What Happened with the 80s?

I was thinking about the incredible boom happening in the craft liquor and spirits and beer industries. Gin producers are now foraging the herbs and roots that flavor their products.  The hippening of unique brandy flavors is on the horizon. The “high-end premium” market is propelling overall growth. The once standard clear glass bottle is now transformed into sizes and shapes rivaling what used to be seen only at the apothecary. Producers are seeking creative ways to heighten “consumer engagement and leveraging it to fortify authenticity.” Holy smokes!

To distill the trend (oh yeah, I said it) you could summarize by focusing on two words: small batch. People want custom, uber-meaningful, top notch experiences. And that’s just when they are looking for a buzz! I wonder what we are demanding for dessert?

It made me think, unfortunately, of the 1980’s, when a bar had three beer taps: Bud, Coors, and the cheap beer (Schlitz, The Beast aka Milwaukee’s Best, or maybe a Busch). There was also the abomination in bottles that was light beer versions of local pilsners. IC Light was our regional brew.

There was nothing hoppy, nothing dark and chocolatey, nothing with strawberry or grapefruit. Nothing curated, nothing charred oak-inspired, infused, nitro cured, or osmosis blended. Nothing with hints of coffee or cupcake or honey. It was just pilsner and light pilsner. And Guiness, if you were at a fancy metropolitan sort of place. And wine: red or white. And they had vodka, rum, gin, scotch, and whiskey. They tasted like vodka, rum, gin, scotch, and whiskey, and whatever Galliono or blue curacao or fake corporate sours the part-time house painter behind the bar poured into them.

How, in some thirty-odd years, did consumers become so sophisticated? And is it OK that, while people in some of America’s finest cities struggle to get lead-free drinking water, we have the bandwidth to honestly care about the back story of the fiercely dedicated artisan barkeep who picked the berries that made the brew that became my $16, 3.5oz gin cocktail?

What was going on in the 80’s when bars were much simpler places, and corporate beers and spirits seemed to make a lot of sense, and inspire brand allegiance? When “I’ll have a whiskey” meant grab that one brand of whiskey you have there and pour it in a shot glass, not as a pretext for “Which of our thirty varieties, and would you like it neat, on the rocks, or blended with water?”

Barman flaring behind bar counter. Restaurant shelves with alcoholic drinks bottles on background
Barman flaring behind bar counter. Restaurant shelves with alcoholic drinks bottles on background

I am all for choice, and I do rejoice in the current bounty of selections. I just wonder how it all came about, so fully, so relatively quickly, and with such precision and skill. Imagine if we got this good this quickly at sewing or dog walking or Frisbee. It could be a whole different society we’d be living in.

A Bike Route in Pittsburgh

I am looking to get a bike-friendly path from the neighborhood of Morningside over to Oakland. Riding on Negley, Center, or Baum are off the table for me – they are too busy, fast, and aggressive. I would like a calmer route.

Here are a few options I have come up with:

Via Highland Ave

Via Black Street

The Mansion “Pic-Nic”, An Old Pittsburgh Mansion, and Mary Schenley

Mary Schenley, of Pittsburgh’s Schenley Park and my very own Schenley High School fame, was married away at age 14 to a 47 year old sea captain!

Today I got a tweet from the District 7 Council Seat of Pittsburgh:

I did a little reading of my own and came up with the article in PDF from JSTOR. Here it is:

You can click the “View PDF” link on the right to download and read the full PDF. It helps to use the magnifying glass to make the text larger.

Anyway, Mary Schenley has always been a big part of the history of Pittsburgh, in my mind. It is amazing to read how she was (what today would be) stolen away at such a young age and taken away by sea!

Her father, William Croghan from Kentucky, built Pic-Nic, a mansion that Mary and her husband later occupied. He called it “Pic-Nic” because he enjoyed eating outside, according to The Art Union.

It is amazing to read the stories from the mid 1800’s of what were old mansions then. Imagine if that house had survived to today? It would truly be a gem.

Have you got a sort about an old Mansion to share? Are you stolen away to sea and married to an old sea captain when you were a teen?

Spring in Pittsburgh

I love the spring in Pittsburgh. The farmers markets open up, the flower shows are in full bloom (ha ha), and live, free music seems to be playing from every plaza and park throughout the city.

Our Dog Ray

We spent the morning in the backyard, playing with water from the hose. Later, he had a big meal of freshly cooked chicken breast & white rice and chased his peanut butter kong down the run between mine and the neighbor’s houses. He rolled in and crushed several of my flower beds, jumped at a passerby and scared him, and had a generally good, albeit mischievous time. By 10:59 AM, he was dead.

When he finally fell asleep, the sun was high enough to shine through in spots from behind our garden trees. Birds chirped on the grasses nearby. A cool breeze blew between us – it was so serene, it was difficult to remember that we were in the middle of a city, in the backyard of a busy Pittsburgh neighborhood sitting right on the bus line.

Ray lay on the stone patio at my feet. I got down and sat with him. He seemed comfortable, but I had my doubts. This is a dog who hogged pillows and was too good for the carpet – always pacing in circles around the sofa, like a shark, until a space on the cushions opened up for him. There he lay, though, sprawled across the sun-warmed stone and mosses, looking over the dahlia bed. He was wet and covered in mulch and dirt from having just crashed through the bushes by the borders of the garden, crushing countless petunias and impatiens along the way. A parting shot at us? No, that’s just Ray. A constant coil of energy springing into action, consequences be damned.

