Thursday, April 30, 2020

Social restrictions, bullying and reopening: It's all about consumer behavior.

I'm no fan of Politico, but this piece is solid. Key point:

“Unfortunately, resuming normal activity cannot be achieved by diktat from the top,” said economist Megan Greene, a senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “It needs to start with much more confidence from consumers, and we are still a long way off from that.”

There's plenty of apocryphal evidence derived from the respectively blue and red silos amid the wasteland of social media. Apart from the chest-thumpers with megaphones and chips on their shoulders, my sense is a silent majority of Americans are going to exercise caution in the following months.

How much has the pandemic altered our assumptions?

We're about to find out.

How Trump’s reopening plans could collide with reality, by Ben White (Politico)

Consumer and business behavior are mostly out of the president’s ability to control.

President Donald Trump is squabbling with governors and calling on a new council of corporate executives as he tries to reopen the American economy as quickly as possible. But his powers are limited not just by the Constitution but by the fact that he has limited sway over the real economy.

Trump can fire off tweets, attempt to bully states into lifting social restrictions and otherwise declare America open for business. But he can’t force companies to reopen or ramp up production until owners and executives believe their workers are ready.

He also can’t make consumers flock back to malls, bars, restaurants, sports arenas or other public areas until they feel comfortable they‘ll be safe from the coronavirus ...

Strong Towns on "what the pandemic reveals about the fragility of our institutions."

As the economy "reopens," think there might be time to squeeze in a revolution or three?

Designer masks, designer pitchforks.

Not a Black Swan: Nassim Taleb on What the Coronavirus Teaches Us About Our Institutions

... Not only have epidemiologists been sounding the alarm and urging pandemic preparedness for many years, but so have many scholars who study risk, randomness, and uncertainty. This includes our era's veritable prophet of risk and uncertainty: Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who co-authored a January 26th paper warning that the spread of COVID-19 would be "nonlinear" and potentially severe.

Tell me more.

Taleb's interest is in what the pandemic reveals about the fragility of our institutions. The story historians tell about COVID-19 may prove to be less about the disease and more about its rapidly cascading effects on governmental and financial systems that have, for years, been more or less rigged to blow.

How do we build systems of governance and distribution (of food, medicines, energy, and other essential products of civilization) that can handle mounting random events like a global disease outbreak? Taleb is critical of "just-in-time" supply chains and production schedules, of "too big to fail" institutions, and of the hubris of those in power who attempt to manage risk without adequate contingency plans, believing that the future can be predicted from the average circumstances we've experienced so far (a delusion Taleb calls "naive empiricism").

The correct response, according to Taleb, is to decentralize power and flatten hierarchies, creating institutions that more closely mimic the redundancy of organic, natural systems. This allows pieces of a complex system to fail without endangering the whole.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The solution in Vilnius -- and "a REALLY efficient way of killing locally owned restaurants."

Close the streets and let us spill out onto them. Get those cars the hell out of the way. Governor Holcomb may wish to keep those alcohol rules relaxed for a great deal longer.

Lithuanian capital to be turned into vast open-air cafe, by Jon Henley (The Guardian)

Vilnius gives public space to bars and cafes to allow physical distancing during lockdown

Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius, has announced plans to turn the city into a vast open-air cafe by giving over much of its public space to hard-hit bar and restaurant owners so they can put their tables outdoors and still observe physical distancing rules.

The Baltic state, which has recorded 1,344 cases of the coronavirus and 44 deaths, allowed cafes and restaurants with outdoor seating, hairdressers and almost all shops to begin reopening this week as part of a staged exit from lockdown.

But the health ministry has imposed strict physical distancing rules and safety measures. Shops must limit the number of customers at one time, masks will remain mandatory in all public spaces, and cafe and restaurant tables have to be placed at least two metres apart.

That posed a problem for many restaurateurs in Vilnius old town, Senamiestis, a Unesco-listed world heritage site whose narrow streets make it almost impossible to place more than a couple of tables outside – prompting the mayor’s offer.

“Plazas, squares, streets – nearby cafes will be allowed to set up outdoor tables free of charge this season and thus conduct their activities during quarantine,” said Remigijus Šimašius. Public safety remained the city’s top priority, the mayor said, but the measure should help cafes to “open up, work, retain jobs and keep Vilnius alive”.

The preceding is the appetizer. Here's the main course; dessert can be the beer or bourbon of your choice (dutch treat, natch). Maybe just another Twitter tweeter, but with an exceedingly clear explanation of where we stand in the indie restaurant biz, and where we may or may not be going. I've combined her 12 tweets into a readable whole.


As someone who grew up in the restaurant industry (my dad managed locally owned restaurants for 40+ years), forcing restaurants to reopen with limited capacity for social distancing purposes is a REALLY efficient way of killing locally owned restaurants.

And when I say forcing here, what I mean is that if a state/municipality lifts the portion of the stay at home order that has been affecting restaurants and instituting these rules, they take away the restaurant's leverage to negotiate with landlords/creditors/etc.

Or to pursue any form of grants/SBAs/PPP funding to try to retain or pay staff during this. So they don't really have any choice but to reopen.

BUT, even at the best of times, restaurants run on helluva tight margins. They count on mostly full houses to pay bills -- bills like rent, utilities, insurance, suppliers (food/liquor/linens/paper goods/cleaning products), salaries, and taxes.

A slow couple of weeks of the house being less than full means some or those bills might not get paid. Too many weeks and restaurants fold.

So when you tell restaurants to reopen at diminished capacity, you're taking the legs out from under them, and even if they can hope to stay afloat, you're also asking them to create systems for dealing with that limited capacity from whole cloth.

Let's say Mom & Pop's place has a normal capacity of 30, but now they can seat 25% of that. That's 7 people. Maybe 2 tables. Who gets those two tables? You probably can't have people sitting around waiting for them.

So is everything reservation only now?

Anyone who has hostessed somewhere with reservations can tell you what a nightmare they often are. You take them assuming people will only be there a certain amount of time and they stay too long. Or have more in their party. Or they no show.

But if you can't have people trying to do walk ins, how else can you do it with appropriate social distancing? So you take reservations and tell people they have strict time limits? Then if they're staying too long, you force them out?

They'll take that out on servers.

In A LOT of these states, those servers are making $2.15 an hour plus tips. So if the servers have to rush people through meals to get tables turned to try to get the meal counts to make this remotely viable for the restaurant, their tips are going to suffer.

That will get passed back up to the restaurant who will then have to make up the difference up to minimum wage. To do that and have any possible hope of staying afloat, you're probably looking at menu prices going up.

Add in the idea that Americans who have been out of work for the last two months aren't all going to have the money to go rushing back out to eat, and this whole thing is a going to push a LOT of local restaurants to the tipping point.

(And possibly some large corporate chains, given the way some of them have also been struggling, but my experience is primarily in locally owned restaurants).

If you want to KILL small restaurant and bar businesses, this is how you do it.

It's godawful and tacky BUT let's look at the bright side, because it might be FAR worse.

I knew it was too good to be true.

Say what? Look, it's a pandemic parking garage painting innovation.

How many of these "branding" mechanisms do we need before the whole world understands New Albany is "anchored" to the floodplain?

