Friday, August 27, 2004

And Much Fun Was Had By All

I went down to Keegan’s last night for a crowded and loud bacchanalia of trivia, celebrity hounding (both the local and national kind), adult beverages, and carousing with those infamous right-wing lunatics who listen to “hate radio,” and read those scandalously poorly fact checked blogs you might have read about in the New York Times.

A very good night.

For the record, “anonymous” from yesterday’s comments section, did indeed indulge in adult beverages. Though it was dark beer, not vodka as boasted. But we’ll give him a pass, because I was reliably informed that Keegan’s has the best Guinness pour in the Twin Cities – having paid a chunk of change to fly a fellow over from Guinness headquarters in Ireland to adjust the jeejobs, and tweak the whozeewhatsits, until the balance was exactly the way God intended.

Which made it rather puzzling why they also serve it ice cold.

A short digression. Guinness is one of those beers Americans have traditionally mocked when traveling abroad for being served WARM. Trouble is, much as I enjoy a good session of dumping on Europeans as much as the next right-wing nutjob, it’s the Americans who have this one wrong. Guinness and other stouts are supposed to be served at “cellar temperature,” which is below room temperature, but above the inside of your fridge. This isn’t because Europe has yet to discover refrigeration (though much like bathing, it isn't as popular there as here - ahhh, that feels more like it). The stuff truly does taste better at that temp. Serve it colder and you miss a lot of the flavor.

So I found myself sitting there (actually, standing because there was not an open seat in the house) with a full pint of Guinness. Realizing it was colder than I prefer, all I had to do was let it sit there for a while, and it would warm to proper temperature, right? But some evil part of my brain kept reminding me: “There in your hand is a full frothy pint of Guinness! And everyone else is drinking up and enjoying. And it’s not like it’s BAD when it’s cold, it’s just better a bit warmer. And aren’t you just a wee bit thirsty anyway?”

So anyway, about the bottom third of each pint was enjoyed at proper temperature. And it is indeed a fine pour. But back to the event….

Other than spotting “anonymous” sitting outside the bar and exchanging a couple of introductory words on the way in, I didn’t know anyone. I had no idea what to do. The place was packed already. I spotted Mike Nelson sitting with a small group of folks I assumed to be the Fraters. No Michael Medved or Hugh Hewitt yet. Not knowing who was supposed to be where, I didn’t even know a good spot to hang out to watch the contest.

Luckily, I spotted Mitch Berg, whom I had met briefly before. Mitch is one of the most gregarious and helpful fellows you could hope to run into in such an occasion. First of all, he knows everyone. Secondly, he seems to take it upon himself to ensure everyone gets to know each other as well. So within a couple of minutes I was introduced to Captain Ed from Captain’s Quarters, a couple fellows from the Taxpayers League, The Fraters Libertas guys, Mike Nelson, and a fellow named Jason, from rphaedrus, who Mitch described as the only good lefty blogger in town.

I parked myself next to Jason near the bar, as Mitch ran off to go fill the unofficial role of host for the event, spotting bloggers and blog readers from previous events and getting the socializing commenced. I asked Jason about the “lefty blogger” tag.

This put Jason in a slightly defensive, but rather opportune situation conversationally, as he was immediately hit on by several people within earshot to explain this “lefty” stuff. Gotta hand it to the Patriot listeners and bloggers in attendance, no one insulted or attacked. There was some mild ribbing, but a lot of serious intelligent discussion. And Jason acquitted himself very well, though he’s not so much a “lefty” in the Atrios or Kos sense, as he is a “not-righty.” And since he’s not planning to vote for Kerry (he’s deciding between Nader and Libertarian Badnarik), he likely defused some of the more potentially heated arguments.

So pretty soon the trivia contest began, and I found myself in an ad-hoc team composed of myself, Jason, and two gentleman who listen to the Patriot and were attending as spectators there much like myself (and whose names unfortunately escape me at the moment). The trivia contest is actually somewhat hard not to participate in. They hand out cards and pencils beforehand, scattering them about the room. Then a fellow with a microphone walks around loudly asking the questions. Game-shows have conditioned me to blurt out an answer when prompted like that. Jason, who can smoke, drink, and write at the same time, despite having no table space, started writing down answers. And around the fourth question we were into it as a team.

