement does not exactly inspire confidence that she's actually read Jeff Speck's Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time.

A pertinent question for any council member to have asked since 2012 might have been: How does the placement of this latest public park project jibe with non-motorized means of access for those without cars, and what will it mean for the traffic flow overall?

That's right. The question was not asked.

With Speck's long-anticipated "you've got to be kidding me, New Albany" report due next month, for at least the past two months -- and maybe three -- it would be interesting to know how many elected officials and their appointees have found time to read the book since Speck came here in January. The mayor has. Who else?

Note that John "Rasputin of Redevelopment" Rosenbarger is excluded from this accounting. Using the pages of a book as toilet paper does not count ... although on second thought ...

Johnny Marr: "Propaganda, misinformation – everything is going to be about people who’ve got vast amounts of money."

Listen and read.

Marr is uncommonly articulate for a pop/rock artist, and he isn't afraid to take positions; consider this 2013 posting at NAC: Johnny Marr.

Johnny Marr: ‘A lot of people are afraid’, by John Harris (The Guardian)

With the Smiths Johnny Marr blazed a trail for music with a political conscience. Now a successful solo artist, he still thinks it’s a musician’s job to ask awkward questions. But why is he such a lone voice?

When the definitive history of David Cameron’s time in office appears – something which may happen rather sooner than he would like – a few paragraphs will surely be devoted to his self-professed love of the Smiths. The prime minister has quoted their song titles in the House of Commons, chosen their 1983 hit This Charming Man on Desert Island Discs, and even made a point of visiting the location of the photograph printed on the sleeve of their album The Queen Is Dead – and all with little apparent sense of the awful inappropriateness of it all. Who knows? When he takes the podium at next week’s Tory conference he may try something similar again: it would be nice to hear a reference to I Know It’s Over (1986), though one fears the atmosphere will be more suggestive of the 1987 stomper A Rush and a Push and The Land Is Ours.

This was a band, let us not forget, who embodied – no, led – the left-leaning 1980s counterculture that set itself against everything the Conservative party stood for, then and now. To play any of their songs is to be reminded not just of the chilly, polarised tenor of those times, but the absurdity of anyone with Tory inclinations finding something to latch on to. That point was curtly made in December 2010, when Johnny Marr – the band’s former guitarist and co-songwriter – took to Twitter to demand that the prime minister should shut up. “Stop saying that you like the Smiths, no you don’t,” he declared. “I forbid you to like it.”

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Sincere apologies to the Jehovah's Witnesses who've besmirched my porch.

At least they usually come equipped with only one small Watchtower. At the rate depicted above, local Democrats will need their own landfill by the time November rolls around.

Council and city hall in unison: "New Albany Farmers Market project not high on priority list."

The $270,000 in question actually should be used for infrastructure improvements at our perpetually orphaned amphitheater. If applied to the farmers market, it would be money better spent to move the market to the municipal parking lot between State and West 1st, freeing the current location for residential infill construction.

However, the central point has not changed: For a farmers market to be successful, what we need are vendors with food, and consumers to buy it. That's all, and these we have in place already. The farmers market likely would continue to function in the same way as it does now, situated atop any number of downtown surface parking lots. I'd continue to buy tomatoes there.

The ongoing absence of a downtown economic development plan is a prime culprit in the confusion surrounding issues like this. In this specific instance, we're seeing somewhat the rational and correct outcome. However, it still must survive election politics in 2015.

Let's wait and see who needs a plaque six months from now before bowing to the prevailing giddiness.

New Albany Farmers Market project not high on priority list, by Daniel Suddeath (Tuscaloosa Down Low Times)

NEW ALBANY — Plans to expand the downtown New Albany Farmers Market are on the back burner, though city officials said they remain open to improving the existing facility in less expensive ways ...

... A committee consisting of council members Diane McCartin-Benedetti, Scott Blair, Shirley Baird and Gonder met once this year after the initial project was delayed. Benedetti said council members generally expressed that they wanted to wait until after planner Jeff Speck completes his New Albany street study to move forward with any project regarding the farmers market ...

... (Scott) Blair believes the market is successful where it’s at without the additional features called for in the improvement project.

“I think that project is more on the back burner now,” he said. “I do think we’d like to add some portable restrooms.”

New Albany's elected officials continue to ignore Jeff Bezos's and Bertrand Russell's sage advice.

While I don't give a tinker's damn about Jeff Bezos, this 2012 rumination, forwarded to me by B., strikes me as valuable if not earth-shattering. Another, more succinct variation comes from Bertrand Russell, circa 1950.

The fundamental cause of trouble in the world today is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.

Think City Hall, and read.

Some advice from Jeff Bezos, by Jason Fried (Signal v. Noise)

He said people who were right a lot of the time were people who often changed their minds. He doesn’t think consistency of thought is a particularly positive trait. It’s perfectly healthy — encouraged, even — to have an idea tomorrow that contradicted your idea today.

He’s observed that the smartest people are constantly revising their understanding, reconsidering a problem they thought they’d already solved. They’re open to new points of view, new information, new ideas, contradictions, and challenges to their own way of thinking.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a well formed point of view, but it means you should consider your point of view as temporary.

What trait signified someone who was wrong a lot of the time? Someone obsessed with details that only support one point of view. If someone can’t climb out of the details, and see the bigger picture from multiple angles, they’re often wrong most of the time.

Bully for you, bully for me. Let's have a bully pulpit in every foyer.

It isn't at all pejorative, is it?

