“I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I’m gone which would not have happened if I had not come.” Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children.
I put off writing this one because I didn’t think I could do a good job telling it, but that’s not a good reason to be deterred from anything, is it? It’s the perfectionist in me, the perfectionist that I thought – with some therapy, some serious research into the subject, much introspection and journaling, and a bit of hard work – I had partly dissolved, partly suppressed.
I left Kalamazoo after exchanging warm goodbyes with my two lovely hosts. My itinerary told me that my next stop was Plainwell, Michigan, which felt like it was right up the road. I hadn’t been driving long at all until I arrived at a charming house with an old truck parked out front.
I arrived at 11:00am, just as they opened, but I still wasn’t the first one there. I watched a group of six seniors get out of their cars and carefully traverse the gravel parking lot to the stairs that led up to the door, and followed.
I loved the decor; it looked much like an old farmhouse that had been restored to accomodate restaurant seating on multiple levels as well as a brewery. I didn’t get to see how many barrels the operation was, because it was hard to get a good look at all of it, and there was no one around to chat with who might offer me a closer look. (Turns out, this happens a lot when you’re a woman wandering around alone in a brewery.)
I wasn’t really sure what they were going for with the beaver, though:
But it was taller than me and a pretty impressive piece of wood (that’s what she said), so of course I was going to take a picture.
I was seated on the patio, which was an excellent choice for such a nice summer day. Plainwell is a pretty small town, mostly farmland, and I was on one of the few major streets. Because of very little commercial development, I had a clear, straight view down the road on each side, and an umbrella to shade me from the sun. If you end up here and it’s halfway decent outside, sit on the patio.
The beer list was pretty impressive, and I broke my flight-glasses only rule with a larger pour.
I had the Crazy Beaver Cream Ale, which in addition to a possibly misogynist name (?), was kind of meh. Large amounts of flaked maize were kind of cool, and made for a good body with good balance, but I did not care for the finish at all. It kind of ruined it for me.
I got a fruit beer called Free Love Passion Fruit Ale (much better name!), which was carbonated with raspberries and passionfruit, and excellent for a light summer lunch on a hot day. It was almost too sweet, but I figured, what the hell, it was summer. And it went nice enough with my chicken quesadilla, which I am sharing only because I love quesadillas and will eat them at any time of the day or night.
(This one wasn’t that great, though.)
I’d ordered a pint of the Passionfruit beer but didn’t want to finish it. My eyes were certainly bigger than my stomach on that one.
And, for the first time, I shared a few pics from my trip thus far on Facebook. Remember, my parents thought I was at a conference all day from 9-5 in Grand Rapids. I shared it only to a certain pre-selected list of people who probably knew I drank, and figured I’d wait to see if I was found out. I can be pretty reckless with this stuff at times. I know it doesn’t sound like much to those of you who have always had the freedom (once you turned 21) to drink, but for me this was basically a disown-able offense. It was violating a major, major rule in Islam. Not that I particularly cared.
The food was taking an obscenely long time, and I pondered grabbing my vitamins from the car. I took Phytomatrix at the time, which made me feel pretty good, but turned my pee a mustard color no matter how much water I drank. At the time, I felt like they helped me not feel gross after drinking all day but it certainly could have been a placebo effect.
I had a small pour of the Island City IPA, which was citrusy and hop forward and had a light pine finish. It was completely on the opposite end of intensity (IPA wise) from the Wilbur IPA, which was loaded with Simcoe hops (goodbye, tastebuds, nice knowing you), and was sweet enough from the malt but hands down the piniest beer I have ever had. It was like being punched in the mouth, between the Simcoe and the pine.
I paid up, finally, which also took forever (about as long as the food), and gratefully slipped out the door. Old Mill Brew Pub was pretty enough, but I had no desire to return. The beer was okay, the food was wholly unremarkable, and it felt like the kind of place old people went to feel hip drinking craft beer. Not for me, and I won’t return.
I pushed on to Milllgrove. I returned there many times, unlike Old Mill, largely in thanks to the super cute brewer who very quickly forgave me for barging in uninvited.
The mistake was simple, and all mine. I had planned out my itinerary by consulting mostly Google Maps and the Craft Brewers Guild website. Both had listed Millgrove as opening at noon. So, when I arrived at 12:30PM, I figured it was already open.
