Northbound and Down…

Does anyone do a beer run anymore?

I’m not talking about going to the grocery store as part of a Honey Do list, and, after picking up cat litter, toilet paper and some broccoli crowns, you find yourself on the beer aisle in all of its refrigerated glory, and picking up a six-pack of something just because it looked “fun”. That’s not a beer run. That’s barely admitting that you are even buying beer at all.

No, I am talking about getting into your car or truck and driving more than a mile (and, preferably, several miles) for the sole purpose of loading up your vehicle with beer and bringing it back for a social event. I know of what I speak.

Washington State University, in Pullman, Washington, is about 7 miles away from the Idaho state border, and the city of Moscow, Idaho. And when I arrived at Wazzu, the state of Idaho had just changed its legal drinking age to 21 from 19. But, that new drinking age came with a grandfather clause which said, that if you were 19 by a certain date, you could still legally drink in Idaho even if you weren’t 21.

Want to guess who made the cut with that grandfather clause?

And that is why for the first 18 months of my college life as a Cougar I could be found beating the proverbial path on that 14-mile-long round trip from Pullman to Moscow and back almost every Friday after classes got out, and many times on Saturdays, too. Friends of mine would hear that I was going on a beer run to “‘Scow”, as we called Moscow, and before I knew it, my hands were full of wadded up dollar bills and a shopping list that could fill a liquor store. Economics were of importance, too. When you’re a college kid on a budget, getting a 30-pack of Stroh’s for ten bucks, or less, was a deal that couldn’t be passed up. And while it officially wasn’t bootlegging, I did like to imagine myself like Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit as he ran all that Coors beer from Texas to Atlanta with Jackie Gleason’s sheriff on his tail as I made it back across the state line and pulled up to be greeted like a war hero by my fraternity brothers who were desperate to begin an evening of drunken debauchery.

But, that was years ago. Like most people, I’ve “grown up” a bit. The days of my fraternity buddies and I each downing a half-rack of cheap swill before going to a party where we knew there would be at least 25 kegs are long over. I still wander through the beer aisle whenever I am in a grocery store, and will often pick up a six-or-12 pack of something that looks unique and which I will stick in the fridge and nurse over the course of a few weeks. Besides, when your tastes move from the near-water-like Coors Light to, say, 21st Amendment Brewing’s Brew Free Or Die IPA and its 7.0% ABV, you also learn that moderation is a necessity if you don’t want to spend the next day on a diet of Advil and water.

However, there is an exception the to the rule. And that comes when my family and I make our annual sojourn from Oakland to visit my mom, my brother and tool around the proverbial old stomping grounds where I grew up south of Seattle.

For the last nine years, we have taken a week or so off during the summer, loaded up the kids into one of our vehicles, and set a course north up Interstate 5 directly to my mom’s house in Tacoma. Until this year, we had always taken two days for the drive, and spent the night along the way at a Holiday Inn Express in Medford, Oregon, which is just under halfway on the drive. This year, we decided to do something different and make the drive in one day. Thus, after leaving Oakland at 5 a.m., we pulled into my mom’s about 12-and-a-half hours later, surprisingly not that much worse for wear than if we had broken up the trip into two days.

The main reason for this trip is to visit my mom, and brother, and give our daughters some exposure to, and teach them about, where their Old Man grew up. When we go to Tacoma, we do things like visit the Space Needle, take in a Mariners game, drive up to Mount Rainier, eat our faces off at places like Marcia’s Silver Spoon (home of the chicken fried steak omelette, the single-greatest breakfast offering in the history of humankind) and check out my actual hometown, Puyallup, and show the girls the exterior of the duplex where I spent 16 years growing up. Knowing about your roots is important. I want these kids to know where they come from.

Those are reasons enough for driving 757 miles. But there is another reason, and that is to get some beer, and the kinds of which that we can’t find down here in California.

Whether it’s because of distribution issues, state laws, or political palm greasing, many beers that are available in one particular state are not necessarily available in other states. And I’m not talking about Budweiser. Finding a six-pack of Bud in Oakland, Medford, Oregon, or Tacoma is no big deal. I don’t even bring that home from the 7-Eleven that’s about half a mile from my house.

But…Topcutter IPA (6.8% ABV) from Balebreaker Brewing in Yakima, Washington? Georgetown Brewing’s Bodhizafa IPA (6.9% ABV)? How about my new favorite, my namesake Space Rex Hazy IPA (7.0% ABV) from Seattle’s Fremont Brewing Company?

The Beer Run’s Benefits…14 Different Washington Beers.

Thanks to interstate alcohol-shipping regulations, the odds of me locating any of these fine brews in the Bay Area are even less than those of finding someone in the region willing to put up a TRUMP 2020 sign in front of their house. Which is why, when we went to Costco and other stores near my mom’s in Tacoma, I made sure we loaded up. Every visit to the local Fred Meyer, each time I ventured out to Safeway, and on the odd occasion I drove by the local specialty beer shop was a chance to pick up another six-pack of something good, and which is unseen on the store shelves around Oakland.

Back in the days of college, the purpose of such a shopping trip was simple: to get stinking drunk. That’s why we considered ourselves economic and party geniuses whenever we could get a case of Keystone Light for eight bucks or less. But, today? Well, economics have changed along with my personal tastes and willingness to spend an entire day after the fact eating nothing but Advil. Now, a six-pack of good IPA often starts at $9.99. And drinking all six of those with their much-higher-than-Keystone Light alcohol content is guaranteed to leave me spending an entire day after the fact eating nothing but Advil. And I would much rather be able to eat a ribeye steak than dine on ibuprofen any day.

Which is why the beer run of today, all 1,700 round-trip miles of it, is more symbolic and, believe it or not, nostalgic, than anything else.

Don’t get me wrong, I get the beers I get because I do want to drink them. But, I also get them because they represent a connection to where I grew up, a connection that still matters to me, and one that I hope to maintain even as it gets thinner every year. When I open that beer fridge in my garage, I find a tie to “home” that is as tangible and has as much meaning to me as when I make a call to my mom, or watch a game of my beloved (and heart-breaking) Seattle Mariners, my (often victorious) Seattle Seahawks and my (at times both frustrating and inspirational) Washington State Cougars. It’s a link that can be consumed, but never breaks.

I have now lived away from Washington for more years than I lived there. Over the course of almost three decades, Hirakata, Japan, Boston, Massachusetts, and Oakland, California have been my return addresses. Our girls were born here in California, and we are likely to remain here for the duration. But, I want them to see things like all 14,410 feet of Mount Rainier on those days when, as we from Washington say, “The Mountain’s out” and understand where I, and by extension, they are from. And, maybe, they will understand why this longest of beer runs is much more than a beer run.

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