Venti Moonshine Latte
So there we are, on the front porch of a friend’s friend of a friend. There is a child’s bike in the yard, a dog sitting among piles of moving boxes on the couch, a coffee table with no glass, and a gun in the bedroom. A jar of moonshine and a pile of playing cards sit on the table, under the glow of a bare light bulb. Things had gotten very weird at Starbucks.
But let me back up. Sometimes, as a young educator, new to Alabama and a tiny bit bored with living out in the woods miles and miles from what was once considered acceptable civilization, a trip to Starbucks sounds nice. When the nearest business is a gas station with slot machines featuring displays of sequined pantsuits that were actually quite popular amongst the locals, driving for over an hour for a hot beverage is a pretty realistic pastime. So, on this particular Friday night after work, we begin the journey to the big city of Birmingham, Alabama.
The coffee shop is in a pedestrian friendly part of town, a tattoo parlor and a purveyor of Confederate flags nearby. The barista is a friend of a friend, and assisted by Sully: a huge man with shaggy hair, a loud voice, and a love of drinking games. Roommates and co-renters of the previously mentioned porch and accompanying disheveled apartment, the two coffee professionals are happy to greet our small party and prepare our overpriced and sweet beverages.
Reveling in the excitement of city life and the accompanying new sights, conversations stretch for hours. As the early evening wears on, in comfortable camaraderie and with the feeling of impending adventure, it is decided that all have had quite enough of Starbucks, employees included, and it is about time to round up the chairs, lock the place up, and retreat to the porch of Sully and friend’s newly rented apartment. The night is cooling, and I would prefer adventure or conversation somewhere indoors, but the unpacked boxes and carelessly strewn detritus of two young adult lives ruled that out.
Friends come and go, coffees are emptied, and a neighbor, middle aged, in khaki and a collared shirt, shuffles over from a nearby apartment to introduce himself. He shakes hands all around, and mumbles an indecipherable string of words in our general direction while backing away towards his own unit.
Seconds later, he staggers back, mason jar in hand. “The jar,” he announces, his first real words, issued as an apparent introduction to the proffered gift. “I need that jar back. It’s a good jar.” All agree, and look closer at the fine glass jar, filled nearly to the lidded brim with a clear liquid.
As the neighbor once again retreats, all commence to examine and sniff the mystery liquid. A harsh smell emanates, and it’s Sully who is certain that the jar contains moonshine. My only experience with the stuff was from the celebratory toast at an Alabama wedding, but I can’t disagree. This is stomach burnin’ backwoods homebrewed hooch at its finest and most potent. Things have taken a turn for the weird. Home brewed and high proof, this is no Starbucks coffee.
In a distinctly Southern and non-traditional variety of a Choose-Your-Own Adventure story, the choices are few.
You could, of course, pass around the Mason jar, and convince yourself as you take a sip that the burning and tingling and innards-melting sensation was sort of enjoyable, and not a catalyst for blindness, avian flu, or organ rot (and for those that argue against organ rot being a realistic option, might I remind you that you weren’t there. It was perhaps the most likely option). Or, you might all laugh about it later, telling your Northern friends that the tap water in Birmingham smells so weird, but is actually fine to drink. Bearded Sully may suggest, and then demonstrate, a complicated drinking game that involves Confederate generals and shoes and the mystery liquid. You could look at your watch, and loudly exclaim your surprise at how late it is, and make a hasty retreat back home. You could, also, take a sip or maybe two and live to tell the tale.
In this place, anything seems possible. Why not?