The sign outside, however, said they opened at 2PM, which wouldn’t do me any good because I was supposed to be closer to Holland at that point. I stared at the sign, and then at my itinerary, and then for some reason decided that my itinerary controlled. This illogical belief was further buttressed by the fact that the door, when I tested it, opened easily.
(In retrospect, sure, this was probably in compliance with fire codes, which likely stated that if there were occupants within a building then at least one door should be unlocked, but I wasn’t really thinking of fire codes at the time.)
I walked inside and stood on the front mat, looking around. It was a pretty cute place, with wide open seating areas, a small stage, and a bar that spanned much of the length of the room. A little dated, but I could easily see it as a cozy place to hang out in the evenings, especially.
“Uh, can I help you?”
A tall, dark-haired man, probably close to my age, emerged from a back room and stared at me.
I gestured behind me. “The door was open.”
(I’m not super great under pressure.)
He shot me a quizzical look. “We’re….closed, though, actually.”
I’m sure I stared at him dumbly. “But the door was open, though.”
He stared at me a little longer, likely wondering if I was one of those wandering asylum escapees from Kalamazoo, before he relaxed and shrugged. “Well, I guess I can help you. What would you like?”
In that small moment of kindness – perhaps bewilderment? And the thought that maybe he didn’t want to spend the next few minutes engaged in a very circular argument with a random woman that had just barged into his brewery? – I made a friend I’ve known for years. I hopped up at the counter as he slid behind it, and pulled out my little notebook of tasting notes.
“I’d love to do a flight,” I announced, examining the beer list on the board as he eyed my notebook.
I ordered a Wayfarer Cream Ale, the Cherry Porter, the Allegan Oatmeal Stout, and the Inflictor DIPA.
We chatted as he began pouring me a flight. I learned that his name was Chris, and he grew up in Grand Rapids. He learned that I was from Chicago and loved craft beer. I felt kind of awkward starting to drink my beer as he stood just behind the counter, empty-handed, and with the two of us alone in the bar. Culturally, in my culture, at least, it’s rude to eat or drink something when the person with you isn’t also eating or drinking. Like, it’s a source of anxiety. Normally, what Desi aunties do is just pester and cajole and harangue you until you accept at least a glass of water.
But I was saved from the awkwardness by a little girl who rollerbladed (on one rollerbade) into the main space from a back room with a small stack of papers and a mischievous smile. Chris rolled his eyes and gently suggested that she might perhaps want to sit down to work on her homework instead of skating around the brewery, especially when they had “a guest.”
It was immediately apparent she was his daughter, and I remember discreetly glancing for a ring. None.
The kid was adorable and even though I’m terrible with kids, I engaged her in conversation for a bit as I sipped on my beers. She needed assistance, and so Chris sat down next to her at the bar to help. Algebra. It was my favorite, but I kept my mouth shut and didn’t intervene. I feel like that’s one of my biggest faults; I intervene too often, and inject myself into spaces where people are perfectly fine without me.
So I sat contentedly and sipped my beer, musing that this resembled the start of one of those Lisa Kleypas novels that had literally gotten me through studying for the Bar exam. (That, and videos of cats on Youtube. Still, I nearly lost my mind studying for that horrible hazing-masquerading-as-a-test.)
The beer was EXCELLENT. Even to a newbie like me, it was apparent that Chris knew what he was doing, and had a talent for it.
The Wayfarer Cream Ale offered just the right amount of sweetness. I can’t help it; I’m a fan of cream ales, especially in the summer. In retrospect, I’m surprised that Chris had one up on the board. More recently, I was complaining to him about some terrible brewery that was upsetting me (I was a bit buzzed at the time, and while I’m a happy, sweet drunk, I’m also easily upsettable).
And the cream ale???? Horrible! I remember texting him a few months ago. How the hell do you mess up a cream ale tbh
By making one, he cracked.
Still, his cream ale was great.
The Cherry Porter was good as well, with just the right amount of tartness. Does this sound like the Goldilocks story yet? I’m not really into porters – I find them boring. But I wanted my selection to be varied, so I added the two dark beers on the list at the time. The other one, the Allegan Oatmeal Stout, was very nice, without being too thick or heavy.
Chris was still helping his daughter with her homework, and I was laughing at some of his disgruntled remarks. I couldn’t relate, though – I’ve always loved math.
My phone buzzed, distracting me. It was Nicole, with whom I’d been checking in regularly, as promised, so she’d know where to send the cops if I was murdered.
