Alumni Blog: Powerful UI memories are a taste away sometimes

llinois Alumnus, Retired Navy Commander, and now "emeritus" Vice-President of UIAA Membership, Joe Rank relives a momentous time in campus history while enjoying a beverage popular even today with more recent alumni classes.

The other night, I took my wife and daughter to Black Dog, one of the hottest new restaurants on the C-U scene for some of the best barbeque anywhere. Black Dog also boasts a number of great beers on draught and dozens of the bottled variety.

After studying the menu, I selected a craft beer that everyone had been raving about. “Sorry, sir. We’re all out.” Then another. “That one’s out, too.” A third choice also all gone. Out of frustration, I ordered the cheapest brew on the menu – a 16 oz. can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, a bargain at three dollars. I carefully poured it into my glass and took a sip. The distinctive taste of the foam instantly transported me back to 1968-69 and the Daniel Street establishment, Stan Wallace’s Gridiron. My daughter couldn’t believe that her ancient father could have possibly enjoyed the very same “popular priced” beverage that has recently attained a cult following among the 20-somethings. Could it really have been forty-some years since I tasted a PBR?

It’s funny how tastes and sounds can trigger distant memories so vividly. Stan’s was the typical frat bar of its era – pinball machines, jukebox,

long bar on one side and cozy booths on the other. Walls adorned by fraternity and sorority paddles with inscriptions attesting to Stan’s as the “official bar of…” Two of my fellow Naval ROTC students, John Fenton and Dave Skibbe were barkeeps, plying twenty-five cent PBR longnecks and grilled brats. (Tragically, Dave was killed in 1970 while serving as a Marine Corps platoon leader in Vietnam. See http://www.uiaa.org/illinois/veterans/display_veteran.asp?id=61)

I spent much of my senior year at Stan’s in one of the booths with buddies discussing the monumental events of the time and our uncertain futures. (Ironically, I now spend a lot of time at a campus coffee shop at the site of the former Treno’s still discussing the monumental events of our time and uncertain futures.)

My undergrad years at Illinois had to have ranked among the most tumultuous in campus history. We arrived in the fall of 1965 sporting crew cuts, blue blazers and pledge pins looking forward to becoming a Don Draper of Mad Men fame or a NASA engineer. By the time we graduated in 1969, many had been transformed into full-fledged hippies with shoulder length hair, grubby bell-bottoms and anti-establishment fervor. A lot transcribed in the intervening years. In 1967, Egypt and Israel fought the “Six Day War,” a prelude to the tensions that continue to plague the region today. 1968 was a total disaster beginning in January when the North Koreans captured the intelligence-gathering ship USS Pueblo and

imprisoned its crew for nearly a year. Later that month North Vietnam launched the bloody Tet Offensive resulting in a huge escalation of the Vietnam War. Martin Luther King was assassinated in April leading to widespread riots. Two months later in June presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy was also assassinated. Closer to home, riots erupted at the August Democratic National Convention in Chicago. By April 1969 U.S. troop strength in Vietnam peaked at 534,000 with more than 33,000 already killed in action. Not much to be optimistic about.

With the prospects of military service looming – voluntary in the case of those of us in ROTC or involuntary for the rest of the male student population thanks to the draft, there was a lot on our minds. That twenty-five cent PBR and the incessant playing of “Hey Jude” and “Bottle of Wine” on Stan’s jukebox were remarkably therapeutic. 

Back at Black Dog, the waiter asked how I enjoyed my beer. I would have told him, but he wouldn’t have understood.

 

 


Joe Rank currentlly serves as a consultant to the University of Illinois Alumni Association. The views expressed in this blog are solely those of Joe Rank.

 

 

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