A Passion Reignited

This week in North Philly Notes, Bill Double, author of Charles E. Hires and the Drink that Wowed a Nation, writes about his passion for Hires Root Beer. 

Whether a frosty mug at a Stewarts’ drive-in or the brain-clearing rush of herbal effervescence from a freshly opened bottle of Hires at home, I grew up with a yen for root beer. Fortunately, this habit proved nonaddictive. As I moved on, the drink faded into a pleasant memory, occasionally relived but hardly a compulsion.

Neither did this early craving influence my decision to chronicle the life of Charles Elmer Hires, who turned a humble homemade root beer into an iconic national brand.  Hires was an intrepid entrepreneur and an authentic American success story. His life and times would have fascinated me as much had he instead concocted a new ginger ale, pet food or soap powder.

Charles E. Hires_smNonetheless, researching Charles E. Hires and the Drink that Wowed a Nation reawakened my latent root beer thirst.  I ordered an eight-pack of modern-day Hires from Amazon (of all places) and began to sample other brands.  Root beer seemed to be less prevalent today and certainly less promoted in the popular media. Was the spicy, woodsy flavor enjoyed by millions during Charles Hires’ heyday fading from the public’s palate? My findings suggested otherwise.

I discovered a thriving root beer subculture, a legion of fiercely loyal aficionados who shared my taste and interest in the brew. An array of websites, Facebook pages and blogs are devoted to discussing, dissecting and exalting root beer. Some sites, it is true, are mounted by commercial bottlers eager to pitch their wares. But others are clearly labors of love maintained by dedicated root beer buffs. Among these: Root Beer Review (“Root beer reviews by root beer lovers.”); The Root-Beer Blog (“Root Beer is a goodness, government is not and freedom and liberty are worth having and so is a good Root Beer!”), the Stark Raving (Root Beer) Blog! and the Association of Root Beer Enthusiasts.

Eric’s Gourmet Root Beer Site, perhaps the most comprehensive, presents histories of the vintage brands, industry news, reviews of new craft root beers and reader comments.

After perusing the painstaking instructions offered root beer homebrewers on other websites, I decided to join their ranks.  I purchased a three-ounce bottle of Zatarain’s Root Beer Extract, a product quite similar to Hires’ original, and followed his 1880 instructions closely.  To my surprise, my first attempt yielded a dozen bottles of root beer that were both delicious and nicely carbonated.

I also found that the craft beer movement, instrumental in improving the quality of real beer in America, had spawned dozens of craft root beers. Brands include Virgil’s, Maine, Boylan, Fitz’s, Dominion, Saranac and Sprecher. The online Root Beer Store offers details on these brews and many others.  They are available at venues ranging from soda pop stores to Trader Joe’s and even some old-style taprooms.

This proliferation of craft brewers would not have displeased Charles Hires, provided they used natural ingredients and did not infringe on his trademark. However, another modern trend – alcoholic root beer – would surely have evoked his ire. One such brew, aptly dubbed Not Your Father’s Root Beer, boasts an alcohol content over 5 percent.  While all fermented root beers contain a trace of alcohol, temperance advocate Hires was forced to battle a WCTU boycott that falsely contended the level in his drink was alarmingly high.

Meanwhile, “Big Soda” continues to woo root beer fanciers with traditional offerings – Barqs, Dads, Mug, Hanks and Frosty. Dr. Pepper Snapple alone produces four root beer brands – A&W, IBC, Stewarts and Hires. Regrettably, Hires ranks lowest in the company’s promotional pecking order.

In conclusion, I am pleased to report that the drink Charles Hires perfected and so successfully promoted over a century ago is at no risk of becoming a relic. While failing to attain the popularity of Coke or Pepsi, its unique flavor still delights and inspires a discerning minority. Indeed, root beer’s longevity reminds me of jazz music, another of my long-time passions. Neither root beer nor jazz has quite managed to achieve mainstream respectability in the modern era. Yet both tenaciously continue to endure, evolve and reward those receptive to their charms.

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Honoring Dad for Father’s Day

This week in North Philly Notes, we celebrate fathers everywhere with five books that explore various aspects of fatherhood.