Then again, it could be much worse, and Gahan might have emulated Il Duce -- again.

yes yes yes


Tuesday, April 28, 2020

BEER WITH A SOCIALIST: Sun King’s Keller Haze IPA in growlers, available at Pints&union as of Thursday, April 30.

As a preface to what follows, something more important:

A reminder about Pints&union and the Restaurant Workers Relief Program.

The past six weeks have been surreal, to say the least, and the very last thing any of us saw happening in 2020 was creating a workers relief grocery store on the fly, running it out one door as we maintained the curbside food and drink carryout trade out the other, and having two completely separate operations -- one non-profit, one (barely) for profit -- in a building so damn small.

And now, beer. I've made similar comments at the Pints&union website, but because the inception of the beer blog there coincided with pandemic disruptions (read: no one knows about it yet), they bear repeating here.

On March 25, just after Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb eased restrictions on carry-out alcoholic beverage sales at establishments just like Pints&union, we were ready to pour growlers for one reason only, and that’s because Sun King Brewing Company made cases of their growlers available at cost, and the brewery’s Southern Indiana regional sales representative Chris Cox was willing to schlep a load from Indianapolis to the area.

My friend Kelly Conn, who with his wife Teri owns Pearl Street Taphouse in Jeffersonville, providentially clued me into Chris's offer to truck growlers from Indy to Southern Indiana. I'm grateful to them both for the hookup.

Chris has made several trips since, and as of last weekend I’d personally filled roughly 170 varied growlers for sale to our customers. A tad embarrassingly, in our particular case we didn’t even have any Sun King beers on tap and hadn't for a while, but this didn’t matter to them.

Well, it matters to me, and beer karma is real. This week, having finally cleared some tap space and established a working routine, it’s a good time to doff my chapeau to Sun King and fill some growlers with their newest year-round ale, Keller Haze IPA (as the name implies, a hazy IPA at 6.3% abv).

Sun King's anticipated Keller Haze roll-out last month unfortunately coincided with the coronavirus quarantines; it’s a few weeks later now, but the beer’s still plenty fresh. It's also fun to freshen up the presentation, and pour something that everyone can have a chance to buy (as opposed to the subscription-only Schlenkerla Fastenbier).

There’ll be further information about pricing and such on Thursday at Facebook. Thanks again to the folks at Sun King Brewing Company for their help.

Two deaths and a ghost, or three amazing stories -- at least to me.

Prague, 1997.

Two of these snippets pertain to recent deaths. The third describes an apparition.

To be honest, I had no idea who Gene Deitch was, and I'm grateful to my friend W for making me aware of his passing, but more importantly, about his life, especially as "the only free American living and working in Prague during 30 years of the Communist Party dictatorship"

Eugene Merril Deitch (August 8, 1924 – April 16, 2020) was an American illustrator, animator, comics artist, and film director. Based in Prague since 1959, Deitch was known for creating animated cartoons such as Munro, Tom Terrific, and Nudnik, as well as his work on the Popeye and Tom and Jerry series.

Several days after arriving in Prague in October 1959, Deitch met Zdenka Najmanová, the production manager at the studio Bratři v triku where he worked. They married in 1964. Deitch's memoir, For the Love of Prague, is based on his experience of being what he called "the only free American living and working in Prague during 30 years of the Communist Party dictatorship". According to Deitch, although he was followed by the StB and his phone was tapped, he was never aware of their presence and was never interrogated nor arrested.

Deitch died in Prague on April 16, 2020, at the age of 95. Shortly before his death, Deitch had noted intestinal problems.

I might have met Deitch on the street without knowing during one of those many days I spent in Prague. Back in America during COVID times, there was an incredible coincidence.

A 100-year-old WWII veteran died of Covid-19. His twin brother died 100 years earlier in the flu pandemic, by Giulia McDonnell (CNN)

A 100-year-old World War II veteran who died from Covid-19 lost a twin brother to the 1918 pandemic a century earlier, his grandson said.

Philip Kahn is the oldest veteran in Nassau County, New York, according to his family, and had been fearful of another pandemic happening in his lifetime, his grandson, Warren Zysman, told CNN.

"It was something he brought up quite frequently," Zysman said. "I would have conversations with him, he would say to me, 'I told you history repeats itself, 100 years is not that long of a period of time.'"

Kahn and his twin brother, Samuel, were born on December 5, 1919. His brother died weeks later, his grandson said.

I read elsewhere that when Kahn developed a cough, he knew exactly what it might signify, and told family members that our government could have acted sooner and more decisively with containment measures.

To conclude, not so much a death ... although Anwar Sadat's family might disagree.

The Ghost Airline That Has Linked Cairo and Tel Aviv for Decades, by Shira Telushkin (Atlas Obscura)

Air Sinai is shrouded in mystery. But why?

The unmarked plane belonged to Air Sinai, which only flies between Cairo and Tel Aviv. In 1979, Israel and Egypt signed a historic peace treaty, overseen by the United States, which inaugurated diplomatic relations between the two countries and made Egypt the first Arab nation to recognize the State of Israel. Air Sinai, founded in 1982, fulfills a term in the treaty that had to be implemented within three years of signing: the two countries must maintain active civilian aviation routes—meaning there always had to be a direct flight between Israel and Egypt.

It just didn’t have to be public.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Does New Albany "have what it takes to spring back" from the coronavirus?

If you've lived in New Albany for any length of time and possess the ability to draw your conclusions from genuine reality, as opposed to partisan political bias, then this three-part series from Strong Towns is essential.

Does your place have what it takes to spring back from the coronavirus? Does it have what it takes to thrive? Last week, our friend Quint Studer completed a three-part series of stories exploring this very question.

Do we have a leadership cadre capable of grasping it?

"Don’t expect the reboot to put your community right back to where it was before COVID-19. For starters, it’s not possible. I’ve read and heard this many times and I agree: When this is over, the world will have changed in many ways. But also, even if we could, we shouldn’t settle for a return to the 'old' normal. We owe it to the community to aim higher." -- Quint Studer

I've narrowed the posts to bullet points.

Part 1. Thriving on the Other Side: How Your Community Can Recreate Vibrancy After COVID-19

Here are a few guidelines for re-engaging your community as we move forward post-pandemic:

  • Get intentional ... Put some real objectives in place around what you want the future to look like. 
  • Be smart with money ... You may be getting some stimulus funding. It will be crucial to spend it in a way that invests in the future. 
  • Make small bets ... Embrace incrementalism. As you know, this is the message Chuck is famous for. Fix what’s broken first.
  • Put in place a framework for making decisions ... If not, the possibilities will overwhelm you. Don’t chase every shiny ball. 

Thoughtful, bold and ... collaborative. That last one's going to be tough for our local fix-is-in "Democratic" politburo, isn't it?

Part 2. A Framework for Thriving: Keep These Four Areas Front and Center as You Move Forward

None of us would have chosen to be tested this way. But since it has happened, it’s time to get to work and start tackling these challenges head on. Community leaders are being called to be more thoughtful, bold, and collaborative than we’ve ever been before.

  1. Placemaking (Vibrant Downtown) ... Creating a vibrant downtown is pivotal to creating the “sense of place” that attracts talent and investment. 
  2. Economic Development ...Small business is the backbone of a strong community. Ask yourself: How can we help our small businesses thrive?
  3. Civic Education ... The only change that will succeed long-term is citizen-powered change.
  4. Education (Early Learning) ... A strong talent base is essential to creating a strong community. That begins with a well-trained population -- and that begins when citizens are very young.

