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Too often, I tell people, "The next time I'm in town, we'll get together for a beer." Then when I get to town, I'm so busy, there is no time to meet with all the people I want to see.
It's always good to chat with my friend Alan Stubbs, whether in person, by phone, text, or social media. Our conversation often closes with, "The next time I'm in town, let's get together for a beer." It's mutually agreed we'll do that, but again, I get busy, and it doesn't happen.
A few weeks ago, I was in town on a work trip. After a day filled with completing tasks, I was ready to call it a night, but instead, I decided to show up at Alan's house – unannounced. It was after eight – maybe closer to nine, in the evening.
I parked my van across the street, in front of his house. Alan has German Shepherds, and I don't know if they play well with others, so I gave my dog June a rub on the head, "You wait here; I should be back in a bit." I grabbed two cans of New Glarus Moon Man from the cooler. On the way to his front door, I noticed how well-groomed his lawn was. I didn't hear the bell ring when I pushed the button, but I knew it did because his dogs sounded off.
Now, German Shepherds have a deep, throaty bark that will definitely get your attention, and these puppies were barking in stereo. "I hope he doesn't release the dogs on the unexpected intruder," I said to myself. I was having visions of a police canine officer in training, taking down a fleeing suspect wearing those oversized protective sleeves. I envisioned myself lying face down in the grass, being apprehended, pleading for mercy while soiling my shorts right there on Alan's perfectly groomed front lawn. "How embarrassing is this going to be? Maybe, I should have called ahead."
There was a commotion on the other side of the door; Alan commanded the dogs to back up and be quiet. The heavy inside wooden door opened; now, just a thin pane of glass separated me from my potential demise. The dogs wanted to see who was outside or perhaps who was for dinner. While he wrestled the dogs, I intentionally kept my back to his door. With the dogs safely retrained, the storm door opened; I turned around, smiled, and presented two ice-cold cans of brew, "Hey, mister, if I give you some beer, can I stand on your front lawn?"
I fully expected Alan to say, "Get off my porch and stay off my lawn." But I could see the curiosity in his eyes; he really wanted to ask, "What kind of beer?" He greeted me, "Palen, what the heck are you doing here?"
"I told you the next time I was in town, we should get together for a beer, and you agreed." We shared a good laugh about that. The dogs were still restless inside the front door. "Let me get them settled down," Alan said, "go around to the back door; I'll meet you there."
When Alan came out the door on the back patio, one of the dogs ran out around him – I prayed the gate would hold. The German Shepherd pushed his nose between the bars in the fencing. I offered my open hand so the dog could sniff my hand but kept it back far enough from the gate so he could eat my hand, just in case Alan hadn't fed them supper yet.
Alan put the dog back in the house and came out to visit. I offered him a brew, "Man, I'd love to, but I'm on a working weekend – I can't have a beer." Well, he might be working, but I was finished with my chores, so I cracked my beer open, and we began to chat.
We talked about a lot; how things were going, the city, the airport, people we hadn't seen for a while – we even talked about the beer I was drinking while he held a frosty, sealed can. "It's brewed in New Glarus, Wisconsin, and Wisconsin is the only place you can buy it."
"I thought you were living in Minnesota," Alan said.
"I do," I explained, "Superior, Wisconsin, and Duluth, Minnesota, make up the Twin Ports. I just drive across the high bridge, and on the other side is an endless supply of this tasty brew." I took a swill of my beer, "Oh my. This is good." Alan said he couldn't wait to try his later. "If you ever get the chance, it's worth the drive to New Glarus to visit the brewery. It's built like a really cool Bavarian village."
As I described the setting, Alan had a look on his face like he knew what I was talking about, "You know, I have been there." Ideas began running through my head; I asked which was his favorite flavor. "That was years and years ago," Alan admitted, "I don't remember now, but one was really popular." I started rattling off a few names, "Spotted Cow. That was one of them I really liked."
It was getting late; time to wrap up our visit. I offered, "You know, the next time I'm in town, WE should get together for a beer." We shared a good laugh about that, said our farewells, and I was headed back to the van. It was good to see Alan – albeit a quick, surprise visit.
A week later, I had a trip planned to the Lake of the Ozark's in Missouri. Since it was a working trip, and Melissa had some other things to do, I would be traveling with June Bug. Since Ottumwa wouldn't too far out of my way, I stopped in Superior to pick up a sample pack of New Glarus – it was a twelve-pack with three bottles each of four of their brews. I also grabbed three extra bottles of Two Women, another New Glarus beer I thought Alan would enjoy that wasn't one of the four flavors featured.
I sent Alan a text inquiring about his birthday. If by coincidence it was coming up soon, that would be a reason to give him a present. He replied, "Lol. January." Eight months away. I asked what year. I needed to make sure he was of legal age to be drinking beer and cover my tracks for asking such an odd question out of the blue.
