I’ll take a Michelob

They say you can’t go home again. For me it’s too easy. I now live two doors down from the house where I grew up. My parents have been keeping tabs on the neighborhood for fifty years.

It’s that kind of continuity, unique to fewer and fewer communities in the United States, that binds us together. And that’s why a large turnout was expected for our all-years Catholic grade school reunion this past weekend.

A $40 ticket purchased from the church rectory in advance bought a full buffet and all the “well” drinks, beer, and wine you could handle. Chicken, mostaccioli, BBQ beef sandwiches. Or maybe it was pork. Trust me this was not a fussy crowd.

“Well” drinks meant no premium brand vodka, scotch, or gin. Nothing fancy or frilly. I did see martinis, but they were served in a tumbler. Mix the distilled generic brand liquor of your choice with 7-Up, Coke, tonic, orange juice or, maybe, pineapple juice if you’re my sister. Beer selection was a choice of various bottles, all of them domestic, except Corona — which might as well be domestic.

Wine — I didn’t even look — was probably Gallo jug.

I chose Michelob. Because that’s what we always drank as kids — I started drinking at 14 — and I wasn’t planning on having very many. The selection was limited to Ultra . Only 95 calories.

Because now we’re worried about calories.

Recently there was a big controversy over the possibility that Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, was going to discontinue selling Old Style beer. Wrigley Field patrons care about Old Style based on faux nostalgia rather than genuine, basic, blue-collar draft beer chops. The Pabst Brewing Company still produces all the old-fashioned, now in fashion with the hipsters, beers that used to be made by family-owned breweries. Old Style is what we drank in cans at my uncle’s tavern across the street from the old Comiskey Park.

When we were sixteen.

Pabst Blue Ribbon, Blatz, Strohs, and Old Style were our go-to beers when short of cash or when drinking in volume. But we all had jobs. I worked the cash register at the local hamburgers, hotdogs, and Italian beef joint across from Tony’s, the liquor store. Our boyfriends stocked Tony’s shelves. And sometimes they slipped a case or two out the back on Fridays and Saturdays.

The classic brands came in cans. Huggies hide cans well for drinking clandestinely behind the school, at the forest preserve, sitting on a park bench or, our favorite, in the cemetery. But when we didn’t have to worry about being seen we preferred Michelob or, for special occasions, Heineken.

It all came back to me as I watched the night progress at the reunion. I could have predicted who would be left at 11:00pm for last call. Some were trying to decide which bar to go next. There are plenty to choose from on Western Avenue and the beer is still cheap. I knew where that would lead. Once you agreed to go to the next place, it was impossible to leave before closing. In the old days that would have then led to breakfast at 24-hour Karson’s. But Karson’s isn’t there anymore.

When we were in college, I called it “diminishing marginal returns.” At that age it was about going home with someone. If your plan wasn’t made by last call — some bars in Chicago serve until 5am on the weekends — no good would come of staying just a little longer. The later it got, the worse the outlook.

I figured it was time to go home.

I was thinking as I said goodbye that my family was lucky no one had ever landed in jail or the emergency room because of alcohol. Many families we grew up with had not been so fortunate. More than a few folks we knew ended up in rehab, Alcoholics Anonymous, and Narcotics Anonymous by the time they got out of college and started a family. We all have friends who, because of booze or drugs, are already gone. It was a sobering to look around and see how many that were still lingering now carry a gun as a Chicago Police or Sheriff’s Police officer.

Francine McKenna is a freelance writer and independent journalist with a regular column at Forbes.com called “Accounting Watchdog.” You can follow her on Twitter at @retheauditors.

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