The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Oak Park Brewing Co., Oak Park

Welcome to stop #27 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Oak Park Brewing Co., 155 S. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park
Train line: Union Pacific West, Oak Park
Time from Chicago: 16 minutes (Zone B)
Distance from station: 700 m

Oak Park Brewing Co. is the first brewpub in Oak Park since 1872, when the village went dry. Yesterday evening an old friend and I donned masks and sat outside in the perfect weather to have pub food and, in my case anyway, beer.

From left to right, I sampled: the Leprechaun Zombie (4.1%, 26 IBU), a smooth nitro stout that reminded me of Guinness if Guinness had flavor; London Britches English porter (5.6%, 33 IBU), a malty, complex brew with lots of different flavors as befits a porter; Helles Other People (4.9%, 18 IBU), a nice, light Munich lager; Baby Got Bock Maibock (7.0%, 23 IBU), an interesting bock I might have to have again soon; and finally the Mary Hoppins APA (5.4%, 38 IBU), a well-balance, not-too-hoppy pale ale that was so good I had another couple of pints.

Their wings were very good as well.

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? Sort of: the Village says no, but...
Televisions? Yes, 2
Serves food? Yes, full pub menu
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Halfway there...

Welp, it's July now, so we've completed half of 2020. (You can insert your own adverb there; I'll go with "only.")

A couple of things magically changed or got recorded at midnight, though. Among them:

And finally, I am now officially the President of the Apollo Chorus of Chicago. My first task: ensure that our annual fundraiser, Apollo After Hours, brings in the dough. More on that later.

Harbor Brewing Co., Winthrop Harbor

Welcome to stop #26 on the Brews and Choos project.

Brewery: Harbor Brewing Co., 811 Sheridan Rd., Winthrop Harbor
Train line: Union Pacific North, Winthrop Harbor
Time from Chicago: 1 hour, 28 minutes (Zone I)
Distance from station: 800 m
Biergarten is 800 m to the east

It turns out, one can get beer during a pandemic. Harbor Brewing has two locations: a brewpub, which is closed due to Covid-19, and a Biergarten, which is very open.

I tried three beers. The Harbor Light Ale (4.0% ABV) lives up to its name, having tons more flavor than an industrial light beer but still having the insubstantial feeling of it. The Hazy Afternoon NEIPA (7.4% ABV) was my favorite, and perfect for a hazy afternoon by the water. The Locoe NEIPA (7% ABV) had a similar flavor but more juiciness and citrus notes.

Since Winthrop Harbor is the farthest from Chicago I've gone on the project, and since I had a lot of time between trains, I took a walk from the Metra station all the way to the invisible energy field between Illinois and Wisconsin, the latter on the left in this photo:

Beer garden? Yes
Dogs OK? Yes
Televisions? No
Serves food? Independent food tents, BYOF
Would hang out with a book? Yes
Would hang out with friends? Yes
Would go back? Yes

Three cheers for a friendly fungus

As this 2017 article from National Geographic explains, humans and yeast have had a tremendously successful relationship for the last 9,000 years or so:

From our modern point of view, ethanol has one very compelling property: It makes us feel good. Ethanol helps release serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins in the brain, chemicals that make us happy and less anxious.

To our fruit-eating primate ancestors swinging through the trees, however, the ethanol in rotting fruit would have had three other appealing characteristics. First, it has a strong, distinctive smell that makes the fruit easy to locate. Second, it’s easier to digest, allowing animals to get more of a commodity that was precious back then: calories. Third, its antiseptic qualities repel microbes that might sicken a primate. Millions of years ago one of them developed a taste for fruit that had fallen from the tree. “Our ape ancestors started eating fermented fruits on the forest floor, and that made all the difference,” says Nathaniel Dominy, a biological anthropologist at Dartmouth College. “We’re preadapted for consuming alcohol.”

Flash forward millions of years to a parched plateau in southeastern Turkey, not far from the Syrian border. Archaeologists there are exploring another momentous transition in human prehistory, and a tantalizing possibility: Did alcohol lubricate the Neolithic revolution? Did beer help persuade Stone Age hunter-gatherers to give up their nomadic ways, settle down, and begin to farm?

The idea that’s gaining support...was first proposed more than half a century ago: Beer, rather than bread, may have been the inspiration for our hunter-gatherer ancestors to domesticate grains. Eventually, simply harvesting wild grasses to brew into beer wouldn’t have been enough. Demand for reliable supplies pushed humans first to plant the wild grasses and then over time to selectively breed them into the high-yielding barley, wheat, and other grains we know today.

Alcohol may afford psychic pleasures and spiritual insight, but that’s not enough to explain its universality in the ancient world. People drank the stuff for the same reason primates ate fermented fruit: because it was good for them. Yeasts produce ethanol as a form of chemical warfare—it’s toxic to other microbes that compete with them for sugar inside a fruit. That antimicrobial effect benefits the drinker. It explains why beer, wine, and other fermented beverages were, at least until the rise of modern sanitation, often healthier to drink than water.

Alas, the SARS-Cov-2 virus has made it nearly impossible to continue the Brews and Choos Project, which celebrates the ingenuity of yeast and the single-mindedness of humans.

