Back in 1991 when I was teaching English in Kosice (then Czechoslovakia, subsequently Slovakia) I accompanied my boss the hospital administrator to Bratislava; it was something like a five-hour drive each way so he could attend an hour-long meeting. Such was life during pre-internet, post-communism.
I wandered around the future capital city and later met him (and his driver) to eat a meal before departing for the long journey home. The venue was a fantastic old-school beer hall called Mammut (sic — “Mammoth”), which had been repurposed from use as a malthouse.
The beer hall had multiple levels, like mezzanines clustered around a central open space, with beer from several breweries pouring alongside hearty food. It was very Central European.
I liked it so much that while passing through Bratislava a few years later, I made a time-consuming detour just to go have a beer there. Much to my surprise and disappointment, the beer hall had been transformed into a plasticized modern eatery like a sports bar, with only one brewery’s beers on tap and a gaudy plastic casino upstairs.
It was absolutely clear to me that new capitalist owners could do as they pleased with the structure. Their marketplace was local, not a lone traveler from afar, and yet it was depressing all the same.
Humor me and listen to a song from many years later.
A couple of days ago I recalled the scene in the photo at the top of this page. It’s the residence of Matt and Brook Brewer, seven houses down from our home, with the date being Harvest Homecoming parade Saturday in 2015.
The late Matt Brewer is standing front left, brandishing a beer. Matt always will be remembered as the city’s pre-eminent skateboard dude, and he was a laid-back, good-natured, sweetheart of a guy who died eight months ago after being stuck by a driver only a block from the residence pictured here.
As is customary in America, the driver was not charged with anything.
I first met Matt a long time ago when he took the non-credit IUS beer course that I used to teach. The Brewers arrived down the street in 2013, and then I got to know Matt far better.
Matt was fairly apolitical in the beginning, and his wife Brook surely paid closer attention to these goings-on, but the more we talked, the more interested he became. He let me get to him. Instead of asking what new beer to try, he started making inquiries about local politics.
And, to put it succinctly, Matt was no fan of the incumbent mayor. While remaining far too nice of a guy to address the situation in the rollicking polemical style I typically deploy, he left no doubt as to his feelings. He regarded Jeff Gahan as a joke — and this helps contextualize the photo.
I was running for mayor in 2015, Matt and Brook were supporters, and coincidentally I’d been precluded from walking in the parade because the parade rules were and are, well, plain stupid.
Look, kids, it’s the walkability platform candidate, forced to ride in a car (or push a bicycle without mounting it).
Matt and Brook volunteered to post the Baylor pirate banner and wave some signs around as the parade passed. Eventually I walked down and had a beer with them, and it was a fine day all around.
Afterward Diana and I commented about how fun we’d have during many years to come being their neighbors.
I never wanted it to change, and it did anyway. Now it’s 2019. Matt’s gone, and their house changed hands earlier this month. Naturally I don’t begrudge Brook for selling and moving, and wish the very best to her. She’s tops.
I also sincerely and heartily welcome the buyers, our new neighbors seven houses west. Seemingly their first official act was to erect a large Gahan sign in the front yard — and, of course, that’s their absolute right. After all, I have a same-sized David White sign out front in our yard. Political signs are a temporary, seasonal kind of thing, and that’s that.
It isn’t anger or petulance I’m feeling today, but something akin to discomfort. It’s probably another bout of sadness and sorrow at Matt’s passing, admittedly accompanied by a measure of enduring frustration at the way car-centrism in America is de facto imperialism, enabling one privileged class of humanity to trample the rights of another segment, as all the while the political class snoozes — when not self-monetizing from those corporations that benefit the most from car-centrism.
It’s merely garden-variety melancholy on an overcast day, thinking back to that awesome autumn Saturday and beers with the Brewers, who wanted to even the playing field by displaying my banner when the parade was being recalcitrant in its officiousness.
As for change, it isn’t just a slogan. Change is inevitable. Change often is good. My dispirited mood will change soon enough, and the change will be conducive. I may even accomplish something, for a change.
But I miss you, Matt. You will not be forgotten.