In the name of culture.
This past summer, fall and winter, I fished my way around the country while blogging for Outdoorlife.com. Tough life, I know. I spent 202 nights on the road, and caught 49 species in 102 towns from Maine to the Keys, to San Diego and up to Seattle and back home to New Jersey.
There’s no doubt that the fishing was incredible and unpredictable. From amberjacks off Virginia Beach to Montana trout with the man who brings you this impressive blog almost single-handely, variety was certainly the spice of my life for almost seven months.
However, the fish were only half the story. I don’t consider myself a party animal, but wouldn’t it be almost a waste to travel around the country and not get a first-hand experience of the vast and varied culture that is America? If my experience taught me anything, it was that there’s one place where you’ll get an authentic representation of a place’s soul, it’s bellied up to the local bar. “In Vino, Veritas,” is a Latin proverb that translates roughly to “From wine comes truth.” Perhaps the Romans were fond of wine, but beer, whiskey, gin, scotch and sangria, I found, also extract truth, albeit at various speeds and to different degrees. It should also be noted that you should take care in how much truth you wish for. Whatever disingenuous veneer covers a culture in the grocery store, church or PTA meetings, it’s quickly eroded away at the tavern.
There are places where no two bars are alike (L.A.) and places where there’s just one bar (Gamaliel, Arkansas.) There are places that have 100 beers on tap (Oklahoma City) and places where you’ll be told, “This isn’t New York City,” if you try to order a Blue Moon (Gamaliel, Arkansas). There are places where you drink sangria and beer, mixed with ice, from a bucket with a straw (Memphis, Tennessee) and places where a white board with different drinks circles the top of the bar, and all the drinks are in some way a sexual innuendo (Gamaliel, Arkansas).
But I’m getting sidetracked. I traveled the country, and, in the name of culture mind you, tried a drink or two along the way. Here’s one of the more interesting ones I encountered. From—you guessed it—Arkansas. And here’s how it went down:
I found myself in Fort Smith, Arkansas. I knew for sure that I was either fishing the White River in Arkansas or Oklahoma that week, and not sure whether to continue east or double back west, I decided to await more certainty on the border between the two states. And waiting in your Jeep alone is no fun, right? So it was that indecision and uncertainty that set me on a crash course with a drink known simply as “the Lunch Box.”
Now, had I encountered the Lunch Box at the first bar I visited, or perhaps even the second or third, I might be able to give you the name of the fine establishment. As it were, I can tell you that it was small, and it had a front door. That’s the extent of my recollection.
What I do remember, however (and trust me, this is true), is that there was a three-piece band, featuring a cello player, and when I walked in they were transitioning in a medley from Eric Clapton’s “Cocaine” to Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” I was intrigued to say the least.
When the band took a set break, I found myself at the bar talking to the cello player. He was younger, but wore a chest-length beard and when hearing of my mission, he offered to take me duck hunting. The hunting never materialized and Lunch Boxes might have had something to do with that.
He bought the bar a round of “Lunch Boxes,” and when he offered me one and told me the ingredients, I was skeptical to say the least. But, again, in the name of culture, I agreed.
A Lunch Box is a mug filled three quarters full. It’s half Pabst Blue Ribbon, and a quarter orange juice. Next, you drop in a shot glass of Amaretto…and finish it in one chug.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. That sounds like the three worst ingredients you’d ever want to combine in one glass and finish in a single swallow. It sounds like something a broke alcoholic would have for breakfast. Well, maybe I’m that guy (it was, technically, morning), or maybe… it’s just delicious. I prefer to believe the latter.
So here’s my advice: If you’re ever in Fort Smith Arkansas, keep walking in bars until you see a band with a cello, and the next time you’re at the grocery store, pick up some orange juice, amaretto and PBR. I’ll warn you now, if that’s all you buy, you’ll get some weird looks from the cashier. But, in the name of culture, bottoms up.
NOTE: Catch the scenes from Bach’s Fish American blog on outdoorlife.com
Thanks to Rick for this great Drink of the Week post. Look for more of his work on Tonic soon. GT