Ann Arbor is where I started and stopped drinking. Well, OK, there was a pleasant but junior varsity introduction to the alcoholic arts in college in the early Eighties before I got here, but, once I got situated within its borders after graduation this town is where I really learned to love the drink and now, sadly, leave the drink behind.
I was never a pass-out drunk. I was the type who’d remember what happened at the party and never missed a day of work due to hangovers. But I’d have two (large) glasses of Cotes du Rhone or Pinot Grigio, or two bottles of lager, every day, almost without fail.
Then, this past January, I stopped. It was not because of a garden-variety New Year’s resolution. It was because of a stern talk from my internist, Dr. Asbahi.
He informed me that an abdominal ultrasound, ordered to follow up on a blood test result, had showed a liver struggling to do its business. That’s a flippant way to put it. It was drowning in bad news. I had a triple whammy of a dangerously fatty liver, caused by too much weight and too much booze, general damage from decades of taking ibuprofen for a deteriorating knee, and, to top it off, a genetic thing called hemochromatosis. A little liver-y affair that can lead one to accumulate way too much iron. Like it’ll-eventually-kill-you too much iron.
I tried bargaining with my doctor. How about I cut back to one drink a day? (Shakes head “no.”) How about just a few drinks a week? “John,” Dr. Asbahi scolded me in his Syrian American accent, “Do you want to live a long life or no?” After a petulant pause I answered: Yesssssssss.
The problem with going dry in Ann Arbor is that the town is just so drink friendly. A drink is what often brings us together and bookends our meals. A typical welcome to a neighbor’s home in Lower Town was “What would you like to drink, John?”–and they didn’t mean water. Sampling their homemade pizzas or fresh-from-the-field venison would not be complete without a tasting of their ample wine cellars and home-brewed beers.
“So: you’re still not drinking?” my friends ask now, with a combination of curiosity and pity, as they gently swirl their glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon or spritz open another bottle of brew.
Some suggest that I try alcohol-free beer or wine, but to me that’s like trying chocolate cake without the chocolate. Or the cake.
I miss the taste, variety, and buzz of alcohol. I even miss the occasional extremes, like the party where I drank way too much and then stumbled around Argo Pond until 4 a.m., sobering up so I would not throw up and, could drive home. “Bad decisions,” said a T-shirt I saw yesterday, “make for great stories.” Well, it’ll all be different now: maybe fewer stories.
And I’m making new choices when I travel to the belly of the boozy beast: downtown Ann Arbor. Liberty and Ashley is ground zero for the pursuit of the pint there, with the Old Town, the Beer Grotto, and, in season, Bill’s Beer Garden all within hiccupping distance. I doubt there’s a single bar or restaurant in the downtown area that I haven’t enjoyed a libation in.
Perhaps it’s a good thing that I got to experience them all at one point or another. Because unless I can grow a new liver or my doctor declares me cured, I’ll have to find new ways to enjoy those places.
Arbor Brewing Company? How about I try a cider there? Not a hard cider, simply a cider. Knight’s and your well-known, ample-pour strong drinks? I shall know thee by thy tap water, on the rocks. And Dominick’s? Why don’t you fill up one of those quart jars not with sangria but with a fresh-brewed batch of iced tea. Yeah, that’ll do, I softly sigh to myself.