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To quote Strother Martin in Cool Hand Luke, "What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate." That’s quite a
statement. Without communication, who are we? It defines us. Over the centuries, we have seen the medium of
communication evolve from prehistoric man’s drawings inside caves to the printed word to the wireless to television to
the Internet and now, worst of all, to big screen, computerized beer menus hanging on bar walls.
Technology is not always our friend. Using it simply to use it can have decidedly unwelcomed effects. It’s clear that
some purveyors of the latest scientific gadgets forget that it affects living, breathing, human beings, which in my case
meant having a near heart attack when it seemed the Libertine Tavern was totally out of beer.
I had taken my usual seat (third from the corner on the left side) when I looked up and saw that the two blackboards
where the tap beers were always boldly written in glistening white chalk were both blank. Nothing. Empty. Zilch. The
only evidence they had ever been used was several pounds of chalk dust on the floor. I was immobilized. Blank
chalkboards could only mean one thing – the pub was out of beer. Where did it all go? My first thought was that the
Mega Brewers had a new strategy to take down craft beer. They had bought up all of the Libertine’s kegs and
dumped them in an effort to force me to order…. it’s hard even to say it… a bottle of Bud Light. Come on, it’s not
that farfetched. You know their capable of doing it.
Just as I was being engulfed by total depression, Doug, the Libertine’s bartender (recently voted by the regulars as
the “Best left handed bald Norwegian bartender over 6’4” tall who works the Happy Hour shift” came over and asked
“What are you having?”
“What do you mean – there’s nothing on the blackboards” I said with such angst that the two people nibbling on
onions near me were moved to tears.
“What are you talking about?” he said politely. We have beer. Check the list.”
“I did and the boards are blank."
“Look over to your right, on the big wall. That’s our new digital listing of beers. The Libertine is joining the 21st
As someone whose heart is firmly planted in the 1800s, I shook my head in disgust. After the invention of the
telegraph, the internal combustion engine, the electric light bulb, the locomotive, and the wearable life boat in that
century, what more did people really need? Frankly, the innovations of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago were about
as much technology as necessary. Besides, that’s where Pabst won its famed Blue Ribbon so how much better could
The Libertine had placed a large flat screen TV on the far side wall. To see it I had to twist my neck in a pose only
heretofore accomplished by only the most practiced yogis of the Far East. As the screen came into focus it seemed
to have listings of the Libertine beers. I’m assuming they were beers since the font was smaller than a pour you’d get
for a $2 taste of Samuel Adams' Utopia.
Knowing that Libertine management might frown on my screaming across the bar to ask the guy sitting under the list
to read it to me, I took preemptive action. I got up and nonchalantly strolled over to the sign, hoping to preserve my
beer dignity and hide the fact that I desperately need new glasses.
I stood mezmerized by the information overload on the screen. First, the logo of the brewery was displayed, then the
name of the beer, and its place of origin. Next came the beer’s ABV, SRM, IBUs, OG, and the outdoor temperature
in there. I didn’t ask why. Interestingly neither the serving size nor the price was listed. Near the bottom of the
screen was a special section for users of Untapped, a popular smart phone app that lets a person log in the beer
they are drinking, rate it, and list where they are. When anyone does that for a beer being consumed at the
Libertine, their personal avatar and name would appear on the screen. It promised near immortal fame to anyone
who had the uncanny ability to drink beer and use a phone at the same time. The siren call of that bottom line must
have been truly enticing as I noticed several people feverishly tapping on their phones and looking at the screen.