Our culture has been top-down. Will we learn anything from the pandemic?

Part 3. The Culture of Your Community May Determine Your Success on the Other Side

Here are some tips for creating an engaging and positive culture in your community.

  1. Get a solid leadership infrastructure in place ... Hopefully you’ve already laid some of this groundwork. There needs to be more collaboration than ever as communities will rely heavily on local leadership as we start to come back from the pandemic.
  2. Put together a come-back plan with well-articulated, measurable goals. Communicate it regularly ... As world famous hockey player Wayne Gretzky said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” Try to go to where the puck is going.
  3. Create a deliberate messaging campaign ... Keeping people informed is key to keeping them engaged. Constantly reiterate your plans and make sure community stakeholders are doing the same.
  4. Celebrate small wins ... Be where the people are. As small wins occur, make a big deal out of them in the moment.
  5. Balance optimism with realism ... Be positive where you can, but be careful to balance optimism with realism. While you have long term goals, be sure to communicate with a focus on the short-term.
  6. Stay focused on creating a healthy business community ... As we discussed last week, small business is the backbone of a strong community.
  7. Economic development is paramount ... Focus on opportunity, affordability and vibrancy.
  8. Accelerate some projects you’ve been thinking about anyway -- just make sure they still make sense ... Here’s where you can really use the current crisis as a springboard. Approach your projects with an eye toward future realities.
  9. Now is not the time to be hesitant. Hit the gas, not the brakes ... All communities face turbulent times. Those who power through the discomfort and fear are the ones who meet their goals.
  10. Never declare victory ... The work of building a vibrant community is never done.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Daniel Suddeath is returning to the News and Tribune.

(Monday morning update: Multiple sources have since confirmed that Chris Morris is leaving the News and Tribune to take a job in public relations at the hospital. Schools and health care are the two great magnets attracting journalists in search of greater employment stability. We wish Morris well.)

Roughly four and a half years after leaving the News and Tribune to become editor at the Glasgow Daily Times, Daniel Suddeath disclosed in a column on Friday that he is leaving Glasgow and returning to ... New Albany?

"On May 4, I’ll return to the News and Tribune in New Albany, Indiana."

That's interesting. Since the merger in 2011, the newspaper's primary base of operations has been at the former Evening News offices in downtown Jeff. What remains of the New Albany basically is Chris Morris and perhaps one or two others.

At the same time as Suddeath was penning his goodbye, the News and Tribune's publisher Bill Hanson was revealing a curtailment of daily issues owing to a bottoming-out of revenues.

The newspaper shrinks -- but let's leave psychiatrists out of it, okay Bill?

It's hard to imagine the financially challenged local newspaper taking on new payroll -- so who's leaving?

In any event, let's welcome Daniel back to town.

SUDDEATH: Thank you, Glasgow, by Daniel Suddeath (Glasgow Daily Times)

Glasgow, where do I even begin?

I started as editor of the Glasgow Daily Times on Sept. 29, 2015, and I can’t describe how proud I’ve been to hold this post during the past five years. The experiences belong in a book, as sometimes they’re hard for even me to believe when I begin discussing them aloud with friends and family. We’ve been through so much, and I just know the best is yet to come for this community and hopefully, this newspaper.

But it’s time for me to move on, and next week will be my last with the Daily Times. On May 4, I’ll return to the News and Tribune in New Albany, Indiana. I’ll be privileged to work alongside some talented and dedicated professionals there, continuing to do what I love — report the news and keep the public informed.

Stuff 'em all: Republicans AND Democrats enabled the PPP chain-feeding bailout debacle.

Spare me.

If you're an indie operator rushing to perform fellatio on Shake Shack -- a $1.6 billion company -- for returning the PPP loan money Republicans AND Democrats bestowed upon it, consider the fine print in the designer chain's mea culpai last week.

Shake Shack was fortunate last Friday to be able to access the additional capital we needed to ensure our long term stability through an equity transaction in the public markets. We’re thankful for that and we’ve decided to immediately return the entire $10 million PPP loan we received last week to the SBA so that those restaurants who need it most can get it now.

Which is precisely what Shake Shack might have done in the first place, seeing that PPP was supposed to be for businesses without financing options like this.

At the end of the week Ruth's Chris Steak House spewed similar bilge during the course of giving back its $20 million. So did an insipid salad chain called Sweetgreen (huh?), Harvard University, and maybe a few others.

The main point: The two-party system is responsible for bailouts that help huge corporate monoliths first, and small indie businesses almost not at all.

And, huge corporate monoliths are greedy bastards that should be eliminated from the face of the earth. Death both to chains and the two-party system.

I hope you enjoyed my TED clenched fist.

White House, GOP face heat after hotel and restaurant chains helped run small business program dry, by Jonathan O'Connell (Washington Post)

With program out of money, backlash prompts executives at Shake Shack to return $10 million loan.

The federal government gave national hotel and restaurant chains millions of dollars in grants before the $349 billion program ran out of money Thursday, leading to a backlash that prompted one company to give the money back and a Republican senator to say that “millions of dollars are being wasted.”

Thousands of traditional small businesses were unable to get funding from the program before it ran dry. As Congress and the White House near a deal to add an additional $310 billion to the program, some are calling for additional oversight and rule changes to prevent bigger chains from accepting any more money.

Ruth’s Chris Steak House, a chain that has 150 locations and is valued at $250 million, reported receiving $20 million in funding from the small business portion of the economic stimulus legislation called the Paycheck Protection Program. The Potbelly chain of sandwich shops, which has more than 400 locations and a value of $89 million, reported receiving $10 million last week.

Shake Shack, a $1.6 billion burger-and-fries chain based in New York City, received $10 million. After complaints from small business advocates when the fund went dry, company founder Danny Meyer and chief executive Randy Garutti announced Sunday evening that they would return the money.

They said they had no idea that the program would run out of money so quickly and that they understood the uproar ...

A reminder about Pints&union and the Restaurant Workers Relief Program.

As a reminder, Pints&union currently is running two separate businesses out of our small building. The first, our involvement with The LEE Initiative, is described below by the newspaper's reporter Brooke McAfee.

The second runs Wednesday - Saturday, with business-as-unusual; carryout meals and drinks (including adult libations) for the general public.

All of us at the pub thank you for (a) your donations to support our involvement with the Restaurant Workers Relief Program, and (b) your patronage v.v. curbside pickups.

Pints & Union partners with LEE Initiative to feed local service industry workers, by Brooke McAfee (Hanson's Folly)

NEW ALBANY — A downtown New Albany pub is part of a national initiative offering relief to service industry workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pints & Union is among the 19 restaurants across the country partnering with the Louisville-based LEE Initiative for its Restaurant Workers Relief Program. With the help of grants and community donations, the New Albany restaurant is providing free groceries each week to local restaurant workers in Southern Indiana who have been laid off or faced a major reduction in hours and/or pay.



Groceries available for pickup on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Pints & Union, 114 E. Market Street

1. Bring photo ID, recent pay stub

2. Pull car into alley beside Pints & Union, park near open door

3. Only take a feminine hygiene bag if you or someone in family needs one.

4. Only approach table to pick up bag/box of groceries after volunteer has reentered building. No one except volunteers are allowed in building.