Speaking of the B&CP, I may cautiously resume the project this coming Friday. Or tomorrow. It depends on the weather, because regardless of the state's official relaxation of distancing rules, I don't think going into a restaurant or brewpub makes a lot of sense until I can confirm my own immunity to and inability to transmit the virus. I have no idea when that will be, in large part because of the Trump Administration's endemic incompetence. But many brewpubs have outdoor patio space, and on a warm sunny day, risks seem to be lower.

Phase 4? Uh...yay?

Illinois officially moved into Phase 4 of Covid-19 recovery this week, just as two states retreated from it abruptly:

As cases rise around the United States, Florida reported more than 8,900 new coronavirus cases on Friday, after counting more than 10,000 new cases over the previous two days, pushing its total past 120,000.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has said that Florida has the capacity to deal with more sick people for now. Across the state, long lines have returned at testing sites that just a few weeks ago were seeing limited demand. On Thursday, Mr. DeSantis said that he did not intend to move to the next phase of reopening.

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas went a step further than Florida, ordering all bars to close on Friday and telling restaurants to reduce operating capacity. It was an abrupt reversal of his previous policy as the nation’s second largest state also grapples with surging coronavirus cases weeks after reopening.

(It's worth noting that in every state that has rising numbers except for California, they have Republican governors.)

Still, though restaurants in Illinois can re-open at 25% capacity, many chefs have refused:

At Elizabeth restaurant, for example, owner Iliana Regan is sticking to take-out only. “If you’ve been here, you know how tiny we are; we only seat 25 people,” Regan said in an email to customers. “So, running at 25% capacity is not economically viable for us. More importantly, though, we don’t feel it’s safe for us to reopen for indoor service. We feel that the risk to our staff and guests is far too great to resume service right now.”

Similarly, Scott Worsham, who with Sari Zernich Worsham owns Bar Biscay and mfk restaurants, is in no hurry to open his dining rooms.

“We are waiting it out because it’s just not safe enough for our employees,” he said. “You saw what happened at Longman & Eagle this last week.” (Longman & Eagle abruptly ended outdoor dining service after one employee tested positive for COVID-19.) “For us to open, at such low numbers, then to have to close again for two weeks, would be a death blow for us.”

The Atlantic looks at Covid-19 safety in detail, and says maybe they have a point:

Ideally, individual people shouldn’t have to determine whether the restrictions in their area are safe and sensible. But here we are: Many states’ reopening plans don’t even meet the standards laid out in guidelines from the White House.

This means that in many cases, you’ll have to try to make an informed decision about what’s safest for you and others. [Linsey Marr, a civil- and environmental-engineering professor at Virginia Tech] laid out the basic calculus: “It depends on your own health, your age, preexisting conditions, how much risk you’re willing to tolerate, and the benefit that the activity could provide to you.” Another crucial variable: how much risk you might be introducing for everyone else around you.

So...basically...let's wait until we have a vaccine before going out again, yes?

Meanwhile, the only president we have until next January has cut funding for Covid-19 research and asked the Supreme Court to overturn the ACA, all this week.

Where I was supposed to be today

In November, the Apollo Chorus of Chicago performed in the Chicago Opera Theater production of Everest, a 2015 opera by Joby Talbot. After the second performance, Talbot and a number of the soloists met some of us out for drinks nearby. Andrew Bidlack, who sang the role of Rob Hall, mentioned they were going to London to perform the work at the Barbican. I told him I'd be there.

That performance should have taken place tonight at 7:30 BST. Obviously, it's cancelled, and even if it weren't, Covid-19 precautions mean I can't even get into the UK right now without a 14-day quarantine after arrival.

The middle half of 2020 may turn out to be the most disappointing period in my lifetime. But I'm optimistic about the fourth quarter, and about 2021. We'll get through this.

Afternoon news roundup

My inbox does not respect the fact that I had meetings between my debugging sessions all day. So this all piled up:

Finally, conferencing app Zoom will roll out true end-to-end encryption in July.

Today in the weird

It's day 88 of my exile from the office, but I recently found out I may get to go in for a day soon. Will this happen before the 24th (day 100)? Who's got the over/under on that?

Meanwhile, outside my bubble:

And just in case you're not scared of everything on earth, here's a list of things in the cosmos that can help you feel even more scared.

A bit windy

Day 3 of flight testing didn't go as well as I'd hoped. The winds picked up a bit, so my little guy refused to ascend past 28 meters and at one point lost contact with my remote. I have a feeling that radio interference will make urban flying more challenging.

I did get a good look at the lake, though:

The weather forecast looks breezy today and tomorrow, calming a bit Saturday. And if it's calmer around 8pm tonight, I'll try to get some dusk shots of the city. Honestly, the weather interfering with testing the drone feels a bit like the fall of 1999 when weather delays kept pushing my private-pilot checkride back.

At least I didn't crash today. Yesterday I hit a shrub and a fence, the latter impact actually costing me a propeller blade. At least the yet-unnamed quadcopter didn't suffer worse damage.

Mini Me

I mentioned yesterday I got a new toy. Finally, after years of thinking about it (and also watching prices come down), I bought a small drone. The Mavic Mini weighs 249 grams (which has legal significance), flies for half an hour, and takes decent video.

For my first test flights, I put the propeller guards on and did some slow flying around my house. Parker could not have cared less. Encounter number one:

Encounter number two:

So I not only have the best dog on the planet, but I may also have the chillest dog on the planet.