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Wisconsin Pull Tabs – Epi. 32

Wisconsin Pull Tabs – Epi. 32

Podcast Summary:

“Anyway, I’ll Drink to That” is a Boozn Sam’s production, exploring the fun, quirky, and fascinating tales of drinks (Wisconsin Pull Tabs this week) that define culture, history and the world. Every drink has a story to tell, and I’m going to tell it…as true as I can. Hosted by Sam, from Boozn Sam’s. Saddle up with a good cocktail and give me a few minutes of your time for a mystery surrounding a drink that changed the world.

Episode 32 Notes: Cardboard Crack

How did a 600 year old Japanese game, POGS, and baseball cards create a bar game that’s illegal in most US states?

Transcript of Podcast:

*Note – This is the full episode and containers spoilers. You can always listen to the podcast above.

It was a three PBR day at the bar, so a normal day, and Spencer was getting his usual fix after a long day of work. He went to the bar for the beer, and also for another type of fix that you can’t get many other places. You see, he was in Wisconsin and shelling out ones on a quick fix that doesn’t exist out of state. You’ve probably never heard of this fix either, unless you live in Wisconsin. And even if you do live in Wisconsin there is still a good chance you haven’t heard of what I’m talking about.

Because this fix is uniquely Wisconsin and few other states have such a bar attraction. It’s not legal most other places. But, just because more than 90% of states think something is illegal…is a thing really illegal? Yet I understand. Because when Walter started giving out these fixes he faced the wrath of Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin. They seized his property. They took him to court. They said what he was doing was illegal and they weren’t going to stand for it. In reality, the government saw Walter as competition. They wanted their cut and they weren’t going to let him get away with selling his fix. The government always wants their cut.

You see, most bars in most states in the US have to settle for silly ol’ juke boxes, blaring achey breaky heart or Taylor Swift. Now, I’ve got nothing against Taylor Swift and her mad talent, but she’s the last person I want to hear at a dive bar, or most any bar I go to. I’m just not going to the bar to cry into my beer. I’m going to celebrate and have fun, and if I’m feeling lucky, get a quick fix of some cardboard crack. 

So, Spencer was having a good day. He was getting his fix that few know about, but one that has been around for hundreds of years. It all started when a Japanese game found its way to Hawaii and then became something Spencer was consuming at a small town bar in Wisconsin. Pfft! And they say small town Wisconsin isn’t cultured… 

It all started in Japan during the 1600’s with a simple game. This game was the start of many things, in fact. But, at the beginning this game consisted of rigid, cardboard cards that were similar to what we’d call baseball cards today. Instead of a ball player and his stats, the image side of the card had cultural icons. It could have had a ninja or a samurai. The images evolved through the centuries, but always stayed in touch with the culture of the time. The game was called Menko, and it’s still around today.

Today, it’s a nod to a spiritual part of the past. For centuries, even though it’s hard to imagine now, before there were cellphones that could distract us every second of every day like an electronic drip of dopamine, we had to have fun other ways. So, for the kids in Japan, Menko was that way. 

They’d collect Menko cards, trade them, make new friends by asking what others had collected, and do battle against each other. It was a social game. A simple game. A fun game.  

I toss down a card to start. Then you toss down a card. If you flip my card with the gust of tossing down your card, you get to keep both cards. Or, if your card lands on my card, you keep my card. Flip or hit. The person with the most cards at the end of the game wins. The game is that simple, and the images on the card have nothing to do with the game itself. The images on the cards make the cards fun to collect, fun to trade, and fun to look at. Simplicity and the game of collecting are why Menko was so popular.

We’re collectors by human nature. Whether it’s spouses, sabertooth tiger teeth, or acorns. We like to collect things and it’s deeply ingrained into who we are as homo sapiens. The things you collect also say a lot about you as a person. Take, for instance, someone who collects used underwear. That type of person is a very different type of person, and one I don’t want to meet, than someone who collects toy cars. 

The collectible nature of the images and the simplicity of the game gave people a sense of control over the game, the ability to master the rules and how to play, which felt really good. Plus, they got to look at cool artwork. The design of a thing has been something people still collect today, whether it’s baseball cards, beanie babies, Pokemon cards, magic the gathering cards, or special edition beer cans.   

The simplicity and collectibility is why Menko made its way to Hawaii. And, is usually the case, when something travels across cultural lines, the rules stayed the same, but the pieces changed. There was a time in our history when you didn’t go to the store to get your milk. A literal milk man, and he was usually a man, so I’m not gender typing here, would stop by your house and drop off fresh milk on your doorstep. It came in a glass bottle, condensing slightly on the outside, and corked with a thick, flat cardboard cap. These caps had a flat side, the top and an open side, the side latched on to the milk bottle. Kids collect these milk caps and play a game with them. 

They would stack them. Then they would drop a heavier object on to the top of the stack. When the debris settled, any face up caps were kept by the player and the face down ones were re-stacked for the next player to try. When all the caps were collected by players, the person with the most caps, won. It was that simple.

Stack the caps. Smack the caps. Keep the up caps. Win the game. Another super simple game and a variation on the original Menko game from Japan. 

Seeing an opportunity, and capitalism being what it is, a company decided to increase the value of their product by creating decorative caps specifically for this game. They were putting the collectible aspect back into the game that Menko had. While they never sold their juice with a cardboard cap, they did use the small collectible caps as a marketing promo to create brand exposure. This was the 1970’s and the company in Hawaii was trying to sell their Passion Orange Guava juice. I have no idea if that was a hard sell, or not, but it’s a drink I’d try at least once. 

But, I do know putting Passion Orange Guava on the cap of these promo items would be a bit wordy. So, they abbreviated that, put that abbreviation on the small caps, and then gave them away. If you’re a child of the 90’s you might be catching on to where this is head. Passion Orange Guava juice…abbreviated as P.O.G. on the cap. Which gave way to the game of POGs that features colorful and specially designed round discs which game players collected and used to compete with each other. They stacked the POGs, then use a slammer to try flipping the POGs. Then collect the ones that have flipped, just like the game with the milk caps. 

Let’s head back over to Spencer, who has just struck it lucky on his usually nightly fix. He’s done with PBR number two at this point and might be staying for more than a third tonight. He’s really feeling it now too. Standing up from his bar stool and high fiving his buddy next to him. Others are looking. Others are excited. Others wished they got his fix. 

And we’ve got Walter to thank for this. The fix he created was Wisconsin Milk Caps, of which the majority are sold at bars in Wisconsin for $1 a piece. This game is simple, and like the other games that came before it, it’s a collectible. Think of a scratch off game and you’re close to what this is. But, this isn’t a scratch off game. 

This game is a piece of cardboard with one side having five perforated slots you rip open. Some call this game pull tabs… because you literally pull the tabs. Below each tab, when you rip them open, are the shapes that you might find in a slot machine. Pieces of fruit, like cherries or limes or watermelon. Bells. A lucky clover. 

