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TODAY

Thursday, December 5

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Airbags

It was when my socks were soaked through that it hit me: my body was at saturation point. Every pore, every soft tissue was flooded. My bones were made spongy and pliant. Such are the perils of slinging beer for a throng of thousands at the Hideout block party.

With six people, two folding tables, five ice filled coolers, mountains of plastic cups and countless kegs. (I exaggerate. Still, at end of the day, we'd gone through at least 40.) the process of tapping, pouring and serving becomes an elegant dance. Viewed from a distance I'm certain we exuded grace and symmetry. In the thick of things, however, it was a confusing mess of sticky hands and spilled beverage.

On a pleasant Saturday evening with live music and grilled meats, there's no one more loved than the outdoor beer purveyor. It's an arrangement that allows for certain social liberties that would otherwise be quite awkward. In the guise of providing excellent service, attractive persons can be easily flirted with and off-color jokes are tolerated. More than tolerated, they're expected. We were heard to utter the following:

"What that broken leg needs is a frosty beer!"

"This is your sixth visit. Where are you putting it all?"

"Gosh you're beautiful. Have another."

"Welcome back! Will you be having your usual?"

"Would you like that in a plastic cup, or a plastic cup?"

This, for me, constitutes a radical transformation. While not exactly reserved -- I tend to be that arrogant asshole striving for the center of attention -- making snide comments to strangers is not exactly my scene. It's something about serving alcohol that does it, I suppose. Though it requires almost no skill and very little intelligence, it's incredibly empowering. In the social contract between patron and server, it's the latter who clearly has the upper hand.

That is, at least, until the kegs run dry and the bar is shut down. Without the free flow of intoxicants, the beer slinger is utterly impotent. Impotent and persecuted. Facing an angry crowd demanding their cups filled, I buckled. The facade came crashing down and I was left exposed and naked.

"Look, I'm sorry, but we're closed. There's no more beer. I know, I'm sorry. Really, I'm sorry. Yes, I know you tipped me last time, but I simply can't serve you once we've been cut off. Well, you could take your tip back, but it's all going to charity, so that'd be a bit uncool. Look, it's not my fault, I'm just a volunteer here."

People started piling up.

"We're dry! There's no more beer. We can't serve any of you. The show is over!"

This elicited a collective groan of disappointment and a number of cold, menacing glares. We were somewhat frightened. Especially by some of the larger patrons who'd consumed enough to be just a bit more angry than was rationally called for.

But we servers are a hearty lot. We survived, and the crowd dispersed. With a sigh, we turned toward the cleanup process. This was ugly -- unpleasant in the extreme.

Beer is heavy. A plastic sack of discarded, half filled glasses can't simply be tossed aside, it has to be hoisted. Slung over the shoulder, wrestling this yeasty amoeba into a dumpster is not easy. It can be done, but not without a fair amount of stale Summertime Ale running along the arms and into the already moist confines of the armpit.

But I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Despite the pitfalls, serving beer is great fun -- at least in the short term. And for the record, it should be noted that peeling off beer laden, sweaty socks is indeed a foul experience.

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Comments

dave / September 8, 2003 10:01 AM

A regular reader of Greasy Skillet and fan of good beer, I look forward to the column.

Good luck.

Andrew / September 8, 2003 4:28 PM

I wish I had made it to the block party. Sounds like I missed a good time.

dce / September 8, 2003 11:24 PM

It was altogether swell. Though perhaps the smallest of Chicago's neighborhood block parties, it's one of the best, and arguably the most important. How often do Andrew Bird and Tortoise share a stage?

 

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