Old Town Ale House

It wasn’t difficult to find. The ale house is across the street from Second City and while it is small it stands out with its unique appearance and classic exterior towered by modern yuppie crap. I first heard of the Old Town Ale House on Parts Unknown, the popular show hosted by the late Anthony Bourdain. It was in the last full season of the show that Bourdain visited the Ale house, surrounded by the artwork and eclectic décor. The furniture is a simple and well-worn design. The wood had been rubbed down to the imprint of thousands of people in these seats over the years, the wooden bar has a feeling of love with the scratches and dents smooth over the years.
The one bar I have been to that reminded me of the Ale house was the Dune Saloon in Grande Marais Michigan, the favorite beer house of author Jim Harrison. That find was a pure accident that filled me with delight and while the Ale house was fully intended it didn’t fail to reveal a few surprises in the hour I was there. The portrait of Putin wearing a ballerina tutu with his shirt off was a delight to see since it wasn’t finished in the Bourdain episode. Behind the bar I spotted a stack of books by the artist of the bar, Bruce Elliott. I remembered hearing about his blog telling the stories of his youth and tales of the Ale house and now they are available in print. I bought a copy for $20 and the bartender told me that if I stuck around for 20 minutes Bruce would stop in. I paid for an hour at the parking meter with the expectation of being gone before that time. Like clockwork Bruce stopped in and saw me reading his book at the bar. I asked him to sign it and we started talking for maybe five minutes. It was an awkward conversation one that had me watching the time with less than twenty minutes left on the meter. I didn’t have the time to relax and enjoy myself. With a two hour drive back there was little to be enjoyed at the bar and I still had to work the next day and watch my daughter. The lady Bruce was with was from Grand Rapids and we chatted about that with little to say. It sounded like she had not been back for a while stating that it was a bigger art community than when she left and money had not ruined it. I couldn’t ruin it for her. Let her think what she wants about her home town.
I snapped a picture with the Bourdain portrait and a few others to remember the place. Who knows when I will be back, if ever? When I used the restroom before heading out, I noticed that the toilet stall didn’t have a door on it, the urinal was a foot away from the sink and the mirror was scratched to shit. I was told that I would be able to feel Bourdain in there. For a moment I thought he was trying to tell me something. That buy the ticket, take the ride mentality was staring me in the face and I left the ticket on the counter. Not today. I like my life. I have responsibilities and while I could have traveled down the rabbit hole, I decided to leave it be and let someone else have the story. It was hard to see the place, recognize the seat Bourdain sat in. meet the people who talked to him. Take in the place that so many people have walked through hoping to leave with a little something extra.
Walking out I found a tobacco shop around the corner. If I wasn’t going to meet up with Jake, I could at least go home with something I wouldn’t find anywhere else. The time was ticking and I only had a few minutes until Chicago does whatever it does to cars after the meter runs out. I looked at the pipe tobacco in the case found one called Secret Agent and couldn’t find anyone to help me. I wasn’t greeted walking in. everyone was smoking cigars and the shop was one giant humidor. People would look at me wondering who I was and yet I wasn’t served or asked if I needed help. In the end I turned around and walked out with one guy making some shitty comment I didn’t catch. Who cares? If they don’t want business, fuck em.
I got in my car, hit the highway. Almost crashed taking an exit too fast to buy gas. Stopped at a McDonald’s that no longer had humans working behind the counter and made it home by 1am. For a few minutes I sat in bed wondering if I had fallen asleep at the wheel. Was I dreaming about being home going to bed? Once I convinced myself it was real, I went to sleep and sleep well I did. The adventure was over and it was time to return to my normal life.

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A Century of Loss (or All the Dogs will Die!)

With Earth Day come and gone I am reminded at the path our species is taking. I went to the celebration downtown and left disappointed, more so than when I arrived, at what was really a party for middle-aged baby boomers to brag about their high mileage cars and the protest they have been attending over the decades. One doesn’t have to look hard to find that what they accomplished was little, if anything. There was a sense of nostalgia for the 60s as I looked at people with rainbow-colored shirts who had not bathed in days telling people how they were working to save the planet, while driving god knows how many miles to attend a mostly dead event. After a quick round through the park I was done.

Earlier in the week I read a story online about the end of Syrian tobacco and how it would no longer exist once the last of the blends were sold from the online retailers and brick and mortar stores. This may sound like whining to some and in one case i was called a white capitalist pig for bringing it up. “With all the death and destruction that happens over there you are complaining about tobacco?” Sure he had a point but what I was trying to point out is the loss of a species that may never be seen again. Sure, it is tobacco, not food, not a medicine, but still it represents something that is lost from our world. Over the coming years we will start to hear about crops being lost, species of insects and birds that will never been seen again, and lakes that disappear from the landscape. In the coming generations there will be animals and food that our descendents will only be able to read about.

I watched a documentary about a chef who was trying to reconstruct a recipe from a hundred year old cook book. many of the technics had been lost over the years but slowly they were able to piece together the ingredients and make what was close to the original meal. There is one difference between this story and what is happening in the world, the ingredients will be lost forever. I learned on earth day that the sugar maples that i grew up with in my yard and the syrup i savored on my pancakes will no longer grow in my home state of Michigan. Many of the birds I listened to outside my bedroom window will be gone. The insects I watched crawling on the plants in the garden will no longer exist. My daughter might be the last member of my family to experience these things that have been a staple of our life here, the end of an era with unknown repercussions in the future.