If one of the tabs has three matching shapes on it, you win the corresponding dollar prize, which usually ranges from $1 – $250. 

On the back side is a circle, with a collectible design inside of it. Yes, similar to a POG, and although users can do anything they want with the game piece they are encouraged to collect the designs, since they frequently change and have a collectible nature about them. 

Now, what makes this game so fun is that it’s a great social game. You can be at the bar with a few friends, each throw in ten bucks, divide up the milk caps, and rip them open. The bar will pay you out your winnings and you can keep playing or keep whatever you’ve made. It’s an addicting little game. Low cost to play. Fun with friends. And an easy way to pass the time and get a little fix of adrenaline and excitement along the way. 

Of course, the Attorney General and the city of Milwaukee thought differently, which is why they raided Walter’s office and took all his milk caps, with the accusation that this was an illegal lottery game. 

Walter, not one to back down from a fight, no matter the cost, and he knew it was going to cost him, went to court over the issue. You see, it’s estimated that Wisconsin milk caps siphon away millions a year from the lottery. That is, of course, assuming that people who play milk caps are also going to go out gambling in other ways. I think that’s a fallacy, because I like milk caps, but I don’t like to gamble. Either way, the Department of Revenue saw someone dipping into their pocket and they were taking action. 

Walter, on the other hand, called their bluff. One man, took on the state of Wisconsin. And you know they weren’t going to back down, because the government likes their money, however they can get it. But, Walter, argued that the same statue which allowed McDonalds to promote games like their monopoly game, a game where you collect monopoly pieces on food products you’ve purchased to try winning cash prizes, should also allow him to sell his game. After all, he was selling a collectible that also happened to give the end user a chance at also winning a cash prize.

In the end, Walter won. When the case was appealed, the decision was upheld in court and he won that too. Wisconsin Milk Caps is the only legally sanctioned version of the game in Wisconsin, and, although it seems no one, from the courts to the attorney general of Wisconsin, liked this decision, they all respected it. They respected the statute, even though they didn’t agree with it. Because doing otherwise would infringe upon the rights of Wisconsin residents like Walter who were navigating within the bounds of the law. 

In today’s world, where overstep by governmental authorities and public individuals is more common, I respect that. And, in many ways, that makes Wisconsin Milk Caps a game that embraces not only a 600 year old tradition passed to the US from Japan, and then from Hawaii to Wisconsin, but also a representation of conviction and right. 

For, had Walter caved under pressure from the state of Wisconsin, or, had he decided to not fight based on what he knew was right, this game wouldn’t be around today or it would have been absorbed by the Wisconsin Lottery. 

And while it may be a frustration for the state and the Wisconsin Lottery, because of the money it pulls away from their pockets, it’s also a reminder of the rights of citizens. Because the state upheld those rights, even when they didn’t like it or want to. 

And for that reason alone, I’m willing to grab a PBR, stick a few bucks into the machine in support of such a concept, and pull some tabs anytime I find myself in a Wisconsin bar…which is quite often. 

Anyway… I’ll drink to that. 

Nashville Hot Chicken – Epi 31

Nashville Hot Chicken – Epi 31

Podcast Summary:

“Anyway, I’ll Drink to That” is a Boozn Sam’s production, exploring the fun, quirky, and fascinating tales of drinks (Nashville Hot Chicken and beer this week) that define culture, history and the world. Every drink has a story to tell, and I’m going to tell it…as true as I can. Hosted by Sam, from Boozn Sam’s. Saddle up with a good cocktail and give me a few minutes of your time for a mystery surrounding a drink that changed the world.

Episode 31 Notes: Malice Made Magic

What makes Nashville hot chicken real? What does a drunken womanizer and a pissed off woman have to do with Nashville’s most famous cuisine? Join us now to find out for yourself.

Transcript of Podcast:

*Note – This is the full episode and containers spoilers. You can always listen to the podcast above.

There were too many women and not enough time. That was Thornton’s problem. Thornton was working his way toward his next wife and struggling to choose the right woman. It was the early 1930’s and he was in Nashville finding every opportunity he could to sow his oats. And… oh… there was no shortage of opportunity. 

Thornton had his pick of women. He was tall, dark, and muscular. His smile melted hearts and there was a rich, timber quality about his voice that drove women crayzee. He’d always had a way with the ladies. That’s part of the reason he’d gone through several marriages already. There were just too many options and Thornton…loved the ladies. 

Take last night, for instance. He’d gotten home late. It was Sunday, not Saturday, when he stumbled in. He was drunk and smelling like the woman he’d spent the night with. He had her scent, but the walk home in the hot night had left him sweaty. Between his sweat and the smell of booze coming out of every pore of his being, he knew there was no way she knew.

The she, of course, was his live in girlfriend. And she was different from the woman he’d spent last night with. While he debated what to do, he also felt sure that he’d gotten away with it. Of course, all the ladies listening now know that’s not the case. I haven’t met a woman that can’t sniff out a lie a mile away.

But, Thornton was mostly, kinda, pretty much sure that she didn’t have a clue. He sat at the breakfast table sipping on his coffee and nursing a pounding headache from the night before. She was cooking him breakfast in the kitchen, like she always did. So, that was a good sign. Surely, if she was angry, she’d just say so. She’d use her words. Surely, any woman would do that. They wouldn’t play guessing games… or see if you can read minds…or test you in any way whatsoever just to see if you care. Right? Right?

So, Thornton, knowing this, felt pretty good about his chances of not getting caught. He watched her work, picking the food out of the bowl and then transferring it to the hot skillet. It sizzled and let up a bit of steam with it hit. He smelled it instantly. 

“Smell good in there.” He sipped his coffee.

“Thanks, honey.” She poked at the fry pan. “I’m making you something real special today.”

Thornton liked special. He took another sip of coffee. His head pounded from his hangover but the coffee was helping and he was feeling pretty darn good indeed. His mind wandered to the woman from last night. He’d met her out at the bar. Someone new. And that was always exciting. She was new and fun. 

The drinking and the womanizing and the lying was just a regular Saturday night for Thornton. He liked to have a good time. He looked up from his coffee when he heard her enter the room. She smiled and set a plate of food down in front of him.

“Eat up, Princey, baby.”

Prince. That was what everyone called him. He was Thornton Prince, but went by Prince. He flashed his smile, the smile he knew made all the ladies melt. “Thanks, sweet baby.”

Only she didn’t melt. But, Prince didn’t notice. He already had eyes for nothing but his plate of food. 

The food was steaming and looked amazing. It smelled different. Just a bit. Not much and he couldn’t place it. But, it could have also been his senses, beat into submission by the alcohol and lack of sleep.

His girl turned away and headed back to the kitchen to clean up. He heard the banging of pans and dishes. How lucky he was to have a woman like her? Someone that cooked and cleaned? Tended to his needs? Plus, he could still go out and live it up with the boys on a Saturday night like usual.  

