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Session # 9 Part One- 500 Miles from Nowhere

The Session

The Session


It’s August 1991. The weather in San Diego is unseasonably warmer than normal and it’s time to pack up and head out. I’m a seasoned 17 years old as I stuff my clothes, stereo and CD’s in my dill pickle green 1969 VW bus and point the compass east towards Flagstaff, Arizona where I will be attending Northern Arizona University.

Beer is not even a pimple on my oily butt at this point in my life. Sure, I knew what it was and what it tasted like, but I really didn’t know what “It” was. Now I most certainly do. And I have four years of college “studies” to thank for that.

1991 was a tempestuous year for me as my parents had recently separated and I wasn’t sure that leaving home for college was really the best thing to do. Maybe I was scared, confused or something. But leaving didn’t seem like something I should be doing. Turns out, I was very wrong.

With the van loaded and ready to go, I kissed my old life goodbye and we started the two Arthur car caravan. As many of you know, Volkswagen’s are moody little vehicles. My family owned 5 of them when I was in high school and they were constantly in need of our attention. As such, when it came time to leave for school, it was decided that we would take two cars to Flagstaff in case we needed to get parts for the van on the way across the desert.

My dad piloted the super pickle east out of San Diego through the mountains and down into the valley desert floor that separates San Diego from Arizona. For my part, I was instructed to follow the green machine on the ascent and descent in case my dad needed anything.

Deserts are desolate places and radios are pretty much useless. With this in mind, I made sure that I was stocked up on music. On the front seat of the Jeep I was driving was my stash of tapes (Cd players were very expensive still). As we headed out the mountains of San Diego, I reached over and grabbed a tape without thinking about it. It was Peter Gabriel.

Now, I remember the trip out of San Diego as clear as day. It was like I was leaving a very important part of my life behind. It was proverbially the journey from young man to just manhood. I never found any other way to describe it. For the first time in my life, I would be responsible for everything- without parental control everyday. Oh yeah, I was 17 years old too and more or less, on my own.

And little did I know it, I would “find” my new life in beer while I was in school in Flagstaff. On the second major grade out of town, I lost radio reception. I pushed the tape into the radio and sort of zoned out to the lyrics of Solsbury Hill as Mr. Gabriel refrained:

Just had to trust imagination
My heart was going boom boom, boom
Son, he said, grab your things, I’ve come to take you home.

Understand of course that I was being pulled away from home. I was driving away from the life that I had known for 17 years. It was the only life I had known. Yet, there was something very magical waiting for me in Flagstaff. I just didn’t know it. I owe my now famous brewing life to that town.

It was a ten hour drive to Flagstaff that August. Volkswagen’s are like draft horses,very plodding and deliberate. They’re equally as famous for 0-55 in 6 minutes. Fast they are not. I must have exhausted half my tape collection on that drive and to this day, the only song that I remember listening to was Solsbury Hill.

This life that I am living right now owes Flagstaff everything and more. When I was in school, I met friends whose passion for beer convinced me that a life worth living necessarily includes beer. They are not mutually exclusive.

That was over 15 years ago. It’s crazy. Yet, those lyrics are still with me every time that I hear that song.

Just had to trust imagination
My heart was going boom boom, boom
Son, he said, grab your things, I’ve come to take you home.

Music is a huge part of my life. I love lyrics. I love interpreting them. But most of all, I love it most when music and life align in a moment of clarity. It happens. This much I know. It happened on Interstate 8 East near Alpine that morning I left San Diego.

16 Years ago, I pointed my energies at a city 500 miles from home. In many ways, it was 500 Miles from Nowhere. You know, even Nowhere is a place if you never get there. It’s hard to imagine my life without beer. The thought of teaching high school English still appeals to me. Just not now. Right now, I am enjoying each and everyday surrounded by beer. I’m not sure I truly discovered beer; rather, I think beer discovered me.

Since that day I headed east with Peter Gabriel on my radio, the one constant in my life has been beer. And, every so often, a song comes into my life that reminds me of what music means to me as an artist. It’s about expression- just like the beers we brew.

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