Best of the ‘Gest
Silverback J of the Mendocino Bonobos takes us back to the ’60s to remind us that, while the beer might not have been great, it was still sacred.
by Silverback J (Mendocino Bonobos)
If you’d like a little background music while reading this post from SB J, play this while you read:
The statute of limitations is long past, and my buddy Moon has long since drawn his last breath, so I guess it’s safe now to tell the story of the big heist of 1963. True story.
Not that I would ever do such a thing again now in my more mature years. Can’t hop over fences anymore, for one thing.
Anyway, it’s a warm Saturday night in the summer of my 19th year, many escapades ago, and “power row” at the White Hut in Toledo, Ohio is filling up with muscle cars. The White Hut you see is a drive-in restaurant, home of the Super King double-meat cheeseburger before there was such a thing as a Big Mac or a drive-through restaurant. At a drive-in like the Hut or A&W you could park in front and go inside and sit at a table like normal people, or you could pull up next to one of the menu posts and order through a crackly speaker and have a young gal in tight shorts and blouse — called a “car hop” — bring you out your big bag of White Hut Super Kings and onion rings or fries, depending on which you felt like at the moment. She’d have a tray with the bag of food that she’d hang on your window that you’d roll up a little bit. Back in them days, you actually had to roll your own windows up and down with a handle on the inside of the door, if you can imagine that.
There was three rows of those speaker posts at the Hut, and the back row was called the “power row” because that’s where all us young guys with hot cars would park and brag. If a normal person tried to park his normal car in the power row, we had ways of discouraging him that I won’t go into here, other than to say our methods were crude and quite effective.
I’m riding with Little Larry that night. Larry, you see, is a normal guy trying to be cool tonight by hanging out with me and “Moon” Mullins and “Skinny” Miller. It’s Larry’s first time at the Hut. I know him a little from high school cuzz he tried to put moves on my girlfriend Cheri. We ended up getting in a little fight over that, which is how we decided to try being friends instead. A guy thing. But like I say Larry is normal, so this friend business ain’t likely to work out. But I thought I’d give it a try, since he’s borrowed his parents’ shiny cream-colored ‘59 Chevy convertible and my car’s in the shop getting new whitewall tires. So when he called and asked me if we could hang out tonight I figured why not. I put on my white t-shirt with my pack of Lucky Strikes rolled up in the sleeve, and my blue jeans with the belt buckle to the side, and my Elvis hair slicked back with Brylcreem and a fresh splash of Aqua Velva in case we run into any chick action. You never know.
I had Larry pick up Moon and Skinny and we’re all chowing down at the Hut, and Larry is all bent out of shape worried that we might spill some ketchup or shredded lettuce or something out of our Super Kings onto his parents’ spotless car seats. Like I said, Larry’s not cool, even though he’s trying to act like it tonight. He’s normal. Square. Crew cut and button-down shirt and khakis. He’s out of his league: anxious, but trying to act cool. But cool ain’t something you can act, it’s something you are, for chrissakes.
It’s after 11 when Tony Ciciliani pulls his jet black Corvette with the tinted windows out of power row and burns some rubber as he heads off downtown. Tony is older than us, probably late 20s, early 30s and kind of a mystery man. He doesn’t frequent the Hut much, usually with some hot babe with red lipstick sitting next to him, and nobody seems to know much about him, except he’s some kind of Italian Mafia guy with a lot of money. Sharp dresser. Shiny shoes and jewelry. Likes fast cars and loose women. Horse racing and drag strips. Has some kind of private social club on the south side, with dark windows and a big doorman out front in a black suit and sunglasses, day and night. Lots of rumors about Tony and what goes on inside that social club, but the word is that it’s best not to know too much about him or his business, if you catch my drift. He gets a kick out of showing off his cherry cars and busty blondes to us punks once in a while, but he doesn’t actually friendly up to us much.