Not from Here by Allan G. Johnson

Not from Here approved_101614_smWhen Allan Johnson asked his dying father where he wanted his ashes to be placed, his father replied—without hesitation—that it made no difference to him at all. In his poignant, powerful memoir, Not from Here, Johnson embarks on an extraordinary two-thousand-mile journey across the Upper Midwest and Great Plains to find the place where his father’s ashes belong.

As a white man of Norwegian and English lineage, Johnson explores both America and the question of belonging to a place whose history holds the continuing legacy of the displacement, dispossession, and genocide of Native Peoples.

More than a personal narrative, Not from Here illuminates not only the national silence around unresolved questions of accountability, race, and identity politics but also the dilemma of how to take responsibility for a past we did not create. Johnson’s story—of the past living in the present; of redemption, fate, family, tribe, and nation; of love and grief—raises profound questions about belonging, identity, and place.

Men Can by Donald N.S. Unger

Men Can sm compIn Men Can, writer, teacher, and father Donald Unger uses his personal experiences as a stay-at-home dad; stories of real-life families; and representations of fathers in film, on television, and in advertising to illuminate the roles men now play in the increasingly fluid domestic sphere.

Unger tells the stories of a half dozen families—of varied ethnicities, geographical locations, and philosophical orientations—in which fathers are either primary caregivers or equally sharing parents. He personalizes how Americans are now caring for their children and discusses the ways that popular culture reflects these changes in family roles. Unger also addresses the evolving language of parenting and media representations of fathers over several decades.

Men Can shows how real change can take place when families divide up domestic labor on a gender-neutral basis. The families profiled here offer insights into the struggles of—and opportunities for—men caring for children. Unger favors flexible arrangements and a society that respects personal choices and individual differences, crediting and supporting functional families, rather than one in which every household must conform to a one-size-fits-all mold.

The Package Deal by Nicholas W. Townsend
package dealIn The Package Deal, Nicholas Townsend explores what men say about being fathers, and about what fatherhood means to them. He shows how men negotiate the prevailing cultural values about fatherhood, marriage, employment, and home ownership that he conceptualizes as a “package deal.” Townsend identifies the conflicts and contradictions within the gendered expectations of men and fathers, and analyzes the social and economic contexts that make emotionally involved fathering an elusive ideal.

Drawing on the lives and life stories of a group of men in their late forties who graduated from high school together in the early 1970s, The Package Deal demystifies culture’s image of fatherhood in the United States. These men are depicted as neither villains nor victims, but as making their best efforts to achieve successful adult masculinity. This book shows what fathers really think about fatherhood, the division of labor between fathers and mothers, the gendered difference in expectations, and the privileging of the relationship between fathers and sons.

These revealing accounts of how fatherhood fits into the rest of men’s lives help us better understand what men can and cannot do as fathers. And they clearly illustrate that women are not alone in trying to “have it all” as they strive to combine work and family.

My Father’s Testament by Edward Gastrfriend and Björn  Krondofer

1500_regThis first-person account, by the youngest of eight children of a pious Jewish family from Sosnowiec in Poland, is remarkable for the faith shown by a teenager faced with the horrifying realities of the Holocaust. Edward Gastfriend, known as Lolek as a boy, remembers in heart-wrenching detail, the seven years he survived in German-occupied Poland.

My Father’s Testament is an intimate portrait of a teenage boy trying to stay alive without losing his humanity—in hiding, in the camps, and during the death marches at the end of the war. It will engage readers interested in the study of history, the Holocaust, and religion.

Embedded in this unique memoir are two other stories of fathers and sons. One lies in the moving Foreword by David R. Gastfriend, Edward’s son, now a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School. The other lies in Björn Krondorfer’s Afterword. Years after he met Ed Gastfriend, Krondorfer was startled to hear his father mention Blechhammer as one of the places he was stationed as a young German soldier. Blechhammer was where Lolek was held in a slave labor camp. The coincidence led this German father and son to travel back to the site to confront the Holocaust.

Sex and the Founding Fathers by Thomas A. Foster

G-000865-20111017.jpgBiographers, journalists, and satirists have long used the subject of sex to define the masculine character and political authority of America’s Founding Fathers. Tracing these commentaries on the Revolutionary Era’s major political figures in Sex and the Founding Fathers, Thomas Foster shows how continual attempts to reveal the true character of these men instead exposes much more about Americans and American culture than about the Founders themselves.

