Friday, July 18, 2008

Working Class Cool

I love the drive-in. The retro feel, the comfort of your own vehicle, being able to bring whatever food you want, getting two movies for the price of one: it can't be beat. The Cascade is showing two superhero movies this week. What could be more summer than Batman and Will Smith on a July night? (I know that Hancock has gotten bad reviews, but Mrs. Chaka loves Will Smith sci-fi. She liked I, Robot, for goodness sake.)

The Cascade is in West Chicago and has an appropriately working-class vibe going on. The last time we went there, the car of teenagers next to us left a pile of crushed Pabst Blue Ribbon cans behind. I have a certain fondness for the Pabst Brewing Company; I had an small cooler I took on camping trips as a kid that was covered in the Blue Ribbon logo. (It may have gone to church camp with me. Who knows what my counselor thought.) If you drive through any small town in the Midwest, I guarantee that you will see a bar on the main drag with either a Pabst Blue Ribbon sign:

or an Old Style sign (also a product of Pabst Brewing Company).


This pic is actually from Chicago, so it doesn't quite capture the right look. But Google images isn't giving me anything better.

It was in Chicago, however, that I discovered that Pabst Blue Ribbon is also beloved by urban art hipsters. At a show at Heaven Gallery (where my sister-in-law was video curator), I saw a 24-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon sitting next to the wine. At first I thought it was there because it was cheap, but it appears that PBR has developed quite a following in the hipster community. It may be featured on Stuff White People Like any day now.

The interesting story behind this strange meeting of cultures is told in a couple places. Click here for an article in the New York Times magazine. J. L. Schindler also pointed me to a mention in this Salon review.

That night at Heaven Gallery, when I threw a buck into the jar and grabbed a Pabst, I was being reintroduced to a piece of my own cultural background. In a crowd of people very different from me and from where I grew up, I experienced a flash of home. Nostalgia isn't quite the right word; it wasn't like going through the boxes in the attic. For lack of a better word, I'll call it a moment of homeliness.

But it was a funny, postmodern sort of homeliness. It's likely that the person who bought the 24-pack did so ironically. And when I drank that beer (something that I have never actually done in my hometown), I was enjoying it self-consciously. And now, that's the only way I'll ever be able to enjoy it.

1 comment:

beau said...

The Pabst Blue Ribbon signs linger in my memory too. Every summer when we drove to Ely passing through little towns with names like Babbitt and Bemidji they'd be there outside dank little taverns.

I got the heebee-jeebies every time I saw them unfortunately as alcohol had been demonized in our home. (Imagine my shock when I came home from school one summer and my parents were suddenly "into" wine, ostensibly for health reasons.) Recent trips through Wisconsin rekindled the memories of those signs as they are no less ubiquitous there.

These days I cannot partake in a cold one--with or without hipster nostalgia--what with my allergy and all. It's a pity, really. Throw one back for me if you would. Ironically, if you must.