To donate to Pints & Union's relief effort, visit The Lee Initiative. On the drop-down menu on its donation page, choose Southern Indiana (New Albany).

People can donate supplies such as hygiene products through the restaurant’s Amazon Wish List.

In addition to food and monetary donations, they have received other forms of support from the community. Orange Clover in Jeffersonville recently provided them with a freezer, and MESA, A Collaborative Kitchen in New Albany lets Pints & Union use its kitchen when needed, according to (owner Joe) Phillips.

Phillips said seeing small, independent restaurants rallying together to support their communities been a source of hope amid the pandemic, and he is grateful for the support Pints & Union has received from both the LEE Initiative and those in the Southern Indiana community.

“It’s not just the ones in need — the ones who don’t need anything are so supportive of us, and being an operation of four or five people, we’re just a really small outlet that’s been able to have a wide impact,” he said. “We couldn’t have continued to do without the LEE Initiative, Samtec, other donors and all those supported us.”

"The coronavirus shutdowns are making more obvious a pre-existing epidemic of reckless street design."

A related story yesterday:

The future of work, and of commuting to work, surely will be different.

It should surprise no one that in New Albany, a political process currently being held hostage by mayor and city council president has no room for responsiveness on ANY matter of importance, much less the perennially abused street grid.

I doubt their automobile centrism has abated with quarantine. We'll see. My own period of detachment from involvement with public affairs originally was slated to expire on June 30.

We'll see about THAT, too. Let's have a look at genuine leadership out in Oakland.

Drivers Not Wanted on Oakland’s ‘Slow Streets’, by Laura Bliss (CityLab)

The California city isn’t the first to experiment with car restrictions in the coronavirus pandemic, but its plan to discourage drivers is the most extensive.

Last week, Oakland, California, announced a bold answer to shelter-in-place coronavirus claustrophobia: To create more outdoor space and safer corridors for essential travel by foot or bike, the city would restrict access to vehicles on nearly 74 miles of city street — about 10% of the city’s street network.

“In this unprecedented moment we must do everything we can to ensure the safety and well-being of all families across our city,” stated Mayor Libby Schaaf. “Closing roads means opening up our city.”

The “slow streets” initiative, which began on Saturday and will roll out in four segments through the duration of the coronavirus emergency, comes in response to citizen concerns about overcrowded conditions in parks and on sidewalks during the coronavirus lockdown. It’s not really a “closure,” despite the mayor’s phrasing: Emergency vehicles like police cars, fire trucks and ambulances are still permitted to enter these new pedestrian corridors, as are delivery vehicles and residential traffic. In fact, no drivers will be ticketed if they do drive on these streets.

The change is mostly a firm psychological nudge, said Warren Logan, the director of mobility policy and interagency relations in the Oakland mayor’s office. Confronted by a pair of traffic signs and a barricade blocking one lane, drivers now have to think twice about entering these streets. Many will consider taking a different route. And all will hopefully drive more mindfully when they enter a slow-streets zone — an increasingly important concern in cities where the relative absence of traffic has inspired a wave of speeding violations. “When they do turn into the street, they do it carefully,” Logan said.

After a week in action, Oakland officials say the streets are working as planned — no collisions, no reported instances of unsafe gathering, and more families able to move (and dance) at spacious distances. As if out of an earlier era, small children are riding bikes in the middle of the street without their parents needing to worry. “This is an opportunity to remember that these are our streets, not just streets for cars,” Logan said.

The same flawed HWC Engineering campaign donations-meet-street grid bait 'n' switch that wasn't working prior to the pandemic hasn't grown any more sensible with sheltering at home. It was crap then, and so it remains. 

Have Coronavirus Shutdowns Prompted an Epidemic of Reckless Driving? by Daniel Herriges (Strong Towns)

Reports from many cities indicate a surge in aggressive speeding, and with it, automobile crashes. The statistics are remarkable and alarming in light of how much traffic itself has declined, with many businesses closed and residents sheltering at home ...

... The most common tendency I've seen in reporting of this phenomenon is to blame "reckless driving." In other words, it's just that people who have sociopathic and destructive urges are out there on the empty roads playing Ricky Bobby and indulging them, to tragic effect. Is that the whole story?

This pat answer is consistent with our societal bias toward always talking about traffic violence in terms of individual behavior: either it was just a tragic accident, or the people involved should have been paying more attention. Mainstream media rarely interrogate how street design induces drivers to behave in certain ways. Yet we've written about this again and again on Strong Towns, because the evidence is clear: when you design streets to make high speeds comfortable, you make tragedy statistically inevitable.

Over 40,000 Americans die in traffic in a normal year. The number of pedestrians alone killed by U.S. drivers from 2008 to 2017 averages out to one every 1 hour and 46 minutes. If we're appalled by the level of carnage on our roads while most of us are sheltering in place, we should certainly be appalled by the level of carnage the rest of the time. If we think there's an epidemic of reckless driving right now, it's just a continuation of the epidemics of reckless driving that we witnessed in America in 2019, and 2018, and 2017, et cetera. The status quo isn't anything to want to return to here.

The coronavirus shutdowns are making more obvious a pre-existing epidemic of reckless street design.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

The future of work, and of commuting to work, surely will be different.

Me, working at home.

To "flatten peaks in transit use" means something different in Milan, as opposed to Louisville, but the basic point is easy to understand. It isn't necessarily the case that ALL the cars must be on the road at the same time each morning and late afternoon, every single day.

Europe’s Cities Are Making Less Room for Cars After Coronavirus, by Feargus O'Sullivan (CityLab)

Hard-hit Milan may be leading the way in reimagining how transit and commuting patterns could change as cities emerge from coronavirus shutdowns.

... The city’s work, school, and daily life patterns are being redrawn to accommodate the need to flatten peaks in transit use. Those who can work from home would continue to do so, while others, such as shop workers and students, should be given some flexibility in their routine. The city will encourage stores to stay open throughout the evening and the start of the school day will be staggered, with different classes starting at various points between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. To help students catch up with missed classes, meanwhile, the city also wants to set up summer schools over the long break, which normally starts in the second week of June and continues until September.

To which we must add this consideration of the ramifications of coronavirus coping mechanisms on working from home, reprinted here in its entirety.


Coronavirus and the Future of Work, by Aaron Renn (Medium)

The long-term effects of the coronavirus outbreak on our society and business landscape are yet to be determined. But one thing we know is that a big swath of American businesses is conducting a large-scale experiment with remote work (aka work from home). Many of them have also made large investments in infrastructure to support it; one company bought 20,000 laptops for their employees, for example. The coronavirus shutdown will create new capabilities for remote work within firms large and small, and produce a treasure trove of findings about what works well and what doesn’t.

It seems very likely that the result of this current period will be an increased shift to remote work. For those who were already working remotely, it’s hard to see how coronavirus would push them back to office-based work. Companies have been looking to reduce the cost associated with their office footprint for years, with work from home solutions as part of that. The new capabilities and experiences gained through the coronavirus shutdown will allow companies to feel confident in expanding remote work. At the same time, many workers may have discovered that they prefer working from home.