Sex and the Founding Fathers examines the remarkable and varied assessments of the intimate lives of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and Gouverneur Morris from their own time to ours. Interpretations can change radically; consider how Jefferson has been variously idealized as a chaste widower, condemned as a child molester, and recently celebrated as a multicultural hero.

Foster considers the public and private images of these generally romanticized leaders to show how each generation uses them to reshape and reinforce American civic and national identity.

When Brazil Hosted the FIFA World Cup in 2014

This week in North Philly Notes, Philip Evanson, co-author of Living in the Crossfire, provides his account of being in Rio de Janeiro during the 2014 FIFA World Cup match between Argentina and Germany.

In June and July 2014, Brazil hosted the twentieth edition of the FIFA World Cup. The championship match was played in Rio de Janeiro on July 13 when Germany defeated Argentina 1 to 0 in double overtime.

These recollections were written in Rio de Janeiro immediately following the German victory.

My wife Regina and I watched the game on TV, thought it a good one with both teams giving their all though showing signs of exhaustion by the second overtime period which was to be expected. The play by play announcers and expert commentators agreed that the game rose to the level of a World Cup championship game. Of course, we were cheering for Argentina, or los hermanos (the Argentine brothers) as they are called here. But it appeared a majority of Brazilians perversely preferred Germany. One local sports writer called this a variation of the Stockholm syndrome. That is, following the unprecedented 7 to 1 massacre of the Brazilian team by the pitiless Germans in the semi-finals, the Brazilians went over to the side of their executioners. They cheered for the German, not the Argentine team. I even heard this from a neighborhood street kid or menino da rua. He told me he was glad Germany won, and asked what I thought. I said to the contrary, I wanted Argentina to win. His response: “Mas eles [the Argentines] são muito bagunceiros!” Bagunceiro is a word used frequently meaning messy, or having a penchant for disorder, that can also mean ready to fight, quarrel. Dona Maria, my 99 year old mother-in-law, uses it when talking about someone who allows things to be out of place, as for example, a shirt, or pair of socks when you want the item. Even worse according to Dona Maria: Bagunceiros are not bothered by the disorder or mess. They need to be called out. Seems our street kid was calling out the Argentines on his street.

GAME DAY. I went to a Zona Sul supermarket Sunday morning to ask if it would reopen after the championship game. This supermarket and most commerce except for bars and restaurants closed during games played in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracanã stadium, and of course during all matches involving the Brazilian team no matter where they were played. The answer I got: “No, we’re not closing at all. Brazil lost. Nobody’s interested in today’s game. We’ll stay open.” Of course, it’s not true that Brazilians had no interest in the championship game Argentina vs. Germany. They had been watching all the games, and held definite opinions about the qualities of different national teams. They certainly watched this one. But that Argentina, not Brazil, was playing in the final game, with a chance to win it all in Rio de Janeiro’s almost mythical Maracanã stadium (though the original stadium had been more or less demolished and rebuilt for the World Cup) seemed to have struck a tribal nerve. It was hard to accept. Argentina had been the great soccer rival for so many years. And rivals not only in soccer, but in South American politics, economics, even cultural production, though leaders in both countries have striven to damp down rivalry since the creation of Mercosul, a common market bloc of South American countries including Brazil and Argentina created in 1991. There were a few fights after the game in Copacabana which police had to break up. The fights apparently were caused by Brazilians who couldn’t resist taunting Argentines after the their team lost the game, perhaps in retaliation for the way Argentines were coloring seven fingers on their hands for the seven German goals. Some Brazilians made a point of celebrating with Germans in the presence of Argentines.

