During those troubled, disorienting times I was going through during my divorce, I found solace in the company of strangers. When you’ve been fighting constantly with someone close, and end up angry and lost, brief superficial conservations with people you don’t know can have an unexpected restorative effect. Maybe it’s because contact, even sparse contact like this, with other humans is something we need to feel alive, and these small interactions always end painlessly. and often on a good note. Sure, family and friends are important at a time like this, but there comes a point, more quickly than people realize, when you don’t want to keep rehashing all the bad news. When strangers ask you “How are you doing?” during these times, it isn’t in concerned worried tones. Besides, responding with “I’m fine” to a stranger was a courtesy, to friends and family, it was a blatant lie.
I hadn’t discovered craft beer back then, so coffee was my usual drink of choice. Many an evening was spent in a coffee shop, reading a book, and occasionally engaging in chit chat with the person sitting next to me or the baristas who came to know me as a regular. Going out and drinking booze alone during a time where I was dealing with depression seemed a little dangerous, and I could easily see the evening degenerating into drunken blabbering to a bunch of strangers things I didn’t want to talk about.
Things have changed a lot since then, mostly for the better. I’ve gotten remarried, and usually glad to respond to the “How are you?” questions. But there are times when the wife is off somewhere and the kids aren’t around, or I’m travelling on business. It doesn’t take long before I’m fighting restlessness and feeling disconnected in my quiet apartment or unfamiliar hotel room, and going out for a pint or two of a good beer amidst the background buzz of a bar becomes a necessity.
You can casually ask the guy next to you “What are you drinking?” and have a brief, simple conversation about the brew’s flavor without venturing into off-putting elitism. There’s usually a random sporting event on TV you can talk about, or just watch. Sure, beer and sports elicit passions, but they rarely involve the value judgments and emotional baggage that end up dividing people. It’s just beer we drink while watching young men play games. And when you’re done, you can turn to the person next to you, say “Nice meeting you,” and simply leave.
There’s a lot to be said about beer cementing strong bonds of friends and family for lifetimes. But overlooked is that beer also serves as Post-It note adhesive, a critical utilitarian bond that serves its purpose for a brief time before being broken effortlessly and painlessly as it vanishes.