Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Drive from Bloomington, IN to St. Louis, MO

“Hidden talent counts for nothing.” ~Suetonius

September 24: Blogged in the morning at Jeff Mease’s big dining room table in Bloomington, Indiana. As usual, had to get creative with the Internet connection. Hmmm. Couldn’t log into their home wireless system because I got an error message. Hitchhiked on a neighbor’s unsecured wireless until it dropped the signal. Then ran my spare Ethernet cable to Jeff & Marie’s router. However I can get connected for free while on the road, I’ll do it!

Jeff’s girlfriend Marie and I plotted out my route toward St. Louis. Jeff was gone to a meeting with a canned tomato producer (for pizza sauce) in Northern Indiana. We decided it would be nicer to drive on country highways rather than Interstate 70, especially as I-70 had tons of big semi-trucks on it.

The highways I drove were not heavily trucked, but apparently not very direct either. Normally, after listening to the GPS yell at me for a while, “OFF-ROUTE: RECALCULATING,” the GPS software will get with MY program and reroute along the highway I am already on. Not today. I cranked up the radio so I couldn’t hear the incessant demands. Then I turned off the computer. It was a very long drive through lots of small towns, past acres of corn and soybean fields, and it seemed to take forever.

Eventually I turned the computer back on and booted up the GPS software. I only had a USA map. No map of Kentucky, Indiana, Missouri or Kansas because my original plan when I left on June 4th was to return along a more northerly route. Sometimes you have to go with the flow. I ask for good directions on both my departing and arriving ends of each driving segment, which I write down on a big yellow pad. Then I watch my progress on the GPS software (DeLorme) map graphic.

I crossed the Mississippi River into St. Louis proper just before dusk. The first thing that struck me was the smell – kind of sulfury and kind of sour. Sauerkraut! St. Louis smells like sour kraut. The second thing I noticed was that the highway splits and then rejoins. All the highways are crazy here. They merge left, merge right, split, resplit, and rejoin all over the place.

The third thing I noticed is that St. Louis drivers are selfish and rude. Use your blinkers all you want! The drivers will ignore it. Doesn’t matter if the merge or split is about to bounce you off onto a highway or exit you don’t want. Doesn’t matter if you’re driving a 30-foot rig and could run them off the freakin’ road if you weren’t so nice! They tailgate each other and crowd into your desired lane, ignoring your blinkers and preventing you from changing lanes. By the time I arrived at the brewery’s exit, I was ready to run some little cars right off the highway.

Even in the heat of traffic I can become philosophical, as traffic is a lot like life. Transitions are tricky. When you’re driving down the highway with your destination far away but straight ahead, it’s very clear that the road you’re on is the right road. When you get to the place where you have to transition, you must decide which road to take and you don’t want to miss your turn or exit. Backing up, U-turns, and “do-overs” are not an option.

The same thing happens with your career. Working at Steelhead was like driving cross-country on Highway 70. Once I was no longer at Steelhead (and metaphorically on Hwy 70 for the next 1,000 miles), my choices expanded exponentially and I realized my final destination might have changed.

My original destination had been to be the Brewmaster for a brewpub in a community where I could afford to buy a house. I did those things and expanded my goals to include building five brewpub breweries for Steelhead.

But now… What were my new dreams? Did they even include brewing beer?

Life doesn’t come with internal GPS. There is no little voice that automatically says, “Off-route, recalculating” in your ear. The closest thing humans have to internal GPS is our intuition or gut instincts. I know of two ways to turn on my inner GPS: The “sit quietly and meditate until you hear the still small voice within” technique doesn’t really work for me. I prefer to take an action that forces me out of my own comfort zone. Trust me when I tell you that this trip has forced me out of my comfort zone almost every day.

Part of my purpose in taking this trip was to visualize clearly what my final destination would look like. Being between jobs (and therefore in transition) means I have to figure out which road is the right road. It’s a tricky transition and I want to make the right decision. Remember: No backing up, U-turns or “do-overs.” Choosing the right road means knowing exactly what final destination I want.

This trip has been excellent for rekindling my passion and motivation as a brewer of craft beer. I’m still working out my future role within the brewing industry and I’m still developing the vision of my final destination. At some point in the future, I will let you know what that is. Please stay tuned!

In St. Louis I transitioned smoothly off the highway onto 13th Street, but did not transition so smoothly onto Lynch Street. My directions were missing 12th Street, which connected them, so I ended up lost a few blocks away from the giant Anheuser-Busch complex. The brownstone townhouses in the neighborhood looked like they’d been fixed up recently, and it looked like a very nice neighborhood. Later I found out that the neighborhood rehabilitation was a recent phenomenon, and had been mostly active for the previous six years.

George had me set up with security and I called them from my cell phone. They found me a few blocks away from A-B and I followed them in through the security gate. I parked in their “Secure Lot.” I’d be curious to see their “Unsecure Lot.” This whole place is as secure as the Pentagon! The photo above is of my little rig in front of one of the newer buildings. And this is just one of many brick buildings, and definitely not the biggest one!

All of the security officers are ex-cops, and they’re definitely the nicest ex-cops you could ever want to meet. Officer Rob directed me where to park my rig, then gave me a ride to the Security Building where he showed me where the women’s locker room and shower are located.
I gave my “Road Brewer” business card to Officer Rob and Officer Jeff and they both said, “Oh, we know who you are. We checked out your blog already. Can we go with you on your trip?” Then Officer Jeff made me some name badges to wear when onsite, and we swapped stories about our burn scars.

I called Schlafly’s Chief Brewer Stephen Hale and his wife Sara Hale and they picked me up outside of A-B’s security gate. Stephen arrived in his dress Utili-Kilt (short for utility kilt). We went to the Schlafly Taproom in downtown St. Louis. Stephen gave me a little tour of St. Louis along the way, and I thought downtown looked very nice. I explained that my father’s family hails from Washington and St. Louis, Missouri, and my paternal grandfather worked for Brown Shoe Company here in about 1920. Stephen drove past the old Brown Shoe Company for me. The architecture on the old buildings downtown was very nice, and Washington Street has been totally jazzed up into a happening nightspot.

Stephen explained that it wasn’t always this nice. The 1979 Kurt Russell movie, “Escape from New York” was filmed in this neighborhood, because back then the broken down industrial buildings were the best visual example of post-industrial collapse. Now you probably couldn’t afford a loft condo in the neighborhood.

At Schlafly’s I ordered a sampler of all 18 beers, each glass half-full. Then Stephen and Sara and I shared a whole bunch of appetizers, and they were very good. Schlafly’s beers are straight up: No cutesy beer names here. Just “Schlafly” and then the style name. And they are very good at styles here.

Stephen and Sara gave me a tour of the Tap Room’s brewhouse, and then the extensive basement cellars. Sara was one of Schlafly’s first woman brewers, so I added her to my Pink Boots Society list. Sara is an accomplished artist, and she’s very involved in Schlafly’s design department now.

After the tour, Stephen & Sara dropped me off at A-B’s security gate. Oops! 11:30 pm already, so the outer gate was locked with a chain and padlock. I called A-B security and they sent an Officer over in a security truck who let me in.

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