The night had started off slowly. I was sitting next to a couple of dudes at the bar and they were discussing beer. “I like the slightly fruity finish, almost strawberryish,” one said of his light-colored ale.
“Yeah. And it’s amazing the way it starts with a full nose, almost chocolatey, then transforms into something airy and almost, like you said, a fruity aromatic.”
I looked at my 32-oz. glass of suds. “Are you guys talking about beer or edible underwear?” I asked.
They laughed nervously. “Ha, ha. Good one. What are you drinking?”
“Oh, that’s a good beer,” approved Fruity Finish.
“Yes, very workmanlike, solid,” added Chocolatey Nose. “For sure it’s a biggie and has those strong citrus notes. Kind of muted compared to others but still lots of orange rind and piney notes. It’s a big beer, for sure.”
“It is?” I asked, wondering if they were talking about the big mug.
“Oh, yes,” chimed in Fruity Finish. “I’d add that, you know, it’s a well-balanced bitey IPA, right?” He eyed my giant mug. “You’ll get a better nose from a tulip glass, it’ll let the smell travel and pull out the high notes on that classic mix of piney, mango, citrus, resin, dankness. There’s enough bitterness, nicely mixes with the fruity, citrusy, fresh finish.”
I looked at them as if they were trying take upskirt photos of my wife. “You think so?” I asked.
Fruity Finish and Chocolatey Nose nodded. “How would you describe it?” asked Chocolately Nose.
I took another swallow from the giant mug as the bitter liquid charged down my throat. I savored it for a moment. “Hmmm,” I said. “Tastes like ass.”
The two connoisseurs winced. “Ass?”
“Yep,” I said, taking another swig. “A big old nasty swallow of ass. And that’s what beer’s supposed to taste like, by the way.”
They didn’t know what to say, so I continued. “Beer is one of the nastiest things ever invented, worse than kimchi. It’s rotted inedible offal stewed in a pot and left in a bucket to rot some more. If it doesn’t taste like shit you’re doing it wrong.”
Fruity Nose protested. “Good craft beer …”
“Fuck good craft beer. Beer tastes foul when you start and gets fouler with each successive swallow. That’s why by your tenth beer you’re cross-eyed trying to choke the shit down. That’s why men drink it after a long day digging ditches or clear cutting virgin old growth. If you’re going to fructify and chocolatify it, might as well soak a pair of flavored edible panties in ethanol and eat that.”
The two experts politely turned away, which was perfect timing because up came the Godfather. He sat down at the bar next to me and ordered a beer. Like a man, he pointed to my glass and said to the bartender, “I’ll have what he’s having.” Like a man, he didn’t bother to ask what it was, he just assumed that it was strong and bitter and there was a lot of it.
“How’d you get into cycling, Godfather?” I asked him.
The barkeep plopped the huge cold mug in front of him and he paused to take a deep, manly draft after we clinked the shit out of those 12-lb. mugs. “Fatty tuna,” he said.
I thought about that for a second, hoping like hell he wasn’t about to pronounce that there was a finishing note of raw fish. “Not saying I’m drunk, Godfather, but you’re gonna have to help me out with that one.”
“Fatty tuna,” he repeated. “And strawberries.” Then, like a man, he sucked down a full quarter of his glass and dissected it the only way any man worth his salt would ever evaluate a beer. “That shit is good,” he said.
“Damn straight,” I said, adding the only man-approved comment to another man’s approval of a cold beer. “But I’m still not understanding the berries and tuna thing and what it has to do with bikes.”
Godfather lives up on top of the Hill and runs the global energy consulting arm of IBM. He is always nicely dressed and seems like the perfect product of Southern California suburbia. But he isn’t. “You know, I grew up in Pedro,” he said, referring to San Pedro, the impoverished little armpit at the southernmost tail of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. “We were fishermen, and our family had fished the peninsula since they emigrated from a little village in Sicily in the early 1900’s. All of Pedro was fishermen, mostly Italians and Portuguese, and Croats, too.”
“Pedro?” I asked, incredulously. “You mean the place that’s now crawling with gangs and drunk longshoremen and street people who live in shopping carts?”
“The same,” he said. “We had three boats, the biggest was the Giuseppe, a hundred-footer. When I got big enough to work the boat, I was seven, they took me on my first run. We left in the wee hours and sailed up by Abalone Cove, shining lights on the surface to bring up the squid. Once we had a full load of squid, we sailed farther out to the bait barge and cashed in our bait for money that we used to fuel up the Giuseppe and the chaser boat.”
“What’s a chaser boat?”
“We had a little motorboat hanging on the back of the Giuseppe, my dad ran that.”
I tried to envision all of this happening right here on the coast of Southern California in the late 1960’s, a family fishing operation off a peninsula that’s now slathered in tract housing, faux Mediterranean designs, and filled with people whose only conception of beer is fruity finishes and chocolatey noses.
“I bet your old man liked beer,” I said.
“Damn straight he did. But we were a big Italian family, so he loved wine, too. Anyway, we fueled up the boat and headed out because we knew the tuna were running up from Baja, and if we could land a decent catch we’d be able to keep a roof over our heads for the next three months or so. It was a big deal. Grandpa climbed up into the crow’s nest and started scanning the water for dolphin fins because the tuna ran beneath the dolphin schools. Sure enough, he spotted ’em. He had eyes like a hawk, just like the whalers back in the day.
“He shouted down to dad, and we rolled the chaser boat into the water, and dad cranked the motor and set out after those tuna with grandpa coming up under a full head of steam. Dad got to the school, and started to turn it with the chaser boat, bringing the dolphins back to the Giuseppe, where we had the nets. It was exciting stuff, yelling and the crew doing everything just exactly at the right time and then bam, those nets were filled with tuna and all hell broke loose. We wound up with three tons of tuna that run.”
“So what does that have to do with cycling and strawberries?” I’d managed to hang onto that thread despite the boat chase and the tuna catch and the squid and the old Italians drinking beer.
“I’d ridden my bike down to the harbor that morning at dark-thirty. Dad filleted a 30-lb. cut of fatty tuna, wrapped it in some newspaper, and put it in my basket. Now mind you, the bike and the tuna weighed almost as much as I did. ‘Go get us some berries, Gerald,’ he said. So I had to crank that big steel bicycle loaded down with fresh fish all the way up the wall on 25th Street and out PV Drive South out to what is now Trump National Golf Course. It wasn’t a golf course then, I can assure you.”
“What was it?”
“Strawberry fields. And corn fields. Paolo and Maria Pugliese farmed strawberries all along the coast along with a couple of other families.”
“You’re shitting me.”
“I am not. Where you now see multi-million dollar McMansions and a golf course there used to be strawberry fields and old Italians with sunburnt faces. It took me forever to get there, lugging that fish on that heavy bike. Remember, I was only seven. Finally I got there, and old Paolo took my fish and handed me two big wicker baskets. ‘Go pick your berries, Gerald,’ he said. So for the next two hours I bent over in the fields picking those fresh strawberries, then I rode home.”
“And that is how you got into cycling?” I asked.
Gerald finished off his beer in a one long manly pull. “Yes,” he said. “It is.”
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