The nature of this new world is not yet clear, but based on what we’ve already seen in existing remote work, there are some things that we can anticipate. The first is that work will be less tied to particular geographies. On one hand, this would allow local firms to hire workers without them needing to move to Indianapolis. Not everyone wants to live here, and this will allow firms to tap into that particular labor pool. On the other, it allows people in Indianapolis who otherwise might have been forced to move in order to advance their career. Both of these allow the worker more choice in where to live, which reinforces the need for us to continue increasing the attractiveness of the Indianapolis region as a place top talent wants to live.

Remote work itself presents a new set of challenges for talent development and individual career path management. At the dawn of the internet, people predicted it would lead to a mass decentralization of jobs as people could move to the country and continue to commute virtually. That didn’t happen. Instead, the value of location, particularly in the heart of major American cities, became more important than before. That’s because knowledge doesn’t just diffuse online, but through face-to-face contacts. This is how people hear the latest news, trends, and gossip. This is how they hear about new jobs opening up, and meet the connections that ensure someone actually gives their résumé a look.

While remote work can initially be exhilarating, those workers who find themselves cut off from these networks can suffer in their career long term. It’s also the case that without real social interaction with colleagues, it will be harder to keep employees engaged over the longer term. This will especially come into play as ordinary turnover changes over the employee’s peer and supervisors group. It’s one thing to start working remotely when your colleagues are people you formerly worked with in-person everyday. It’s quite another when it’s a group of people you don’t have pre-existing personal relationships with. For work-from-home arrangements that are still local to the physical office, in-person events and office days can help, but this is much harder when working remote over long distances.

Indianapolis is a city that is ideally placed to be in the vanguard of urban regions that create the environment in which remote workers can thrive. That’s because our city has very strong social infrastructure. It’s place where a newcomer can move and make an impact fast. It’s a place where those newcomers can make friends, unlike other cities where if you didn’t go to high school you are basically out of luck. It’s a city where people are very ready to help someone else out.
We see this in programs like the Indy Chamber’s Two Degrees program, that is helping mid-career workers, including remote workers, make personal connections that can help them continue to advance. Indyfluence, the region’s marquee summer intern event, is being reconfigured to a virtual program this year, and that will also create new capabilities to engage young workers remotely both with each other and with our region. Groups like IndyHub are also making sure there’s good connectivity among young professionals.

More and more, there will need to be structured events and programs like these that remote workers (and employers) can tap into to ensure that they are continuing to build their face-to-face networks. This is important both for social belonging and long-term professional success. Indianapolis, with its strong mix of openness yet with strong social connectivity, is poised to be a leader in the new post-coronavirus world.

COVID-19 has Dixie on its mind.

Just because Charlie Daniels has become a filter-less spittoon of repellent MAGA dogma in his old age DOESN'T mean he didn't make good music back in the day.

Meanwhile, as you enjoy Saddletramp (from which "Dixie on My Mind" is drawn, and for my money Daniels' finest album), here are ill tidings from the fiddler's favored milieu.

To live and die in Dixie: Covid-19 is spreading to America’s South with unnerving speed (The Economist)

Southern governors are beginning to reopen their states. For most, it is too early

“You could be looking at a perfect storm,” says Thomas LaVeist, the dean of public health at Tulane University in New Orleans. “When this is over, the South will be the region of the country that will be most severely impacted.”

At first glance, it makes no sense. Why are Republican governors down South targeting their own voters?

Dixie in the crosshairs (The Economist)

The South is likely to have America’s highest death rate from covid-19
It has unusually unhealthy residents and few ICU beds

If covid-19 does infect most Americans, the highest death rates will probably not be in coastal cities—whose density is offset by young, healthy, well-off populations and good hospitals—but rather in poor, rural parts of the South and Appalachia with high rates of heart disease and diabetes. Worryingly, the three states that announced plans this week to relax their lockdowns (Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina) are all in this region.

Ah, yes. There HAD to be a time-honored GOP angle to this.

We Can’t Wait Until Coronavirus Is Over to Address Racial Disparities, by Junia Howell (CityLab)

Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Covid-19 exposed stark inequalities: Rates of mortality and severe illness are far higher among Americans of color. Politicians, journalists and scholars have been attempting to explain these racial differences by pulling from a wide range of past studies and assumptions. Many of these early suggestions emphasize how Covid-19 is illuminating pre-existing inequality.

Yet, early reporting and existing studies suggest Covid-19 is not simply exposing past inequality. It is also creating it. Like previous crises, such as natural disasters, war, and economic recessions, our response to Covid-19 is exacerbating racial disparities. However, this is not inevitable. Addressing unequal distributions of Covid-19 testing, racial biases in health care, and policy responses to racial segregation now could mitigate how unjust this crisis turns out to be.

Klansmen wear masks, kinda sorta.

Black leaders say reopening Georgia is an attack on people of color, by John Blake (CNN)

Magee believes Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp's decision to reopen some businesses across the state starting today is an "attack" on African Americans -- one of the groups hit hardest by the virus. And he says it's no coincidence that the businesses being reopened -- including barbershops, nail salons and churches -- are communal gathering places for black residents.

Returning to music, the song "Saddletramp" finds Daniels' lyrical gaze stretching all the way to Arizona, home of the legendary lawman Joe Arpaio.

How many people watch you ride away
Wonder why you never promise
To come back some day
Maybe thinking you were holding
All the pieces in your hand
Or are they slippin' through your fingers
Like the endless desert sand

Ignore the lyrics if you must, and give it up for the late, inimitable guitarist Tom Crain.

Friday, April 24, 2020

A yawning GREEN MOUSE presents NAWBANY WEEK IN REVIEW for 24 April.

New Albany remains in administrative double-secret COVID lockdown limbo as we conclude the sixth week of incrementally accrued Gahanesque imperial powers.

As The Economist pointed out yesterday, "Rulers everywhere have realised that now is the perfect time to do outrageous things, safe in the knowledge that the rest of the world will barely notice. Many are taking advantage of the pandemic to grab more power for themselves."

Rather than a city council meeting this or any other week, the body's button-down president Bob "CeeSaw" Caesar instead addressed the city's budget situation with a sing-along dial-up webcast from his backyard shed via a carrier pigeon named Zoom.

That's about all for news, folks. A quick recap, beginning with something genuinely amazing. After a quarter-century of nothingness, the city's downtown parking garage is receiving splashes of ... yes ... COLOR.

Say what? Look, it's a pandemic parking garage painting innovation.

The newspaper is diminishing, and the publisher is in denial.

The newspaper shrinks -- but let's leave psychiatrists out of it, okay Bill?

Hanson's not the only one. For the moment, my world's already gone -- and I won't kid you, it's been hard.

My homes away from home are gone, so the SOCIALIST is having BEERS WITH himself.

The relief effort continues at Pints&union, and if you're able, please consider a donation. Joe Phillips and our coordinator Jamie Yeager are doing the work of a half-dozen persons.

The LEE Initiative Restaurant Workers Relief Program at Pints&union, and how you can help by donating.

The newspaper shrinks -- but let's leave psychiatrists out of it, okay Bill?

Just the other day the topic of journalism versus newspapers was raised. I'm thinking Bill Hanson didn't read it.

Tell me more: "Bail Out Journalists. Let Newspaper Chains Die."