Quickly doing the math, I concluded myself a year older than him. "Crikey, how about a little respect? I am your elder." We shared a laugh about that. Well, the birthday angle wasn't going to pan out for me, but there's no need to wait for a special occasion; I would give it to him on my way through town.
With some last-minute changing circumstances, Melissa decided to go with me. Seeing the sample pack in the van, she said, "Oh good. I was going to ask if we could stop to get one to take to Missouri." I explained it was not for us – I bought it for a friend. "Well, couldn't we keep this and buy him another." I gave her a scowling look.
"Drinking another man's beer in his absence is just plain rude." I did the right thing; we stopped in Superior and bought another twelve-pack sampler.
I knew we wouldn't have time to visit when we got to Ottumwa. My plan was to set the package outside his door, ring the bell and run – a May Day gift of sorts since it was within the fifth month. With a few other stops along the way, time had gotten away from me; it would be well after dark when we arrived.
Plan B; I'd set the box of brews next to his truck in the driveway and let him find it in the morning. Driving south from Duluth on I-35, it started raining. It continued raining the entire eight-hour drive. Forty-five minutes from our destination, it was still raining steadily. Melissa checked the forecast. It was going to rain all night and through the next day.
I imagined Alan picking up the box. The saturated cardboard would fall apart. Bottles would shatter when hitting the concrete, leaving shards of glass all over his driveway. That would be a horrible surprise, and I didn't have a plan C. "Think, man, think."
We stopped for gas, and I went inside to get an ice tea. While I was paying, another clerk lifted a trash bag from a can behind the counter. She took a new bag and gave it a couple shakes, opening it with air. The clean bag was translucent white and just the right size. "Excuse me, ma'am," I said to the young lady, "could I trouble you for one of those bags?"
She turned around and asked, "Do you want the one with trash in it or the empty bag?" We shared a good laugh about that, then she reached into a cabinet and handed me a new bag." I asked how much I owed her, "One eighty-nine for the tea; the trash bag is free for giving me something to laugh about on a blah, rainy night."
The rest of the way to Ottumwa, I considered my mission. I would have to approach the drop-off point from the very edge of his property, turning perpendicular to make my way to the truck in his driveway. I decided against putting the package at his doorstep for fear of drawing the attention of his guard dogs. I couldn't let the bottle clatter at all while setting them down. I had to be perfectly quiet. I had it all planned out.
I parked a little way down the street from his house. I made sure I had the dome light shut off and removed the keys from the ignition to avoid the ding, ding, ding. I carefully picked up the twelve-pack and partial six-pack of beer and set them inside the plastic bag. Climbing over the driver's seat, I opened the door, stepped out of the van. I whispered to my wife, "Wish me luck." Melissa rolled her eyes; June said, "Be careful, Dad." Edgar, the cat, shook his head, "What an idiot. Only cats can see in the dark of night. This will be a disaster."
I softly pushed the van door closed, carried out my mission with stealth-like proficiency, then returned to the get-a-way vehicle. I pulled the door shut quietly, started the engine, and pulled away. At the stop sign at the end of the block, my wife said, "You did it, honey. Nice job." June said, "Good job, Dad." Edgar, the cat, declared, "You got lucky."
We started to head for the other side of town, then south toward Lancaster, Missouri, where we would stop for the night.
The next morning, I got a text from Alan, "Hey there, Santa, you are much too kind. Thank you so much!"
I tried to play dumb; what? What are you talking about? "How'd you know it was me?"
"1+1=2…I truly appreciate it!" That was the reply, and it made me feel pretty good.
The following morning, I received a message from my favorite priest, "Were you in town yesterday?"
I chuckled as I replied, "Quite possibly," then asking in jest, "was your house vandalized or something?"
He replied, "In a good way! Did you know it was a special day?" Unbeknownst to me, it was the twenty-fourth anniversary of his ordination as a priest. Melissa and I have a favorite coffee, Norseman Grog, roasted by Arco Coffee in Superior, Wisconsin. He wrote, "Well, thank you so much for the Grog. It made my day to find it in the mailbox! The Holy Spirit at work." That also made me feel pretty good. Another top-secret, covert operation was successfully carried out in the dark of night.
It truly is better to give than to receive – both of my friends really appreciated receiving the gifts I delivered. Still, I think I felt even better for sharing them.
I got to thinking; the next time I go to Ottumwa, I should get together with Alan. Maybe we could actually have a beer together, you know, the two of us, having a beer at the same time in the same place. Should such an event ever occur, I think I'd call it "Stubbs and Suds." In the meantime, these midnight deliveries are working out pretty well, too.