Monday, March 12, 2012

Atlas Burped

Or: Ayn Rand, Saint Nick, and the Peculiar Economics of Canoe Trip Beer

Once upon a time, on a river far, far away... I went on an overnight canoe trip with a whole bunch of people from all over the place. Many cans of TAB (that's Tasty Adult Beverage) were consumed on the first day, which led to a minor problem on the second, as most of us had run perilously low or even out of beer. Enter a lad we shall refer to as The Objectivist, because he was a chapter-and-verse-quoting devotee of Ayn Rand. He himself did not partake of Demon Barley Juice, but this did not stop him from bringing along a case or two of brew, which he then sold for a buck a can to people who were desperately dry. Needless to say, since he wasn't drinking the stuff himself he spared every expense when selecting the stuff: that awful cheap rotgut industrial swill that's sold near the cash registers in convenience stores for (at the time) about five bucks a case. Or less. And it goes without saying that he didn't waste any of his potential profits on ice. When we got off the river at the end of the second day, I started thinking about what would be a proper response. Punching the guy out seemed to be a popular idea, but it had disadvantages, the major one being that if we all punched him out the last guy to sock his squishy face wouldn't be getting much satisfaction.

In the off season, I contemplated what to do on the next trip. I'd like to say I asked myself "What would Jesus do?" but in truth I wasn't very religious at the time. Nevertheless, the idea I came up with might as well have been inspired by a tale of loaves and fishes. Since The Objectivist's whole scam stood on the twin foundations of scarcity and greed, I reasoned that a proper response would have to be based on abundance and generosity. In particular, it would have to illustrate the point that some things, like beer on a canoe trip, are not to be treated as for-profit commodities. Not in a civilized society, anyway.

And so the plan emerged... a couple weeks before the next year's canoe trip, I arranged to have eleven cases of Point Special beer delivered to my garage. I had to take the back seat out of my old Honda to make it all fit, but fit it did. And there was enough room for a ninety-six-quart cooler (for future reference, this is the largest cooler that will fit between the spars of a standard seventeen-foot rental canoe). Both days of the trip, our boat, the "Beer Hunter," pursued The Objectivist, and the moment he moved in to sell a can of his warm, skunky swill to a desperately thirsty canoeist, we deftly maneuvered in between and tossed over three or four ice-cold Point Specials.

For free. On us. Enjoy your afternoon.

We gave away about eight cases of beer, and The Objectivist went home with his case of cheap sludge intact. My canoe partner and I went home with our wallets slightly lighter, but also with the great sense of satisfaction that comes from defending civilization from those who would put us back under the Law of the Jungle to make a quick buck. All considered, it was worth it.