Well, it’s getting near midnight and Cinderella Larry says something about needing to get his parents’ shiny cream-colored ’59 Chevy convertible back home. Well that ain’t gonna happen. It’s Saturday night for chrissakes. The night’s still young. So we rag on Larry until he caves in, trying to be cool. That’s when Moon comes up with his bright idea and he tells Larry to head downtown by the river. Of course Moon doesn’t let on exactly what he has in mind, cuzz he knows Larry will chicken out. “I’ll show you when we get there”.
Larry ain’t drinking (promised his parents he wouldn’t), but me and Moon and Skinny have polished off our 6-packs of Rolling Rock. You could legally drink beer at age 18 in Ohio back in them days, but the carry-out stores are closed now, so Moon’s brainstorm about “I know where we can get some more beer” is making more sense to me and Skinny by the minute.
It turns out Moon knows someone who works at the Buckeye Brewery downtown, one of the oldest breweries in American history, founded just one year after Toledo itself, not that us teenagers give a damn about history stuff, being too busy living in the moment.
Anyway, we get downtown by the river and Moon guides Larry up this dark little alley that ends at a 6-foot fence surrounding the Buckeye Brewery shipping yard. There’s a couple big semi-trailers loaded with beer in the yard, and no lights or dogs or security of any kind. There was no such thing as security cameras back in them days of innocence. Larry is getting the idea now and is getting terrible nervous and says, “Let’s get out of here”, but no way, Jose. It’s too late to turn back now. We can smell the beer and feel the adrenaline start to rush.
We leave Larry to turn his parents’ shiny cream-colored ’59 Chevy convertible around as Skinny stands by the fence while me and Moon climb over it. We can barely see in the dark, but Moon breaks the federal seal on the back of the nearest semi-trailer and swings open the doors and holy mother of God if it ain’t stacked front-to-back with cases of Buckeye Beer from floor-to-ceiling. Skinny tells Larry to put the convertible top up and open the trunk. Moon starts handing me cases and I build a little platform by the fence and then start handing cases over to Skinny on the other side. Skinny loads up the trunk and every available square inch of space inside that shiny cream-colored ’59 Chevy convertible while Larry paces around, dumbfounded and about pissing his pants.
Back over the fence we go and pile into the car, packed in with the cases of beer. Larry’s starting to panic and we’re yelling at him to get the hell out of here. He starts idling down the alley until Moon slaps him across the back of the head shouting “Come on, man! Get going!”
“Oh my God, what now?”, Larry asks, his voice trembling, as he pulls onto Summit Street. Moon says, “Over the state line, into Michigan, outside Ohio jurisdiction. We’ll stash it there til the heat dies down. Take a left here.”
The state line is just about 5 miles away, and every mile we go we start to relax a little, except Larry. I mean what’s to worry? It’s dark, it’s late, no traffic, and Larry’s parents’ shiny cream-colored ’59 Chevy convertible looks normal: at least I thought it did at the time.
Well, we pass the church key around and start sucking down warm Buckeyes and we get to the last stoplight before the Michigan line, which we can see straight ahead a couple hundred yards of us, where everything becomes suddenly rural, with farms and narrow roads and no streetlights. Stupid traffic light! This is before the invention of traffic sensors you see, so here we are, stopped within sight of safety, in the middle of the night with zero traffic in any direction. Of course the light takes forever to change, and just before it does some headlights pull up and stop behind us, and three or four seconds later on comes the flashing cop lights. Holy shit! Of all the goddam luck. What’s this cop’s problem with us? He gets out of his cruiser and is walking up to us with his flashlight and there will be no explaining away the cases of beer crammed in there with us. We’re screwed!
“Get going!”, we all scream at Larry together, and he lunges into the intersection then slams on his brakes. “What the hell are you doing?”, we’re yelling, but Larry’s frozen stiff. The cop is running up toward us. I reach my foot over and stomp down on the accelerator. Larry suddenly snaps out of it and yells “Oh shit!” and off we go toward the state line, pedal to the metal.