Thornton cut off his first piece of meat and stuffed it into his mouth. It was hot but he chewed it. Then…he coughed. He felt the heat next. Not, the temperature heat, but the spice heat. It burned his lips and the inside of his mouth. His tongue was on fire. 

Next came the classic meat sweats and he pulled at the collar of his shirt. He coughed again. “Baby, this is something special.”

She was in the room again, smiling sweetly. Batting her eyes at him, her hands folded in front of her stomach and on top of her apron. “Oh, do you like it? Please, eat up.”

Ol’ Prince could pick up on a trick and he knew he was being played. He knew something was up, but didn’t know what.  

She clearly was not happy with him. But, he wasn’t about to let her know he knew. The first rule of dating women is never asking them if they are okay. They’ll share when they’re ready. 

Besides, he was Prince, and Prince does what he wants. So, as casually as he could, he cut into his breakfast and plopped another piece in his mouth. Another explosion of flavor hit him and brought on a new wave of heat and sweat. He gulped it down. He looked at her. She was still smiling. She was urging him to keep eating. 

So, he took another bite. And another. By bite six he was getting used to the heat. The shock had worn off. He was starting to enjoy it now. In fact, he was enjoying it so much that an idea came to him. He’d never actually had something like this before. 

Sure, the style of cooking was nothing new, a relic of the older African American days, and a style of cuisine that stuck around still today. But, the spice was different. The heat. Whatever she’d done, she’d somehow blended a traditional take on the meal with a new kick. And it did kick, but you got used to it.  

Perhaps… there was something here. 

“Say, what you put on this? It’s pretty good.”

She huffed. She put her hands on her hips and stomped. “I know you was out last night with another woman. I smell it on ya. You can’t hide it.”

Oh, he thought. So, she does know. Since there was no denying it, he said nothing. She was a good woman and he could have done a bit better with her, maybe. Instead, he went back to eating breakfast.  

Of course, offering no explanation was probably one of the worst things. But, the worst thing he could have done, he did. That was ignore her comment AND go back to eating the breakfast she’d made in a failed attempt to punish him.  

She exploded in a chorus of cursing and shouting that ended with her packing up her shit and walking herself out of the house. 

So, Prince, found himself without a girlfriend because she did indeed know what he had done last night and he was not as smooth or as suave as he though, even if he was a Casanova with the ladies. And, worse still for Prince, he didn’t get the recipe for what she’d cooked.

He had some experimenting to do, and he went to work. When he finally perfected the blend, he tested it out with family and friends. Their appreciation of his breakfast inspired him to take the next leap, which was to open his own restaurant, serving this uniquely Nashville food. 

Four generations later that six booth restaurant and the recipe he came up with, which was meant to be a punishment from his girlfriend, was still around. In fact, it became so famous that a festival was started in its honor. Competitors popped up all over Nashville too and now there are almost two dozen of them in the area. They popped up around the world too. 

But, the thing is, there is nothing like the original. There is no place anywhere that makes this breakfast, like it’s made in Nashville. 

Nashville Hot Chicken

First, this breakfast has been served in Nashville’s African American communities for decades, which is where its roots come from.

Meat is marinated in a water-based spice blend that also contains buttermilk.

Buttermilk helps lock in the meat juices and adds to the food’s flavor.

Then the meat is floured.

Then fried. While using a deep fryer is more common today, an authentic place will still pan fry their meal. 

Finally, a special spicy paste is applied. This was the secret and a secret. A blend of hot sauce, cayenne, garlic, and lard. 

When it’s made traditionally, Nashville style, the paste is brushed on right after the food is fried. 

In common variations today, the paste is added as part of the breading and then fried.

The variations, though, aren’t what we’re here for. And there is an art to making this dish, an art which is closely guarded by the most authentic, original restaurants in Nashville. It’s why there is literally nowhere in the world that makes this food like they do in Nashville. 

It’s why people arrive at the airport and get a ride straight to these restaurants before doing anything else. 

It’s why some of these restaurants ship their food all over the world. 

And it’s how Thornton Prince, a notorious womanizer, who was married five times over his lifetime, ended up the creator of all this magic. 

Magic from malice.

A scorned, angry girlfriend trying to enact punishment on her man for cheating by over-spicing his morning breakfast in an attempt to make him suffer one last time before she left. Because hurting people hurt people, and she was definitely hurt by Prince.

Instead her plan backfired, which I’m sure made her even angrier. After the initial shock of how spicy the food was wore off, Prince actually found the dish quite tasty. 

It was probably great for his hangover. And it definitely goes great with a light beer to help soothe that burning mouth feel. It was so tasty and so perfect for what he wanted that he turned this food – Nashville Hot Chicken – into a thing far beyond breakfast. And start a restaurant that would be passed through his family for four generations, where it’s still a staple of Nashville and bears his name today. 

It’s called Prince’s Hot Chicken. 

And it was also the inspiration behind the Music City Nashville Hot Chicken Festival which was been kickin’ since 2006 and, in 2024, is in its 18th year. 

Finally, it’s proof that the good lord Jesus, right here in the bible belt of America, turned sin into beauty, by turning adultery into Nashville’s most famous fried food. Malice made magic.

Anyway…I’ll drink to that. And also have a bit of Nashville hot chicken as a side piece. 

Independence Day & The Rights of our Country – Epi 30

Independence Day & The Rights of our Country – Epi 30

Podcast Summary:

“Anyway, I’ll Drink to That” is a Boozn Sam’s production, exploring the fun, quirky, and fascinating tales of drinks (a special independence day episode this week) that define culture, history and the world. Every drink has a story to tell, and I’m going to tell it…as true as I can. Hosted by Sam, from Boozn Sam’s. Saddle up with a good cocktail and give me a few minutes of your time for a mystery surrounding a drink that changed the world.

Episode 30 Notes:

It was a time without a standard. A time where everything was questioned, because everything should be questioned. And a time in history, about a very tragic and important moment of firsts, that we should never forget. This episode is a special Independence Day edition. 

Transcript of Podcast:

The wind whipped through the mountains on the western frontier, but that didn’t stop James from going out today. He had a deal to make and they were expecting him. He just wished he would have dressed warmer. James pulled his coat a little closer around him and waited.

They arrived a few minutes later, a group of them. More than he expected for a transaction like this. But, as long as they had what he needed, it didn’t matter.  

“Do you got it?” He yelled to them. James’ eyes went to the group gathered in front of him. His hand rested on his pistol, but he didn’t think things would come to that.  

They were a rough sort. Dirty, with threadbare clothes. Wearing hats and nervous faces. One of them, apparently the leader of the group, nodded and flicked his eyes to the side. Another one, this one a boy, opened a thick, burlap sack and showed James the contents. There were beets still covered in dried, fresh dirt with their leafy green heads still attached. Cucumbers too. They were all sitting on top of green beans, which was what most of the sack contained. 

