Category Archives: Funny

Alzada, Montana

Actually, I’m spending another night in Spearfish, SD, but I’m titling this Alzada because it’s the closest town to my first destination this trip. Allow me to explain…

Take a map of the contiguous United States. Throw a dart at it. Assuming that you suck bad enough at darts that you can’t influence where it’ll land (but also assuming that you don’t suck so bad you put someone’s eye out or ding the 1970’s-era wooden paneling behind the dartboard), there’s a very, very good chance the dart will hit… nothing. No town, no city, no monument or amusement park or music festival; just some part of some state where there’s… nothing.

That’s the theory behind this trip: throw a dart and go there. Only I use a random number generator instead of an actual dart. Saves the paneling, you know.

Destination #1 was here:

Which is an apparently empty spot in southeast Montana. The closest “town” is Alzada, MT; the closest place with actual lodging is Belle Fourche, SD, and the closest place with both lodging and a brewpub is Spearfish, SD. The closest cool spot is Devil’s Tower, in Wyoming; I’ll be visiting that tomorrow.

Incidentally, I put “town” in quotes above because I have the working philosophy that you’re not a proper town unless you have a McDonald’s. Alzada does not have a McDonald’s.

What Alzada does have is a biker dive bar called Stoneville Saloon.

This is false advertising. The food is far from lousy.

I stopped in for lunch, and didn’t get into a fight with a biker club.

Before that, though, I got as close as I could to the spot on the map above – off the beaten path, sure, but that’s part of why I do this thing. I don’t like to inconvenience myself, however, so I just got as close as I could on the gravel road through the high prairie.

You’d think there was nothing there, right? It’s certainly remote. Where I stopped, the only human constructions I could see for miles around were the gravel road itself, and my car. The morning was mild, with a light breeze, but haze dimmed the view of the far buttes.

Heh heh huh heh he said “butte.”

That particular view, as far as I can tell, is impossible to get from the main roads because of ridges in the way, and so I got to see something unique.

As for the spot itself, well, it’s somewhere in this landscape:

Okay, yeah, that’s pretty empty.

I could have walked to the actual point itself, sure, but why risk exercise on such a nice day?

You might be thinking, “Wow, that’s the middle of nowhere.” No, my next destination’s in the middle of nowhere. Fairly close, by prairie standards anyway, to the above destination isn’t the middle of nowhere, but the middle of everywhere – everywhere in the U.S., anyway.

The officially-designated “Geographic Center of the United States,” including Alaska and Hawaii, is some fifty miles or so in the direction my camera was pointing in that last shot. It’s in South Dakota, just off yet another gravel road through the prairie. I’ve been on a lot of those gravel roads over the past few days. My car is starting to hate me for it.

Not the actual center – just as close as you can get by road.

I should point out that the “actual” center of the nation is up for debate; it’s a big country with a fractal and shifting coastline, and trying to pin down the centroid of that area is a bit like counting a moving school of fish. But that doesn’t stop me from seeing how people mark the spot.

The official marked spot, by the way, is a lonely, limp (the breeze had died a bit) flag in the middle of that rancher’s field. My photo of it sucks because of the whole “limp” description of the flag, but here’s one you can see online.

So, yesterday I mentioned I was going to visit Crow Peak Brewery here in Spearfish. I did, and saw that it was good.

Tonight, though, despite how good Crow Peak was, I decided I would visit a local bar called Sanford’s Pub & Grub. In addition to more… common… beer offerings, they had a few craft beers from all over. It was also $1 taco night, so I kinda stuffed myself on tacos.

Some guy came in and I heard him order “a Bud Light and a water.” I was good, though; I didn’t point out the definition of “redundancy” to him.

I did, however, have to wonder why people still swill that crap when so many good, real beers exist. But while watching the football game on the big screen TV (DO NOT JUDGE ME. It was the only thing on at the pub), I think I realized part of it.

Commercials.

I don’t watch television and, in fact, I go out of my way to avoid ads of any kind. If I want my intelligence insulted, I’ll listen to a young-Earth creationist. Ads not only insult our intelligence; they’re deliberately misleading. In this case, it shows shining, happy, thin people smiling and enjoying mass-produced “beer” on beaches and football games and parties and whatnot. The message is clear: Drink this crap and you, too, can have this life! Good looks! Love! Success!

You know what? Even if that were true, I still wouldn’t drink light beer. Some things are never worth the cost.

Point is, perhaps the craft beer community simply needs better P.R. I know that beer snobbery like my own probably doesn’t help, but… well. P.R. firms can work magic.

A friend of mine once bemoaned how craft beer was actually becoming more mainstream. I looked at him in horror. “Isn’t that the point?”

I mean, okay, pretend for a moment that you’re a hipster. I know, I know; just bear with me a moment. You’re a hipster. You’re wearing a plaid shirt and those big horn-rimmed glasses with blank lenses. Maybe for extra irony you’re wearing a fanny pack and socks with sandals. You get on your scooter and ride to that music place in the alley that no one has ever heard of. You walk in and there’s one other hipster there. Being cool and all you don’t acknowledge each others’ presence, but you hang out sipping whole-earth macrobiotic tea until this band, let’s call them Bupkiss and the Snoggers, comes on.