Many people were bragging about their electric cars at the Earth Day event, talking about the need to convert our power sources to renewable, their point was to boast about being ahead of the curve on climate change while they charged their cars on electricity produced by coal and natural gas. They didn’t consider the power it took to manufacture the car, the oil that went into the tires, the fuel to transport the materials for the batteries over the oceans so that they could enjoy a vehicle with less guilt associated with it.

While my city discusses how to waste a 30 million dollar gift given to it by donors the only things I have seen done with the money was provide free WIFI in the park and the planned removal of a racist fountain that is crumbling to pieces and should be destroyed since it provides no social or historical merit. There was one obvious use for the money that they could have done, one that would provide financial security for the city and helped the planet a little bit. The city has several large plots of land that were once the factories for paper and automotive manufacturing, contaminated land that they are constantly talking about “cleaning up” but instead sits there unused. Why they didn’t consider putting a solar farm on these lands is beyond me. providing the majority of the city’s power, reducing the tax burden on its citizens and providing jobs for locals, it is a win win all around and yet they are more concerned about a fountain crumbling in the park. Priorities are, needless to say, fucked up when it comes to our political appointees and I have to wonder why these people stay in these positions as long as they have.

With choices like these I hope you come to understand why my vision of the future is bleak at best. Instead of talking about climate change and pushing the agenda that we need to discuss we are preoccupied with where Donald Trump put his dick before the election. The last male white rhino died this year and more species are disappearing from the planet than we can talk about. Maybe if we changed the discussion to a different topic we can make a difference. My suggestion “all the dogs are going to die!” get the dog lovers involved, they tend to care more about their dogs than their own lives or the lives of other humans for that matter. So when talking about climate change start out with “all the dogs are going to die!” If you have a friend who smokes a pipe tell them “all the good blends will go extinct if we don’t solve climate change.” Those guys, myself included are already concerned about some of the big loses we ahve had in our hobby over the past year. Thanks FDA, you don’t know how to regulate opiates but you have become concerned about an ancient hobby that built this country? Again, messed up priorities.

I do my best when it comes to helping with the problem but then policy sometimes contradicts what is best for everyone. My place of employment offers a reimbursement for parking spaces downtown but no incentives for people who walk or ride their bikes. While I live less than a mile away I am told to use my parking money or lose it, weird right? In my garden I grow heirloom plants that may go extinct with the changing climate, saving the seeds each year in the hopes they will keep growing and not die out half way through the season like some of them have.

Today I ordered a can of the Syrian blend that will be no more. Yes, i know that by having it shipped I will have added to my carbon footprint for my own selfish desires. My goal is to sit down, open the can, smell the aroma, taste the flavor, and write the most accurate description i can muster so that those in the future will know what it was like to experience something that no longer exist. Think of it as cataloging a vintage of wine that has come and gone. It’s all I can do, document what this world was like and hope that people care in the future while blaming us for ruining everything.

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Retiring my pipe

Smoking a pipe has been an on again off again hobby/ habit for the last twenty years. granted the majority of those years I didn’t smoke. there were several years in between where a pipe was lost or willingly thrown out thinking it was done with it. a little over a year ago i picked up the hobby again. The big difference this time was that i had learned about the difference between pharmacy tobacco and higher quality tobacco. I was only familiar with Captain Black until that point and wasn’t well versed in the other pharmacy tobaccos. I thought Half and Half was the next best thing the first time i tried it, then I found a whole new world through YouTube. Companies i had never heard of before were selling styles and blends i had never heard of before. there were English, orientals, aromatics, and vapor tobaccos. I searched through reviews trying to find something that sounded good and a year later i have a cellar filled with all kinds of blends I am waiting to try, and wait i will.

Pipe smoking doesn’t fit into my life these days. Having a little one at home leaves little room to enjoy a few minutes in solitude. I tried using my lunch break to enjoy a smoke only to have people asking “who was smoking a cigar?” No, that wasn’t a good blend. Weekends i want to spend as much time with my family as I can therefore getting the pipe out is usually not on the list of things to do. Instead of getting frustrated I have decided that it is a good time for the pipe to join the rest of the cellar and age gracefully until they are dug up a few years from now. Maybe when the little one starts school? There isn’t going to be a big loss in taking a break, hell half of the tobacco in the cellar isn’t being made anymore. the only thing I really want to do in the meantime is make a last order for a few blends that might not be around when i take the old pipe back out again. Wild Hare by Lane Limited has become a personal favorite. Founding Fathers is an enjoyable blend that might find itself on the chopping block with the way things are going. I know there will be a few that I haven’t tried yet that i will wish i had more of later but such is life.

The pipe will be cleaned one last time and the rest of the opened tobacco will find itself in mason jars to spent a few years aging. This appears to be a repeating trend in my life. today i noticed that in the past two and a half weeks I have had one beer, one. I was sick with the flue two weeks ago and since then i had one drink on St. Patrick’s Day. i wasn’t that excited about it either. Who knows, maybe that will be tossed to the wayside as well. Couldn’t hurt, i could lose a few pounds.

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