I approached the “Have a Beer with John Hickenlooper” event with some caution, after having just attended a “Breakfast with Bill de Blasio” at which I did not have breakfast. John Hickenlooper is the governor of Colorado, and before his political career began he ran a very successful brewing company in Denver, so it made sense that he would be having a meet-and-greet at a Cedar Rapids brewpub. I had to hope there would actually be beer involved.
When I arrived, I could see right away that this event had a good set up. Tables were stationed at the door, and no one was getting in without being asked to sign in. But, the benefit of signing it was that you got a ticket for a beer and a beer cozy (or is it koozie?). I have never in my life found a good reason to use a beer cozy. If you are nursing your beer so long that it gets warm, you should have ordered something different. But I was happy to take the ticket and order one of the house specialties, a dark sour beer, which tasted a little thin at first but then grew on me.
This particular brew pub was the Quarter Barrel Arcade and Brewery, and the bar was faced by a row of classic pinball machines, mostly from the 1980s, a period during which I had misspent a fair share of my youth and early adulthood playing pinball. So, with beer in hand and quarters in my pocket, I have to say that I felt I had been demographically pretty well targeted for this event. I put my money into the Ghostbusters machine before I noticed that it had already been loaded up with credits. But after a warm up game (in which I got a credit on match), I played again and tore the machine up with a long multiball session. In fact, I missed Hickenlooper’s entrance because I was doing so well.
But that was okay, because the Governor had decided to work the room before the formal part of the event began. When I finished my game and went over to the seating area, I saw the tall and thin Governor going from table to table, chatting up people who came for the event or who were just there for a beer (I couldn’t tell the random customers from the Hickenlooper supporters). Though this was a nice space in many ways, it was a very loud room and the row of pinball machines only added to the noise, particularly the classic Iron Maiden machine which “featured” the sound effect of a screaming woman. I hoped campaign had a decent sound system in place.
John Hickenlooper is not one of the better known candidates, but I was aware of an intriguing bit of trivia about him because of work I’ve done on Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut’s last novel was the semi-autobiographical Timequake. In chapter 44, he writes about a 1996 visit to Denver for a gallery opening featuring some of his prints. In honor of the event, a local microbrewery created a special beer, Kurt’s Mile-High Malt. It was Wynkoop, the brewery co-founded by John Hickenlooper. It also turned out that Vonnegut had gone to college with John Hickenlooper’s father, who had died when the future-governor was only seven. In the book, Vonnegut writes about regaling the future-Governor with stories about college days at Cornell, and he reprints a copy of the label of Kurt’s Mile-High Malt.
I say all this because when Hickenlooper made his way around the room to me, we shook hands and I brought up his Kurt Vonnegut connection. Hickenlooper said that it was amazing to have had this coincidence come into his life almost at random. I joked that he and Vonnegut must have been in the same karass. That’s a term from Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, and it refers to a group of people who, unbeknownst to themselves, are spiritually linked or affiliated (sorry to be the literary geek here, but that’s how it went down). Hickenlooper lit up at the reference. “I use that term all the time!” he exclaimed. Our connection made, I took a selfie and he continued working his way around the room.
Soon, I realized that Hickenlooper was going to individually speak to each of the 50 or so people in the room, taking the term “meet-and-greet” literally. It is not very interesting to watch a politician work a room, particularly when the room is too loud for the conversation to be heard. That said, I’m pretty sure most of the discussions involved Iowans giving Hickenlooper unsolicited advice about how to run his campaign, the dispersal of such pearls of wisdom being the birthright of all Iowans. Anyway, there was still plenty of pinball to play. I made my way over to The Shadow, another movie tie-in machine. Looking at the machine, I recognized that the back of the machine featured the likeness of Alec Baldwin from back in his movie star heartthrob days. That fact that Baldwin was now playing Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live seemed to connect up to my being here for a political event. Alec and I weren’t quite in the same karass, but still, it was something.
Finally, even a pinball wizard such as myself had had enough, and I began to wonder when this event actually would begin. The governor had spoken to everyone he could, and I counted to see that seven people were trying to fix a microphone. Then, for no apparent reason, the microphone began to work and Hickenlooper began addressing the crowd.
The governor started out by playing up to the crowd and praising how nice people in Iowa had been to him. He spoke of his time in Colorado and how in a purple-state he’s been able to pass progressive legislation on guns and greenhouse emissions.I usually try to get video of the first minute or so of a candidate’s speech, but in this case I got footage of almost everything Hickenlooper said. After a couple minutes, he stopped and half-heartedly asked if anyone wanted to ask any questions, before quickly dismissed the idea with a wave of his hand. Then he went back for another round of handshaking, even though he’d already met everyone in the room. Really, that was it? I felt like I hadn’t quite earned my free beer. It felt like Hickenlooper just liked meeting new people and was using a presidential campaign as an excuse. Because there were questions to be asked. For example, I wanted to hear him say how he planned to win over Obama-Trump voters, since that the general thrust of the case he was making. Also, during this event, a friend posted a reminder that Hickenlooper once drank a glass of fracking fluid to argue about how safe it was. Meanwhile, Colorado is experiencing an unprecedented number of fracking-related earthquakes. So, there were things we could have discussed.
I drifted over to the pinball machines but couldn’t repeat my prior success on Ghostbusters. Hickenlooper went behind the bar and got himself a beer. That seemed like a good idea. I got an IPA and regressed even further into my childhood, playing a round of Donkey Kong, Jr. When I looked up, the governor was gone, and the crowd that remained had either decided to stick around or hadn’t been here for the meet-and-greet in the first place.
At the bar, a woman came up to order a couple drinks, using one of the free drink tickets for an Old Style. I couldn’t help but note that that seemed a poor choice at a brew pub with a decent range of selections (and, though I didn’t say it, Old Style was really a poor choice at any time). The woman said it was for her husband, and she blamed his being a Cubs fan for his lame taste in beer. None of that made sense to me, but then I realized she was even more confused than I was by all that had happened. Her family had just been driving through from Illinois and stopped here for lunch. They didn’t even realize they were attending a political event.
I took a sip of my beer. Well, I thought, I’m not sure this fully counted as a political event. But that seemed kind of rude to say. Instead, I said I hoped she had a good time in Iowa. She left with her drinks. I gave Ghostbusters one last shot.