THE FAN FEST ON COPACABANA BEACH. The media estimate on Saturday was that 100,000 Argentines would be in Rio for the Sunday game. Copacabana was crowded with these visitors. They drove through the streets blowing horns, waving and shouting. Copacabana was the destination for Argentine soccer fans and anyone else who didn’t have a ticket for the game at Maracanã stadium. They could now watch it on a big screen mounted in the Fan Fest “stadium,” an enclosed area on the Copacabana beach stretching the length of a couple of blocks with the giant screen at one end. From what I could see, the space seemed large enough to accommodate as many fans as Maracanã itself, which is 78,000. Admission was free. The game started at 4, but large crowds were already arriving on the underground metro 3 or 4 hours earlier. I know because I went to the Cardeal Arcoverde station to take the metro shortly after noon. To get into the station, I had to pass through a cordon of police checking all bags and backpacks—both for people like myself entering the station, and for anyone leaving and presumably on their way to the beach Fan Fest. The train platforms at this station are deep underground and reached by three sets of escalators and stairs. Getting to them requires a long descent below ground level and the mountains that tower up in the city, which are among its famous identifying features. I arrived at the platform just as a train arrived. An enormous crowd mostly of Argentines exited singing, shouting, and chanting. It was Olé, Olé, Olé, Va! Va! Va! and much more that I couldn’t hear above the roar, comparable to the noise in a packed stadium. The Argentines seemed overwhelmingly greater in number than the Germans, though planes full of Germans had arrived Friday, Saturday and even Sunday morning. The atmosphere struck me as altogether friendly. I even saw Argentines and German posing together for group pictures and photographing each other. Some donned the others national flag. Flags are part of World Cup costumes, often draped over the shoulders rather like capes. Enterprising Brazilians were on street corners hawking Argentine and German jerseys and flags.

Layout 1PUBLIC SECURITY. There were reportedly 26,000 uniformed security workers on duty in Rio de Janeiro on championship game day. These included the heavily armed soldiers of the National Security Force, Rio state police, the Rio de Janeiro Guarda Municipal, the Metro police, and finally unarmed employees of private security companies. The ugliest confrontation was near the Maracanã stadium where manifestantes (protestors) were protesting the World Cup. Nationwide anti-World Cup protests in principal cities began months before the first game and continued into the last game, but they were small by the standards of the June 2013 mass protests in Brazilian cities that numbered millions. This protest counted only 300, but the anti-World Cup protests continually rattled authorities and almost always took place in an atmosphere of police intimidation and violence. Sunday’s championship game was no exception as the Rio state police including a cavalry unit moved against the protesters and journalists covering the protest. Police broke or destroyed some of their equipment. At least 10 people were injured with some taken to hospital. In one example of police overreaction, an entire middle class neighborhood was sealed off for a few hours when residents were not allowed to return to their homes.

AT THE END OF THE DAY. I took a final walk around my neighborhood in Copacabana around 9pm. The many Argentines I saw now made a subdued group. A large number were waiting on Avenida Princesa Isabel for buses and the return trip to Argentina. Like other Latin Americans who came for the games, many were duro or hard up. They couldn’t afford the hotels which in any event were fully booked. They camped wherever they could, many on the Copacabana beach, in tents, in vans or cars in parking areas made available to them. They surely spent less in Brazil than the estimated $2,500 average for visitors to the World Cup. Still they were valued visitors, and Eduardo Paes, the mayor of Rio, said his campaign for the coming 2016 Rio Olympics will aim first at attracting South Americans. The hotels have already made an agreement among themselves to hold down rates for the Olympics, though they likely will still be higher than anything poor Argentines, Chileans or other South Americans might be able to pay. And not only Latin Americans from South America. Thirty thousand Mexicans were reported having come for the games.

FINAL THOUGHTS. On Saturday afternoon a demoralized, lifeless Brazilian team played Holland in the third place consolation match and lost badly 3 to 0. Walking past my local newsstand, the jornaleiro (newsstand owner) gave a thumbs down gesture, and said: “Brasil já era. Temos que reformar tudo. Primeiro, saude e educação. Tambem tira os mendigos da rua, MAS PARA RECUPERAR. Depois futebol.” Translation: “Brazil is finished. We have to reform everything. First, health and education. Also, remove the homeless beggars from the streets, BUT IN ORDER TO REHABILITATE THEM. After this, soccer.” The phrase to remove homeless beggars and rehabilitate them stated so emphatically was perhaps in memory of poor, homeless Brazilians swept off the streets, and in the worst cases, disappeared by death squads largely comprised of police or former police officers. Significantly, soccer came last in the list of reforms.

POSTSCRIPT, JUNE, 2018. Brazil’s international soccer fortunes have risen dramatically since the historic 7 to 1 defeat. It was a matter of selecting the new coach Tite in June 2016. The national team won the 2016 Olympic gold medal in the Rio de Janeiro games defeating Germany 5 to 4 in a penalty shootout. There followed 8 consecutive victories over South American rivals as Brazil became the first nation to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. On the eve of the 2018 competition in Russia, Brazil occupies its usual place as one of the nations favored to win the Cup.

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