The bartender looked at me and said, “Ah, so you’re a girl who likes blue collar beer.”
“Yes sir, I am.”
Though I had never thought about it before, I was proud to wear that patch, like a name embroidered onto a mechanic’s coveralls. There is an odd sense of pride being a beer drinking girl, not wine coolers, not fruity cocktails but watered down, piss warm, blue collar beer. I suspect this pride is rooted in a Midwestern upbringing and I am nearly certain other Midwestern females have felt it as well. In the same way lugging a bale of hay or a fifty pound feed sack proves my worth, downing a twelve pack of Miller Lite in one evening gives me dirt road street cred. I am one of the boys; I have changed my own oil, driven stick and shot gunned a beer (maybe more than once). Time and time again I have proven myself to this patriarchal society. Where I come from these are admirable traits. Coffee to get you through a day (or night if you’re working thirds) and beer to put you to sleep. No one’s ever really drunk (until Friday) but everyone is almost always buzzed.
The beer was water and the water was brown. Dad drank Natty Light and would bring home Coors for special occasions such as Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve. On Saint Patrick’s Day we would pour our special occasion Coors into champagne flutes and color it green. The first beer I was drunk off of was half a dozen Old Milwaukee Lights smuggled from the closet of a dear friend’s dad. At noon every weekday in the town where I’m from, they sound the tornado sirens – the noon whistle. My cousin Donny would run and hide behind my grandma’s couch out of fear. My mom would joke, “Now everyone can start drinking”. Except it wasn’t really a joke and after the whistle’s cry you could here the collective pop as the townsfolk cracked the days first beer.
While the blue collar beer comment did make my heart swell with pride, I had quickly forgotten it as the rest of last Saturday evening unfolded. Today was my first day back in the Midwest since moving to the desert and it was somewhere in the air between Tucson and Peoria that the bartenders remark popped back into my head. Peoria, Illinois, welcomed us with the kindness of any respectable Midwestern town. Flannel wearing men with ball caps and work boots waited beside us in baggage claim and a Komatsu excavator was proudly displayed in the terminal. Outside the air was cool, crisp and filled with moisture, a welcome gift to my sunbaked lips. Inside my fellow collaborators waited in the hotel room where we talked of life and of course photography.
It is so interesting to be brought back to this place by art. Baptism, a collaborative piece from The Hive, is being shown in conjunction with the SPE Midwest Regional Conference. This is the landscape that raised me: a cornfed, whiskey sipping, muddy veined, country bumpkin who values hard work and a nice pickup truck. All of us rural Midwestern kids are this way. But this is also the landscape that propelled me forward, that asked me to leave and then begged me to stay. It is the place that inspires all of my work. My hopelessly romantic heart loves that my first “big kid” group exhibitions called me back towards home. It seems beautiful that the Midwest gifted me with my first out of state show and a shiny new line for my resume. After all, the values I learned here are what have allowed me to leave: an appreciation for manual labor, earning ones keep, honesty to a fault, genuine kindness and rewarding oneself to an ice cold beer after a hard days work.
Photo cred: Tamrin Ingram