It was 5:00 on a blustery Friday afternoon in January. I was a senior in high school looking at the entire weekend in front of me with no homework to worry about. I didn’t have to work and the only plans I had was a Kenosha Flyer hockey game on Saturday night. But I needed something to do tonight; after all it was Friday night. I wanted to have some fun. Little did I know how much this fun would end up costing me.
After a bit of deliberation, it came to me that there was a basketball game at school starting at 7:00. After the folks said it was okay to borrow one of their cars, I called up my buddy Dave to see if he wanted to go. He said sure, it sounded like fun.
Yes! Fun, that’s what I wanted. I grabbed my jacket, jumped in the yellow 1970 AMC Rebel and sped off to pick up Dave. There was fun to be had.
When Dave got in the car he immediately asked if I brought anything. Being a bit naïve at the time, I asked him what he was talking about. He said, “You know, do you have anything to drink?” I told him no, not to worry, I knew where to go.
Full disclosure number 1. Before going on, there is a “minor” detail that you should know. In 1975 the legal drinking age for the state of Wisconsin was 18. At the time I was only 17 years old.
There was an Italian restaurant (that shall go unnamed) on the northside of Kenosha that had a liquor store. Being large for my age, I never had a problem obtaining adult beverages at this particular establishment, even without a state ID.
On that night, I picked up a 6-pack of Schlitz Tall Boys and a pint of Southern Comfort. We had about an hour before the game started to consume the purchase. We were going to have fun.
Having successfully accomplished the task of pouring all of the alcohol into our young heads, we arrived at the game with time to spare. Staggering up the bleachers, a loud “Hey Paul” greeted me. It was Lori, a junior that sat next to me in our typing class. She waved for Dave and I to come join her and her two girlfriends. Of course we obliged.
Full disclosure number 2. I had a thing for Lori. What can I say? She was quite fetching, plus she was Italian.
Most of the basketball game was somewhat of a fuzzy blur. I’d like to say it was the fluorescent lights in the gymnasium, but it was more likely the half pint of Southern Comfort and the 48 ounces of Schlitz that I demolished in less than an hour. I can’t say I remember if we won or not. Nonetheless, we were having fun.
Leaving the game, we “happened” to run into Lori and her friends in the parking lot. With a collective smile, they asked us if we could get some more alcohol. Obviously they had detected that we were slightly intoxicated. I said sure and the three of them jumped into the Rebel. Heading back to my favorite northside Italian restaurant, I thought to myself, now we are really going to have fun.
Having grabbed four bottles of Boone’s Farm Apple wine, I was back in the car in the blink of an eye. I know, I know, Boone’s Farm Apple wine. It wasn’t my idea. It was the drink of choice for our three female guests. I wasn’t about to argue with them.
Unfortunately, the Schlitz and Southern Comfort that was already inside of me did argue with the Boone’s Farm. The toxic mixture of the three different types of booze quickly took effect of me in a bad way. Let’s just say my judgment quickly became alcohol-impaired. Severely.
What happened next made this brutally evident. Having just passed Park View Tavern on north Sheridan Road, I turned right and drove up the hill, supposedly to cross the railroad tracks. But that never happened.
Instead, I took a sharp left. For some unknown reason I decided to take the family Rebel and it’s five passengers for a trip down the railroad tracks. It must have been the Southern Comfort. And the Schlitz. And the Boone’s Farm Apple wine. But we were having fun. Weren’t we?
Full disclosure number 3. This railroad crossing no longer exists in Kenosha. It was eliminated a few years later. I guess timing is everything.
The trip down the railroad came to a rather abrupt halt when the rear end of the car became hung up on the tracks. The five of us were stuck high up on the hill, directly across from St George’s Cemetery. Kind of creepy, huh?
We did everything humanly possible to get the car off of the tracks. Nothing worked, not even the jack. It was getting colder and the cemetery was getting creepier. I was beginning to wonder if I was still having fun.
