We first met in Houston, TX. I was working as a Contemporary Marketing Representative at Anheuser-Busch – the perfect gig for a frat boy alcoholic. My job was to go to bars and make friends, creating a positive impression for the Bud and Bud Light brands. I worked in Southern California but the company pulled me out for the month of January to prepare for the 2004 Super Bowl in Houston. Budweiser backpacks and windbreakers were given to all on the team so we’d look the same.
The job wasn’t only partying at night; we also had to visit bars during the day, schedule promos, and install point-of-sale (POS) advertising. POS includes coasters, banners, pennant flags, mirrors, neons, and everything else that has the brand on it. Tools of the trade include staple guns, thumb-tacks, scissors, duct and packing tape, power drills, screws, anchors, and more. Hence the need for a backpack.
After a year as a marketing rep, I moved to Denver to work as an off-premise merchandiser, the absolute lowest position in the beer business. In addition to physically moving beer at high volume stores that can’t / won’t stock the beer themselves, I also had the POS responsibilities. So the Budweiser backpack was still used on a daily basis.
I quickly grew bored and gave up hope of climbing the corporate ladder. I left 3 years before the infamous InBev buyout of Anheuser-Busch. My girl and I went back to St. Louis in 2005. I got a job at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, where I didn’t use my backpack. Renting cars wasn’t for me. The relationship with my college sweetheart broke down. She moved out around the same time I left Corporate America. My next move was to get my MBA while working at the same restaurant I worked at as an undergrad.
I moved into a studio apartment on Delmar in 2006. I was newly single with a fervent anti-mainstream attitude – a backlash against years of a cookie-cutter American life: social fraternity, Corporate America, and date nights on my best behavior. I started smoking weed, shaving mohawks into my head, and shopping at thrift stores.
The Budweiser backpack became a part of me at this point. We were inseparable. I used it to carry my uniform, which (smart) service industry workers don’t wear on the street. This advertises to thieves that they have cash. I used to load the backpack with books for weighted running and stadium steps in Forest Park. Of course I took it to class and the gym on campus. Budweiser backpack and I became a regular scene on Delmar.
Summer 2006, one of my best friends was unemployed and selling drugs to make ends meet. He offered to front me weed. After all, I was working at a restaurant with servers and bartenders – people who do drugs. Plus I was living and working in the Delmar Loop, one of St. Louis’ hangouts for hippies, gays, blacks, and other counterculture types that smoke weed. So in theory, I should’ve been able to make some easy money.
The Budweiser Backpack carried a small inventory of $20-sacs. As soon as I started, the restaurant promoted me to bartender. Then I was super-careful not to let the managers find out I was selling weed. I decided I wouldn’t tell any of the girls on the staff, because they gossiped too much. I marked off other people I didn’t trust. In the end, I told maybe three people at the restaurant. Nobody knew. You don’t have to have selling skills to sell drugs. They sell themselves. But people have to know you have them.
Nothing illustrates how bad at selling weed I was as what happened on a field trip with UMSL’s International Business Club to Chicago. At the end of the first night out drinking, one guy badly wanted weed. I agreed with him it would be nice to get high, not realizing I had some for sale at that very moment in my Budweiser backpack. I only realized after the trip, after the sale was lost. In over two months, I only sold about two ounces so I quit.
That same year, 2006, I took my first international trip with two friends and my Budweiser backpack to London and Amsterdam. The day we were supposed to fly back to London from Amsterdam, British authorities foiled a major terrorist plot. This was the plan to use liquid explosives to blow up airplanes, and from that day on liquids haven’t been allowed on planes. Heathrow canceled all flights so we were stranded in Amsterdam. Our flight from London back to America was the next day, so we couldn’t stay in Holland.
