Saturday afternoon I went to a memorial service for an old friend who passed away last month after a protracted bout with living. The official cause of death was probably cancer of some sort — he’d smoked a pack a day for 50 years — and Martin and his friends and family had seen the end coming for months, so the scene’s sadness wasn’t muddled by any of the shock and confusion that sometimes attend such services. That lack of ambiguity freed us to just sit there and remember the man.
Martin had been an electrician for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which enabled him to retire in his early 60s; a steady diet of Budweiser, cigarettes, and fried haddock carried him the better part of another decade, and I was lucky to spend at least 100 of those afternoons on the barstool next to him. One of the speakers at Martin’s service mentioned his interest in science, philosophy, politics, and religion. That’s all true, but I mostly remember swapping dirty jokes. Those were some good afternoons.
Right around the time he got too sick to make it into the bar regularly, I happened to get a 9-to-5 job downtown. After a fun and scary few years of subsistence blogging, I’ve stopped running from our collective corporate destiny, and I’m better off for it. It took a couple weeks to readjust to the cube-farm life, but I’m happy to report that I’ve lost a few pounds, saved a few dollars, and acquired pants in every shade of khaki (there are three).
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But for all the improvements wrought by gainful employment, there is one significant downside: I just don’t have time to drink beer before sundown anymore. And despite the rise of the gig economy and all the off-site work and busted schedules that entails, I fear that I’m far from alone in my forced daylight sobriety. I promise I’ve thought this through, and I’m not dropping a lazy “New York Times” Styles fake-trend piece on you in which I claim that a thing that happens to be occurring to me is therefore a burgeoning societal phenomenon. The death of day drinking is a real, bad thing.
The crummy shift toward dry daytimes has been underway for most of a generation, and I failed to truly appreciate how lucky I was to hang on to a more liberal and civilized drinking schedule for so long. A few months ago my wife and I were in New York for a couple of days midweek, and she kept remarking on how strange it was that there were 9-to-5-looking people in bars with us during work hours. She’d scan the room and take note of the four other people lucky enough to be having a noon beer and ask, “Who are these people who get to drink at lunch?” I was a full-time blogger then, so I just changed the subject while I wondered, “Damn, what happened to lunch drinking? This joint is 80-percent empty!”
I couldn’t find any data to support this theory, I admit, but ask around, or just look in the mirror. When’s the last time you had three nice, relaxing pints of beer during a midweek lunch? I don’t mean when you were traveling or celebrating or sorrow-drowning, but just in between a regular day’s wave of meetings and spreadsheetings? Sunshine beer just isn’t as big a part of the weekday culture as it used to be, and there are several factors to blame.
One is that we’ve gotten more health conscious as a society (which isn’t to say we’ve necessarily gotten healthier, just that we fret more about it than we used to). These days a standard-issue office worker is more likely to kill his lunch break at the gym than he is at the bar, and I admit that makes some sense. I have no major complaints with anyone who avoids lunch beers due to health concerns. Eat your leaves, lift your weights. You’re better than me. I get it.
Reduced job security is another, darker force at play. Old-timers have fantastic stories about drinking at lunch without fear of reprisal, even many who weren’t protected by strong and thirsty unions. Those kinds of bulletproof jobs just don’t exist in large numbers anymore. My boss is a nice lady and my job involves no heavy equipment, but I have no reason to believe she’ll tolerate me sneaking back into the office smelling like beer at 1 p.m. on a Tuesday.
But, paradoxically, the new economy sometimes encourages at-work drinking. My current company has a double-headed kegerator loaded with Peak Fresh Cut Pilsner and Ballast Point Even Keel, and all employees are welcome to drink up after 4 on Thursday and Friday afternoons. Sounds cool, but it’s not, because it’s not fun to drink at your desk 10 feet away from your boss, whether she’s drinking or not. Employer-provided beer is a generous touch, but it can’t hold a candle to escaping to the bar around the corner. Plus, what if it’s a set-up? Because it is. It’s a set-up. Your company isn’t “cool.” No company is. Don’t fall for it.
Another major factor in the demise of daytime beer drinking is the rise of craft beer. It pains me to say this, but it’s true. Back when beer had one simple job, it was easier to squeeze it into the middle of the workday. But now that the good stuff is always more expensive, and often much higher in alcohol, the beer-appreciation ritual has been changed in a way that doesn’t accommodate three quick glasses of Miller Lite to wash down your ham sandwich.
Maybe this change is good for society as a whole. If the main reason to go to work is to stockpile beer money for the off-duty hours (and it is), then it makes sense to get all the working and stockpiling out of the way before enjoying the fruits of your labor. And I know there are some brave souls out there clinging to the good old ways. But even though I acknowledge I’m no kind of cultural bellwether, I am a beer blogger who works in an office with a kegerator, and even I don’t drink during the day anymore. I’ll always miss Martin, but I’m relieved he didn’t live to read the previous sentence.