As things were beginning to look hopeless, a station wagon pulled up at the bottom of the hill. Four guys popped out and asked if we needed some help. Relieved, we shouted back, “Yes, please!” They climbed the steep hill to offer their assistance.
While we were attempting to lift the back end of the car off the tracks, we were interrupted by some bright flashing lights. Looking behind us we saw a police car back at the railroad crossing. The cops had gotten out and were headed our way. I began feeling this wasn’t going to be so much fun after all.
Despite being somewhat alcohol-impaired, I did some quick thinking and was quite gallant. Not wanting Lori and her friends to get in trouble, I asked the guys in the station wagon if they would give them a ride. They scurried down the hill and left just as the cops arrived at the car.
The cops told us in no uncertain terms that we had to get out of there right away. It seems there was a train scheduled to be coming by in a little bit and the car needed to be towed away.
The policemen waited for the tow truck and instructed us to get into a second police car that was waiting for us at the bottom of the hill. Now I knew this wasn’t going to be fun.
Stumbling down the hillside, I tripped and landed in a disheveled heap halfway down. Adding insult to injury, my glasses flew off my head when I fell. A brief search proved fruitless, I couldn’t find them anywhere. Besides, the police were hollering at me to hurry up and get over to the car.
The ride in the police car was less than pleasant. Needless to say, the officers were not impressed that we were underage and extremely intoxicated. They were rather persistent in their questioning about where we had purchased the alcohol. I am proud to say I didn’t snitch. I might have been only 17, but I knew all about omertà.
When we got to the police station, I was prepared for the worse. However, things weren’t as bad as they could have been. Sure, we received a stern lecture, but, remarkably, we didn’t even get a ticket. The officer told us he was going to strongly suggest to our parents that they take away our driver’s license for a while. Then he called our folks to come pick us up.
I guess things could have been a lot worse. Especially for Dave. His folks weren’t home, so the police allowed my dad to drop him off. You guessed it. His parents never found out. He got away scot-free, unscathed and unpunished.
That wasn’t the case for me. I had to face my disappointed folks, which was pretty tough. Dad did what he always did when one of us let him down. He was completely quiet. It was a stoic silence that seemed deafening. Mom, on the other hand, was a hysterical mess. That was also to be expected.
However, there was one refreshing moment that occurred during all of the drama. After Dad left to pick me up from the police station, Mom frantically interrogated my brother Mike about when I had started to drink. He replied with feigned astonishment, “Gee mom, this must have been the first time!” Evidently my younger brother also knew about omertà.
And, yes they did take away my driver’s license. I also had to pay the towing charge for the Rebel. On top of that, I never found my glasses and had to buy a new pair. It was tough watching that Flyer hockey game without my specs.
Full disclosure number 4. My parents gave me back my driver’s license as soon as they needed me to go to the store for them.
Not having my glasses for a while wasn’t the only thing I had to deal with after my trip down the tracks. I wasn’t looking forward to facing Lori in our typing class on Monday morning. Remember, she sat right next to me. I fully expected her to act as if I never existed.
When Monday came I made sure to get to class before Lori did. Nervously, I kept squinting at the door, anxiously waiting for her to arrive. Finally she entered the room and quietly walked to her desk, clutching her books tightly to her chest.
Before sitting down, Lori stopped in front of my desk. I thought to myself, here it comes, she’s really gonna let me have it. After a pause that seemed to last an eternity, she finally spoke.
In a soft, almost timid voice, Lori said, “Paul, are you mad at me?” Before I could reply, she added, “I don’t blame you if you are. We should have never left you Friday night. I’m really sorry.”
After the initial shock wore off, I managed to blurt out, “Aw, don’t worry about it. I’m just glad you didn’t get in trouble.” With that, she smiled and sat down next to me.
As class began, she leaned over to me and whispered, “Do you want to take me to the basketball game in Muskego in two weeks?” I told her that I probably could. Then I thought to myself, yep, I’m gonna have some fun.
Until next time…from the booth.