James let out a low whistle. It was perfect. You see, James was a grain farmer and he usually just traded for the other vegetables he needed. That was how they did things out West. They were all there because they preferred shopping local. They preferred organic. They were helping each other out as best they could, because they all lived the same ideals. Self sufficiency on their western farms. Trying to outrun the sprawling cities and get back to nature. James and his family would can up most of what was in the sack and their dream of living off the land and not having to rely on the city life could survive for another year.  

“Give me a minute.” He retreated. When he returned he was carrying payment. “The amount you asked for.” He handed it over and the leader let a smile cross his face. “That’ll do perfect.”

“And thanks for making the trip here. I could have met you somewhere closer.” James offered.

The leader simply shrugged and gave a dismissive wave. “It’s no problem. We have a few other stops today.”

Then they all said their goodbyes and went on their ways. James returned to his home, which was not too far away from where he’d paid the group of men for their vegetables. His wife would be happy. It was early July and the weather was hot. The growing season wasn’t completed for many crops yet. But, having the insurance of early yields put everyone’s mind at ease. Life was hard on the western frontier, after all. 

Far away from the frontier, men were arguing with each other over the fate of the country. Andrew was one of these men. He had a clear direction too. Guiding principles that he so firmly believed in he was willing to die for them. Lucky for Andrew, all he had to do was sell those ideas in the great halls of Congress. Which he did. Because, although he was proposing something that had never been done before, he was proposing something that would only affect the rich. 

For many in Congress it was considered a luxury tax, and the rich could afford to pay it. The rich would barely notice. After all, wasn’t it for the good of the country that so many over the years had laid down their lives?

Wasn’t the expectation that all should do their part to ensure the success of America? And shouldn’t everyone pay their fair share? 

America’s in a debt crises. The debt needed to be kept in check. The debt needed to be paid down. We must make good on our obligations. That was the argument Andrew made. And his solution was taxing products manufactured in the US. 

While the bill did come under some fire it was passed readily. Many clung to the concept of a luxury tax and argued or soothed their consciouses by saying that it would hurt those who would feel it less. 

It was several weeks later, in mid July when James learned of this tax. He was on the western frontier, after all, far from the bustling cities and word traveled a little slower out there. He learned of it when the tax collectors showed up with their federal agents welding rifles and demanding their money. After all, it was a federally mandated tax. All had to pay it. And James, would have to pay it or face fines and prison.   

But, James didn’t want to pay it. James would pay for many things. Take his vegetables from the neighboring farm, for instance. He had no problem paying for that. But, to pay a tax like this, James would not do. 

The year was 1794 and the American Revolution had ended a little over a decade ago. The wounds were still fresh. Too fresh for James, who remembered fighting along side President George Washington. 

At that time, they were fighting for freedom from an oppressor. They were fighting to escape taxation. That was the dream they believed in. That was the dream they all earned with the blood they spilled and the nightmares that haunted them of soldiers screaming and dying. Limbs exploding from cannon fire. Hot led sizzling skin and sending an unruly stench into the air that he could never forget. 

No, James would pay for many things, but he would not pay for this. He could not afford to. He was a survivor on the western fringe of the United States of America. He was not one of those rich that congress said they were taxing. He, was not part of the luxury. This, was his livelihood and so the tax hit him harder. 

He wasn’t the only one either, and reports of the tarring and feathering of tax collectors began to surface. The farmers were angry. They had spoken. The poor, who were tilling up the land and trying to make a living as best they could, would not pay this tax because they had not been consulted about paying this tax…. And they could not afford it. 

Alexander Hamilton thought different though, and he said so to President George Washington when he asked. There was no way they could continue to pay off their debts without more income. They needed more money and this was, what seemed like, the easiest way to balance the scales. 

The fight for freedom had cost more than just lives. They’d paid in coin as well as blood. And they’d borrowed from allies around the world that wanted to see if this new nation, dedicated to the idea that all men are created equal, could survive it’s experiment and become what it set out to be. 

But, it was encountering its first hurdle. They broke free to escape taxation and now they were bringing taxation back. Wasn’t this just another tyrant under a different name?

What made these men, who now endeavored to levy taxes upon their fellow man any better or more righteous of such a levy than the King of England? President George Washington wrested with this and he relied on his secretary of state Alexander Hamilton to help him work through these things. 

Because, you see, this problem was one that encompassed the moral character of the country. Who did the country want to become if it would stand for freedom and independence for all? What shape, form and size would a government like that need to take?

The thing about decisions is that once you make the first one a natural progression down a certain path begins to happen. It’s much more difficult to pull yourself out of that pathway too and start over. It requires twice as much energy. So, while making the decision may be as easy as saying yes, living with the consequences of that decision is lasting. 

This was the situation that the first wards of our country found themselves in. They had no road map and no direction, beyond their confidence and trust in each other and their own moral character. They had to believe that their intentions were true, that their actions were right. 

So, when word of the uprisings on the western frontier was received by President George Washington he began to question his decision to support the tax. Had he made the right decision? Were their unintended consequences and people he never meant to suffer, now suffering because he was making decisions from thousands of miles away with a disregard for those struggling to survive. 

If only we could have such noble leaders today. Leaders that are guided by their moral character and not the game of politics. Leaders who desire to do good and right and not make a career out of getting fat on the teat of the taxpayer. If only, we, in our time, would be so lucky to be guided to people of passion, not people of greed, despite whether we agree with them on principles or not. 

The soul of America was fought for in the American Revolution. While there were many civil wars and many wars that fought for freedom, none before, or since have done so with such focus on the hope alone. For, America was nothing more than an idea, an undeveloped land of opportunity that could be shaped into anything. 

It was people like James who were shaping it, which is why James felt the need to once more take up his gun and defend against tyranny, this time an internal one. 

It was July 17, 1794 and James had his militia surrounding the home of General Neville. He saw the white flag fluttering and believed that the general wanted to discuss terms. After all, there was no way he alone was going to survive against the farmer raised militia that the people of the western frontier had raised in rebellion against the luxury tax. 

Only, his eyes deceived him. There was no white flag. And instead Major James McFarlane was shot and killed by someone from inside the house. His dream of homesteading on the western frontier would die with him. He’d survived the revolution, only to be taken by his own countrymen, men that he fought so hard to free. 

Months later President George Washington would try to negotiate with the disgruntled, poor farmers, who were expanding Westward and laying the groundwork for what is to become modern day America. The talks failed and, the president raised a militia of 13,000 troops and marched on the rebellion. 

By the time they arrived the 5,000 rebels had disbanded and only 150 were arrested. Two were convicted of treason, but over the next few years they would both be pardoned. 

The new taxation act, signed by Congress, and assumed to be a minor tax that would only inconvenience the rich would be forced down onto the farmers and their lives would change. 

It was the first time that the United States of America had raised an army and marched on its own people to enforce a law. But, we all know it wasn’t, nor will it, be the last.

The old powers of the world no doubt snickered behind their closed doors, glad to see those 13 colonies struggling and failing to control their people without force of death. And I’m sure for some there were even “I told you so’s.”