I know I’m not supposed to bother you while you’re finally trying to relax, she texted, but I had to share this. [Redacted] got probation, but to the felony child porn charge.
My heart sank. This was a case I had devoted two years to, and I knew the client and his family very well. The charge was horrible, sure, but any halfway intelligent reader should know there’s always more to the case. Context is key, as I’ve told countless juries in my opening statements.
The judge didn’t go for the lesser included? After we fought John so hard to agree to it?
My client had been accused of downloading child pornography. He was a teenage boy raised in a religiously repressive househoad, but what he had going for him was that he was white in a rather prejudiced Illinois county. He had told investigators – with whom he waived Miranda and talked to before we were involved – that he downloaded the child pornography for the purpose of trading it with people who were into it in order to obtain pornography involving girls his age – mid-to-late teens. He was a seventeen year old boy and the thirty-something year olds in most adult pornography just didn’t do anything for him. That was the theory we were also going to present to a jury.
Except that you almost never try child porn to a jury. At the first picture the prosecutor puts up on the flat screen, any jury with even one soccer mom or grandpa on it is fixing to launch your guy. Those things, if they go to trial, often end up a bench trial before a judge. In this one, after months and months of work and wheedling and veiled threats that we could win this (we couldn’t), we had gotten the prosecutor to agree to add a lesser included charge of a misdemeanor Harmful Materials charge that would not carry a felony conviction, a requirement of sex offender probation, or sex offender registration. It would essentially save our guy from a lifetime of registration, onerous housing laws, and ostracization. He was only seventeen.
We had also gotten the prosecutor to agree to a stipulated bench trial. The hope was that the judge would hear the evidence at a very truncated, abbreviated sort of trial and find our guy guilty of the lesser included misdemeanor charge, sparing him the felony. It wasn’t uncommon for judges to split the baby like that in cases with extenuating circumstances, like a young defendant with a plausible theory of defense, facing life time sex offender status.
No. She didn’t go for it. So he’s guilty of the felony child porn, and now he might have to move out of his parents’ house because they’re fifty feet too close to a school. He doesn’t own the house, so he’s not grandfathered in.
Words didn’t suffice, so I didn’t offer a real word.
I know right? Nicole texted back. Don’t worry about doing anything, I’m handling it and trying to figure it out with probation to see if he can stay. Just enjoy your trip. I just wanted to tell you so you weren’t in suspense.
I put my phone down and must have made a noise that indicated my displeasure, because Chris looked up from the math homework. His daughter took this as an opportunity to escape. (Smart kid.)
He asked what was up, and the conversation turned to what I did for a living. He was interested, as many people are; after all, it’s an interesting career and people correctly presume that it means I have a lot of interesting stories. I do. I just feel like kind of a vulture for sharing them. I always have the nagging feeling, when I share a scrubbed down, cleaned up version of the public-record details of a certain case, that I’m making myself seem more interesting by sharing the details of someone else’s trauma.
I get no joy from sharing stories, and while I usually indulge the questioner with 2-3 general stories, I then divert the conversation to something else.
Chris didn’t seem to mind when I did that. He was well versed on things like the failed Drug War, the racist aspects of the prison industrial complex, stop and frisk, and so on.
At a lull in the otherwise spirited conversation, I consulted my itinerary. Chris was taking this opportunity to pour me another beer he thought I should try, but he noticed it when I returned.
I showed him what it was, and he leafed through the three pages of single spaced typing and laughed.
“You’re just like me,” he grinned, handing it back to me. “I do the same thing – plan everything to the last detail.”
It seemed like a good quality for someone responsible for his own business, I thought.
“Probably a good quality in an attorney,” he offered, mimicking my thoughts. “You’ve got some good ones on the list – many that even I haven’t been to, and I live here.”
Still, he suggested one or two more for my list, and I scribbled them in where I thought they belonged, geography-wise. I glanced again at the clock. It was almost time for Chris to open – for real – and I was already late according to my schedule. I had been stretching out my time at Millgrove, enjoying the peace and quiet there.
“I should be heading out,” I said reluctantly, grabbing my purse and notebook. Chris had teased me about the notebook, but I didn’t mind. I wanted to note the beers I had and what I tasted in each of them – how else was I going to learn about craft beer? My palate was already so much more knowledgeable than when I started. (Can knowledgeable be a word used to describe a palate? Whatever.)
I said my goodbyes and that I’d probably return, and another customer walked in as I was leaving. Chris was busy again, and I had a schedule to keep to.