... The advertising business that has sustained the local newspapers — the car dealers, retailers and movie theaters that for generations filled their pages with ads — has gone from slow decline to free fall.

So the leaders trying to get the local news industry through this economic shock need to confront reality. The revenue from print advertising and aging print subscribers was already going away. When this crisis is over, it is unlikely to come back ...

It is unsurprising, then, that the local chain newspaper finds itself at this juncture.

Effective next week, the News and Tribune will begin a five-day-a-week publishing schedule by discontinuing the Monday newspaper. We will continue publication and delivery to subscribers and newsstands Tuesday through Saturday.

Earlier today Hanson prefaced a rant by denying a rant was about to occur. I feel badly for the staff writers and other personnel who do actual work. I feel nothing whatever for Hanson.

HANSON COLUMN: The right and the wrong of it

In my younger days, I would have slung my sports coat across the room, sat down at my computer and started pounding out a rant on my keyboard.

Why not? It still works for me.

I have been refreshed by the kind comments from subscribers of the News and Tribune to our day-reduction announcement. They have buoyed the spirits of an understandably deflated staff. Unfortunately, the snarky, ill-prepared and just plain mean-spirited comments outnumber the good ones. Those comments are neither fair nor productive to healthy relationships between a newspaper and its readers.

When social media warriors state that there is nothing in the newspaper, they are wrong. During the week of April 13-18 alone, the News and Tribune carried 118 general news stories about the men, women and children of Clark and Floyd counties. Nearly all of that content was generated by reporters of the News and Tribune. That count doesn’t include any obituaries — just stories. Clearly there’s content in the newspaper.

Did you catch that? Healthy relationships aren't possible unless you agree with Hanson. And "social media warriors" is the stuff of an ill-tempered rant, is it not?

I reckon this is an opinion but I’d say you’re wrong if you believe the News and Tribune content isn’t worth its cost. If you value a Big Gulp more than being informed about your community, I may be wrong. If you’d rather stock up on cigarettes than information, I stand corrected. If cable TV shows are more informational to you than your hometown newspaper, I can’t get through to you. All three of these items are more expensive than a copy of your News and Tribune and none of them informs you about your friends and neighbors.

While you're at it, Bill, can you tell us the annual value in advertising dollars of those City of New Albany ads with the mayor's name splashed all over them -- you know, the de facto campaign ads disguised as tourism touts, which you lap up like mother's milk?

See, the city won't tell us, and neither will you -- but isn't it the newspaper's job to tell us what the city won't?

Or am I being too rational for you? Still won't share this info with us? I'd buy a damn subscription if you chose to do so.

You won't so I'm falling asleep ...

Thursday, April 23, 2020

ON THE AVENUES: Hemingway in a time of mercifully silent thunder.

It would be churlish and quite possibly childish of me to point out that after carefully considering all the episodes of Thunder Over Louisville occurring these past few seemingly endless decades, as always filled to the brim with superfluous noise and inanity, I’ve decided the one last Saturday was absolutely, positively my favorite … well, at least since 1988, when we were too busy gazing at Barry Bingham's surreal Falls Fountain to notice there weren't any pre-Derby pyrotechnics.

Tact isn’t my strong suit, so I’ll say it anyway: best Thunder ever. 

Officially this exercise in mass garishness has been moved to August, helpfully enabling far higher levels of drunken heatstroke as a corollary of wretched hard seltzer and salmonella-laced potato salad. Of course if social distancing is still being maintained, we’ll be compelled to stretch the crowd along the riverbank at least from Bethlehem to New Amsterdam, and this would be highly amusing.

But if Oktoberfest in Munich already has been canceled owing to the coronavirus, how can we even be sure there’ll be a Kentucky Derby in early September? Granted, Bavaria isn’t Buechel even if both of them have Bosnian connections.

I know many of you enjoy Louisville’s springtime slate of fireworks, warplanes, horse pimps and mint-borne despoliation of perfectly fine bourbon. Yes, I understand all about the economy, and your precious portfolios; a certain number of us must die so Trump might live, just as with Pinochet and Idi Amin.

Still, the prevailing peace and quiet amid the pandemic suits me just fine, and if we’re lucky, a returning black bear will defecate in the parking lot by the hotel atop Summit Springs.

Now THAT would be public art. Can someone send a drone and get the photo on Instagram?


Speaking of failed states, as we grow old and our brains begin unraveling, a strange sort of free association comes to grip vast tracts of our subconscious.

People, images and occurrences long forgotten suddenly are disgorged, to be examined while scratching one’s noggin and muttering, WTF?

Last week in my inner world this randomness turned to books. Out of nowhere the thought came to me that I’ve been unfaithful to Ernest Hemingway, which is to say it hasn’t seemed necessary for a very long time to revisit Papa’s seminal works, even though he might well have been my single most important formative influence during the period between college graduation and the first voyage to Europe in 1985 -- apart from Arthur Frommer, of course.

I dimly remember that around the year 2000 someone gifted me with a collection of Hemingway’s short stories, and I read a few of them. Prior to that, perhaps the last time I’d read one of his novels was the late 1980s.

So, why would Hemingway come bobbing back to the surface after all this time?

Because Josh Turner brought up Hemingway during a barroom chat two months ago, and I’m guessing the seed was planted then, requiring time to slowly gestate.

Lately I’ve also been thinking quite a lot/far too much about Europe, or more precisely, the likelihood of COVID mandating an enforced absence from the continent this year. In 1985, prior to treading the soil, everything I knew about Europe came to me from secondary sources, whether classes, books, movies or television. Back then Hemingway was an inspiration to a youthful traveler. He had gone THERE and done THAT.

Papa was a Midwesterner like me, raised in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park. He’d gone to Europe seeking adventure, and found plenty, first as a volunteer ambulance attendant in Italy during the Great War, then as a newspaper correspondent amid troubled times afterward. He married and the couple headed for Paris to live among the expatriate writer, artists and musicians during the roaring twenties.

Subsequently the English-speaking world learned about Spanish bullfighting culture from none other than Hemingway, the American who somehow instinctively grasped it. Later he experienced the Spanish Civil War up close, and rode with American troops following the D-Day landings.

Even without obvious historical touchstones like these, there were Hemingway’s many compelling descriptions of eating and drinking, like this passage randomly plucked from A Moveable Feast:

As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.

Think so? Oysters and alcohol always dispel the emptiness for me. Crusty bread and salami work, too.

By the time my plane touched down in Luxembourg in 1985, I’d read most of Hemingway’s novels and a good many of his short stories, as well as a collection of his newspaper dispatches and at least two biographies. It took until 2005, but we made it to the family house and museum in Oak Park.

Perhaps someday his homes in Key West and Cuba will be crossed off the bucket list, too, although at the present time let’s not talk about travel. It makes me wistful, which urges me to drink.


There always were other components of the Hemingway ethos that I found less salutary. Fishing and hunting never did much for me, and for all his endless talk of rugged male values, the writer himself could be shrill, vain, bullying and a backstabber.

The fact that the late Hemingway -- he committed suicide in 1961, perhaps as a result of instability brought on by brain injuries similar to those afflicting contemporary football players -- remained very much alive as a writer well into the 1980s probably is a result of school curriculums of the era based on white American male writers.

This is far less the case today, which is good.

