Today, "Bar Beat" reporter Dan Libman wraps up our 2016 election coverage from pubs and taverns in the WNIJ area. Drinkers have been speaking their minds all summer and fall, and now they're looking forward to a halt in political ads, and the return of that carefree buzz you only get for a few months after each election.
Before the next campaign starts up again.
For our "Last Call" edition, Dan interviews patrons in establishments along the Illinois 251 corridor...
Have you guys heard? We’ve got an election going on. Apparently it’s a real nasty one. People have been saying some pretty shocking things:
“Obama put racial issues back 50 years," one man said. "I hate to say it. Some of our best friends are black.”
Sometimes striking up a conversation in a bar with a stranger isn’t as much fun as it used to be.
“In World War II they stopped Japanese and they stopped Germans from coming into our country," another man said. "I betcha 90% of our country hasn’t got a clue, as they are as clueless as they are. Why did they stop them? Because we were having trouble. They actually had camps. They had camps for the Japanese to go to until things cooled off. Common sense.”
It didn’t feel good.
Down the street though, at a friendly Irish bar called Suds O’Hanahan's, two guys hanging out cheered me up quite a bit. Bob and Larry, long-time friends hashing things out over pints of Guinness and bowls of popcorn. Bob was from just down the road in South Beloit, which may as well be a whole different state.
“I support Walker and I live in Illinois and voted for Rauner," he said. "Rauner is doing the right thing. We have to balance the budget. We have to.”
His drinking buddy, Larry, lives in the Wisconsin part of Beloit and couldn’t disagree more about Gov. Scott Walker.
“He’s anti-union," Larry said. "Gutted the teacher’s union, the police, the fireman’s union with that no-negotiation deal. And now we’re looking for teachers, we’re looking for everything else, and no one wants to be here.”
But even though the bartender asked me to stop recording in about as nice a way as possible, and insisted I stop bringing up politics in her bar, Bob and Larry told me they wouldn’t let fundamental differences stand in the way of a good, long-standing friendship. Or an even better argument:
“We disagree," both chimed in, laughing. "We can discuss this all day," Larry said, to which Bob added: "I'm not going to change his mind and he’s not going to change mine.”
I was heartened by this strain of humanity underneath this election season’s ugliness. Down the road in Rockford I encountered again this weird strain of xenophobia, along with a healthy does of paranoia to go with it.
“We all know the elections have been rigged in the past, and they’re bound to be rigged in the future," one patron said. "Whoever was behind it has Hillary in their pocket.”
It’s true; the electorate does not seem to be in a forgiving mood ... at least until it’s their guy in need of some forgiving.
“He wasn’t a politician then, and I think it was a private conversation.”
Meet, Jane Doe and her friend, well, also Jane Doe. They didn’t want to me to use their names but they were sipping mixed drinks at the iconic Mary’s Place in Rockford and both had spent the day listening to the audio that had just come out. It was of course Trump, their presidential choice, discussing the proper way to grope strangers. Lest you think the two young women were bothered by what they heard, I can disabuse you of that notion:
“Everyone says things behind close doors," said Jane Doe #1. "I’ve said way worse things than what he said.”
Her friend, Jane Doe #2, nodded in agreement. “I think Trump might have an opinion and he might be crazy," she said. "But I would rather have someone who is not afraid to say what he thinks -- someone who is not swayed by money because he has his own.”
My pub crawl continued south on Madison to CJ’s, a great corner pub with a long bar, pool tables, and at least a couple of bartenders who don’t mind if you lean your bicycle against a table if it’s raining outside.
“I’m not sure Obama did a lot for us," says John, "but I felt like he was more up to date with who we are.”
John was a nice guy with a crew cut and drinking an Icehouse. His companion was decidedly undecided.
“I’m putting my life in their hands for the next four years, maybe eight years, and I don’t feel comfortable in that right now,” she said.
I ended this tour at Oasis, the happy little craft beer bar where I started interviewing people two years ago. Back then my favorite bartender, Natasha, knew my gyro and wing order before I asked for the food menu. She left awhile back, and the crew has rotated so many times I don’t even feel like they’re regulars any more. Life marches on.
But at the Oasis, I began to shake that dismaying feeling brought on by this election and, with the help of a delicious Half Acre Vallejo IPA or two, the feeling was replaced by another: a light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel feeling, a groovy kind of "Hey, this thing's about to be over and-we’re all going to still have to get along" feeling.
I met Vanessa and Dennis, a young couple sitting by the gas fireplace playing a chess set they had brought from home: a nice visual metaphor of the gamesmanship this political season. Vanessa even seemed to have the jump on Dennis based on pawn arrangement. When I asked them what they liked least about the campaign, they both quickly answered, “the candidates.” Then we started talking about how great life would be once November 9 rolled around, and the last votes were counted.
Vanessa said, “Like, anywhere you go you see rumors, about Trump and Hillary and how people dislike them, and I think it’ll be nice that it will kind of go away.”
Dennis added, “Seeing all fake ads and everything like that trying to shame other people. It’ll be nice just to get over that and move on.”
Back at Mary’s, a guy named CJ had said something similar:
“I think I’ll probably take like a very quick breath and then just get ready for my news feed to be blown up with who is moving into what country," he said, "and how the whole country is going to be falling apart because somebody didn’t vote for this person or that person.”
But my favorite was a short thought from a guy named Don. When I asked him what he was looking forward to most after the election, he put both his arms in the air as though to signal a touchdown.
“We’ll get back to football.”
Not a bad idea. Hey, how are the Bears doing? This ought to cheer me up. This voter is done talking politics but not talking, so next time you see me in the pub come on over and lets talk about Jay Cutler. Or maybe not.
-- Dan Libman
Dan Libman is a regular contributor to WNIJ Perspectives. He wrote the short story collection, Married But Looking. He's teaching the next generation of creative writers in the Northern Illinois University English department.