In Pursuit of Happiness

In Pursuit of Happiness

“At the end of the day, happiness is all you really need,” said Bill my contractor while drinking coffee at the ERA Cafe in Woodruff, WI at 7:30 AM on May 3, 2024.

(Note--this quote has probably also been spoken by everyone on Earth at some point or another.)

(Note--the ERA Cafe is BRAND NEW and BY FAR the best place for breakfast in the Northwoods of Wisconsin)

(Note--whomever owns the ERA CAFE should give me a free cup of coffee the next time I come in because I just recommended your place to 100K people…and furthermore…I REALLY hope you’re not a Republican)

The Hard Talk (with my lawyer the day before eating breakfast with Bill)

“Kirk, if we’re going to add Oneida County back onto the federal lawsuit because they created $28K of fines against you out of thin air, we’ll essentially be going back to square one.”
“But Fred, we filed that lawsuit last August against the Town of Minocqua and Oneida County after both of them tried to shut me down by selectively enforcing bogus zoning violations. We’ve barely gotten anywhere on this suit after almost a year. What do you mean we have to restart the clock?
“Well, we dropped Oneida County from the lawsuit last September because they finally compromised and gave you a Conditional Use Permit to build a beer garden. We thought they were willing to play fair and rewarded them for coming to the bargaining table. By amending the lawsuit and adding them back onto it because they went back on their word and are now fining you for all of the zoning violations that they essentially nullified by granting you the CUP, the process basically starts over.”
“So by going back on their word and ginning up all these new zoning violations against me, they are able to extend this process by another year and force me to pay another few hundred thousand dollars in legal bills to simply be treated fairly?”
“But how in the world is a small business supposed to be able to afford a multi-year legal battle against a government that has endless tax dollars to pay their lawyers?”
“Most small businesses can’t afford to sue their local governments.”
“But where’s the justice in that? I know we’re right! They’ve done everything they can to put me out of business, and we have ample evidence to prove it…how can I get justice if I can’t afford the process to get to the point where a federal judge agrees that I’m right.”
“You can’t get justice if you can’t afford the process required to get justice.”
“If that’s the case, then the justice system in America is broken.”
“That’s true. It is broken.”
“Then what’s the point? What’s there to stop any local government from running roughshod over people they don’t like?”
“Money. You have to have money to pay lawyers to fight on your behalf.”
“So if the average Joe runs out of money, he can’t fight against government harassment?”
“Basically no, unless that average Joe is a lawyer.”
“Jesus. This SUCKS.”
“What do you want to do?”
“I want to run my business in peace.”
“Well, the Town offered to give you the easement needed to fulfill your CUP if you drop the lawsuit against them. If you settle with them, you’ll be able to run your business in peace…at least as far as the Town is concerned.”
“But that’s blackmail. They give easements to every business that wants them. They’re just not giving one to me because they want me to drop the lawsuit that they know I’ll win. This behavior is part and parcel of the same political retribution that forced us to sue them in the first place!”
“True. It’s blackmail. It’s not legal, but fighting it will take another year or two.”
“Jesus. What about the County? How can I get out of this new $28K worth of fines?”
“It’s a separate issue than what’s going on with the Town, but most of the same characters are involved. You’ve called them ‘OBNOM,’ and yes, it’s the ‘Old Boy Network of Minocqua’ that has convinced the county to keep harassing you.”
“Since all the same people are behind this, do you think that if I let the Town off the hook and stop suing them in court, the County might drop their local lawsuit against me in one big settlement?”
“It’s possible.”
“But isn’t that just rewarding the worst type of government behavior possible?
“Yes, but fighting it will take another few years, and you said you wanted to run your business in peace.”
“Jesus. I hate this. I do want to run my business in peace, but it just seems so wrong to let them get away with this.”
“Are you happy fighting them?”
“No, I’m not. I hate it. I just want to run my business.”
“What’s more important to you? Being happy or being right?”
“Being happy.”
“Well then I think you just answered your question.”
“Jesus. This makes me SO MAD…
…but I choose happiness…
…do what you have to do, Fred. I just want to stop fighting.”
“I will, and I’ll let you know what happens.”

End of the Hard Talk
After mulling over this “hard talk” with my contractor while eating breakfast the next morning, Bill and I went to my Tap Room. He got on his skid steer and started smoothing out the gravel we had abandoned the day before when the rain turned it into soup. He pitched the ¾ inch limestone towards the stormwater drain that I had installed over two years ago for $50,000. The drain was required because the Town told me I had to put a parking lot on my tiny little property where there had never been a parking lot since the old Texaco gas station was built in 1935. 
Mind you, there is a public parking lot with about 50 stalls directly across the street from me which is almost always empty--even during the busiest weekends in July.
Why did the Town force me to build a parking lot when we already had ample public parking spaces nearby, when practically no other businesses in the downtown area were required to provide parking? Because by doing so, there would be no space left to build a beer garden, and without a beer garden, there simply would not be enough seating to serve customers and my business would fail.
I opened the garage door to let the fresh air inside and pulled out my laptop. The sun was low in the east and shining right into my beautiful little building that is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
I couldn’t help but be happy.

While battling enormous political headwinds, I had created a beautiful space from a neglected architectural gem that had previously been overtaken by filth, mold, and mushrooms. In a few weeks, my team was going to be inundated with wonderful customers drinking beer and cheerfully talking about progressive politics while taking a breather from life in the majestic Northwoods of Wisconsin.
I thought to myself…“Kirk, you got your beer garden. They’re dicks. Let it go.”
I wrote a similar essay a little over a year ago after talking to someone I consider a father figure to me while skiing with him.
Back then, I found peace on the beautifully groomed trails within Minocqua’s Winter Park. This year, I found it while watching sun rays stream into my building.
Minocqua, even with all the neanderthals running local government and publishing rubbish in the local newspaper, is still a beautiful place. I LOVE being there in the summer, and the LAST THING I want to do is have to fight when I could be on a boat waterskiing and drinking my own beer (hopefully not at the same time).
By posting this essay today, against the advice of my lawyer, I’m publicly stating that I don’t want to fight anymore. The immense amount of money required to do so could be BETTER SPENT in the pursuit of happiness, and I no longer believe in a justice system that requires immense resources to simply get a fair shake.
If I have to fight at all, I want to reserve that energy to help make sure that Trump doesn’t win in Wisconsin this November.
And to tell you the truth, sometimes I even question if that fight is worth the energy after seeing our U.S. justice system and Democratically-appointed U.S. Attorney General let Trump skate by for the last 4 years.
So...if the Old Boys Network sees this essay as a sign of weakness and decides to go for the jugular, so be it.  You’ll once again be hurting your own economy worse than you’re hurting me, and the rest of the state, as well as the Wisconsin diaspora around the U.S., will once again by disgusted by your naked acts of bullying and harassment.
So before you make that decision, I’d ask you to take your boat out on the lake or maybe take a walk in the woods. Wouldn’t you rather have a little peace and quiet this summer? Wouldn’t you want that for the people in your community whom you’re supposed to serve?
I know I would.
Kirk Bangstad
Owner, Minocqua Brewing Company
Found, Minocqua Brewing Company Super PAC
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