That wasn’t the only first though. Up until this point, in the relatively brief history of the United States of America, a tax had never been brought forth against its people. While they did tax goods entering the United States, no goods or sales were taxed in the United States. 

It took less than 15 years for this new country to break its word and start taxing its people once again. 

But, that wasn’t the only other first, either. 

You see, the reason James was so upset that he was willing to die for his principles versus pay the tax, was that the tax was on Whiskey. 

Yes, the first internal tax in the United States of America was on Whiskey. And while it was a luxury item for many of the wealthy in the cities, out on the Western Frontier,

Which at this time was Western Pennsylvania, 

Whiskey was a currency. 

Grain farmers could store their product for longer by converting it to Whiskey form. 

They could also transport it easier. 

So, frontier farmers, because they were poor, often traded whiskey as a form of currency, instead of gold and silver coins. 

The tax wasn’t just a tax on a vice, a drink, it was a tax on their currency, which meant it was a tax on their very livelihood. And for someone already risking their life on the frontier of America, this was an insult. 

Independence Day

As we near July 4th, I think this story was an especially important one to tell. 

We tend to get so caught up in the drinking and sunshine and fireworks of the holiday that we forget the tough decisions that our country once wrestled with. We forget that our country was once noble and filled with people who wanted to serve with morality and a sense of pride in what they do, even if they got it wrong from time to time. 

And this story is an important reminder that a government can turn against its people, and will, when the will of the government is different from the will of the people. So, with that, I’ll leave you with the inscription written on Major James McFarlane’s gravestone:

Here lies the body of Captain James McFarlane of Washington, PA. He departed this life July 17, 1794 aged 43. He served through the war with undaunted courage in defense of American independence against the lawless and despotic encroachments of Great Britain. He fell at last by the hands of an unprincipled villain in support of what he supposed to be the rights of his country, much lamented by a numerous and respectable circle of acquaintances.    

May you, especially now, remember what the rights of your country are. Happy Independence Day and a thank you to all those that live with principle and honor. We remember you always.

Anyway… I’ll drink to that.

Homemade Sangria & Hardware Store Tarp Blue – Epi 29

Homemade Sangria & Hardware Store Tarp Blue – Epi 29

Podcast Summary:

“Anyway, I’ll Drink to That” is a Boozn Sam’s production, exploring the fun, quirky, and fascinating tales of drinks (homemade sangria in this episode) that define culture, history and the world. Every drink has a story to tell, and I’m going to tell it…as true as I can. Hosted by Sam, from Boozn Sam’s. Saddle up with a good cocktail and give me a few minutes of your time for a mystery surrounding a drink that changed the world.

Episode 29 Notes:

The traveling Hank went around the world, only to find a secret summer treasure, in a remote place, an old man, and an island that had many secrets to share, including homemade sangria. 

Transcript of Podcast:

*This is the entire podcast episode in written form. Do not read if you want the audio version to be spoiled.

The water is blue today. A Hardware store $20 tarp blue color. And the only difference between the tarp and what moves before Hank is the diamonds shimmering across the surface as the wind ripples the water, which reflects the sun. Below his feet the sand is hot and he had to turn his feet on their edges to protect the soles from scalding. The sand is a fine silt and feels soft. Behind him, there is the tink, tink, tink of the cooling four wheeler engine. 

He’s dusty from zipping down dry roads on the island and speeding past hand built, stone stacked walls with reckless joy. The land was partitioned off by these simple stone walls, which were formed by men who had stacked blocks of stone on top of each other. They weren’t high, maybe knee height in some places to waist-high in others, but they served their purpose whether that was to keep animals in or mark off territory.

Hank zipped by them all. He liked to punch the throttle and hear the engine whine. See the trail of dust leap into the air and form a thin line like crop-dusters dusting fields of corn. This reckless abandon led Hank many places. It took him to a marble quarry where precious, famous marble is mined. It’s the same type of marble that was used in the statues throughout Athens. Or, in the temples and ancient ruins of that city. 

There are other wonders on the islands too. The butterfly house with native flowers and butterflies that smells like lavender and crisp, tree fruit. Hank was moving slow and quiet through the house, letting the butterflies circle around him and brush against his skin. Then dash away to the safety of flower petals and leaves. 

Beyond the butterfly house and the marble quarry, there is a winery with a handwritten “Wine and Liquor” sign in black paint. At first Hank couldn’t find the man. He turned to leave when we heard someone call him back. And there he was. An older Greek man, emerging from a nearby garage.  Following him into his small barn he cleared off two seats and took a seat himself.  

He was in his mid fifties and had spent his whole life in this house. His mother before him and her mother before her had owned the property.  When he was younger he had ventured off the Island and traveled around Europe. He went to school for engineering. He worked as a sailor. He worked in Spain. He traveled extensively.  

Eventually, he returned home to his simple life of working the land with his hands and turning the products of nature into products for consumption. He chain smoked and spoke in a combination of spanish, english and greek calling a church, iglesia and a beach, playa. He set out his honey liquor and kept talking. He had sunshine in his heart and he was determined to share it. 

His son left him. Moved to the mainland. He needed the city life, the vintner said. He needed the excitement. There was nothing he wanted here.

Hank looked around. The idea struck him as odd. This place to hold everything worth having and none of the things that were worth avoiding. There was no traffic. No fear of getting robbed or beaten. Derelict buildings were replaced with sunshine and fresh air instead of car exhaust. 

Hank liked the man. Hank also liked the honey liquor. So, Hank bought a bottle of white wine from the man and felt the sunshine in his heart. Then he stuffed the wine into his four wheeler and continued on. He road through the dusty switchbacks from one side of the island to the other and found an empty beach. This, was as good a place as any to enjoy a nice bottle of wine. A good bottle of wine is also made better by the people and place. That goes for a mediocre bottle of wine too. Come to think of it. The people and the moment, are just as important as the experience itself. 

So, that’s what drove Hank off of his four wheeler in the middle of the day and on to the beach. The beaches in Greece are different. Ungroomed. Sharp and pointy on the feet. You have to swing your arms for balance as stones jab at you. Hank looked like an ape in that moment. Picking his way through the hot, golden sand on the edges of his feet. Trying to avoid the sharp, jabbing pangs from the rocky beach. Swinging his arms for balance. The only thing missing was an “oooo”, “oooo”, “oooo!”

Whooshhhh!

Another wave crashes against the shore of the empty beach. Hank took a sip of the wine and reflected on his life. Most didn’t believe he lived this life. They thought he was lying. They couldn’t related to it so it couldn’t be true. 

But, a month ago it was St. Petersburg, Russia and then shooting big guns in Estonia. Two weeks ago it was Budapest seeing the travesties of socialism in a former soviet bloc country.  Today it’s the Greek islands for Hank, an area often described with clichés such as “sun-soaked” and “white-washed.” 