We bought bus tickets from Amsterdam to London. The bus had to pass through the Channel Tunnel, which is operated by France. So although I’ve never really been to France, I have passed through French customs and I have the French stamp in my passport. Of the bus passengers, I was last in line to pass through customs. As you would assume on a bus from Amsterdam to London, there were plenty of Arabs, Turks, and miscellaneous European Muslims. Women wore burkas. And on this day, the day of a major terrorist attack causing me to be on a fucking bus and not a plane, not one of these people were singled out by the customs agent.
Who did he single out? Me. He went through every nook and cranny of the Budweiser backpack. He opened and rummaged through my shaving kit. What the fuck? I was dumbfounded. All these people that fit the description on a day of terrorist attacks, and he’s fucking with the big dumb American? When he was done, he asked if I had LSD or mushrooms. I told him no. He asked about the book I was reading, Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo Nest. Then it all clicked. Ken Kesey spearheaded the psychedelic LSD scene in 1960s California. This agent saw I was reading him and singled me out to look for drugs. After he was done, he said, “Next you read Jack Kerouac ‘On the Road’.” Along with Kesey, Jack Kerouac was a fellow beatnik writer. Also a French-American. The French are OK.
In 2007, the Budweiser backpack continued with me on Delmar, the Metrolink, and at UMSL. It also accompanied me to San Francisco, Washington DC, Brazil, Amsterdam (again), and Lithuania. In 2008 we moved to Peru, where I didn’t need it much since I had an office job.
In Peru we saw Cusco and Colca Canyon together. The Budweiser backpack was a handy partner in crime during my debauchery episodes (I and II) in Camaná – one of those nights we slept together in the street. More memorable though was when the backpack and I climbed Mount Misti. That was when its first failings began to show. A strap broke and I had to tie it. A clip busted off. But the bag still worked. In my Cusco Incident, the Budweiser backpack weighed me down in fleeing from the scene of the crime. But we stayed together and I brought it with me to Machu Picchu. Later Chile and Argentina.
In 2009 I moved to Bogota, Colombia. I was launching an independent career. No more working for companies. To live in Colombia, however, I needed a work visa. I’d also need steady money so I got a job teaching English. My first class was at Bavaria, the national brewer in Colombia. It’s a subsidiary of SABMiller, a major competitor of AB InBev / Budweiser. Did that stop me from taking my Budweiser backpack to their offices? It was my only backpack!
I used the Budweiser backpack as a conversational piece to introduce myself to Bavaria students. I’d show them the Budweiser logo and explain that I’d worked in the American beer business for two years. I told them it was my only backpack. But if they gave me an Aguila backpack, I’d be happy to switch. My first few classes were all engineers, so they didn’t care. They don’t have the competitiveness of the sales and marketing workers. However, even when I had sales and marketing workers, they didn’t care either. I never got a new backpack from these cheap bastards – Aguila, Club Colombia, Poker, Costeña, nothing. They don’t care because Bavaria has an unregulated monopoly in Colombia. Their market share is over 99%. They have all the domestic brands plus Peroni, and they had plans to introduce MGD before I left last May. The only competition is Budweiser and Heineken, which are tiny, expensive niches only available in affluent areas of big cities. So despite all the classes I taught at various campuses – Tocancipá, Zipaquira, Boyacá, and Calle 94 – nobody gave a shit that I brought a Budweiser backpack every day. In the American beer business, you’d be crucified if you did that.
The Budweiser backpack carried my groceries when I started shopping at 7 de agosto, a cheap food market a mile from my apartment. I’d stock up on pounds and pounds of vegetables, fruit, and fish before riding it back to my place. Carrying such poundages of food probably put the strain on the zipper that presents the irreparable damage it now has.
This last summer, I went back to work for the same restaurant on Delmar in St. Louis. I rode a bike from Vinita Park to U City every day with that backpack, never a problem. The backpack has served me here in China, but it won’t be coming back. I’m burying the Budweiser backpack here. I wouldn’t like the same for me, but what’s the point in getting sentimental about a backpack?
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