Friday, March 14, 2008

Beer Brings People Together

While drinking beer to excess certainly brings people together in, um, unsavory ways, the type of drinking I'm talking about is purely the social kind. Based on Jon’s previous post about our weekend in Portland, one might surmise that we drank copious amounts of beer. However, to be more accurate, we drank copious types of beer, each sample being no larger than a small juice glass (like the Strawberry Shortcake ones we used to drink Tang out of at Grandma’s). Other than being incredibly tired at the conclusion of every day—just as likely the result of running after various forms of transportation—we didn’t suffer the effects of inebriation.

On the contrary. We were fortunate enough to encounter some very interesting personalities as we sampled Oregon’s selection of brews. Jon mentioned our serendipitious discovery of a beerfest, but he didn’t discuss the people we saw and spoke to there. When we arrived and saw people tailgaiting, we knew we were in the right place. There were definitely trays of beer samples stacked in the backs of several Subarus. As we tasted, I began to pick up snippets of conversation from the group at the table next to us; I could tell they were serious as they discussed the merits of each variety. (As for ourselves, we were keeping notes, using such terms as “smooth and balanced” and “dangerously good.”)

Since they had started before us, this group of two men and a woman finished first. When they walked by, they congenially asked which variety we were voting for, as it was a contest. Approximately 3.7 seconds went by before Jon mentioned that he had lived in Germany for 3 ½ years (who wouldn’t?), thereby automatically qualifying him as a beer conniseur. It turned out that one of the guys had also lived there, sparking a conversation about the autobahn, volksmarches, and of course, bier. To make things even more interesting, the other guy had spent some time living in Syria…with his girlfriend who is Syrian and also Libyan and some other things as well. Seriously? How often do you meet someone who’s lived in Syria? (Side note: He recommended chicken schwarma as a doner kebab-type food—anyone tried it?)

Finally it came time for us to depart ourselves. We had cast our ballots and our hands were effectively cold from the chill in the air. We were hanging out at the bus stop when another beerfest patron strolled up and casually asked, “So which one did you vote for?” Through the course of our conversation, we learned that this gentlemen, sporting one of those knit stocking caps with the ear flaps, traveled all over the state for various beer events. He pulled out his calendar to check for upcoming events when my curious eyes noticed the words “Roller Derby” scrawled on one of the Saturdays. Being a big fan of re-showings of ‘70s roller derby bouts on the Classic Sports channel, I just had to ask. It turns out that our new beer-drinking-stocking-cap-wearing-bus-riding acquaintance was also a volunteer security guard for the Rose City Rollers, Portland’s incredibly popular roller derby team. He was kind enough to share some information about the squad, including the team’s website. There are a couple of bouts this spring—anyone care to go with me? We’ll have to act fast, though, because the matches all sell out.

And all of this because of beer. I don’t think the weekend in Portland was just a freak coincidence, either. Jon and I actually met in brewery…although truth be told, I was really there for the schnitzel. But I digress. Anyway, maybe all this friendliness is because a little beer relaxes people enough so that they’re more open to meeting new people. At the very least, it gives them a common interest.

I need to keep this lesson in mind, and not just when I’m having a beer. Too often, when I’m in a slightly uncomfortable situation or if I’m alone, I’ll hide behind a book. Yes, I do like to read, but it’s also a security blanket, if you will. I’m pretty good at observing my surroundings and people-watching—must be the writer in me—but I need to be better at putting myself out there, especially since I’m in a new place with few familiar faces. That's a challenge I will raise my glass to.

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