Java Jive

Today's entry is brought to you live from beautiful downtown Culpeper, where I'm waiting out Ian's driving lesson with a visit to the Raven's Nest Coffee House.  There's free wi-fi, lemon poppyseed scones, and big brightly-colored mugs of my favorite liquid indulgence, so I'm happy. I generally like the ambience of coffee houses, but I enjoy this one because of such things as the exposed brickwork, the hardwood floors, the wrought-iron furniture, and the various Putuyamo CDs punctuating the air. I have no doubt that much of this was carefully chosen by corporate consultants to produce feelings of bonhomie in over-educated middle-class customers like yrs. truly, but hey, we need love too.

The other thing I love about this kind of place, though, is that it's one of the few places where American business demonstrates any kind of creativity. Detroit's decline can be seen in a lot of places, but one way is in the deterioration of the American car's name.  Back in my youth, we made cars with powerful symbolism behind them: the Mustang. The Charger. The Duster. The Cougar. The Falcon. Oh, there were imports with pizzazz, certainly--the Fiat Spider, the Triumph Spitfire--but so many European models merely seemed like strings of letters and numbers. Who'd want to drive a 451F when you could drive an Impala?

But nowadays, the names seem contrived--what the heck is a Sunbird?--or too alphanumeric. The only cars with interesting names are SUVs, and most of them are little more than rolling gazetteers: the Montana. The Dakota. The Tacoma. Soon everyone will be driving a GM Passaic, a Chevy Maryland, or a Ford Skokie, and it won't be pretty.

One thing stands against this trend, however: beverages. Whether it's beer, wine, or coffee, makers of liquid refreshments are ready to turn their muses loose in an attempt to capture the spirit of their drinks. Raven's Nest sells a variety of coffees, all with names redolent with suggestion: Resurrection Blend. Wicked Wolf. Deadman's Reach ("Served in Bed/Raises the Dead"). And of course the legendary Three-Peckered Billy Goat. By gum, if you're not intrigued at the possibilities there, you're not fit for caffeination.

And of course there are breweries aplenty coming up with clever, unexpected, provocative, or even somewhat disturbing names: Dead Guy Ale. Edmund Fitzgerald Porter, which is, surprisingly, not the name of an American minimalist short-story writer. Arrogant Bastard Ale.

Oddly, this tradition in beers is one that began before microbrews had any commercial significance and has continued unabated. My old buddy Si used to brew up various beers, all of which he named in consultation with the legendary Waffle O'Cheeseman. These were brews with name evoking drinking experiences far beyond the norm: Air Canada. Bat Country Ale. Lizard Milk. You knew when you sampled one of those not only that you weren't getting a Pabst, but that what you were getting was probably not anything even remotely familiar.

It's a shame that our breweries, vineyards, and roasters have not inspired the rest of our culture to new heights of creativity, but as long as they're here, we can at least count on being buzzed enough to put up with the Tauruses and the Marquises of the world. Drink up!

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on July 9, 2009 1:24 PM.

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