Free Beer

Though my linage includes bloodlines from varied and well spaced parts of Europe and North America, the two primary parts of my particular family tree are Scottish and Irish. As my father once told me, “That means that half of me wants to get drunk but the other half doesn’t want to pay for it.” I can be a bit of a tight fist, or as I prefer to think of it, “frugal”.

This may lead you to think that you could find me haunting the halls at the Big Box-Mart buying the 50 pound bag of industrial coca/spackle, but you’d be wrong. I can’t stand the giant cube-building shopping centers that seem to be just about unavoidable these days and will do just about anything short of burning the contents of my pockets to keep my money away from them and to a mom&pop. It’s not just that most big box stores like Mall-Wart don’t support domestic manufacturing (which the decidedly DON’T). For me, it’s that I have watched with great sadness, what they do to our downtowns. They turn them into ghost towns.

In my city, we are blessed with a very vibrant downtown and though the picturesque setting and beautiful old buildings mean that we are neck deep in flocks of clueless tourists all summer, it’s still a blast to walk around in. In and amongst the various kitsch shops selling base ball hats with fake moose poop on them or fish markets selling lobster meat for $129.95 an ounce, there’s a little beer and wine shop… and they are fantastic. The owner is often the one behind the counter, they have very low employee turnover and the staff KNOWS what they are selling and can recommend to you items that you may not have considered. I love that.

I’ve become a regular there and stop in about once a week if not more. They know me by sight if not by name. I have a thing for really good micro-brewed beer and am particularly fond of some small label German beers that are unusual to see in the States. Being the top notch place that they are, they almost always have them stocked and cold. They’ve even kept specific beers in the fridge just for me, because I once asked if they had any already chilled. They’re like that. I like them a lot and we’ve had some good beer geek chats.

Today, I went in and picked up a six of one of my favorites and a four pack of ginger beer to make dark and stormies with over the weekend. The store has a fantastic selection of beers, wines and hard stuff and since it finally got pretty warm this afternoon, it made me pause at the cooler and think about those wonderful wheat beers that go so well on a warm summer day; hefeweizen’s. When I got to the counter, I asked if they had a hefeweizen by the name of UFO, brewed by Harpoon [brewery].

“Sorry, we don’t normally stock it. But if you’d like, I’ll special order some and keep it cold for you?”

(I love being a regular!)

“Sure. I’ll buy it if you get it!”

Then the guy asked if I’d tried another local brewery’s hefeweizen. When I told him that I couldn’t recall if I’d tried it, he took me over to the beer fridges and pulled a bottle out of a six pack to show me. The label looked familiar but I told him that I couldn’t remember how I liked it. With out a blink he closed the cooler door and handed me the beer.

“Here, you want to take this one? Maybe you can stick it in a pocket or something?”

I had a lot of stuff in my hands. I was carrying a six pack, a four pack, my lunch bag and my rain coat, plus a back back slung over one shoulder.

“Um… Yah! I’ll figure out some place to stow a free beer!”
“Good man. Id be worried about you if you turned it down.”, he added with a smile.

So, I walked out of the store with my purchased and free beer, happy as a… well, a guy with a free beer! They could have been assured of my continued patronage even with out the freebee but after that, they have pretty much got a customer for life.

It cost the owner one beer but what he got in return was a happy customer who’s going to steer people his way for a long time to come. At Big Box Mart, no manager would have dared a strategy like that. He most likely would have been fired or sent to the eastern slave cities to sew 5XL size briefs as punishment. It costs me more to shop at the independent stores, probably something like 10% more, but you know what? For service like that, I’ll happily buy 10% less stuff so I can afford to shop where I want to.

By the way… The Hefeweizen was good, but I like the Harpoon version better. Glad he’s getting some for me. I’ll be in next week.

You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out, Kid. Part III

This was a tense moment for me.

I immediately looked at my Dad, half expecting him to object or refuse it for me. He looked stern, but said nothing.

“You want to try it out?” Grandpa asked. You can guess my answer.

Dad left me alone with my Grandfather that afternoon and I learned to shoot. My very first shot was almost a bulls eye and from that point on, I was totally hooked. We had a great time shooting in Grandma and Grandpa’s back field and I could hardly believe that I was shooting, not only a real rifle, but MY real rifle. I was in heaven.

At the end of the day, my father came to pick me up and take us home. The deal was that for now, the rifle would stay at their house. We lived in a city anyway and there was no place to shoot at home. Grampa had set up his own range on his property, after all. That, and I think Mom would have passed out if we brought it home at this point.

On the way home, I asked Dad the obvious question. I was almost afraid to ask, lest I jinx the dream, but I had to know. “How come you wouldn’t let me get a BB gun but a real rifle is okay?”

“That’s simple.” he replied. “Because it’s a REAL rifle. Not a toy. You will learn how to respect a real fire arm and never confuse it with something to play with. If I feel like you can treat it with respect and show me that you know how to handle it properly, then that day, you can bring it home.”

As always, he was a man of his word. One day I did bring it home and it stayed in my closet in my bed room. I knew with out a doubt that if I EVER got it out with out permission then it would go away forever. I never once wanted to test him on that and so I never showed it to friends or played with it. It was a real rifle, after all. Not a toy.

I still have the rifle my Grandfather got me. He had bought it at a second hand store and had fixed it up him self. He had reblued the metal and refinished the stock and it still looks wonderful. He died only two years later and I miss shooting with him still. When I got to the range, I feel him there with me. He was a gun collector and aficionado. It skipped a generation. Dad couldn’t care either way but I have the bug. I am the proud steward of the small collection of Grandpa’s rifles and pistols and keep them clean and safe. Some day I’ll take Short Stack and Lulu Bell, when the time’s right. I’ll show them the rifle that Great-Grandpa gave me and I’ll teach them to shoot just like he did.

Until then. It’s usually just me alone at the range. Alone other than Grampa, that is.

Who needs BB’s when you can go “BANG” for real?

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