At this point in time there is little use attempting to salvage Hemingway’s cloddish and destructive personal peccadillos, which have been explored at length during the period of my own lifetime. He was as he was. Maybe I’ve also moved on, although his authority at a certain time in my life remains indisputable.

When I began thinking about Hemingway last week, the first of his books to come to me wasn’t The Sun Also Rises or For Whom the Bell Tolls. It was Across the River and Into the Trees, a poorly selling novel from 1950, prior to Papa rallying to produce The Old Man and the Sea, arguably the finest distillation of his artistic credo sans bombast, and a final triumph.

While not as dire as the reviews at the time suggest, Across the River and into the Trees surely is not Hemingway’s best effort. Married to his fourth wife at the time, and ardently (embarrassingly?) pursuing an Italian girl less than half his age, the author decided to base the novel’s plot on his own fevered imagination.

In an autobiographical sense, it wasn’t pretty, and yet there are moments of evocative description of people and places.

The novel is set in Northern Italy, in and around Venice, and near the battlefront where Hemingway served during WWI. This also is very close to Trieste, where we gloriously vacationed last winter, surely accounting for my selective recall about a book I last bothered opening some 35 years ago.

Bizarrely it still is there, lodged in a hidden cranium nook, waiting for something to extract it, or, as in the current period, subject to weirdness and whim ensuing from a societal template almost none of us have ever experienced.

I conclude with this thought from Papa.

All I must do now was stay sound and good in my head until morning when I would start to work again.

If only it might be that simple.


Recent columns:

April 16: ON THE AVENUES: Bunker mentalities, bunker abnormalities; bunker dreams, bunker screams.

April 9: ON THE AVENUES: #VoteEwwNoMatterWho, or when being realistic means being radical.

April 2: ON THE AVENUES: Pandemic, pornographic, pecksniffian. Just three random words until the booze kicks in.

March 26: ON THE AVENUES: It's a tad premature to sing the healing game.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

There was Typhoid Mary, now COVID Larry. Big guns, empty heads. Servants, back to work!

I received an e-mail from something called Liberate America, which claimed to be organizing these spontaneous protests.

I hit the “Unsubscribe” but just couldn’t find the “Piss Off Douche Cap” button.

How very disappointing.

These People Aren’t Freedom Fighters—They’re Virus-Spreading Sociopaths, by Elie Mystal

The “liberate America” protesters claim they just want to make their own choices about their health and safety, but they really want to force others to risk their lives.

I’m going to make a confession: I am half inclined to let the fringe Republicans agitating to “liberate” America go out and catch Covid-19 and die in whatever way seems best to them. Safely ensconced in my house, living under the protection of a Democratic governor, I am not required to care about maskless fools in Ohio, frosting the statehouse windows with their communicable diseases.

In related news: I’ve never once cared about a recreational mountain climber who goes missing halfway up Mount Killayadumass. You pays your money, you takes your chances.

And yet, I care about the sherpas. I care about the impoverished community of workers who make their living propping up the rugged individualist fantasies of richer people, and who sometimes die in the process of making the mountain-climbing economy work ...


Philosophically, I’m okay with right-wing agitators’ going out there and getting the coronavirus at a protest, if they want to. Maybe I’m a bad person, but I just don’t have the emotional energy to care about the latest wound Republicans have decided to self-inflict in their never-ending quest to “own the libs.”

But they must not be allowed to infect everybody else. My freedom to live is every bit as important as their freedom to die.

SHANE'S EXCELLENT NEW WORDS: Lockdown language learning (hazardous foreigner edition).

It is a matter of considerable disappointment that I’ve never learned to speak a foreign language, at least outside of Restaurant Menu German, Ask for a Beer in Russian and Really Simple Numbers Spanish.

Accordingly, it annoys me when a writer inserts a foreign language phrase into the narrative without translation, especially when it’s French. Stray Latin words creeping into our vernacular (“Et tu, Brute?”) are one thing, but interrupting the account of a soccer match to quote Montesquieu strikes me as both pretentious and unnecessary.

At any rate, it's good to know a language other than our own, and maybe this is something I can finally get to conquering in the coming months.

How to learn a language in the lockdown at The Economist

It is a quintessentially social skill—but easier than ever to develop at home

Living in lockdown has led many people to undertake some self-improvement. Alongside baking or cramped fitness regimes, some have chosen intellectual projects—such as picking up or mastering a foreign language. This interactive skill might not seem to be one that is best honed alone. But learning a language in isolation is much easier than it used to be.

One summer many years ago, as he spent many hours driving alone to work, your columnist learned French with the help of an ancient course developed to train American diplomats. Not only were its text basic and cassettes low-tech; it was also low-concept. Exercises seemed to have much more repetition than was necessary: Mon frère va bien. Mon père va bien. Mon fils va bien. Mon ami va bien,murmured the tape, with pauses for repetition. (My brother is doing well. My father is doing well…)

There was method in this drudgery. The skeleton of the sentence was drummed in, with just one word changing: Mon X va bien. Next, another variable was altered. A new list of six sentences cited feminine nouns instead: Ma Z va bien. With little instruction, the variation between feminine and masculine was pounded home. It was slow, not much fun—and incredibly effective. (Many of these old courses are now free online at ...

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

This, this -- and this again: "The coronavirus didn’t break America. It revealed what was already broken."

I've read it twice and can't find much to disagree with. It's what I've been saying for as long as I can remember, herein articulated more skillfully and comprehensively than I can imagine doing. There's nothing else left to be said. Just read it. I reprint the ending, with a lethal crescendo concerning one Jared Kushner ... self-anointed genius.

Whatever happened to Nicu Ceaușescu, anyway?

We Are Living in a Failed State, by George Packer (The Atlantic)

The coronavirus didn’t break America. It revealed what was already broken.

 ... To watch this pale, slim-suited dilettante breeze into the middle of a deadly crisis, dispensing business-school jargon to cloud the massive failure of his father-in-law’s administration, is to see the collapse of a whole approach to governing. It turns out that scientific experts and other civil servants are not traitorous members of a “deep state”—they’re essential workers, and marginalizing them in favor of ideologues and sycophants is a threat to the nation’s health. It turns out that “nimble” companies can’t prepare for a catastrophe or distribute lifesaving goods—only a competent federal government can do that. It turns out that everything has a cost, and years of attacking government, squeezing it dry and draining its morale, inflict a heavy cost that the public has to pay in lives. All the programs defunded, stockpiles depleted, and plans scrapped meant that we had become a second-rate nation. Then came the virus and this strange defeat.

The fight to overcome the pandemic must also be a fight to recover the health of our country, and build it anew, or the hardship and grief we’re now enduring will never be redeemed. Under our current leadership, nothing will change. If 9/11 and 2008 wore out trust in the old political establishment, 2020 should kill off the idea that anti-politics is our salvation. But putting an end to this regime, so necessary and deserved, is only the beginning.

We’re faced with a choice that the crisis makes inescapably clear. We can stay hunkered down in self-isolation, fearing and shunning one another, letting our common bond wear away to nothing. Or we can use this pause in our normal lives to pay attention to the hospital workers holding up cellphones so their patients can say goodbye to loved ones; the planeload of medical workers flying from Atlanta to help in New York; the aerospace workers in Massachusetts demanding that their factory be converted to ventilator production; the Floridians standing in long lines because they couldn’t get through by phone to the skeletal unemployment office; the residents of Milwaukee braving endless waits, hail, and contagion to vote in an election forced on them by partisan justices. We can learn from these dreadful days that stupidity and injustice are lethal; that, in a democracy, being a citizen is essential work; that the alternative to solidarity is death. After we’ve come out of hiding and taken off our masks, we should not forget what it was like to be alone.