The screen only listed ten beers at a time which meant you had to watch three different ones to see each of the
offerings on the Libertine’s 30 taps. Notice please that I said “see” not read. Not even a Magna Cum Laude
graduate of the Evelyn Wood School of Speed Reading Dynamics could possibly get through half the information
before the screen changed. Making things even more difficult was the fact that at random times an ad would appear
for what seemed as long as the last two minutes of an NFL game, which is about half an hour. One ad simply said
“Drink More Beer,”, another showed what looked like celebrity chef Guy Fieri smiling wickedly and giving the thumps
up sign. I’m the wrong guy to ask why; I’m still working on the why of the outdoor temperature. Sensing something
sinister going on I tried blinking quickly to see if any subliminal ads were also appearing. I couldn’t be sure, though I
suddenly had a urge to buy a triple cheese seaweed burger.
I returned to my seat frustrated and thirstier than ever. I then went old school. I walked around the bar looking at the
tap handles to see which beer I wanted. Fortunately the Libertine has not gone the route of generic tap handles
differentiated only by a number. To be honest, I hate those. The best tap handles are a works of art. They’re fun to
look at and somehow even seem to help the beer taste a little better. Some bars (no I’m not going to mention The
Office chain) even demand you order your beer by its tap handle number only. I was in just such a bar yesterday
and decided to be a rebel – I ordered the beer by its name. The panicked bartender called over a manager who
warned me against trying to cause trouble. I admit to caving in but only for a most important reason - I really wanted
a glass of #27. After that I ordered a half and half of #15 and #35. When I wanted a refill, I asked for a #50. Instead
of a chuckle, all I got was a request to leave and never return.
My tap handle recon expedition had really paid off. My next beer was Neshaminy Creek Shape of Hops to Come.
Great stuff. As my glass neared empty, I began debating with myself (one argument I couldn’t lose) about what beer
to order next. I turned to the screen and concentrated. It still was almost impossible to read and still flashed
numerous ads but now, inexplicably, it somehow had become entertaining. With each page change I was able to pick
up a few more letters, sometimes even entire words. The more I looked at it the more I learned. It was like watching
a PBS documentary, only more exciting.
After watching for an hour or so I began expecting the information to change. Maybe a new beer was being added.
Maybe an ABV number would be updated. Maybe the ad would say something dramatically different like “Drink More
…..And More Beer.” Maybe there’d be a change of grand slam, home run proportions. No, not in the Yankee game
on the other TVs but on the Untapped line. A new name there would be right up with seeing a total eclipse, going to
a Beatles concert, or having a craft brewer say no to a multi-million buyout offer from AB InBev. Eventually, all my
staring at the screen made me a bit uncomfortable. It wasn't due to the eye strain or the twisted posture. I just hadn't
going to the restroom for fear of missing something.
The bar manager, Scott, came by and asked me how I liked the new beer menu. I told him that other than the fact it
was missing important information, had too many ads, changed screens to quickly, and had print too small to read, I
loved it. He smiled with satisfaction, choosing to only hear the last three words.
In desperation, I asked Scott why he just didn’t keep using the chalkboards in addition to the screen. He smugly
chastised me for being “old fashioned” and explained how inferior the old chalkboard was. “I can fit more information
on the screen than I could ever on the chalkboard. And it’s cleaner; you won’t choke on any yellow dust. Besides,
the printing on the chalkboard was never straight and the letters weren’t clear.” I was tempted to remind him that he
was the one who did all the writing but didn’t want an invitation to leave yet another bar.
I went on to tell him that the medium he chooses to use to list his beers is itself a message. I though he understood
until he told me some he once dated a medium but they broke up; she was seeing other people. Marshall McLuen
would have enjoyed that.
Then it happened. A few short, loud snaps, a long whining buzz and the beer menu screen went blank. Something
had shorted out. Customers were getting confused. Beer glasses stood empty as no one knew what to order. Panic
was in the air. Scott was shaken; he knew bar riots have started for lesser reasons than this. More importantly, he
was losing money every second the screen stayed blank.
I stayed calm amidst the chaos and reached into my pocket. I stood up and shouted, “I have the answer to all of your
problems here in my hand.” Proudly, like the Statue of Liberty, I held a piece of chalk high above my head for all to
Vindication is a pleasant thing.
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