September 27, 1907: Theodore Roosevelt Writes, "Bully for You" (www.shapell.org)

Like Harding’s “normalcy” and Kennedy’s “vigor," the phrase with which Roosevelt begins this letter, “Bully for you” will forever be emblematic of his presidency.

And then there's this.

The use of the bully pulpit (www.regentsprep.org)

The very concept of the Bully Pulpit, or the use of the president's position in American society as a means to push an agenda, was defined by the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt believed that the presidency was more than just an elected political position, but could be used as a force for social change in the nation, not simply via laws and executive orders, but by speeches, programs and appeals to the American people.

Bully Baylor's mayoral campaign slogans are beginning to generate themselves, aren't they?

AC-DC and a lesson in life from Malcolm Young.

I've never been a fan of AC-DC, but I get it.

Founding member Malcolm Young's departure from the group owes to the saddest of reasons, as Bernard Zuel explains in the Sydney Morning Herald: AC/DC's Malcolm Young reportedly in care for dementia in Sydney.

It may be that dementia is claiming another giant, this time a musical one.

AC/DC co-founder, guitarist and songwriter Malcolm Young, whose retirement from the band was announced on Wednesday, has been moved into full-time care in a nursing home facility in Sydney's eastern suburbs specialising in dementia, sources connected to the Young family have said.

Americans in particular enjoy deriving life's lessons from organized sports. I've generally preferred music as metaphor, and an insightful appreciation from the Guardian falls into this category, explaining how a seemingly unimportant rhythm guitarist can be a band's major cog.

Malcolm Young understood that a great riff does not need 427 components to make it great, that what it really needs is clarity. That meant stripping riffs down rather than building them up, and it also meant understanding volume. Given how loud AC/DC can be in concert – ear-ringingly, sternum-shakingly loud – it might be surprising to learn that, in the studio at least, Malcolm Young favoured quietness: he played with his amps turned down, but with the mics extremely close. That’s why, on the great AC/DC albums, you hear not just the chords of the riffs, but their very texture, their burnished, rounded sound. It’s why AC/DC are immediately recognisable, whether or not you know the song.

AC-DC will carry on with a new guitarist, an album and a tour. In closing, here's a priceless sentence, enlarged.

AC/DC's Malcolm Young departs as new album Rock or Bust announced (Guardian)

... In the US, a track from the album, Play Ball, will be teased from 27 September as part of the Major League Baseball post-season campaign.

It is possible, given AC/DC’s history of ball-related double entendres, that the song is not actually about baseball.

Indeed. It is very, very possible.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Keg Liquors announces the closing and imminent relocation of its New Albany location.

Verbatim from the mail slot, from whence oddly, I've just now received the announcement, although the Twitter feed shows it going out earlier in the week.


Closing and Relocation of our New Albany location

It is with a mix of sadness and optimism that we announce the closing and relocation of the downtown New Albany location of Keg Liquors. Friday, September 26th, will be our last day in operation at 302 Pearl Street. The new location will be announced soon and we are thrilled that the existing New Albany staff will transfer to it.

The relocation of the New Albany store does not impact the Clarksville location, which will continue to operate under its normal business hours.

We opened the New Albany location 3 years ago to be part of the renaissance of downtown New Albany. I feel that Keg Liquors has been a key contributor with the revitalization and we have enjoyed watching the area grow and prosper. However, in order to meet the business objectives for Keg Liquors and to continue to support the development of New Albany, it is time to relocate the store to an area more conducive to our type of business.

As the owner of Keg Liquors, I am thankful for the wonderful customers and the relationships we've formed, as well as the other business owners and employees that we've gotten to know. I look forward to continuing those relationships and to creating new ones.

Thank you to everyone who patronized our New Albany store on Pearl Street, and we look forward to serving you at our new location.

Todd Antz
Owner, Keg Liquors

Keg Liquors
Keeping Kentuckiana Beer'd since 1976

Impoverished Floyd County government finds $5 million in shoebox and doesn't even have the good grace to be sheepish about it.

That's right, folks: This is the governmental entity that newly minted mayoral candidate David White would have the city of New Albany snuggle in bed with.

Floyd owes more than $5 million in excise taxes, by Baylee Pulliam (Courier-Journal)

Floyd County owes more than $5 million in undistributed excise taxes dating back to 2007, Auditor Scott Clark said Thursday night.

Clark didn't break down how much is owed to the city of New Albany and several Floyd County towns and townships, but said those numbers would be released on or about Wednesday, when he also plans to distribute the funds ...

... The owed excise tax funds — taxes typically paid when purchases are made on a specific good, such as gasoline — were apparently not distributed due to improper record keeping and oversight in the county treasurer's office, according to a 2012 audit by the Indiana State Board of Accounts.

Not without a full body condom, natch.

I wrote about it yesterday: ON THE AVENUES: The same tired "run government like a business" mantra.

The difference between Bruges and New Albany? It depends on Jeff Gahan's definitions of "ruining", "quality of life" and municipal impotence.

Think of Bruges, Belgium this way:

Then there's New Albany:

Finally, this quote from a story about "quality of life" in a place where the words actually have meaning.

Tired of delivery trucks rumbling near its mythic canals, Belgium's medieval town of Bruges has approved the construction of a beer pipeline to link a five-century-old brewery to a bottling factory nearby.

The two-mile underground pipeline will link the De Halve Maan brewery in the heart of the "Venice of the North" to an industrial park where the beer will be bottled and shipped to drinkers worldwide, company director Xavier Vanneste said.

"The idea is born of environmental and quality of life concerns, and not economic ones," he said.

