When I travel, I like to try the local fare. In 2007, I stopped in Cheyenne, Wyoming looking for lunch. The GPS had directed me to a restaurant that was no longer open, so I grabbed the first guy I saw walking down the street and asked if there was anyplace around to eat. In an accent that was very close to what I have heard before from South Dakota Mennonite's he stated plainly, "There is an Arby's down the street."
"No, no," I stated, "I want to go someplace local. Someplace we don't have back home."
"Oh, do you have a Chili's?"
"We sure do."
"How about Outback?"
He finally directed me to a brewpub (Bonus!) and we had a fine lunch before continuing on our way.
Drinking one of my April Beer of the Month club selections today (the April's Fool choice) reminded me of another such occurrence in my travels. In June 2009, we were on our way to the Badlands when we went through Vermillion, South Dakota. Vermillion is a University town as well as being the name of some of my in-laws, so I had a special interest in spending a little bit of time there. We drove around the campus of the University of South Dakota for a bit before pulling into a gas station for a refill. Used to be, especially in the South, you could find a host of regional products in the cases of off the track filling stations. You used to never have to settle for a Coke or Pepsi as RC Cola was always available. If you were in the mood, Nugrape was usually there as well. Nowadays, as a general rule, the corporate conglomerates have bought out everything and stores stock only Coke or Pepsi products. Every once in awhile, you can still stumble across a gold mine of strange brands that let you feel as though you have participated in something special, something that helps support and perpetuate the great American small-time entrepreneur and his big ideas.
Even thought soft drinks are almost completely homogenized now, there is still a chance to support the little guy and do yourself some good. That's right; Beer. With micro-breweries seemingly everywhere, the American beer market has shed it's reputation of being awful. Even while Europeans continue to let the mass brewers move in and increase market share at the expense of centuries old brewers, we here have moved our tastes and our hearts to those who see beer as more than just a beverage on the road to mind alteration (not that there is anything wrong with that).
So, in the back aisle of a convenience store in Vermillion, I stalked back and forth, strolling past the AB and Miller products, moving towards the "exotic" end of the refrigerated case. The green of Heineken and the clear of Corona reflected off my irises, but I could not find the tell-tale brown bottles with the unique labels signifying something new and different. My shopping habits (the aforementioned stalking, the staring and touching, the grabbing and putting back) have often aroused suspicion or curiosity in stores. Here, on the edge of the West, curiosity won out. The clerk came back to stand and stare with me at the case. "What you looking for," he asked helpfully.
"When I get away from home, I like to try the local beer. You know, something different than I can get at home," I stated.
"Ahh," he sighed with a knowing look and moved over a few feet in the case. "You ever had Mickey's?"
"Yeah, I have. Thanks, man. Have a good one"