You really like their tunes, and so you pick up their vinyl LP on your way out the door, and then you tweet about them, because blogging is so last decade.

Next time they play, you show up and there’s not just one, but four or five other hipsters there. You groove to their tunes for a bit, this time sampling organic free-trade monkey-shit coffee from South America (that’s really a thing, by the way).

The third time you see them, there’s a crowd. And some of them are wearing polo shirts and khakis. You get pissed off and leave because you liked it better when it was just you and one other nameless hipster.

Problem is… you contributed to their success. You can’t get mad at Bupkiss and the Snoggers, because it was your tweets that drew the crowd in.

What can we learn from this?

Well, the hipster in this parable is, of course, meant to represent your average craft beer fan, who at the very least dresses better than the hipster. And of course Bupkiss and the Snoggers represents the craft beer industry.

So. First. Don’t get mad at places like New Belgium Brewing Company because they’ve managed to distribute their beer widely. Me? I cheer every time I see that Fat Tire truck pulled up to a convenience store.

Second, don’t sing the praises of craft beer and then expect it to be non-mainstream forever.

And finally, we need better P.R. Don’t look at me, either; I’m no one’s role model.

Tomorrow: Devil’s Tower.

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Crown Point, Indiana

I’ve seen this billboard (in Ohio) before, and I finally got a chance, today, to take a picture of it.

A parable on the danger of printing important text on your billboard with ink that fades in the sunlight.

I don’t even know what time it is.

No, it’s not because I’m drunk; I’m not. It’s that I’m very, very close to the boundary between Eastern and Central time. Last time I was this close to a time zone boundary, you may recall, was when I was in Maine, and Canada was right across a strait. This time, it’s not that simple. The boundary doesn’t follow the western border of Indiana all the way. When it gets to the greater Chicago area, where I am now, it takes a turn around Gary and surrounding municipalities.

And I’m pretty sure I’m on the Central time side of that border, but somehow I can’t find out for sure. My phone says one thing. The clock in the hotel says another.

I need a Tardis.

Today was a good beer day, as opposed to yesterday, which was a bad beer day. I guess Indiana just makes good beer.

It occurred to me today, though, while chatting with a nice bartender named Emily at Granite City Food & Brewing in Fort Wayne, that beer might begin to suffer from the same malady as most other art forms; that is, for lack of a better phrase, snob creep.

It happens with almost every kind of art. The medium starts out with a simple concept: something created to please people, make them think, affect their emotions, or whatever. But then, something happens and the creators stop creating for ordinary people, and start creating for other creators and critics. At that point, the art form becomes mostly inaccessible; or, alternatively, it splits off into what the snobs call “high art” and “low art.”

Painting is probably the most famous example of this. It started out with some cave dweller recording his or her tribe’s victory over a wooly mammoth or brontosaurus or whatever. And now, what passes for “art” in museums these days is a single color filling a canvas. No ordinary person can look at that and say, “Oh, that painting is a response to society’s tendency to watch TV instead of actually thinking,” but some critic or another will actually present that as a fact. The artist, then, will smile and nod, appearing to agree with the critic while secretly thinking, “HA! $30,000 in the bag.”

It’s as if cavepeople painted a big gray blob with some red on it and other cavepeople nodded knowingly, going, “That obviously captures the final agonies of the brontosaurus.” When really it’s a big gray blob. And now artists look down their noses at anyone who tries to make something realistic-looking – which is what most of us ordinary people want.

Look, the point is that once art stops being accessible, it’s no longer fun. I’ve ranted on at length in other media about the presence of the “literary fiction” genre, which seems to exist so that English professors can feel superior – but non-litsnobs read that crap and go, “Someone made money with this?” No. Give me a good fantasy or science fiction book any time – that is what literature should be about – telling a compelling story. That’s all.

Snob creep. This could happen to beer.

It will be sad if that happens, but most artistic media fall into that trap eventually – the insiders will know all the secrets of brewing and come up with some concoction that pleases other insiders with its freshness, newness, boldness, whatever – and us poor slobs who just like to drink a goddamn beer will be left shivering in the cold going, “but I just wanted a nice porter.”

Don’t let this happen. It’s one thing to be a beer snob, insisting on craft microbrews at every turn – naturally I’d say that, because I’m one of them – but it’s another thing entirely to decide, “Hey, we have all these standard rules about how to make a good beer – let’s change some of the rules and call it art!” That’s what happened with literature, by the way; someone decided that we don’t need a silly thing like a “plot.”

“New” isn’t necessarily better. Sometimes it’s best to keep cranking out what already works.

Okay, enough ranting. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite taps so far, this one from Crown Brewing in Crown Point, Indiana:

More Crown Brown please. Yes, just keep it coming.