By Kingsley Clarke
Adel, Iowa 1986
Frankly, I cannot recall whether or not I have actually had a Bud Light. In 1986 I went back to Adel, Iowa, for my twenty-fifth high school class reunion. Adel was what they call a farm industry town of about 2,000. My mother was anxious to please me and my Chicago companion, perhaps to make some amends for decades of disdain for my rebelliousness. “Chip, there is a new country-western bar it town. You will love it!” There was a vivid Corona banner behind the band. You know; palm trees, sand. The lead guitarist in front of the banner was a guy I had last seen when he was a toddler.
I said: “I would like a Corona.”
Waiter: “Oh, we don’t have Corona.”
Me: “What about that big banner?”
Waiter: “That’s just a big banner.”
Me: “What kinds of beer do you have?”
Waiter: “Both kinds.”
Me: “Both kinds?”
Waiter: “Bud and Bud Light!”
East Chicago, Indiana 2016
Memorial Day weekend I drove to East Chicago to reacquaint myself with the church where I first met Noel… and every other would-be communist revolutionary in the Calumet region. In 1973 Steelworkers for Justice met on Saturday mornings in that church’s basement.
Forty-three years hence, I was thinking that day of writing a retrospective, based upon interviews in East Chicago parks. But, I arrived before picnics commenced. Moreover, East Chicago parks had that abandoned rust belt aura. My first interviewee was devastated, but not only by joblessness. He showed me a picture of his “girlfriend” on his shattered cellphone and said: “She’s shacked up with a bunch of Mexicans down the street.”
I thought perhaps I should move to another park. Several young Afro-American men were on a park bench. When shown a copy of Hard Cracker one said: “Give us five dollars.” I was in my extroverted-politico mode: “God! A journalist has to pay for an interview in East Chicago now?” I gave them five dollars. But, I said: “Don’t any of you have an older relative who worked in the mills, in Inland?” “Yes, there is my uncle driving up right now. He knows everything.” The uncle was dressed for church. Indeed he knew “everything”, all about the affirmative action campaigns in which STO had been involved. He knew as much or more about the legal aspects than I did. I liked him a lot.
Uncle (I have notes somewhere. I think his name was Tony.): “I worked at Inland for 30 years. My grandchildren will never work. When I first started working in East Chicago I could tell my foreman to go to hell, walk across the street to the bar, and get hired somewhere else the next day. My grandchildren will never have a job. It is ridiculous that they bring coke into the mills from South Africa. Trump has some good ideas. We shouldn’t buy a single item from a company that moves out of the U.S. I am not saying I will vote for him, but he has some good ideas!”
I interjected: “Couldn’t you at least be for Bernie?” The steelworker replied: “Too old!” That’s when I knew that Trump would carry Indiana.
The young men on the bench hailed me. It turns out that Bud Light was on sale at a nearby convenience store for about five dollars. I was not being held up for a story. I was in fact invited to drink Bud Light on the bench with the guys: albeit at about 10am. I sat around and talked, but declined the Bud. Upon moving to leave I called my editor, Noel Ignatiev. He replied: “No, story is worth drinking Bud Light. Go ahead and get out of there.”