Days ago Hank left behind the busy city of Athens, its crowded streets, noisy cars and constant bustle for this little plot of sand he now sits on. Life on the islands is different, simpler. It’s made better by wine. 

And this wine tastes light like the carefree attitude of island life. It’s airy, like the wind blowing through you on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Soft and friendly, like the vintner’s smile. But, the wine also has hints of something more. It’s a perfect wine. A perfect summer sipper.

And it reminded Hank of the plants near the top of the island. They were green and very much alive but struggling against the heat and dry ground to grow big. They had that special quality of surviving, despite harsh conditions.  

They put down roots into the ground and latched on to the dry, hard ground with all their strength. They were not going anywhere. They would fulfill their purpose, even if these vines wouldn’t grow as tall or hardy as some of their other European siblings. They would adapt to the difficult conditions. They would grow in different ways, with their trunks winding in a circle around themselves as a way to protect the buds inside. They would share their grapes. They would bring joy, like they were bringing joy now to Hank. 

And in their taste they would also give hope. Because a good glass of wine can be the only thing that matters, at times. In truth, the rest of the things don’t matter. Nothing matters, in fact, but being in that moment. In that place, wherever that place is. With whoever you want to share that moment with.     

For Hank, right now this was the island of Paros, a place not claiming to have the best sunset in the world, or the lost city of Atlantis, but a place holding a silent confidence in its beaches, which line either side of the island, like a sandwich, with a great mountain in the middle.

A place where you can smell tropical flowers in the air, have butterflies brush your skin, and speak to a retired engineer who is staying young by keeping the sunshine in his heart, and sharing that sunshine with whoever stops by. 

It would actually be that sunshine which would inspire Hank over a decade later in a different way. A way that would create a product that could also give people that same sense of connection to the present moment and the joy of being there. 

It’s why Hank added lavender to his homemade sangria, as a reminder of those strong, tropical smells that inspired him all those years ago. As a way to transport other people to that same state of mind. To experience the best within them, by experiencing the best around them. Because, the fact is, that life is meant to be lived and the best way to live life is through experiences.

It’s why Hank, which was the pen name for me, Sam,

Decided to create Sam’s Sangria, a Greek inspired homemade sangria 

It was a selfish reason really. 

An inability to find a drink that could taste like the Greek Islands tasted.

An inability to find someone who had the experience, the years of travel, the work ethic, and the desire to actually create a drink that had some thought behind it. 

It’s a selfish reason really.

The desire to bring the sunshine to your heart, the way the retired engineer, turned vintner brought the sunshine to my heart.

It’s why I created Summer Sipper

A sugar free, lavender, orange and raspberry sangria kit that can make homemade quality sangria in 10 minutes and turn $10 wine into $100 dollar wine.

And bring you some sunshine… nay… some SAMshine.

Anyway, I’ll drink to that. 

Episode 28 – Death By Tidal Wave

Episode 28 – Death By Tidal Wave

Podcast Summary:

“Anyway, I’ll Drink to That” is a Boozn Sam’s production, exploring the fun, quirky, and fascinating tales of drinks that define culture, history and the world. Every drink has a story to tell, and I’m going to tell it…as true as I can. Hosted by Sam, from Boozn Sam’s. Saddle up with a good cocktail and give me a few minutes of your time for a mystery surrounding a drink that changed the world.

Episode 28 Notes:

The horrific stories of two tidal waves that destroyed cities and caused the gruesome deaths of many. Two different countries. Two different ways to handle the tidal waves. Two different outcomes. One very big lesson. 

Transcript of Podcast:

*This is the entire podcast episode in written form. Do not read if you want the audio version to be spoiled.

It was October 17th. 4:13 in the afternoon. Mary and her four year old daughter Hannah were drinking tea when the Tsunami hit and washed them away, killing Hannah instantly. The fifteen foot tall tidal wave crashed through the city and pulled with it all the ground clutter it could find.

It had been building since morning. The wooden wall that was banded with long strips of steel had given way under the pressure. It all started when one strip gave way. While it was reported it was not fixed. It was not fixed because one strip gave way three to four times a year without an issue. 

The engineers intended to fix it. They would get around to it. But, when such a thing had happened in the past, it had never impacted the integrity of the wall. This time was different. The wall was compromised. With a mechanical groaning the wall gave way. The remaining strips of steel snapped. The flood came and poured into the land around it.  

This was the slums and there was a lot to sweep away. Cheap houses. Apartments jam packed with the poor, the destitute, criminals and prostitutes. The land was flat and there was no natural runout for the tidal wave. So, it went into the low points, flooding the basements of houses and forcing people to climb into their furniture to avoid drowning.  

It was a fast moving wave. Unexpected. 

The tidal wave washed through the house Mary and her daughter were in, bringing with it all of the debris. It arrived with such force that it took out the foundation of the building. The building groaned. The building bucked. The building collapsed. Crushing and killing Hannah. Mary was swept into the street and miraculously survived.

The house next to that one suffered a similar fate, but the people inside were not as lucky. There were five people gathered for the wake of a two year old boy who had died. When the basement was flooded and the foundation collapsed on their heads, they were all killed. 

The death toll stood at six. Including three children under the age of five. 

The tidal wave didn’t stop. It was too strong. Moving too fast. It plowed into the side of a restaurant and brought the wall down on the head of a fourteen year old girl washing dishes inside. She was crushed and killed. 

The 8th death, another child, would be found when the tidal wave finally subsided. She was washed out of her house, drowned and found in a neighboring house. 

Eight dead in a matter of minutes. Five under the age of 18 and four of those five under the age of 5. Hundred more left without houses. Millions of dollars in damages.

This reminds me of another similar disaster. This one took place years later and involved another tidal wave. The engineers had long warned of increased protection measures. But, they were routinely turned away. No issues had happened prior so why should they happen now?

The steel wall would hold, even if it did leak a little. The leaking was not a serious problem with the wall. Neither were the rumbles and the creaks of the wall fighting the pressure it held back. The people in town had gotten so used to the sounds of the struggle that they didn’t pay them any attention anymore. But, then with a loud bang the tearing and creaking of steel filled the air. The wall gave way. The wall couldn’t hold anymore. The wall, let loose its wave.

And this wave rolled through the city on January 15 at 12:30 pm. It brought 40 foot tall waves. It moved at 35 mph and flowed with such force that it bent steal train tracks. It set chunks of metal flying through the air like missiles and impaled them into surrounding brick buildings.  

It picked up train cars and used them as weapons to kill people. 

It took out buildings at their foundations and washed them away whole. Like it did to Engine 31 Firehouse. Just picked the two story building up. Flipped it. Crushed it. Trapped the firefighters inside. Most survived, but it took hours for rescuers to cut out the floor boards and pick through the rubble to find the buried firefighters. All survived but one.

