By Jack Engelhard
Over the weekend there was a BEER FESTIVAL in Atlantic City. This event drew thousands from throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey and states east, west, north and south, and in fact (at least I think it’s a fact) there’s nothing like a beer festival to get people hopping on trains, planes and automobiles heading for the shore. Once upon a time there was The Miss America Pageant, but that’s all gone, and we’re left with beer, beer pageants.
I’m not quite sure what goes on at these beer conventions and I’m not even sure at which convention place this one was held; the one on the boardwalk or the one at the train station. I do know that the trains starting from Philadelphia make six stops in New Jersey before reaching Atlantic City – and that on this particular weekend all the trains were packed to overflowing.
People like beer. One commercial, for Bud or Miller or whatever, says it plainly – “It’s all about the beer.” Yes it is. Those commercials during March Madness – the college basketball championships – are “all about the beer.” Get them hooked on beer while they’re young. That’s what I always say. (I do wonder why smoking is so bad and drinking is so good. But that’s just me.)
What goes on at these Atlantic City beer fests? I imagine that it’s all quite simple. People drink beer. Surely there are beer tasting events, one brand challenging another, and perhaps beer drinking contests, one beer drinker daring another beer drinker as to who can outlast the other before falling down drunk.
Falling down drunks were the people I encountered leaving Atlantic City on this particular Saturday. They had all had their fill, obviously. When I got to the train station, by jitney, for the late train heading back towards Philadelphia, there were hundreds gathered outside the terminal and about a thousand (or so it seemed) inside the terminal.
The lady (we’ll call her Ruth) sitting next to me on the jitney was afraid to get off the jitney.
“There’s a brawl going on,” she said.
Yes there was. People were fighting. Not too many punches were landing because everybody was staggering.
Inside the terminal there wasn’t much brawling but there was much staggering and here and there people were bent over, throwing up. The people who were not vomiting were shouting and cursing. One person who knew something about crowd control said that this was the second worst day of the year, so far as crowd control – July Fourth was first.
“You don’t want to be here for THAT weekend,” he said.
Well, I didn’t much want to be here for THIS weekend.
Judging from the smell, there must have been State Championships taking place. Did Pennsylvania out-drink and out-drunk New Jersey? Since people came to Atlantic City from all across the country for this beer fest, maybe Texas outlasted Montana, or maybe Delaware triumphed over Maryland to prove once and for all that “it’s all about the beer.” Is there a National Championship for this?
Ruth said: “When I took the train FROM Philadelphia this morning this same crowd hadn’t started drinking yet and it was all quite happy and orderly.”
But that was before the convention and before the drinking got started.
“I’m afraid,” said Ruth, “what it’s going to be like once we get on the train.”
She asked me to sit next to her in case something happened and nothing much really happened except that people in their seats were slurring their words and showing how happy they were by slurring them loudly. The younger beer tasters were generally running up and down the aisles – when there was room – laughing and cursing.
There were moments when it appeared that a brawl may break out INSIDE the train. There was no telling what would happen when one group of revelers insulted another group of revelers. No real fights occurred because – as I had it figured – nobody was sober enough to think something through that complicated.
People started getting off at all the stops. Most were surely sensible enough to be driven home by friends. Some got in their cars and drove off, in that condition.
Ruth got off at Lindenwold, quite shaken. I was all right. I knew this was temporary. These are good, hard-working people.
They are not really like this – except for the beer. It’s all about the beer.
I do wonder, though, how many of these people (when sober most of the year) rush to me in indignation when I start to light up my pipe.
I must remember that, unlike second-hand beer, smoking can be unseemly and hazardous.
Novelist Jack Engelhard is the author of “Indecent Proposal” and most recently “The Bathsheba Deadline.” He can be reached at his website www.jackengelhard.com.