And what a team. We got trounced. I was happy to know some of the more obscure answers, but blanked on some of the most obvious ones. Jason doesn’t watch television, movies, or know anything about baseball – so that made most of the questions impossible for him. The other two teammates gave it the old college try. But after a couple of easy introductory questions, they cranked the obscurity level up pretty well into subjects neither of them knew much about either.

Anyway, it was fun playing. Like everyone else, I expected one of the two headline teams to win. They certainly did better than our rag-tag little squad. But the winners turned out to be the defending Tuesday night championship team. The Hewitt, Medved, Lileks team (it suddenly occurs to me I don’t know who their fourth was. They were sitting in the middle of a mob of friends, supporters, and spectators. Could have been any one of them.), and the Fraters Libertas tied. But both were bested by Captain Ed’s team and Mitch’s team (which may or may not have been the same team. Too many people talking back and forth to make out the details).

Afterward I got a chance to visit with some of the others a bit. Hugh was working the room pretty well, and was very personable and accommodating to everyone who asked for some of his time - which by this time felt like about 800,000 people shoved into the corner of a much-smaller-than-you’d-think bar. Michael Medved is not nearly as outgoing as Hugh. But he smiled and shook hands and exchanged a few words with folks. Lileks didn’t so much work the room as he just seemed to belong there. It was like watching him at a party with all sorts of friends and acquaintances, striking up conversations here and there with no hint of celebrity about him.

I had taken along my digital camera, but was very hesitant to use it. When I purchased it online, it arrived with a broken battery charger, and I’ve been waiting for the replacement for ages now. I have about 2 minutes of battery life left. I was hoping to get a couple of nice shots of the event, but my hesitation cost me. I got exactly one picture. It’s one of James Lileks accepting a gift of some sort of Hummel images in a bound volume from a fan (an inside joke which Hugh Hewitt listeners would get). I’ll try to post it tonight, if my battery isn’t dead. Sometime after the new battery charger arrives otherwise.

I had a nice little discussion with Captain Ed as well. He has a sort of “deer in the headlights” quality about him at the moment, having gone from almost total obscurity to respected popular blogger, to national media figure with major acceleration toward the latter only in the past couple of weeks. But he’s a sharp guy with good insight and a level head. I look forward to his Republican convention coverage.

I also caught Mike Nelson and his wife on their way out the door. I just had to tell my “six degrees of separation” story to him. I mean, what’s all that Guinness good for if not for making you tell obscure personal stories to people you barely know?

The story is about my pre-kids time of life when my wife and I rented half of a duplex from a nice older couple of neighbor-landlords. One morning the landlord was over to fix something or other, and noticed that we had MST3K on the television, and remarked about it. Since the landlord was in his 60’s, and therefore not exactly in the demographic sweet-spot of the show's audience, I was a bit surprised than he knew about it and asked how. Turned out his daughter was Mary Jo Pehl, and was a writer on the show (and later played the character “Pearl” for the last couple of seasons). Mike looked only mildly amused, but his wife enjoyed it quite a bit. Seems Mary Jo (whom I met in passing only one time when she was visiting her folks incidentally) is her best friend.

Ended the night holding Mitch up with a last round (apologies to Mitch’s babysitter – my fault he was late), talking about tech work, blogs, and many of the gang who were there that night. Mitch is one of those rare people who seems as comfortable in a group of a dozen all talking at once as he is in one on one conversation. Maybe that’s why he makes a good radio host.

In any case, it was great fun. My throat is still sore this morning from spending the hours shouting over the general din. The place was so packed I didn’t spot an open seat until it was almost time to go. Just the sort of scene I normally avoid. But in this case it felt more like a very good party full of interesting new acquaintances and old friends. Plus some good draft Guinness and live Irish music. Not a bad way to spend an evening.

UPDATE: And I didn't think he'd notice. Hugh took the time to chat with about a zillion people last night. Who'd have thought he would remember me? But there I am described perfectly in his blog today:

"But I do know that enterprising bar-keeps the country over ought to follow Keegan's lead and organize such Thursday night trivia fests and encourage local bloggers to attend. It is a great way to meet the community of cyber-scribblers and also indulge the competitiveness that most certainly drives people to take up their keyboards and comment. Plus, many of them appear to drink heavily, making it a pretty good promotion when it comes to the night's receipts, not to mention the write-ups in the blogs the next day."

That was ME!!


Blogger Kevin said...

Sounds like a great time! I saw Hugh over at the book signing, but didn't make an attempt for the trivia event. Sounds like a blast, thanks for the recap! Kevin

9:56 PM  

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