My homes away from home are gone, so the SOCIALIST is having BEERS WITH himself.

And with his wife, of course. Let's take a look at the calendar.

Oktoberfest? Nope.

The Fiesta of San Fermin in Pamplona? Canceled.

Poperinge Hop Fest? No word yet, but "no go" would seem to be a foregone conclusion.

I'll concede to no longer being the type who enjoys large gatherings like Octoberfest and San Fermin. Poperinge's triennial paean to the magic cone is vastly smaller and better suited to my preferences. It's clear that all such gatherings will succumb to the coronavirus in 2020.

That's part of the reason why as years go, 2020 already has ceased to exist. For all intents and purposes, we're playing for New Year's Day, 2021.

My reaction to the global pandemic response recalls the words in 1914 of British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, who remarked to a friend as the United Kingdom's prepared to enter the First World War, "The lamps are going out all over Europe, (and) we shall not see them lit again in our life-time."

The lamps were lighted again, though it took a while. 106 years is one thing, 75 another (since the end of WWII), so nine years is sufficient for the rehash of an essay, given my inability at this late date to even remember the rationale for the original column.

First published in October of 2011, this essay was an attempt to explain the central place that pubs, libations, travel and their wonderful third spaces have occupied in my life.

However first a few words about the current fate of these third spaces.

During the pandemic an atheistic Dionysian public imbiber like me finds himself just as deprived of religious worship as any conventional believer. Without exaggeration, all the things I've truly cherished outside the boundaries of my own home are gone, with their return utterly uncertain, or whether they’re to come back in any recognizable form at all.

Depressing isn’t the word. It’s worse than that, of course in a metaphysical sense and not to be confused with a clinical diagnosis.

Seldom do I reference motion pictures to make a point, but I’m reminded of the Star Trek reboot a few years back wherein Spock watches as the planet Vulcan disintegrates before his eyes.

That’s the last six weeks for me, and for so many of us in the food and drink industry. 40 years and an entire working career, suspended in a flash. Forgive me if I’m unwilling to contemplate life without boisterous pubs with pints in Dublin, or relaxing beer gardens in Bavaria with 2,000 of your best friends. Being unable to go to places and experience them? Might as well amputate a limb or two.

Right now, I can’t fathom it. For me, here in America, pub culture always was the one sure antidote to our failed political experiment. Now the coronavirus has exposed the latter beyond any shadow of doubt, while also depriving us of the means to cope with (cov)idiocracy.

Hemingway’s empty bottle as a means of sovereign action serves no purpose if it cannot be thrown at the oppressor -- and if your oppressor is with you sheltering at home, your problems are far larger than a garden-variety hangover.

I’m not tremendously well. I’ll get better. Revolution works for me; it always has.

As Vonnegut would say, so it goes.

Here’s the 2011 rumination, touched up just a bit to fit my circumstances a decade later.


Homes Away from Home (2011 - 2020)

We went for a stroll one Sunday a few years ago and passed a fly-by-night evangelistic church occupying an old shotgun house that had witnessed better days.

A graying middle-aged man I’d never seen before was standing out front, and he waved animatedly as we passed. I stopped and looked at him with as dull an expression as I could muster, but he was undeterred.

“Some Sunday, why don’t you come to church with us?”

I stopped and thought about it.

“Sure, as long as you’ll come to my church with me.”

Now he was the one pausing to think.

“Where’s your church?”

Got him.

“Any pub will do.”

We kept walking. I never saw him again.


Often in this space I write about otherwise forgettable days both near and far, and the fact of these days being forever marked in my memory by the presence of beer.

Well, isn’t beer always involved?

Whether opening a growler of lager on my own porch with a cigar nearby, or schlepping bottles filled with ale via bicycle panniers through the Belgian countryside, times are better with beer.

Human life spans are long and short all at once, and most of our days and nights are passed and beyond recall, and yet I’ll never forget that one time in Bohemia, walking to the neighborhood rail station pub tap for pitchers of draft beer, and then spending the afternoon drinking with good, kind, giving people, even though communication was a challenge owing to our linguistic divergences.

On that occasion, we brought the beer back with us, but during the course of my decades as a professional drinker, I’ve preferred my consumption to be on premise, out in the open, and part of the public record. It’s a tightrope I enjoy walking, even if such openness sometimes has resulted in less than flattering recollections, both on my part and in the minds of those forced to witness my drunken antics.

Most of the time it doesn’t come to that, and there is a fundamentally positive dynamic at play. The reason why bars, pubs and other watering holes are the only places I’ve ever truly felt comfortable – my natural habitat, as it were – is in part a statement about my innate proclivities, and also owing to the historical function of those places as third spaces.

Nowadays most of us in America have living rooms of our own, but a social instinct still impels us to find another milieu to spend time apart from home and work, another comfortable spot – perhaps a gym, coffee shop, park bench … or even a church, in a pinch derived from sheer desperation.

Well, churches can be interesting to look at, preferably while drinking at a sidewalk café across the square.

These are functional examples, but all of them a bit dry for my taste. I prefer my third spaces to offer the possibility of consuming beverage alcohol, most often beer. When I’m surrounded by people who feel the same, anything is possible. This is especially true when you’re a wandering stranger, and find yourself welcomed, albeit temporarily, into the public living room of the locals.

It never gets any better than that.

An inviting barroom shifts the perspective of the traveler from the expansive outside looking in, to the inside looking back out ... at times, tightly. From five thousand miles away, you enter a cozy room and ask for a tankard of whatever is made right there, whether in the building, the town or the region.

Granted, one might have a lovely experience in Munich at a mock Pampas restaurant specializing in the beef and wines of southernmost South America, but really, shouldn’t you be going somewhere else for those?


The late Bostonian ward-heeling politician Tip O’Neill rather famously commented that all politics is local, and in like fashion, my pathway is leading me inexorably to this conclusion: All beer drinking culture is local.

Although I’m no longer a craft brewery owner, and allow myself a broad range of geographical libational constructs, there remains an essence and primacy to what is being brewed at or near the place one drinks beer.

Truthfully the homebrewer’s self-made bounty is the purest possible example, followed by local commercial brewers and their products. If the beer comes from elsewhere, whether down the road or around the globe, there remains a commensurate importance in choosing genuinely local ownership of the establishments serving it.

I’ll be damned if I’m going to drive all the way to Chico, California, and drink Sierra Nevada at the “neighborhood” chain restaurant, Applebee’s. They may serve it, but chains don’t deserve my patronage.

Returning full circle to the man’s invitation those many years ago to come to church, it may sound as if I’m formulating commandments and theological doctrine. You bet it does. What do you think this philosophy major has been pondering all these years while balanced, at times precariously, atop those thousands of bar stools?

Beer drinking is my sacrament, and pubs are my sanctuaries. When the collection tray was passed, I put all of my money into beer. I got the true religion for sure, but it came from drinking the beer … not the Kool-Aid.