Bruges to build beer pipeline to stop traffic ruining locals' lives; The pipeline will link a five-century-old brewery to a bottling factory nearby (The Telegraph)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

At the Public House, 6:00 p.m.: "Louisville Beer: Derby City History on Draft" book signing with Kevin Gibson.

Thursday, September 25
Louisville Beer: Derby City History on Draft Book Signing with Kevin Gibson
On Thursday, September 25 at NABC’s Pizzeria & Public House, our old friend Kevin Gibson will feature, sell and sign his new book about beer. The gig starts at 6:00 p.m. and lasts until 8:00 p.m., or whenever the stories recede. It is predicted that Kevin will drink beer while doing so.

ON THE AVENUES: The same tired "run government like a business" mantra.

ON THE AVENUES: The same tired "run government like a business" mantra.

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

It would be refreshing to hear a candidate for public office concede that the anticipated pay package for serving as an elected official would far exceed rates of remuneration at his or her current job, with this prospective increase constituting a prime reason for seeking office in the first place.

Some of those few bothering to vote these days undoubtedly would reply that public service is supposed to be about noble ideals and selfless sacrifice. I’d counter by waiting to see if the aspiring candidate puts forth the proposition that a lifetime of business experience has provided a unique opportunity to “run” government in precisely the same fashion as a taco stand, foundry or jewelry store -- at a considerable pay cut to the chief executive officer whose capitalist expertise in making money is his or her main recommendation.

Something about this equation doesn’t add up, but then again, I’ve never been very adept at mathematics.

While we were away, merrily partying in European locales where folks really can have nice things, David White made a pilgrimage to the Scribner House, and amid the swooning of resident DAR stalwarts, announced his campaign for mayor … as a Democrat.

For those just tuning in, this means that an incumbent mayor (Jeff Gahan) who garnered 64% of the vote in the 2011 general election is viewed as vulnerable within his very own party. Not unexpectedly, White revealed very little about his platform in terms of detail, although the rudiments were summarized in Daniel Suddeath's newspaper account of White's debut:

The four cornerstones of (White’s) Advance New Albany 2016 plan are: Unifying city-county government, job creation, generating a budget surplus and “exceptionalism.”

Judging from the scant content of White’s web site, we are to believe he is capable of executing this plan by virtue of his successful business background – or, as Suddeath reports:

White said he views government as a small business, and that the residents of New Albany are the customers.

The last time we heard this “government as business” argument from a mayoral candidate, the speaker was Irv Stumler, former mayor Doug England’s hand-picked successor, and Jeff Gahan’s first victim in route to a desk somewhere near Hauss Square.

At least White is younger than his predecessor.

All of which reminded me of something I wrote in March of 2011 during my city council at-large campaign. Let’s see how well it has survived the intervening three years.


Last week, I was asked how it’s been possible for me to survive in business for 20 years with a lowly BA in philosophy, rather than a degree in business.

My response: Because serendipity rules our planet, and thinking trumps rote … and I doubt they teach any of this at business school.

In fact, I went into business because (a) I love beer, and (b), an opportunity was presented for me to love beer for pay while sharing my love with others. It was nothing more, it is nothing less, and it remains nothing to build a business school curriculum around. An autobiography is still possible, although if it ever comes to fruition, there’ll be precious little in it about spreadsheets.

Yesterday afternoon at Steinert’s, as I was listening for the second time this week to mayoral hopeful Irv Stumler read aloud his extensive and admittedly admirable Curriculum Vitae, it suddenly occurred to me how America’s weird indigenous cult of business achievement has almost never captured my fancy, but instead, over long decades, mostly repelled me.

Rather, my personal heroes have always been artists, baristas, musicians, chefs, writers, actors, dancers, sportsmen, brewers and other practitioners moving within the less easily quantifiable realm of creativity. How and why they’re paid is far less interesting to me than how they create, and what they produce in an aesthetic sense. How do their physical skills capture the output of their brains?

If the business of America truly is business, then it causes me to openly shudder, and if so, my personal “business” encompasses looking elsewhere – anywhere will do – for a higher order of inspiration, as opposed to worshipping techniques to amass and maintain wealth. While it’s true that Bruce Springsteen is handsomely rewarded for creating music, give me the Boss over Donald Trump, any day. I can whistle along with music, but only wince at avarice.

As a matter of convenience, I accept the term “businessman,” but prefer to think of myself as a beer entrepreneur.

The very word “entrepreneur” strikes me as more applicable. For one thing, it’s suitably French. There’s also an element of daring and risk contained in it, contrasting with “businessman”, which sounds far too numerically vocational and conservative for my blood. Entrepreneurs sweat to create; businessmen merely manage.

The prime reason for my violent, lifelong allergic reaction to the trappings of chambers of commerce and like-minded business idolatry societies is their vacuously obnoxious glorification of business for the sake of business, in the form of endless rounds of symbolic pom-pom waving, mysterious networking rites, totemic seminars and expense account driven re-education junkets, the sum total of which is the perpetuation of eager, grasping and typically greedy cadres of business “elites”, each dressed alike, refusing to travel in steerage, wholly ignorant of the universe beyond their sales strategies, but perfectly capable of exchanging indecipherable business lingo and colloquialisms that surely would have inspired Sinclair Lewis to update the saga ofBabbitt – or in the case of Reclaim Our Culture Kentuckiana (ROCK), which uses the same sad tools in the context of God's inscrutable instructions – Elmer Gantry.

(How’s that for a paragraph, ma?)

