Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Has it really been 10 years?

It's been a good 10 years.

Leopold Brothers Brewery and Distillery closed after a rousing last night on Saturday. Nomo rocked the house for "Last Call at Leopold's." They're pulling up stakes, giving up brewing, and moving to Denver as a distillery. But it won't be the gathering place there that it was here.

I met Scott and Todd in 1998, shortly before they opened. I was biking past, and stopped in, to welcome them to Ann Arbor (Colorado transplants that they were), and to see what they were putting in to the old auto parts store. It was to be a German-style beerhall, with an organic, low-waste brewery and hydroponic greenhouse (using water from the brewery.) The bar and tables were even built from reclaimed wood. They got two out of three -- the greenhouse never came to fruition. But the brewery used a fraction of the water per batch of most breweries, and the ingredients were always organic.

AntlerierThere was always something special, to me, about that space. It was large, noisy, and dim. It was often smoky. But it was also somehow cozy and welcoming. The long tables encouraged conversation, while a secluded nook with couches was great for curling up with a good book and a beer.

I think it was the people who put the finishing touch on it, for me. I was always welcomed with a smile, and often by name. Even when the place was hopping, the service was friendly, never snappish. It was a place you could spend 10 minutes or several hours. It holds many memories.

Election night, 2000. Greens and Republicans shared the space. Instead of sports, the TVs were all tuned to the election returns. Some of us cheered as Florida went for Gore. Then moaned as it went back to "undecided." I left before it was over (as it wasn't over for a long time, that year.)

One night, before they had to stop putting on live shows because of the neighbors' complaints, I watched and listened to a local "punk" band. The singer was young and skinny with no shirt (emulating an earlier Ann Arbor punker perhaps?) As I watched him get caught up in the music, watched it jerk him around with his limbs flailing in rhythm, I wondered "could that be my son in a few years?"

A Michigan-Notre Dame game. It was a sunny fall day. The crowd kept getting thicker, as Notre Dame fans, unable to score a ticket, walked up Main St and into the first bar they found. Eventually, the door was closed. That big room was full, at capacity.

The marriage of friends on a Saturday morning. The large hall temporarily turned into a wedding chapel. Later, music by iPod and dancing on the concrete floor. Lunch at the beerhall tables, with old friends and new.

Another football game -- Michigan & Ohio State. I was sitting at the bar between a Michigan fan from Cleveland and an Ohio State fan from Columbus. I bet the Ohio fan a beer at half time. I lost, as did our team. But in the end, that didn't matter to me; the time spent making new, temporary friends did matter. We'll probably never run into each other again, but for those few hours, we were a community.

What else do I look back on? An evening with a book and a beer. TGIF with friends from work -- brews and pizza, games and conversation. Late night, sharing a beer with the bartender, now off work. Scrolling through the best jukebox selection in town, trying to pick out just seven songs. Sitting in the beer garden with a cool wheat beer.

Scott was the "front of the house" man; Todd was the brewer. German-trained, he started out making unfiltered lagers, giving them names like "Red", "Black", and "Landbier". He refused to be pinned down to our beer-geekish stylistic preconceptions. It was from Todd that I learned to enjoy the fresh, sulfury taste of a newly brewed lager beer. At first I would say "I'll come back in a couple weeks, when this has mellowed." But later, I relished it; looked for the extra edge it gave to the malt and hop combination.

The place wasn't perfect; the beer wasn't always the best; the smoke drove me nuts, and kept me away sometimes. But I'm going to miss them. Nowhere else in town does it quite the same.


Saturday, May 3, 2008

May Challenge Week 1 Day 1

The May 2008 Challenge is to photograph a single object each day for a week. Each week has a different object theme. The week 1 theme is "beverage." I chose seltzer (sparkling water).
Sparkling water - May 08 challenge week 1 day 1

I placed the flash behind and to the left of the glass, opened up the aperture to limit the depth of field, and set the shutter speed to the minimum to eliminate the background. I probably should have mounted the camera on a tripod to "lock in" the focus, and a little more depth of field would have been good. I pumped up the contrast and "clarity" somewhat in Lightroom. I wish I could have kept the glass from fogging up, but I'm reasonably happy with the result. It is the best of about 20 exposures.


Thursday, May 1, 2008

"Real" community becoming virtual

A while back, I wrote of my experience with an online/virtual community becoming physical/real. Another community in which I participate started out "real" and added an online/virtual extension. The A2B3 group (stands for Ann Arbor Bi Bim Bap), started out as a small group, dedicated to sampling all the bi bim bap variants at restaurants in Ann Arbor. (I wasn't part of it then.)

Its physical incarnation is now a weekly lunch, meeting every Thursday at the Eastern Accents restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor. Usually between 20 and 30 people attend the lunch. Some are regulars and some show up only occasionally. We range over many professions, ages, and lifestyles, but most of us have some connection with technology or the internet. We do a lot of informal "networking" as we eat our bi bim bap or stir fry or pork buns. Each week, the convener and originator of the group, Ed Vielmetti, asks us to introduce ourselves and to answer a question. The question might be as seemingly trivial as "what do you always carry with you?", or as thought provoking as "what is an important question in your field?" In this way, we come to know each other better.

My photograph for week 13 of the 2008 weekly photography challenge tries to capture the aspects of food and community inherent in the lunch gathering. The focal point is a bowl of bi bim bap (I did not pose the chopsticks!) surrounded by other remnants and reminders of our repast. Behind the bowl we see Ed's hands, poised to take notes as we introduce ourselves around the table. The group is suggested by the unfocused hands and torsos in the background.

The "virtual" community is held together by a mailing list, hosted on Yahoo groups, with over 250 members. Some members of the group participate only through the list, as they no longer live in Ann Arbor. As with the lunch, most of the email conversation is quotidien, such as a recent exchange on blogging software. Sometimes we get into a more interesting conversation, such as one prompted by an email titled "GoDaddy.com - Sociopathy as a Corporate Culture?"

Why am I part of this community? For many reasons, some of which I only dimly understand. Most simply, I need to eat, and I'd rather have interesting conversation with interesting people while doing so. From a perspective of personal advantage, I might need to find a new job some day, and the more personal/professional connections that I make, the more quickly I'll find a good one. I can focus pretty narrowly on what is happening in my life and work, so talking with and listening to people who are doing very different things helps me to broaden my perspective and stay connected with the "rest of the world." I've learned of new trends, products, and communities, some of which I've become further involved with (and some not -- I just don't "get" Twitter, for example.)

The weekly "real space" meeting with members of the group keeps me connected with the larger "virtual space" group, many of whom I've only "met" in cyberspace. The online group gives us a larger community, and one in which I don't have to strain my ears to hear what is being said several seats down the table. It's a winning combination.