Cheeseburgers Part 1

Above, Jason mans the grill at one of his earliest Coke & Cheeseburger Parties, August 2011.  If you aren’t familiar with the story of Coke & Cheeseburger Parties — catch up here:
and here.  Last year, I wrote from Toronto:

“Jason is a man who loves Coke and loves cheeseburgers.  Instead of trying to “fix” this in Jason, we’ve helped him think about who else values Coke and cheeseburgers.  It didn’t take much time to realize that most Americans probably do.  Matt Groening has a wonderful quote (I’m assuming it’s from the Comic Book Guy, but please correct me if I’m wrong) from The Simpsons that fits the purpose of Jason’s project,

“Oh, loneliness and cheeseburgers are a dangerous mix.”

And that’s the point isn’t it?  Jason is connecting to businesses, nonprofits, schools, people, and helping create a community of people to talk, meet, and enjoy two things he loves: Coke and cheeseburgers.  In the meantime, Jason gets to meet new people, people see Jason as a valuable person (after all—he’s grilling and bringing this stuff for free!), and he gets to do these things in common spaces,  with common people and experience respect, and make a contribution—after all a Coke & Cheeseburger party is uniquely Cincinnati!”

A few weeks ago, Jason and I traveled a mere mile up the street from his house in Reading in search of a person who would appreciate his passion for the greatest of all American things: Coca-Cola and cheeseburgers.

We found ourselves sitting in my car outside a bygone factory, on a stretch of road in the heart of Lockland.  I was told in Lockland is a bar and a man and woman who own the bar.  Go ask for John and talk to him was the suggestion.  Across the street from where we were parked was a small neighborhood bar that a connection of mine suggested Jason and I check out.  Jason and I went over our game plan before we got out of the car.  “Jason, let’s just go in and order a cheeseburger and a coke.”  (That’s all the plan we had, and ofter all the planning you really need to get a conversation going with someone.)

Mike Moroski, a connection of mine through an internship another Starfire U member had, met up with Sarah Buffie and I a month or so ago for coffee.  “We need a cheeseburger guy!” we told him desperately.  I knew Mike knew a lot of people, and I already knew that Mike probably was not the guy to be Jason’s connector.  He was the connection– a big difference in this goodness.   Mike sits on of a couple of boards around town in addition to having been in English teacher at Moeller and is the current assistant principal at my high school, Purcell Marian.  He’s in a band, and co-ownes a restaurant in Indianapolis.  Mike has mutual friends in common with Sarah and I, and I’ve received emails from him as early as 4:30AM.  I don’t know where this man finds the time or energy to be so involved in this city, but I’m glad he’s out there.  He agreed to brainstorm with us who he knew and how to find our connector.

JC’s American Pub 101 Mill Street  Cincinnati, OH 45215

Mike’s the reason Jason and I found ourselves in a typical, ordinary, local bar in Lockland.  Jason and I walked in and one man sat at a stool at the bar in painter’s garb drinking a Budweiser at 6PM.  The bartender nodded at us.  There were a couple of tables he pointed at that we could sit.  We chose to sit at the bar to be close to the action, and make talking and being curious easier.

I explained that we were there to meet John to talk about cheeseburgers.  The bartender was John.  Jason and I ordered some drinks and chatted a bit about how we “found” him.  (He wanted to know how we knew who he was.)  I explained Mike told me that he was a guy that likes cheeseburgers too and had a bar.  After about a 1/2 hour of warm up banter, John began to smile and better understand why were where there.  He talked about himself, his family, his service in the military, and why he wanted to run a local bar.  We ordered some burgers and kept talking while periodically watching the baseball game that was on the TVs lining the bar.

While we ate, John explained that since there was only a bartender they had to deep fry everything, including the cheeseburgers since there wasn’t anyone to man a grill and make drinks at the same time.  He explained that JC’s American Pub was striving to be a friendly neighborhood place and change the reputation the previous bar owners had before he took over.  They re-branded it JC’s after John (himself) and his wife Christy.  JC’s American Pub wants to “make you feel like everyday is the 4th of July! Red White and Blue is what we are all about. Supporting our service members by offering happy hour prices to them anytime they come in!”  Surely, I thought, this is a man, and a place that cares about people feeling welcome, and appreciated for their contributions, both large and small.

There’s not a perfect way to connect people.  Jason and I connected with John over meat and drinks.  John offered that Jason could come on Sundays, grill outside the bar, bring in patrons.  While they waited for a grilled burger, they could come in and get a beer, a drink, play some darts, shoot some pool.  I left with a commitment to follow up, but Jason  left with a much different future than when he walked in. After I dropped Jason off at home and helped Jason tell his story to his parents, I drove home with tears in my eyes think of all the possibilities.  Could Jason be the burger guy at a local bar?  Could he promote his Sunday grill out during football season?  Could he be known locally as a griller, the burger guy, an entrepreneur, a patron, a part of the gang at JC’s?  Could he have a grilling contest in the winter?  Could Jason do this long term instead of “special” programs for people with disabilities?  Could we get other people to grill with him?  Could Jason meet friends there?  Could Jason be known for his gifts?

You can see how extraordinary is different from “special” in this story.  JC’s American Pub isn’t a special place for Jason.  It’s a regular Joe type of bar.  It’s pretty ordinary.  Nice enough, nothing fancy, the way a neighborhood bar should be.  But it happened to be exactly the place Jason needed, in an extraordinary way.  Keep you posted on how the Sunday grill outs pan out.  There’s much more to the story that’s yet to be written…

katie bachmeyer