That's why I generally refuse to wear a suit. I waited a long time to find a line of honest work that would permit me to dress like a normal human being on a daily basis. My uniform is different from yours, just as a football player’s is different from mine. Having found such a pursuit, and permitted to be both comfortable and unhesitant to dribble hot sauce down my chin, I’m hesitant to surrender the autonomy.

I’m a craft beer kind of guy, and there’s a saying in the craft beer business: We brew beer, we drink beer, and we sell what’s left. At the end of the day, if there still are a few farthings lying around, then we made a profit, and while I readily acknowledge the imperative of making a few bucks, it’s worth repeating that love of beer is what drew me to my business.

History, geography, lore and storytelling about beer are my fortes. The actual brewers can explain the enzymes. I’d rather let the finished liquid in the glass do the talking, and translate the testimony for our consumers.


The preceding digression is brought to you by my perpetual annoyance whenever I hear a businessman-turned-politician proclaim that government should be run like a business.

That’s fine with me, in the sense that if I’m elected to city council, and if wisdom like this is accepted at face value, there’ll be quite a lot of craft beer served at meetings – and other times, too.

In an effort to explain, and at the risk of oversimplifying, usually when we’re told to run government like a business, the speaker is referring to expense reduction alone, first by means of greater efficiencies, and if necessary, by making all the cuts required to balance the budget. These infamous days, the state of Indiana looks at it the same way, and will mold its ideologically-derived budget directives to cities in such a manner as to focus attention on one side of the ledger to the exclusion, and at times impossibility, of the other.

The casual, pants-down "businessman" in me responds to all this with a simple question: Okay, but what about revenues?

Generally a pudgy tea partier's finger is wagged. I'm told not to ask, and this juncture, the “government as business” fallacy loses it wheels. If government cannot address revenues as well as expenses, it’s nothing whatsoever “like” a business and should not pretend to be one.

During the hard times in 2010, my company tried mightily to increase efficiencies and reduce expenses, while at the same time improving customer count and increasing volume. One without the other makes no sense to a business, does it? We never stopped trying to make the pie bigger even as we reduced expenditures to make it through the lean period. There was no choice except to address both.

If government is to be run like a business, doesn't it have an imperative to bring in money even as less is spent? It might charge higher prices to its consumers (taxes and fees), or if unable to charge higher prices, it might increase the number of consumers paying lower prices.

Businesses balance these considerations every single day: Will the consumer pay the same price for the lowered quality of good and services? Can the quality be maintained when expenses are cut? Are there intangibles that might justify higher prices in their minds? How do we get more of them to come in and sample what we have to offer?

But beyond that, considering what government does, how are goods and services even to be measured?

In America, we have a mission statement and business plan of sorts, known as the Constitution, from which emanates numerous other mission statements and business plans for governance from the grassroots up. To be specific, how do we calculate the price of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the playing field for which it is government’s job to keep level?

Or do we abandon the mission statement because we’ve decided that human rights are too expensive for consumer/citizens who’d rather opt out of the compact, and can be out-sourced, half-assed and winked at? Need a cop? Just phone the call center in Bangalore ... and take a number.

I’ll not belabor the point. Government is not the same thing as business, and even if it might be in some obscure way, any Democratic candidate urging us to run government like a business needs to come equipped with ideas for making the pie bigger, or introducing a whole new kind of pie (sustainability and the grassroots localization of the economy spring to mind), not just coping in servile fashion with the dubious physiological “benefits” of devouring civil society’s remaining muscle in the interest of certifying the diktats of theocratic Republican ideology.

By any standard of attainment, Irv Stumler has enjoyed a solid career in business. Is he ready to discuss the other side of the ledger?

Let’s hear those ideas, too.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Back home again in Indiana (2014 enigmatic variation).

978 e-mails, two espressos and a can of kippers later, I'm forced to concede that vacation finally is over. We're happy to be home ... sorta, kinda.

I was entirely unplugged for 13 days of Germany and Belgium, and of all the news items reviewed thus far upon return, the one affecting me the most is word of Mike Naville's passing. 

Some years back, Mike was planning a trip to Europe and asked me for a recommendation in Germany. I advised Bamberg, and a stay in one of the upstairs rooms at Brauerei Spezial. Mike went, and while there, he happened upon another American, a beer biz importer acquaintance of mine who graciously showed him around town. Mike's glee in relating this story is something I'll never forget.

Ironically, we stayed, drank and ate at Spezial last week. I thought about Mike's visit and made a mental note to say something to him about Bamberg. Now I won't be able to do so, and life's funny that way, which is why we must live it to the fullest ... and Mike did. 

He'll be missed. The newspaper's Chris Morris offers a good remembrance.

8. Belgian Beercycling 2000: Belgian beercycling 2000: The final beercycle ride, and postscripts.

It was the year 2000, the anticipated Euro currency conversion was around the corner but had yet to occur, and for a final day of rental beercycling on a sunny Friday in Brugge, we chose to spend a few spare guilders in the Netherlands.

At first glance, it may seem that the Netherlands is too far away from Belgium to make for a comfortable day trip, and in fact much of it is, but a non-contiguous slice of Dutch territory lies on the south side of the waterway known as the Westerschelde, or the mouth of the Schelde River as it leaves Antwerp for the ocean. This bit of the Netherlands is easily accessible by bicycle paths aimed east and north from Brugge, passing through the popular tourist village of Damme, along idyllic tree lined canals and through manure-caked working farms reminiscent of Breughel paintings.

