NIU English instructor Dan Libman: drinking beer, talking politics

Dan Libman
Dan Libman

by Dan Libman
NIU Department of English

Dan Klefsted of WNIJ radio invited me to have a beer with him one afternoon. We met at Twin Taps in DeKalb, and he had a proposal.

He wanted me to go to bars, have a beer and talk to people who were also drinking beer. Did I think this was something I could do – go into bars, drink beer and talk to people?

I took another swallow of my beer.

Yeah, I said. I think I could do that.

Here’s why Klefsted tapped me for this assignment: “This election cycle, I wanted to go beyond our usual in-depth coverage of the issues and candidates to hear real people airing their concerns in the most relaxing place they know: their neighborhood bar,” Klefsted says.

“But sending a reporter with a recording kit and microphone could be a buzz kill. So I thought, what about a normal-looking guy with an iPhone? What stories would he bring back?” he adds. “We were pleased and even surprised when Dan Libman returned with all these unvarnished, heartfelt opinions by folks who are trying to make sense of their changing world. It’s citizen journalism that works because Dan is also a keen observer and trained storyteller.”

While I take issue with the phrase “normal-looking” to describe my movie-star good looks, I was excited about the proposal. Which is how I got to have perhaps the most enviable job in public radio.

Jakes Pour House logoI’ve been to a lot of really great bars: Kelly’s in Sterling, an Irish bar with world-class Mexican food; Jakes Pour House in LaSalle-Peru; Breakers in Oregon. I’ve had great food at Cowboy & Tony’s Butt Shack BBQ in Mendota and at the brand new Prairie Street Brewhouse in Rockford, which serves a great IPA and killer poutine.

But even better, I’ve met amazing people: a school teacher concerned about Gov. Quinn; a retired union guy still angry about trickle-down economics; a woman so frustrated she was considering not voting again; a self-made millionaire who wants Americans to adopt a more European outlook; and a young man diagnosed with cardiomyopathy hoping for a heart transplant.

This experience has made me much more confident in both the electoral process and in the voters themselves. They may not always pick up the next round, but they know what they like in a politician.

The first two installments of the Libman’s series aired July 7 and Aug. 4 on Morning Edition. The next installment will air at 6:35 a.m. and 8:35 am Monday, Sept. 8; future episodes will continue to air the first Monday of each month at the same time. With each episode, Libman is producing an essay to be posted online.

This isn’t Libman’s first stint with Northern Public Radio. Listeners might remember him from last year’s Pedaling Lincoln Highway series.

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