Friday, September 30, 2016

Five Americans – "Western Union" (1967)


Got your cable just today
Killed my groove I've got to say

(It sucks when your groove gets killed, doesn't it?)

The United States is a very different place than it was a decade ago, thanks primarily to an explosion in the number of microbreweries and bicycle-sharing networks.

Here are some fun facts about microbreweries:

– There were 4131 breweries in the United States in 1873.  But there were just 89 in 1978, most of which were operated by a just a few large breweries.  

– That increased to 110 in 1985, 858 in 1995, 1477 in 2005, and 4269 in 2015.

Some of the beers brewed in the Washington area
– There are 70-plus breweries in the Washington, DC, area – that’s more than any other city in the Eastern time zone except for New York City.  Many of those are in the city, and are very accessible even if you don’t have a car. 

And here are some fun facts about bicycle-sharing programs:

– More than 700 cities worldwide operate bicycle-sharing networks, which allow riders to borrow a bike at one station and return it at another station a short time later.

 – The Chinese cities of Wuhan and Hangzhou operate the largest systems in the world, with 90,000 and 60,000 available bikes, respectively.  The only non-Chinese city to crack the top 12 is Paris; its Vélib’ system has over 18,000 bikes, or one bike for every 97 residents. 

A Capital Bikeshare bike
– In 2008, Washington, DC, became the first city in North America to build a bike-sharing network.  Today, Capital Bikeshare is the third-largest system in the United States (after New York City and Chicago), with over 3000 bikes available at 370 stations in DC and three adjoining suburban jurisdictions — Alexandria and Arlington, Virginia, and Montgomery County, Maryland.

Put microbreweries and bikesharing together and what have you got?  You’ve got my day last Friday.

After lunch with my older son and his wife, I headed to the Capital Bikeshare docking station nearest to my office in downtown Washington, DC, and checked out a bike.

Capital Bikeshare docking station
Like most bike-sharing networks, Capital Bikeshare is easy to use as long as you have a credit card.

You insert the card at a Capital Bikeshare station and choose between a single trip for $2, a one-day pass for $8, a 30-day pass for $28, or an annual membership for $85.   Enter the code into the docking mechanism to unlock your bike, and off you go.

Capital Bikeshare stations are
everywhere in downtown Washington
I chose a one-day pass, which allows as many rides as I want to take for a 24-hour period.  I can pick up a bike at any docking station and return it at any another station.  The only catch is that any single ride that is not completed in 30 minutes or less triggers an additional fee.  (This isn’t as big a problem as you might think.  If you’re trying to get somewhere that’s more than half an hour’s ride from your starting point, you can always stop at an intermediate station, return your bike, check it out again, and continue your ride.)

My first stop: the Right Proper brewpub
From 7th and F — which is just in front of Washington’s most beautiful public building, the Old Patent Office Building, which now houses two Smithsonian art museums — I rode 1.3 miles north on 7th to T Street, docked my bike at about 2:00 pm, and walked one block to the Right Proper Brewing Company’s brewpub and restaurant, where I tasted Blanc Slate (a farmhouse ale) and Baron Corvo (a strong “keeping beer” that is fermented in large oak barrels, which gives it a somewhat vinous character).

The first beer of the day
At 3:30 pm, I walked back to the same docking station and rode 3.5 miles (east on T, right on Florida Avenue, left on R, right on the Metropolitan Branch Trail, left on M, right on 4th Street N.E., left on L, left on West Virginia Avenue, left on Fenwick, and right on New York Avenue) to the bikesharing station nearest my second stop of the day, Atlas Brew Works.  From there it was about a half mile to the brewery, where I arrived about five minutes after it had opened at 4:00 pm.

Tasting at Atlas Brew Works
Atlas CEO Justin Cox and my older son were at Vanderbilt University together.  Both then went to law school.  My son went to work at a big Washington law firm, while Justin founded a really cool microbrewery.  (Justin’s dad is sooooo lucky!)

I sampled several Atlas beers, including its District Common and its 1500 (similar to a German Helles lager).  Unfortunately, the Atlas tap room had just run out of Town and Country, a Belgian strong ale that’s aged in red wine barrels. :-(

A recycled beer-barrel urinal at Atlas
At 4:30, I returned to the same docking station, checked out a bike, and headed for the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station, which was 1.7 miles away.  (I went south on Fenwick, left on West Virginia Avenue, left on Montana Avenue, left on W Street, right on Brentwood Road, through the Home Depot parking lot, and left on Washington Place, which dead-ended at the Metro station.)

A Red Line train
I headed north on Metro’s Red Line and got off at the second stop, Fort Totten, where I checked out my fourth bike of the day at about 5:30 pm and rode 0.8 miles to Hellbender Brewing.  (I went up the hill on 1st Place N.E., right on Riggs Road, left on 3rd, and left on 2nd.)

A yoga class at Hellbender Brewing
There were no Capital Bikeshare stations near Hellbender, an unpretentious and out-of-the-way little brewery, so I knew I was going to miss the half-hour deadline for the first time all day.  Keeping the bike for an hour instead of 30 minutes cost only $2 more, and it was happy hour at Hellbender, which meant I saved a buck on the four-beer flight I ordered.

My Hellbender favorites were its Bare Bones Kölsch and its appropriately-named Red Line red ale, but all four of the beers I sampled there went down easy:

Beer and dill-pickle-flavored chips at Hellbender
At 6:20 pm I was back on the Red Line, heading for a classy downtown eatery for one more beer (a Devils Backbone Schwarzbier) and some tasty deviled eggs topped with even tastier fried oysters.

By 8:00 pm, I was back on the Metro, where I promptly fell asleep.  Fortunately, I woke up just in time to hop off the train at my stop.

*     *     *     *     *

The Five Americans, who were originally called the Mutineers, met each other in 1962, when they were students at Southeastern State College (now Southeastern Oklahoma State University) in Durant, Oklahoma.

I used to pass through Durant when I was driving home from college and vice versa.  It is home to the “World’s Largest Peanut” statue, although many say that statue is most definitely not the world’s largest peanut.  

Never a dull moment in Durant!
“Western Union,” which was a #5 single for the Five Americans in 1967, has nothing to do with breweries or bicycles — shared or otherwise.  But it’s a great little sixties Top 40 tune that popped up on my iPod while I was on the microbrewery-by-bicycle tour I wrote about in this post.  That’s enough to qualify it to be today’s featured song.


Thanks to TV and the movies, I know all about telegrams even though I never received one.  But I'm guessing that my kids don’t have a clue what these lines from “Western Union” mean:

Western Union man
Bad news in his hand . . .
Fifteen cents a word to read
A telegram I didn't need

Here’s “Western Union”:



Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

2 comments:

  1. One of my colleagues at So. Calif. Edison Telecomm worked for Western Union when it was still in the communications business. Now they use other companies' circuits to send virtual money around the world. But one occasionally sees "WUTelCo" manhole covers in the older parts of cities and near large railroad stations. There's a painting from the 1860s showing a Pony Express rider galloping like the wind across the wilderness. He passes a Western Union line construction crew setting poles and stringing wire. One can imagine the workers stopping to wave at the rider, and the foreman saying, "Ride on brother, and Godspeed! But in another few months you'll be technologically obsolete." (well, he probably wouldn't have used those exact words)

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  2. There is a chance you're qualified to receive a $1,000 Amazon Gift Card.

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