Certainly it was the easiest of the trip’s rides, both because we’d developed legs (and posteriors) strong enough to navigate for longer periods of time, and owing to the perfectly flat nature of the terrain in the northernmost extent of Flanders. Hills and grades are almost non-existent, and the route is strewn with signs and so impeccably marked that we briefly became lost, anyway, perhaps stemming from the biggest impediment to progress during the ride: Too much DT on the Huyghe brewery tour the previous day, and too many post-tour restoratives at the famed t’Brugs Beertje specialty beer café upon our Thursday evening return to Brugge.

At a particularly confusing crossroads, a tractor-borne native pointed straight, and within minutes we were standing outside a café in the Dutch town of Sluis, and I was extracting a handful of colorful leftover guilders from a previous visit to the Netherlands in 1998 in preparation for the best we could do under the circumstances, a round of Heinekens and nibbles for all.

Since the food included herring, my day was complete.

After lunch, the ride continued to the northwest. For all of us, it was a first opportunity to experience the fabled infrastructure available to cyclists in the Netherlands. Paved paths follow alongside all roads, and clearly delineated lanes guide cyclists through urban areas. Sometimes there are intersections for cyclists that shadow the automotive ones yards away, and complete with their own sets of stop lights.

Soon we were back in Belgium, skirting just south of Knokke-Heist on the coast, and coming to the second objective: The sea and a convenient beach at Zeebrugge for a few minutes of sand and sea spray before turning due south along an industrialized canal for the ride back into Brugge and a second consecutive evening at the Beertje.

There would be a third, at the end of the full Saturday remaining to us, but the shared consensus was that the first-time visitors in the group were intent on sightseeing and shopping in the lovely if tourist-laden city of Brugge, so the rental bikes were returned and the cycling segment of the 2000 beercycling fact-finding mission concluded.

Except for Kevin Lowber, who had met us in Poperinge, the group had put in roughly 125 miles altogether, with perhaps half of that coming in two rides (Cassel and Sluis) near the end. In the touring years to come, there would be times when several of us approached 100 miles in a day, fully laden, but given our neophyte status in 2000, the inconsistent architecture of the rental bikes and the demands of food and drink, there was much to celebrate.

The journey was winding down. On Sunday morning, Kevin Richards, Buddy Sandbach and I boarded a train in Brugge and set out for Leuven, an old university city on the eastern side of Brussels that lies near the national airport where Kevin and Buddy would be departing Belgium for America on Monday morning. We’d booked a room in Leuven with the prospect of arriving and hopefully having enough time to attend a performance by the rock band Pearl Jam at the Werchter pop/rock festival taking place nearby, but Eddie Vedder’s group had canceled owing to tragic occurrences at another fest in Roskilde, Denmark a few days previous. Instead of concert-going, it looked instead to be a relaxed, “free” last day.

The commute from Brugge to Leuven hardly would have been noteworthy had not Buddy’s eyes (and wallet) been somewhat bigger than his luggage. He spent the afternoon and evening in Brugge frantically scrounging rare Belgian ales from various sales outlets, and broke away resolutely early from the closing ceremonies at Beertje to return to the hotel and find some way of packing them all.

There we revelers found him well after midnight, with bottles, toiletries and underwear heaped down the side of corridor, agonizing over the proper way to insure the safety of his souvenirs while flying home. Luckily, he managed to succeed in this aim, removing only a handful of bottles for ballast-lightening consumption in the process. Less fortunately, there were too few hours for sleeping, and as he realized come morning, a stupendous weight gain in baggage. It should suffice to say that splurging on a cab ride to the train station was much appreciated.

Still, even spared the burden of a cross-town walk, Buddy had three separate pieces of quite heavy luggage, and upon exiting the train in Leuven, he was not happy to discover that the station there is of archaic design, requiring the ascent of numerous steps to reach a passageway crossing over the tracks, not beneath them as is the case most of the time. With the assistance of two passers-by who evidently took pity at Buddy’s plight (or were eager to move him out of the way so they’d reach their train on time), he made it up, down, and over, collapsing into a waiting taxi for the ride to the hotel.

Kevin and I explored Leuven, visited its brewpub, noted the presence of the industrial Stella Artois beer factory, mounted a hill for a look at the chateau originally belonging to Leuven’s local aristocrats, and eventually settled into handy café chairs to recap the first beercycling trip with a few final rounds of Belgian ale.

Verily, the beercycling cat had been let out of the bag, the touring genie released from the bottle, and a suitable tone set for future adventures. We’d hatched our Belgian scheme while seated at Polly’s Freeze, a local ice cream institution back in Indiana, and now, after achieving the goal, we were able to offer benedictions over Chimay and beefsteak in Leuven.

It only seemed natural to echo Bob Reed’s tip-off toast:

“Here’s to us … may we never quarrel or fuss … but if by chance we should disagree … &*^%$ you, and here’s to me!

Whatever became of Professor Erika, anyway?

Two and a half months between posts? Fundraising for Hillary really takes it out of a girl.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Dear Taco Punk: Come on over to the West Bank. I have a kitchen, you know.

Back when Taco Punk launched its Kickstarter campaign, Eater Louisville's then-kingpin Zach Everson was giving Taco Punk a very hard time.

Now Gabe's tacos, Zach and Eater itself all are gone. Time passes much too quickly when we're together eating ... and drinking.

Taco Punk chef/owner Gabe Sowder announces closing, cites traffic snarls related to bridge construction, by Terry Boyd (Insider Louisville)

Taco Punk is closing … again. This time, it sounds like it’s for real.