I look back and see the cop running to his cruiser, jumping in, and chasing after us, siren blaring and pedal to the metal. We speed across the state line but he ain’t giving up. He doesn’t give a damn about interstate jurisdictions, he just ain’t gonna let some two-bit punks escape from him.
The chase is on. We’re flying down the dark narrow road like a bat out of hell, and he’s right on our tail. He’s got us outpowered. Larry’s never driven this fast in his life and suddenly shouts, “We’re gonna run out of gas!” And sure enough I look over at the guage and the needle is below E. Me and Moon and Skinny look at each other and without saying a word we all open up cases and start pitching Buckeye bottles out the back, hoping to give the cop a flat tire from the broken glass. We hear the bottles bouncing off the trunk lid and crashing on the pavement and we see the cop back off a little and turn his wipers on. And we just keep chucking bottles, one after another for a couple more miles, praying we don’t run out of gas or Larry don’t run off the road, and I wonder what that cop must be thinking about this barrage of beer bottles coming at him. And then we see his headlights swerve left to right and drop away into the distance. Whew! That was close. What the hell was he after us for anyway?
A couple more miles after losing the cop we squeal a left down a dark side road, then another left after a couple more miles, and come to a stop out there in the middle of farmland and shut the engine off before it runs out of gas. We pile out of the car and Larry watches us pitching cases into the ditch, glass breaking all over the place. “Open the trunk!” we yell at Larry, and when the trunk lid opens up I notice the back license plate: covered up with that goddam White Hut food bag!!
“Larry, what the hell!?” “I got scared someone would see the license plate when you guys were taking the beer”. “You dumb fuck! No wonder that cop turned on his cop lights after he came up behind us!”
We chuck the rest of the cases into the dark ditch, to that sad sound of breaking glass, hop back in the car and drive slowly back toward Toledo, shaking like leaves and praying to God we don’t run out of gas before we get to Moon’s shack, about 3am. Larry drops us off there and, running on fumes, heads home to his parents, who are probably in their robes waiting up for him, ready to call the cops about their missing son who was supposed to be home hours ago. As Little Larry pulls away I see the trunk lid of that shiny cream-colored ’59 Chevy convertible covered with dents and chips and scratches from the beer bottles. He’ll have some serious explaining to do. Serves him right, I figure.
That’s the last time any of us ever sees or hears from Larry again. Just as well.
It’s probably 4am before our adrenaline levels return to normal and we come back to our nonsenses. No sense trying to sleep now. Moon is saying “Damn it, we didn’t do all that work and take all that risk for nothing”. Skinny is saying “I sure could use a couple of those Buckeye Beers right about now”. And I chime in, “The heat must be off by now”. So we pile into Moon’s black ’57 Ford and head back up to Michigan to retrieve what we could of the loot.
It’s a mess of broken glass and beer-soaked grass there in the ditch, but we do manage to salvage about a case of Buckeye before the first light of dawn and we head back to Moon’s, where we chug down a few warm ones on our empty stomachs. Some payoff!
After sunrise we remember that we’d planned to go to the Sunday drag strip, out at the old east-end airport. So after a couple more warm ones we decide to drive on over to the strip, chugging a couple more on the way. Well, it’s about noon and we’re wandering around the pits checking out all the hot cars, when up strolls Tony Ciciliani and a couple of his goons, looking like he just stepped out of a menswear catalog or something, shaking his head at us and cracking a wicked grin.
“Nice job, kids”, he says. “What are you talking about, Tony?” “Your little beer heist”, he says. Now we haven’t said a word to anybody, so naturally we play dumb. “What heist?” “Look you stupid little punks, we watched the whole fucking thing. We were on the other side of the shipping yard with a semi-tractor all ready to snatch that whole fucking trailer and haul it to our Indiana warehouse. Been planning it for months. Guess who fucked it up?”