Back in 1975, Tom T. Hall sang, “I like beer, it makes me a jolly good fellow. I like beer, it helps me unwind and makes me feel mellow. Whiskey's too rough, Champagne costs too much, vodka puts my mouth in gear. This little refrain should help me explain, as a matter of fact I like beer.”
Up until then, Tom T. and I agreed on almost everything. We both loved old dogs, little baby ducks, and pickup trucks. But we parted company on beer.
Beer has been in the news a lot lately. The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee spent hours debating the pros and cons of beer with a Supreme Court Justice nominee.
“How much beer did you drink in high school?” “Did you drink so much beer that you blacked out?” “Did you go to beer parties in college?’ These questions were batted back and forth between Senators and the nominee.
Soon, people were sharing their own beer stories. Some had happy endings, while others did not. Oddly enough, yours truly, who worked in the sudsy world of rock ‘n roll radio, is not a beer guy.
I know! My doctor doesn’t believe it either. During my annual physical exam, he went down the checklist. “Do you smoke?” “No.” “Have you ever been addicted to drugs?” “No.” “Do you drink?” “No.”
There was a long pause, as the doctor turned from his computer screen to look me in the eyes. “Come on, seriously.” Me: “Nope, I don’t drink.” He was getting impatient. “I mean, even a beer now and then?” Me: “Not even that.” Now it’s getting uncomfortable. “But when you were younger, you…” Me: “Nope, not then either.” The doctor snorted and said, “But you’re in broadcasting, where everybody drinks!”
I said, “Look, now you’re stereotyping. I mean, President Trump has never had a beer.” That remark led him into a whole new conversation, and we won’t go there.
But the point is, somehow I missed the beer wagon. I’m not playing holier-than-thou, because I have my share of vices and bad habits. Nor do I look down on anyone who loves a cold one now and then. That’s just not my thing.
When I have declined a beer, people ask me how I possibly grew up without even tasting the stuff, and how I’ve avoided it as a grown-up.
First off, my parents weren’t beer drinkers. Nor could we sell it in our country store in “dry” Jackson County, Alabama. I put that word in quotation marks because it wasn’t really that dry.
Just across the county line, maybe 12 miles away, there was a little store that sold beer, and I’d say half their business was from my side of the county line.
Those who didn’t have the means to cross that line had to be creative to get their occasional high. A nearby community known as “Happy Holler” reportedly got that name because of moonshine stills. Presumably the finished product made some folks mighty happy, at least until the feds showed up. Among the popular items on our store shelves were the cold medication “NyQuil” and Vanilla Extract, due to their high alcohol content. As a kid, I long believed some of our customers either had year-round colds, or baked a lot of sweets. I always was a little slow on the uptick.
Later, as a teenager entering the world of radio, I was exposed to more booze and drugs than I had ever seen. Some of my bosses and many of my colleagues drank a lot of beer. They would take me to “wet t-shirt” contests where the beer flowed, and the t-shirts didn’t stay on very long. One night, a record executive promoting a new Bee Gees tune invited my radio friends and me to the famous box car at the Chattanooga Choo Choo. I got my first look at cocaine as “Jive Talkin” blasted in the background.
So why didn’t I indulge? The peer pressure was certainly there. I was considered the squarest, most un-hip deejay in the history of top-40 radio. The reason for my abstinence was actually quite simple. Unlike most of my colleagues who lived near the radio station, my home was 35 miles away. I was still a teen, and my dad had laid down the law. “Stay out of trouble, and you can keep this car. Get in trouble, and I’ll take your keys.” I had learned that radio was more fun than pumping gas, so his warning provided a strong incentive.
President Trump said recently, “Can you imagine if I drank beer? What a mess I would be!” So I plan to stay “dry,” even though friends tell me I’m missing something. At least if I’m ever nominated for the Supreme Court, that’s one thing they can’t use against me.
David Carroll, a Chattanooga news anchor, is the author of “Volunteer Bama Dawg,” a collection of his best stories. You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.