Gabe Sowder and his crew, who’ve been with him through thick and thin during three years, have posted the restaurant will close Friday, Oct. 3.

2014 Euro Reunion Tour, Day 14: The unkindest cut of all ...

 ... is having to come home, especially when you have to vacate a room like this one.

In Mechelen, we spent the trip's final night at the Martin's Patershof, a hotel in a former church. I'd come across it while researching less expensive options, and concluded that a splurge could be justified for the evening preceding a transatlantic flight. Consequently, I reserved a "great" room for €179 ($220). It would have been noce to stay in one of the rooms with stained glass windows, but those were a bit too "great" for my blood at €499.

When we checked into the hotel on Monday, the desk clerk informed us that we'd been upgraded to a suite for the same price. This didn't register until we opened the door.

Okay, so they're stained glass reproductions. Still, it's a fifth-floor room and the top of the church. Impressive, indeed.

Wait -- what's that?

It's our first-ever, in-room espresso machine. Gads. Not only that, but the bar downstairs had draft Gouden Carolus and Ename Tripel on draft.

This concludes my account of the 2014 trip. When's next?

7. Belgian Beercycling 2000: Brugge and the DTs.

Thursday was a rail transfer day, and the objective to be pursued after a tasty Hotel Palace buffet breakfast of bread, butter, jam, selected cheeses and meats, and an egg was to convey the expanded group of five beercyclists by rail from Poperinge to the junction at Kortrijk, then north to Brugge. Departing the historic Belgian hop-growing town of Poperinge wasn’t easy. We took with us a full complement of ideas for future trips, many of which have come quite delightfully to fruition in the years since.

After debarking in Brugge, we executed a forced march to set up headquarters at the Hotel Europ, and then immediately doubled back to the train station for a short train trip to Ghent, specifically to the suburb of Melle, home of the Huyghe brewery. Along the way, there was a reconnoitering of the bicycle rental shop near the main square.

The excursion to Melle meant that biking would have to wait until Friday, as the genial Joe Waizmann, then of the Merchant du Vin importing company, had helpfully arranged for a Thursday afternoon tour of Huyghe, a family-owned brewer of more than a few brands of ale, including Merchant du Vin’s Duinen abbey ales and the more widely known Delirium Tremens family of strong elixirs.

As customary, I’d taken Joe’s information and initiated a dialogue with the target brewery, exchanging a couple of faxes with the Huyghe company’s contact, Alain, and fixing a tour time for 2:00 p.m. on Thursday.

At least that’s what we thought as the train departed Brugge. Unbeknownst to the group, a very long afternoon was only just beginning.

Our train ride from Brugge was brief and uneventful. There was a switch in the Ghent main station, and soon we were stepping off the small commuter platform at Melle, where precious little was observed to be occurring in the immediate vicinity. The town bore the unmistakable appearance of a one-time countryside village that had undergone industrialization in the 19th-century thanks to the proximity of waterways and railroads.

The fax I had received from Alain while still stateside clearly indicated that someone from Huyghe would meet us at the station to provide escort, but no one arrived, and after a half-hour’s wait filled with escalating fears that we’d miss the appointment, we resolved to take control and find the brewery on our own.

This wasn’t very difficult. Older breweries anywhere almost always lie next to the train tracks, and this is the case with Huyghe. Furthermore, the brewery’s street address is Brusselsesteenweg, or the main road in the general direction of Belgium’s capital. This central road could be seen a short block away, and after lining up street numbers, we followed it.

The address being sought was affixed to an older building with no obvious entryway. Newer additions extended around a corner, so we followed the trail and eventually looked up to see a huge pink elephant emblazoned on a wall, and yet still no entrance beckoned. After knocking on several doors, one opened and a young man smilingly pointed us to the rear of the building, where activity was humming. Pallets of kegs and bottles were being shifted by forklifts into waiting trucks and workers were going about their tasks, all alongside the freight rail track that now could be glimpsed running alongside the passenger track and leading directly toward the platform where we’d started.

We wandered into the area and were quickly intercepted by a man in a suit, who directed us through the warehouse to a second-floor office. Ominously, the receptionist was visibly confused at our presence. Phone calls of escalating intensity were made as we stood in a cramped foyer, killing time and ducking passers-by.

It was far past lunch, and I ate a final apple for strength as more time passed. We were given several reassurances that Alain had been paged and was expected at any moment. Finally a young man appeared, introduced himself as Alain, and noted that we had come on the wrong day. I asked him to look at the fax a bit more closely, and he went into his office seemingly unconvinced. When he returned, his face was beet red, and apologizing profusely (and unnecessarily; after all, mistakes happen), he led us into the brewery for the belated tour.

Given the misunderstandings and delays, we expected very little beyond a cursory look at the brewery and perhaps a couple of beers, but in fact a veritable tour de force already was picking up steam. It proved yet again that when beer lovers of like mind get together, anything can happen, and the passion generated by such meetings is unlike anything experienced by the dire corporate bean-counters of the world of swill.

Alain began by explaining that like many Belgian breweries of like size, family-owned Huyghe was stagnating in the 1970’s, producing ordinary pilsners for local consumption, seeing its traditional market for these beers shrink along with the demand for low-gravity table beers, and suffering from increased competition from larger, better heeled breweries. In short, Huyghe faced a questionable future when Alain’s father concluded that something had to be done. His answer to the problem was to specialize, creating ales more in keeping with Belgium’s diverse brewing heritage.