The wave didn’t stop there though. The house next to the fire station was swept away and shoved violently into an elevated train platform, where it exploded into pieces. The wave was a dirty mess. It covered everyone it washed over. You couldn’t tell human from animal. It suffocated people. It cut a several block wide path of destruction through the city. Rescuers spent four days scouring the wreckage looking for survivors. Some were so badly mutilated that they couldn’t be recognized. When all was said and done, 150 people were injured. Another 21 were killed. Two of the dead were children. Age 10. All the rest adults.  

What came next in both of these instances was the same. Outrage. Anger driven by sorrow. Anger driven by loss. Anger driven by destruction. Anger, that needed an outlet.

Surely this had been someone’s fault. Surely someone had failed to prepare. Surely, someone had failed to keep them safe. Had they?

Had those responsible for keeping the tidal waves back failed to do their jobs?

What’s most interesting about this story is how the aftermath highlights the cultural difference between two places. 

One of these tidal waves happened in the UK. 

The other in the United States. 

In the UK the judges were sent out to assess the situation. They looked at the walls that had failed to hold back the wave. They listened to engineers who were entrusted with securing those walls. They saw the bodies of the dead. They walked the streets of destruction that had destroyed and damaged all those slum houses and apartments. 

Then they decided that the engineers were not guilty. They found no fault. This was an act of God, they said. Normal and expected human precautions had been taken. No money was paid to the families of the dead. 

Funeral expenses had already been paid for. The dead had been laid out and donations were raised for burial costs. The people came together over the tragedy in their slums and helped out their neighbors. 

In the United States this tidal wave in Boston was very different. The case for neglect piled in, just like they had in the UK. 119 lawsuits were filed. Over a thousand witnesses testified. Over 1,500 exhibits were produced. The case took almost 5 years to resolve. It was a formal legal matter. 

Very orderly. There were no site visits. No visitations of the dead. There was a judge. In a court room. And page after page of detailed documents drafted by high priced lawyers. There were expert witnesses on both sides saying this and saying that. The closing arguments took 11 weeks. 

And in the end the engineers were found guilty. They paid $8 million in damages to the families of the dead.

But, these floods both had larger consequences. They created immediate change. 

They learned from the mistakes. They adapted. They created new laws. New regulations. They made things safer so that any future walls would be constructed stronger. In the UK they put forth a requirement of using concrete to further solidify any future walls. 

In the US they required architects and civil engineers be part of the work moving forward. They tightened requirements for what the walls had to include in order to be structurally sound. Required tests. Made an inspection checklist. 

Change was made. Change that would become the basis for modern walls of this sort today.   

What I find most interesting is the response by both countries to these disasters. In the UK mostly kids were killed. The walls construction was shoddy. But, no one was held accountable. In fact, the judges determined that the engineers should actually be paid to help rebuild the wall. 

Was this because the slums were affected? Were people more desensitized to death back then, especially the death of children? And the decision on guilt and next steps was made fast, after a brief walk through the disaster zone. 

In the United States, they brought out lawyers and spent money fighting for this and fighting for that. They spent five years defending the rights of both parties and ensuring a fair, just trial. Justice is an inefficient process in the hands of those with money. They got clinical about everything. Drafting words of paper. Witnesses. Courtrooms. They took the death out of the streets. Away from the twisted steel. They lessened it instead of living in it. 

Then there are the people that died. In both instances I can think of worse ways to die. And, actually the death from the flood in the UK, in London, might be one of my preferred ways to die. 

You see, the tidal wave that was unleashed was about 300,000 gallons of liquid. 

Of beer.

Which busted out of the wooden vat walls that were wrapped in long, steel bands. When it exploded it took out another two vats of beer with it. Then it sent this 15 foot tall tidal wave of beer through the town. A tidal wave of porter beer. And, as they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. 

And I would have been stronger, and drunker, from wallowing in the flood of porter beer that lingered in town for the days to follow.

As for the tidal wave in the United States, in Boston, Massachusetts… well, now that would be horrific. 

Perhaps it was this difference in tidal waves that also determined the different outcomes in the trial proceedings. 

You see, in Boston the tidal wave was molasses. Molasses that was used for the production of rum. 

A metal vat built three years prior had been creaking and groaning from day one until an explosion, likely carbon dioxide build up, destroyed the vat and brought 2.3 million gallons of hot, sticky molasses flooding through the streets in the North End of Boston. 

Molasses has 40% great mass than water.

That means it moves faster. Hits harder. Does more damage. It can twist metal. Pick up houses and buildings whole and wash them away. 

And it sticks to you, like it stuck to the horses and humans that it covered. Suffocating them. Or killing them through sticky exhaustion. 

It took 300 people weeks to clean up the mess, using salt water guns and sand to push all the molasses into the Boston Harbor.

It lingered there for months.

The sweet smell for much longer. And, even after it looked like it had all been cleaned up. On hot days. The sweet smell of molasses would fill the air. 

These were two of the early industrialized alcohol production mistakes. 

Death by a flood of Porter beer.

Death by rum molasses. 

The London Beer Food of 1814

And 

The Great Molasses Flood of 1919

Two very terrible, but also very influential floods on the pathway of modern alcohol production.

Anyway, I’ll drink to that. 

Jelly Roll and Prison – Epi. 27

Jelly Roll and Prison – Epi. 27

Podcast Summary:

“Anyway, I’ll Drink to That” is a Boozn Sam’s production, exploring the fun, quirky, and fascinating tales of drinks (Jelly Roll in this episode) that define culture, history and the world. Every drink has a story to tell, and I’m going to tell it…as true as I can. Hosted by Sam, from Boozn Sam’s. Saddle up with a good cocktail and give me a few minutes of your time for a mystery surrounding a drink that changed the world.

Episode 27 Notes:

In the beginning there was the word, and the word was all Jason had, because everything, including his drink of choice, was taken away. But, the word, was all he needed. The emotional, and heart wrenching story of a man who realized that the only way to survive was to save himself. In doing so, he saved the rest of us too. 

Transcript of Podcast Episode:

*This is the entire podcast episode in written form. Do not read if you want the audio version to be spoiled.

In the beginning there was the word. And the word was all Jason had. He thought about that as he looked at the cage beyond his cage and the man in the middle of it. The man named Craig who was bound to that small space, unable to escape. It reminded him of all the cages he’d spent time in. More than forty of them over the years. Cages of all sorts.

And the tears came to his eyes as the past flowed back to him. He was determined to never return to those cages again. Right now, this room was windowless. Just like the windowless room he once spent six months in. The air here wasn’t much better either. It was stifling and hot. The smell was a bit better. But, not much could be worse than that other smell. It was a smell he could never forget, despite how hard he tried.

Back then, the solitude could do nothing to kill the words in his head, even if it could kill his spirit. And that’s what the cage was meant to do. Kill his spirit. It was a room of brick from floor to ceiling. He was given no contact with others. It was only Jason and the words in his head. For 23 hours a day. Every day. For six months.

