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Seattle

Drink is science. Not just the fluid physics, chemical distillation, and biological effects (though they're a lot of fun), but also a whole new branch known as 'Alcohology;. It makes the world a better place, has helped with more important breakthroughs than blackboards, and -- just like all science -- you don't have to actually understand it to benefit from the results.

Whiskey is a wisdom battery: a lot of experience goes into every bottle, and a lot comes out. By contrast, cheap beers are those twenty-for-a-dollar AA-batteries made out of tinfoil and leftover chemical waste, which all cost about the same, taste about the same, and are used about the same -- throw a couple in when you just want something to go and won't care about later.

The theory of relativity says that travelling close to the speed of light can bend time. Drink does the same thing: beers turn hours into minutes (as when we suddenly realized we had to get Downtown), and turn minutes into hours (as when I was stuck on an electric trolley-bus without a bathroom after several beers). The trolley goes nowhere near light-speed but I swear my bursting bladder deformed space-time all by itself. The ride was only fifteen minutes but felt like ten million years.

On arrival, I took off for the gents like a Saturn V booster, driven by a pressurized liquid tank (and dangerously close to firing it out in the same way). The urinal was the rocket science of relief, while Stephen ordered us a couple of whiskies for us to settle down and study -- because bars are the greatest educational establishments in the world. Every table is the type of active discussion group universities dream of, every bar stool is a lecturer's podium. You discuss subjects without silly exams to distract you from the real learning. And, if you're really lucky, you can find yourself seated across from a bartender as wise as any philosopher.

The first lesson is that you can't assume things. That's especially true in Seattle. Like most things in bars, people have labels, but you can only really judge them by what's inside. Someone with bright blue hair and frayed flannel shorts might work in IT or be just off the biodiesel bus from Portland. (That's not a joke - we used to a have a "group share" biodiesel bus making daily trips from Portland, and it was the most perfectly-appropriate vehicle I'd ever seen. We should have a stretch limo service running from Los Angeles, a giant pickup from Dallas, a correctional services shuttle to Las Vegas, and a vast homicidal taxi swerving across the country from New York.)

Whiskey is a sipping drink. You're not there to get drunk, because you're not there to get anywhere -- you're already exactly where you want to be. That's another thing especially true in Seattle. The constant low-level grey means people tend to be indoors and stay there until they have a very good reason to leave. That's why the worldwide temporary-office-space-which-also-happens-to-serve-coffee started here. You're just so comfortable you want everything brought to you so you can live an entire life from this comfy coffee-shop couch or bar stool. That's why the biggest book-seller in the world started here too. That's also why they have brilliant bartenders.

The bartenders are the Professors Emeritus of these academies. But when ours claimed to be an actual professor of Astrophysics who'd left academia to go into the world, we just smiled and nodded. Because you don't disagree with the guy serving drinks. When conversation turned to sport, he'd been a New Zealand college rugby star until a knee injury put him out of action. (This, despite him looking more like Humpty Dumpty than any real-life athlete). And, of course, he was a prize-winning mixologist who owned incredible machines which could extract any flavor for custom cocktails.

At this point, he could have claimed to come from a remote Amazonian tribe and it wouldn't have changed how much I believed him. Every bar has an "expert", and it's good fun to keep them going. That was until he found out I'd studied physics and asked a detailed question about M-theory. Basically, he was asking me for an explanation of the entire universe, which is so advanced that most people in the universe don't know it. It makes quantum mechanics look obvious. It's superstring's big daddy. And it wasn't some casual headline question; this guy really understood what he was talking about. Then I realized - I'd met the greatest bullshitter in the world, but he wasn't bullshitting. He really had studied astrophysics! Wait a minute, that meant he probably had been a rugby player!

OH MY GOD! THAT MEANS HE REALLY IS A COCKTAIL MASTER!

The rest of the day was a glory and an education. An astrophysicist with a fully-stocked bar makes mad scientists look amateur. He crafted more sophisticated creations than Dr. Frankenstein, and they were fuller of life and experience. And, in some cases, also ended in fire. An astrophysicist with a cocktail cabinet could take over the world - but he wouldn't because he already has everything he needs.

We covered the entire universe from our barstools. We toured the world in whiskies, discussed reality itself with martinis, and he served us the true meaning of life (his special reserve of bacon-infused bourbon). I can honestly say I learned more in that afternoon than in all my years of school combined.

Who knew that in a comfy little bar in Seattle, beyond space-time manifolds, deeper than the nature of reality, we'd confirmed the most important law in the universe: the bartender is always the smartest person in the room.

This story is fictional and does not represent actual people or places.

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