This strategy was bold and somewhat risky given the realities of the day. Belgium’s subsequent rise to international fame for the quality of its beers was foreseen by few, and Alain’s father faced resistance from other family members afraid of change. He responded by shrugging and buying them out, proceeding with the development of the flagship ale that would redeem the brewery’s fortunes: Delirium Tremens, which was given its name after a visitor remarked that he couldn’t drink more than two without risking the “D.T.’s” next morning.

Having perfected the recipe, the next step toward sales success involved coming up with a symbol, and the now-familiar pink elephant logo was drawn by a summer brewery intern for a couple cases of liquid remuneration. A quarter century later, it is one of Belgium’s most immediately recognizable beer labels.

While comparisons with Duvel are inevitable, and other strong golden ales from Belgium (Lucifer, Satan) vie for attention with the consumer, Delirium Tremens remains its own beer. It is decidedly sleek and clean, boasting a deceptive, medium body that allows hints of alcohol to peek through and remind the drinker of its strength. While Delirium Tremens may look like Budweiser, it certainly doesn’t taste like it.

The Delirium Tremens line has been extended to include Nocturnum, a dark version of the flagship brand, and for the very first time in the year 2000, Noel. Huyghe’s yuletide interpretation lies somewhere between the other two. There are no spices. The result is a firm, tawny and accomplished strong ale for winter sipping. As we walked through the brewery, and Alain animatedly explained the family business, he asked if we’d like to try the Noel – as it turned out, straight from the bright tank, as served by Alain himself into fresh DT logo glasses while he tottered on a ladder to reach the valve.

In one of the oldest parts of the original brewhouse, which has been replaced by a more modern facility in the newer wing, Huyghe has installed an excellent beer and brewing exhibit. The mini-museum includes a replica of a traditional Belgian café, complete with archaic cash register and bar games. Nearby are cases displaying glassware and historical advertising placards. After examining these, we gratefully adjourned to the contemporary, half-circle bar for our obligatory post-tour tasting.

At this juncture, with biking far from our minds and beers about to be poured, it’s worth noting that Huyghe is criticized in some quarters for releasing so many beers, which some doubters suspect are the same basic recipe with a different label attached. Alain bristles at this charge, particularly as offered by CAMRA correspondent Tim Webb, author of the massively influential “Good Beer Guide to Belgium,” and forcefully argues that with the exception of a couple of beers bound for export sales bearing export labels, all beers made at Huyghe have distinct recipes.

Perhaps for this reason, and to give us the chance to judge for ourselves, we were given the opportunity to taste seemingly every single brand brewed at Huyghe: St. Idelsbald Blonde, Bruin and Tripel, Campus, Golden Kenia (the pilsner mentioned previously), Vielle Villers Dubbel and Tripel, a few new fruit-flavored ales, and eventually a bottle of Artvelde Grand Cru that had been cellared since 1988.

Only a few of the latter remained, but Alain excitedly opened one for us, and the vintage ale was so delicious that soon Alain was on the phone calling the brewers to come up to the bar and taste it for themselves.

A dense thicket of glasses and empty bottles grew atop the bar, and then Alain proposed a toast, which I must paraphrase owing to my own bibulous role in the proceedings: To all the beer-loving Americans who have done so much to support the Belgian brewing industry, the ones who know quality, who appreciate the best, and who share in the universal love of beer.

It was a classy gesture and a memorable moment. Equally moving was Bob Reed’s impromptu assessment of the Huyghe brewery visit: “A guy can get fucked up in a place like this.”

Indeed, he can. We did. Our visit finally winding down after almost three hours inside the brewery, Alain proposed to drive us to the rail station, which was no more than a quarter-mile away, and seeing as he’d had just as many beers as us, it simply didn’t seem necessary or prudent. We thanked him and gathered our generous gifts -- t-shirts, pink elephant suspenders and DT glasses -- and stumbled into the late Melle afternoon, the sky now clear after rain and mist earlier. Heading down the narrow alley next to the rail line, I imagined food above all else; the weight of the ale was heavy on an empty stomach, and I recalled there being an eatery or two opposite the station.

Suddenly, somewhere to the rear, the approaching hum of a car was heard. I heard Alain’s voice. Screeching to a halt, he emerged with stacks of coasters, which Bob had requested earlier, and in the process, cementing his reputation as the perfect host for one of the best brewery tours I’ve experienced.

Beer was momentarily forgotten as the neighborhood “friterie” came into view. “Friterie” translates into fast food, Belgian style, and you must forget everything you’ve heard about carbonade, mussels and other gems of indigenous beer cuisine. As in so many other locales, Belgian fast food is the domain of the deep fryer, and not just for preparing the country’s famed french fries (parboiled before deep frying, and served with mayonnaise or one of several sauces).

In fact, most anything else that will fit into a Euro-standard fry basket, presumably including salad, tofu or whatever healthy food that might benefit from a high-temperature lard bath, can be found at the Friterie. Famished and intoxicated, behaving not unlike the early morning crowd at White Castle, we crowded into the mom ‘n’ pop operation. The former took the order after our language-challenged group took turns pointing to the object behind the counter, and the latter expertly deep-frying the choice while Mama made change.

Thus we cornered the market on saturated fat, our containers dripping with grease from wonderful artery-busting food, and climbed the steps to the platform to await the train, all the while shoveling with our fingers.

Delirium tremens … I’ll say.

Tomorrow: A final ride.

