If you took some sharp scissors to the 28-year-old quilt of my experience, you’d expose hundreds of thousands of potential stories, all dangling from the patchwork cloth as loose threads. Pulling any of them would start me rambling about some ephemeral flash, filling in the fuzziest details as I see fit.
There are many beer-soaked threads woven into the story of my life. Pretty much any random yank of a story string from my college years will include beer (of questionable quality). A lot from high school will, too. Even some of my youngest memories, when I wasn’t even near appropriate drinking age, could be tangentially tied to beer, either by fatherly proxy or stolen sips in a household that revered instead of reviled the drink.
But in most of those stories, beer was merely a catalyst. A fermented means to an intoxicated end. There are few, until very recently, where beer was the focus, the bar the locus, the enjoyment the onus. But there is one that I still remember vividly. That hasn’t been partially lost to the throbbing regrets of a hangover, or faded too much from the cumulative effects of time.
The story of the first public pint I ever shared with my dad.
While I never got confirmation, I’m pretty sure my father drank a beer in every single Hooters in the contiguous United States. What had started as a hilarious American novelty to a British expat evolved into a habitual attachment. Everywhere we went, we sought out a Hooters. We eschewed decent restaurants for trans fats and orange and white. We drove out of our way just to tick off another town, another state, on the “yep, we’ve been to that Hooters” list.
But despite its specific buxom charm, Hooters constantly annoyed my dad because they wouldn’t serve beer to minors. As he was product of the English pub scene in the 70’s and 80’s, America’s odd puritanical approach to alcohol – and specifically the twenty-one-year-old drinking age law – would set my dad off, sending him into a tangent about how demonizing alcohol eventually leads to abuse of the same, ala the “preacher’s daughter” rule.
He didn’t get it. If a father was there with his son, to guide him (and drive him) what was the harm in a single pint with lunch? Apparently everything, said every American bartender, ever. Still he tried, ordering two beers for himself, trying to slide one to me in a not-so-subtle way, only to get busted by the waitress a few minutes later. We never got kicked out of a bar – he always managed to weasel out of it with his smile and accent – but in our quest to share a pint before I was 21, we certainly ruffled a lot of owl feathers.
It took breaking our Hooters tradition to finally clink father and son glasses. He and I traveled sans mom and sister a lot in pursuit of my young soccer career, so we often found ourselves puttering around unfamiliar locales, pre-Google Maps and other wanderlust supporting applications. Sometimes, we didn’t have hours to track down the nearest avian sanctuary, and instead had to opt for accommodations closer to the hotel.
At the Disney Cup International in Orlando, Florida, trying to weigh the risk of food poisoning from hole-in-the-wall Mexican food and the nearby AppleBees, my dad bought us tickets to the early show at Medieval Times. It wasn’t wholly unexpected for him to do even more unexpected things like this on impulse, and my love of swords and sorcery meant no objection from me. We lined up with the flip flops and cargo shorts of the all-inclusive-package-holders, talking about the goal I’d scored earlier that afternoon as the shadows of the perfectly pruned palms got longer and longer.
Pre-show, in the middle of the main hall and the crowd of vacationer conviviality, hundreds of people swarmed like an agitated hive of drunken wasps. Kids begged parents for plastic crowns, husbands begged wives for impractical swords, wives begged bartenders for large glasses of white wine. Staff, dressed in cheesy facsimile of period attire, guided people to their seats with about as much order and organization as a teenage boy’s bedroom.
My father disappeared into the crowd as I basked in the reflections of gas lamps bouncing off highly polished suits of armor. He returned soon, holding two “golden” goblets, both nearly overflowing with a creamy white head. Boddingtons. He held one out to me while he sipped the head on his to prevent a tragic spill.
So it was there, in the gaudy panache of the anachronistic recreation of a castle, that we finally shared a pint. No cozy tavernesque atmosphere, no friendly neighborhood barkeep, just screaming children overdosing on Disney, their exasperated, sun-burned parents, and enough novelty to put ACME to shame.
And I’ll always remember it. It wasn’t about the where, but the why. It marked a moment where we were equals, able to experience things as two men, not just a father and his boy. It was the culmination to our quest, and we drank deeply from those knock off holy grails. It was in its own way my personal British Bar Mitzvah, the moment I became a man in my father’s eyes, which were, really, the only eyes that ever mattered.