Ward Room received a copy of Alan J. Dixon’s memoir The Gentleman from Illinois last Friday. We skimmed it over the weekend. Dixon held numerous political offices throughout his 43 years in politics -- police magistrate, state representative, state senator, treasurer, secretary of state, U.S. senator -- but there was always one constant in his career. The man really, really enjoyed a cold beer. Here’s a collection of references to his favorite beverage, along with an anecdote about how it got him into big trouble with the California Highway Patrol.”
“It was an article of faith that after the windup of all weekly sessions, all southern Illinois legislators driving south from Springfield on Route 66 stopped at the Ariston Café in Litchfield for supper. I often ordered a hamburger plate with mashed potatoes and peas, plus one beer. All for $1.” (page 41)
“I always visited Eddie Lee’s saloon once a year…The tradition was to buy a round for everyone in the bar. All patrons would order a half pint of Ten High and a beer chaser.” (page 64)
“I walked through the lower lobby and entered the Cape Cod Room, which featured fine red snapper, twice-baked potatoes, and cold draft beer.” (page 76)
“Smitty’s was…truly a great tavern that served huge mugs of cold draft beer and excellent sandwiches.” (page 96)
“The main table in the Broadview dining room would sag with the weight of the food. The offerings included a huge salmon (at least thirty pounds), great turkeys, a big steamboat round of rare beef, and every imaginable trimming. There were large metal tubs of every known brand of bottled beer.” (page 97)
“[Hubert Humphrey] asked, ‘Al, do you like cheese and crackers with radishes and a cold beer or two?’ I replied it was one of my favorite treats and that, furthermore, an opportunity to satisfy a desire for these delicacies was available about halfway on the drive to East Saint Louis. I was referring to the venerable Ariston Café, a Route 66 landmark at Litchfield. We proceeded to stop at the Aristion and ended up spending a good hour in the place.” (page 98)
“Arriving at the [governor’s] mansion around 7 p.m., I was immediately led to his office on the ground or first floor. As I recall, he was in casual dress and may have had a drink in his hand. I asked for a cold beer, and we sat down to talk.” (page 205)
Dixon’s liking of beer led to the most embarrassing moment of his career, when he was pulled over by the California Highway Patrol after a post-golf dinner at the La Quinta Country Club in Palm Springs:
“About two-thirds of the way to my destination, I suddenly was directed to pull over to the side of the road by a California highway patrol officer with a flashing lights. Two officers, were in the car, and one approached the side of my auto.
“‘Have you been drinking, sir?’ he inquired.
“‘Why, yes, officer,’ I replied. ‘I’ve had several beers.’
“He then told me, ‘Sir, we saw you cross the center line just now as you passed our car by that service station.’
“With that, the trooper asked to see my driver’s license. I knew I was in big trouble.
You see, the Illinois driver’s license contains a person’s name, address, birth date, physical description, and picture. However, what stood out on that occasion was the bold wording across the top that said: Alan J. Dixon -- Secretary of State.”
Shrewdly, Dixon refused to take Breathalyzer test, and was only charged with careless driving. Two years later, he was elected to the United States Senate -- where he continued to enjoy cold beer.