Monday, September 22, 2014

2014 Euro Reunion Tour, Day 13: A final Belgian evening in Mechelen, with Opsinjoorke.

The tour group broke apart on Monday morning, and we all went our separate ways. Because Poperinge is the last stop on a local rail line, all of us rode together to Kortrijk before dispersing. Diana and I made for Mechelen, a city of 82,000 located north of Brussels, between the capital and Antwerp.

I visited Mechelen for the first time in 2008, and was intrigued. It is an ideal place for beginning or ending a trip to Belgium. It is interesting in and of itself, and less touristed than Brussels or Antwerp. A relatively new rail line connects Mechelen with the Brussels Airport in ten minutes flat, easily the most economical way to go there. There's a very good brewery in Mechelen called Het Anker, which brews the Gouden Carolus line.

And, as we learned on Monday evening, there is superb Moroccan food at the Ronda restaurant on the Vismarkt, where transcendent tagines and couscous are offered.

Below, the statue and story of the Opsinjoorke. Stay tuned for the hotel tale.

6. Belgian Beercycling 2000: A pause for perspective before the tour concludes.

Readers will have noticed by now that the serialized account of Belgian beercycling in the year 2000 is rather longer on beer than it is on bicycling. Admittedly, the hop vs. derailleur balance sheet is skewed in favor of the liquid, but because it remains a valid reflection of our priorities at the time, I’m letting it go and recording events as they occurred.

Or, as I recall them occurring.

With time has come the realization that the 2000 beercycling jaunt truly was a significant turning point. I had commenced traveling in Europe back in 1985 at the age of 24, often alone, always by train or bus, and even on foot at times, with the bare minimum of luggage – first a gym bag, and then a convertible interior frame backpack.

In 1998 and 1999 came the first quantum leaps, as dabbling in group beer tourism by motorcoach started up in earnest. Groups held the prospect of continued personal growth by combining a steadily increasing level of expertise on European beer and travel affairs with a concurrent opportunity to use economies of scale to my benefit, i.e., by having the group’s fees help subsidize the organizer for his labors. After all, you’re not off the clock when watching over a group of thirty people drinking beer, even if the work time is occurring in Europe and not New Albany.

Obviously these were more complicated adventures; nonetheless, they could be organized even by the likes of someone like me who really hadn’t been paying all that close attention to the logistics of groups. It portended well, but having succeeded at more lush travel orchestration, my attention was immediately diverted toward the basics. That’s because I had resumed bicycling stateside in 1999 after a two-decade hiatus.

On the 1999 group trip, it was the first time that I’d bothered to notice what so many Europeans had been trying to tell me all those years as they flew past on two wheels: A bicycle provides an unparalleled way to get around, especially in places like the Netherlands and Germany that are custom designed to facilitate non-motorized transport.

Not only that, but it is plain fun.

Accordingly, this notion rapidly grew into an obsession, and under the theory that a trial run would be a good thing, Kevin Richards and I plotted the inaugural 2000 foray around the notion of using towns as bases and renting bicycles for countryside excursions.

There would be no packing and unpacking of bikes from the hard-shell travel cases, no navigating treacherous airline policy inconsistencies, no major mechanical difficulties necessitating spur-of-the-moment repairs without a hub to return to easily, no panniers (i.e., saddlebags) to be loaded and unloaded, and almost none of the hundreds of other aspects of bicycle touring that have been experienced during subsequent rips, when we have moved from place to place entirely on our own bicycles brought from home, and self-sufficient in many ways.

The trial run was another great success, and so if logically follows that the story you’ve been reading, originally written for the FOSSILS homebrewing club newsletter in 2001 and punched up for publication here, was intended as encouragement for our fledgling beercycling cadre to persevere and further broaden the scope of its recreational beer hunting so as to work toward real touring.

In the years that followed the 2000 ceremonial dipping of toes into the water, there was a second rental beercycling excursion in 2001 to Belgium and Germany (with a long train ride in between), followed by the first touring beercycling event with our own bicycles in 2003, when I biked from Frankfurt to Vienna, and was joined by some of the lads at pre-arranged meeting points along the way.

We immediately regrouped for a summertime “Tour de Trappist” cross-country jaunt in 2004, which took the beercyclists to all of Belgium’s brewing monasteries. After an off year in 2005, the gang we came together again in 2006 and rode much of the Prague to Vienna Greenway following a brief introductory respite spent beercycling around Bamberg. 2008 brought a beercycling journey to the triennial Poperinge hop festival, then all the way up the coast to Haarlem in Netherlands.

Meanwhile, group trips were not abandoned. Two took place in 2002, and the most recent, the now legendary 2004 German-Czech beer blast, was so incredibly perfect that I’ve taken a few years off from organizing for fear that it might never be matched.

Then, something else happened. With the advent of Bank Street Brewhouse in 2009 came a forced three-year curtailment of all foreign travel, one borne of the demands of tending the newborn. At present, toes are being dipped tepidly into the water. BSB is in a state of reinvention, and I've become more of a walker than a cyclist. I remain committed to any and all forms of beer travel, whether on bikes, in buses or on foot. At this point, I'll take what I can get, when I can get it.

Thanks to all of those who have accompanied me during these marvelous times. I can only wish that they’ve been as good for you as they have for me.

Next: Beercycling 2000 comes to a "delirious" close in Brugge

Sunday, September 21, 2014

2014 Euro Reunion Tour, Day 12.5: The story of hops in parade format.

In roughly chronological, these photos provide a tiny glimpse of the hops parade in Poperinge, which closes the festival every third year, and keeps giving me reasons to return. 2014 was my fifth parade since 1999, and I sincerely hope there'll be more.