The travelling doctor came recommended to us by Ray’s daily walker. She was kind, openly compassionate, and took her cues from my behavior. She let me spill my guts when I began to ramble about how we tried everything to keep him from attacking other dogs. I felt like I must have been going into a sort of psychological shock, the way I just kept talking. But “knowing” that I was hopelessly rambling didn’t stop me from a profuse barrage of excuses for the decision to put Ray to sleep. Each was supported by an event in Ray’s past as though I needed to present individual case studies in dog aggression to defend this ultimate conclusion. When I finally stopped talking, she didn’t judge or try to empathize; instead she explained in calming whispers what she would do next and what to expect from Ray. And by then, the powerful sedative had already taken effect – Ray’s open eyes were rolled back, his left paw limp across my leg.

The wind picked up and the birds tussled with each other across the lawn. I leaned in and kissed my dog. Surely he had lain still over the years during countless naps and nighttime slumbers. And yet there I was thinking to myself that this was the only time I had ever seen him actually resting. I knew it wasn’t true, but it seemed like the dog was never motionless. His ears were constantly cocked, listening for the next dog or jogger or elderly couple to come down the sidewalk. His torso would tense as he prepared to lunge off of his back haunches like a kangaroo at whatever was coming. He could leap about 6 feet vertically, nearly clearing the back fence. Sitting on the back deck, I heard countless unsuspecting passersby yelp in fear and surprise when the business half of Ray would suddenly appear over the fence, snarling and flinging a froth of spit and mucous.

His breathing picked up. This is expected – some animals actually begin to pant just before the drugs cause them to pass. He was taking long, deep draws. I held my hand over his eyes since they still wouldn’t close. His leg twitched. It reminded me that he had a nightmare just last night and the dream made him whine and kick his legs until I leaned down from my bed to pet his back and comfort him.

Ray … a study in contrasts. He loved our baby, but lunged at passing strollers. He would let me know when he was sick, only to go vomit on the carpet anyway. He would run for hours in an open field, but when we humans left him home, he preferred being in his crate rather than to roam the house freely. We could never understand the cause of his anxiety, we only knew that it was deeply embedded; he hated other dogs and attacked them with unbiased determination. And now here he was, laying completely still, inches from my face. Ray, but not Ray. There, but somewhere else. So much life and personality being gently wrapped like just another dead dog in a blanket and carried out to the good doctor’s vehicle to go to a cremation furnace.

As I wrote a check to pay the doctor, I noticed the ledger number – 666. I apologized about the serial number as I handed it to her. I tried halfway joking that it wasn’t a reflection of my feelings towards her services. But of course I wondered at the collusion. Had I hired the Angel of Death? Had I just fulfilled a contract with the devil, complicit in prematurely delivering over the soul of my most loyal companion?

I will never know whether I made a terrible mistake, or did the right thing considering Ray’s circumstances and behavior. There will always be doubt, and judgement from other people, too. We did what we could for him. We gave him four good years that he never would have had otherwise. We were possibly the only people dumb enough to take such a troubled dog out of the shelter. I can only hope that that counts for something.

As we returned from the car, the doctor and I found a card and a rose on my porch. It was a sympathy card from Ray’s walker – a kind and generous soul who recently lost her own dog to an illness. In the card, she wrote that maybe now the two dogs can join forces in the next world and attack and terrorize other dogs together, and later it maked me cry deeply as I read it to my wife over the telephone.

And then, lunch. A reheated chicken breast that I made for Ray but didn’t give to him. I made too much, quite simply, and didn’t want the excess to give him a belly ache. So I eat the remains of his last meal. I can’t say it tastes bitter; though I wish I could. It was really quite delicious. And so passes Ray Bon from this world: a mostly good thing that I wish wasn’t so good, because it would have made what I had to do to him a lot easier to swallow.

Our dog Ray

Pittsburgh is the new Portland?

Pittsburgh is the new Portland. That is the news out of the Washington Post this week.  It is pretty exciting to make it onto the “in” list of what’s cool.  It appears, though, that Pittsburghers are taking the acclaim in stride.

One of the things that make it a cool place to live is that the people living here in the burg’ don’t really care much about being cool. We just want to have fun, enjoy the arts & music, and keep our tax assessments low. It doesn’t seem that the added hype is going to change things.

We’ve already made a bunch of great lists and still, we act as though we’d only just won another superbowl.  Sure, I am being smug. But only to make a point: Hipsters and other trend-setters probably don’t care about NFL football because it is so mainstream. So here is a city whose proudest moments are summarized with the phrase “More Lombardi Trophies than you.  How can we be cool?  This is a town that still shuts down for the first day of deer hunting season (killing is out of style but, butchering has made a comeback).  Football and hunting have not been urban-scene hip since the days when George Washington slept here (which is weird because football wasn’t even invented back then).

Pittsburgh is cool because Pittsburghers don’t judge others.  We complain and gripe, but we don’t  judge.

I am glad Pittsburgh has made the “in” list for 2012. It is pretty exciting.  But when it is freezing outside and you are snug as a stinkbug in the house, sauce is cooking on the stove and venison is curing in the basement, it just doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.  Pittsburghers have our list of what’s important, and everyone else has theirs.