He was young, but he felt old then. His first time in jail was at the age of 14. By 16 he was doing 8 for robbing someone. A big boy prison at that point. Not juvie. He’d been in and out of that for two years at this point, and the judge thought enough was enough. The judge thought this was how to punish a 16 year old boy, because he was still a boy. Not old enough  yet to go to war. Not old enough to buy cigarettes or vote. Barely old enough to drive.

But, he was old enough to do 8 years in a prison capable of handing maximum security criminals. A maximum security facility has extra measures in place to prevent the convicted from harming others. It’s where those convicted or murder, treason, or kidnapping go. 

And there was Jason. A 16 year old boy. Surely young enough for another form of reform, but he was told he wasn’t worth it. Told his life was nothing. And he believed it to. This was his life. This would always be his life. 

He would be a drug dealer. A criminal. His friends would die around him on the streets. He’d mix his drink of choice with lines of coke. Someday he’d likely die on the streets.

And a system much larger than him had failed him. After all, he was a product of the environment. An environment that the US government was determined to eradicate with its war on drugs. 

Only they lost the war. And no one speaks of that. The drugs poured in. We failed to educate. We pushed addiction groups to the basements of churches and gave them cheap coffee out of styrofoam cups because all our money was going to stopping crime and locking up people. We were lancing off the tumor, not healing the body from making the tumor in the first place. 

We let the dollars win. Corrupt capitalism, baby. Isn’t it a great thing? We put our money in reactive, not proactive measures. And people like Jason are on the other side of the scope, wondering why the gun is aimed at them. Wondering what they did to deserve this. Wondering why they didn’t get a chance at the American Dream because of substance abuse and addiction. He needed someone to save him, and no one came.

Drugs destroy families. They hook mothers like Jasons’ and twist them up so much that they walk away from their families. Like Jason’s mother did.  And, when addictions ruins their lives and drives them to the streets to commit crimes, they lock up the offenders. Brush them under the carpet before they’re legal adults. 

Put them in a place with at 23/1 schedule. 23 hours of confinement. 1 hour outside the cage. And while the system might have failed Jason, like it failed many others, it couldn’t stop Jason. 

So, Jason got out of the slammer at the age of 17, after one year, on probation. But, he found himself back in cuffs again. Dealing drugs was the only thing he knew. Dealing drugs gave him money. Dealing drugs was his profession. And his profession meant carrying a gun and doing things that were “just business…” in the business of selling drugs. 

And they could take away his freedom. They could take away his drink of choice. But, they couldn’t take away the words in his head. There were always so many words. Words filled with depression. Words of addiction. Words looking for hope. Words that found no outlet but the expression inside his head. 

And Jason was okay with that. Until everything changed. Jason was in his cell, like every other day. He nodded to the passing guard. The guard looked at him. The guard paused for a brief second. 

“Hey, you had a kid today.” He said.

The news caught him off guard. “What?” He was gripping the bars of his cell now. His palms sweating.

“Yeh, yeh…you had a child.”

“Well, what’s her name?”

“Hell if I know.” Then the guard moved on. 

Hell if I know. He was a father to a daughter he didn’t see born and he didn’t even know her name. He was 23 and determined, in that moment, to turn is life around. To make his life mean something more than drugs and violence and alcohol…even though he had no clue how and that was all he’d ever known. 

He looked for help in the places people look when all the usual ways have failed. He took up the Bible. He took up the Koran. He read them because he wanted to be saved and he couldn’t count on the system to save him. The system was trying to kill him. The system was trying to make him into a product of it’s failed drug war and it’s focus on reacting to, not preventing, the problems that plagued so many. 

Jason realized he needed to “take up his cross” if he was going to save his life. No one was going to do it for him. He would have to do it for himself. And perhaps he could use his words, the words that continually flowed out of him through all the years in prison. 

He paid for some ink with a pack of cigarettes and marked himself with that reminder to take up his cross. Jason marked himself so he’d never forget that the responsibility to survive was his and no one was going to help him. No one was in his corner. 

Everyone had abandoned him through their rules, and their policies, and their laws, which were meant to punish and not help. To hurt, not heal. A year went by and he was 24 now. He was up for probation again, and got out. When he walked out of that maximum security prison, he was determined to never end up there again. He wanted to be something other than a sinner. 

It was years after his release now, but he remembered the first time he visited this cage. It was shortly after his release. He’d seen Craig in the cage, much like he was in the cage now. He’d heard Craig’s words and he’d cried because words can change lives, and Craig’s words changed his. 

As he sat there and listened to the words of Craig, only a few feet away from him, he resolved to help others feel the way he was feeling now. To inspire others to feel something. To help them change their lives. Because words can change lives. He was living, breathing proof of that. And he would share that message with others through his words. 

Like he had just done tonight, in that cage Craig was now standing in. 

For 98 years this cage has changed the world in a different way. In ways filled with love, not fear and punishment. Through words. Through inspiration. Through music. 

And when Craig beckoned Jason to join him in the cage he shared his story. 

The story of coming there fresh out of prison, sitting in the seven row, and hearing Craig share the words in a piece he called “Almost Home.”

A piece that struck Jason to his core and lit in him the gift and motivation to change the world.  

So, Jason joined Craig and they shared those words with those gathered. They shared their music. Because music can change lives. Like it had for Jason. 

You see, Jason wrote hundreds of songs when he was in prison. The songs poured out of him. The words about his battle with depression and addiction. The words of a man coming from a broken family that never stood a chance because no one offered him a hand. The man that realized he would have to bear his own cross because no one was going to help him.

Now, the man that became a musical legend and reshaped our perspective for genres. 

And he looked at Craig and they sang the final words together:

“Man I wish you’d just left me alone

I was almost home.”

Almost home is a song about an encounter between the narrator and a homeless man, who is dreaming about better times. Jason, spent most of his life dreaming about a way out. Dreaming about better times. Dreaming about the system doing more for him than punishing him. That’s why he cried that night, many years ago, when he was fresh out of prison and his life was a mess. That’s why this song, over a decade later, meant so much to perform. 

Craig Morgan stepped away from his cage, the small wooden circle on the stage of the Grand Ole’ Opry, and returned moments later with a hand written, framed, and signed version of the song as a gift to Jason. 

And Jason Deford, better known as Jelly Roll, for the second time tonight, cried.

Because Jelly Roll had come a long way. He’d been through some shit. But, like his nickname, given to him by his mother because he was overweight as a child, he wore it all with a badge of honor. A badge in his music that made him relatable to everyone, because everyone dreams of a way out of something. 

Jelly Roll is a musician blending the genres of rap, country and rock. With the cross inked on to his right check, just below his eye, he looks more rapper than country singer. But, he’s someone more that both of those identities. He’s…someone more like a prophet in the way his words have healed and helped. In the way he visits juvenile delinquency facilities to try helping other kids escape or avoid the unfair shake the system gave him. 

Jelly Roll…

A man, who most definitely became more than just the son of a sinner, even if he still preferred his drink of choice,

Jameson Irish Whiskey, now and again. 

Anyway… I’ll drink to that.