Beyond Binghamton

Nathan Gismot, June 27, 2013

The conversation starts like this:

Friend: "So tell me the truth. How do you like living out there?"

Me: "Oh, dude, Colorado is..."

I never miss a chance to call someone "dude" with real feeling, but I always seem to run short on superlatives when trying to describe Colorado.

After all, living here is a rather fresh experience for me, an East Coast Guy. I mean, I've traveled around the country, but outside a very brief stint of attendance at a certain university in the Midwest, I've lived my entire life in the Northeast.

I was born and raised in the Binghamton, New York area, which (for reference) is situated upstate near the Pennsylvania border, about an hour’s drive directly south of Syracuse. From early 2004 through mid-2010, I lived elsewhere: Albany, NYC, and New Jersey. In July 2010, though, under the miraculously synchronous auspices of graduate school for me, and a new job for my then-wife, Bingo-town exerted its curious gravitational pull, and I moved back.

In Spring 2012 I was nearly finished with school. Occasionally, in the calmer moments between dead-of-night academic research binges and panicked, caffeine-fueled sprints to project deadlines, I pondered my future. And it gradually occurred to me that I had no compelling reason to stay local, or even regional, after graduation.

Contributing to that notion was the fact that the economic situation in Binghamton – and indeed, in most of upstate New York – is dire, and has been for about 30 years.

Following WWII, Binghamton was a prosperous and beautiful town. By all accounts it was a happy time; and it was primarily due to the local presence of the booming defense industry – most notably IBM (an OG tributary of which was founded in the area), Link (likewise founded there), and General Electric (Kurt Vonnegut, because yes).

As the Cold War began its swan song, however, those companies started downsizing – slowly at first, and then by the literal thousands. These were not rinky-dink jobs being downsized, either. These were well-paying positions occupied by skilled and educated professionals; moreover, they were major contributors to the area’s tax base and economic viability, let alone its relevance and spirit.

Losing those thousands of well-paying jobs was a beat down from which the area has yet to recover. To be sure, there have been some valiant efforts to get things moving in a positive direction (including an ongoing movement to establish a sort of microbrewery scene), but they haven’t gained significant traction. In the meantime, industry remains scarce; and thus does Binghamton continue to languish in a state of decay. The old factories and office buildings stand crumbling across town as haunting reminders of better times gone by. It’s heartbreaking.

Incidentally (apologies for kicking a dog while it’s down), another important contributor to my notion of leaving was the local weather. It’s pretty lousy as a general rule – lousy, that is, unless you loathe sunshine, admire tar-covered parking lot snow piles in April, and relish that certain – how do you say? – essence of bog feeling in the summer.

Finally, I recalled my oft-noted observation that the majority of “fun” in Binghamton centers on getting hammered.

"Wait, whoa, hey hey hey!" you might be thinking, "Isn't this a beer site? Who brought this guy aboard who's down on drinking?"

Well listen, there, Imaginary Critic (whoever you are): I'm not. It's well and good every now and again to put your drinking pants on and get out there with a purpose. But when that’s really all that’s happening “on the regular” in an economically depressed town, and when there isn’t much by way of corresponding points of interest, well… there’s more to life than that, as far as I’m concerned.

I saw too many 50 and 60-something year old Bingo lifers sitting around doing the same thing they’d done since they were of legal age: drink lousy beer at the crummy little bar.

Let me emphasize that, by the by, in case you missed it: lousy beer. As in, beer that is bad. I mean, lots of the folks I’m referring to seem to consider Coors Light to be something exotic and delectable.

Now, I don’t want this to turn into a Coors-bashing fest, because 1) they’re a Colorado brew, which means their minions have easy access to me; and 2) Coors does have its place. If it’s served ice cold out of a keg in the dog days of summer, it’s quite passable for family reunions, beer pong, pool-side sipping, etc. In any of those circumstances, I’d probably rather have a Coors Light than, say, a porter.

That said, though, I still don’t think Coors Light is good. If it warms up even slightly it becomes sour and insipid; and I quite frankly think there are better light beer options for the summertime scenarios I just mentioned.

Huh. I initially worried about writing about Coors Light for an early post, but now I realize, given my approach to Binghamton, it’s kind of a perfect choice.

I decided I wanted to live somewhere that offered professional opportunities. I wanted to be able to enjoy good weather. I wanted to get outdoors recreationally. I wanted access to the cultural and culinary offerings of a major city. And so, given all those demands, Denver seemed a good choice. I finished grad school, packed my bags, and hit the road. And very suddenly, it seems, I’ve been in Colorado for almost a year.

It's been an adjustment, but on the whole, I've found it to be a very cool place to live. I could take a moment now and rattle off a list of awesome things about it; but for brevity's sake, and since this is indeed a beer site, I'll part ways ‘till next time by sharing a happy discovery: Denver is an amazing beer town. Actually, the entire region is a beer lover's delight, featuring tons of excellent breweries nestled among the towns and foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

I've visited a few of these places and done my little share of sampling, but in reality, I've only begun to scratch the surface out here. The journey continues, as they say.

Coors Light Review

Appearance: 3

Smell: 1.5

Taste: 2

Feel: 2.5

Overall: 2.25

Coors Light has an extremely pale and translucent yellow-gold color, which is, of course, rather standard for mass produced American light lagers. Its aroma is…sickly. That’s the word that comes to mind. If it’s consumed ice-cold, it’s palatable, as the chill seems to snap its hops to attention; as it warms up, though, it flattens out and tastes like mop water smells. Relative to other areas of review, the mouthfeel is a strength, although it, too, is subject to my “only if its ice cold” caveat. If I’m thirsty, and especially if it’s hot outside, a frigid Coors Light has an initially crispy, satisfying sensation. (You can infer my opinion for when for when I’m not thirsty, or for when there’s cold weather, or for when the beer isn’t nearly frozen.) 

Overall, Coors Light is a bad beer, in my opinion, even for what it is: a mass-produced American light lager. There are other beers in its class which are superior. And given that I usually avoid that type of beer these days, well… to use some baseball jargon, Coors Light sits below the Mendoza Line of my preferred beer list.