Mississippi Stories: Cold Beer on SundayPosted: June 16, 2012
So I’ve been meaning to get this little blog post out about a week ago. Thing is life, errrr…rather work has a way of interfering with Southern fried blogging, so it took me awhile to finish up this batch of cartoons.
The one good thing about keeping busy, especially at a job where I interact with folks from all over the place is that it helps inspire new stories, or in an especially bad week filled with difficult people, forces me to reminisce about good times (some might call it a coping mechanism but that phrase sounds kind of Yankeeish to me). All I know is there was a song once that mentioned something about “old times” being “not forgotten”. I’m sure y’all know the tune.
So back and forth in my brain between bouts of stress and briefs moments of relaxation I developed this piece. Originally it was going to be a treatise on blue laws, the complex and contradictory nature of the politics of morality, and so forth but then the ghost of Lewis Grizzard told me…”son, it’s really just about finding cold beer on Sunday”.
And so it is…
According to the Sheriff’s department, Lafayette (Luh-FAY-It) County, Mississippi is a dry county. At least that’s what the signs always said. And certainly in a state where you often hear the phrase “the law is the law”, you’d expect folks to follow it to a “T”. Yup, judging by the beer cans and broken whiskey bottles strewn by the sign, a rickety post holding up a well used shotgun target, I guess you could say that people vote with their litter.
The signs are there for good reason. That is, you’ve been fairly warned. What Lafayette County is trying to tell you is that they’ve decided that it’s more profitable to bust you for alcohol than to sell it to you.
Now, it’s not that it’s illegal to take a sip or two in the county. They just figured if you couldn’t buy it there then you’d have to cross into another county to get it, then you’d probably not wait to get home, then flying down the highway, having emptied your bottles just you could pitch them against the Lafayette County sign while your buddy literally rides shotgun, and well fish are much easier to shoot in barrels. In other words, as Roscoe P. Coletrane would say “Cuff ‘em and Stuff ‘em.”
Navigating your way through the liquor laws in the various Mississippi counties nearly took an advanced degree in international relations. I guess that must be why Ole Miss started an international relations program when I was down there, just so folks could understand where to buy cold beer.
Lafayette County was even more complicated than most counties. Because it was home to the University of Mississippi it had a more truncated set of rules. I even think these were thoroughly explained during new student orientation. At least that was the part I paid attention to. Oxford was a “wet” town in a dry county. College towns were allowed to be dens of iniquity. But there was a catch. If you wanted to buy beer at a convenience or grocery store you had to pick up your cases and six packs off of the shelf. They were not allowed to be sold cold. You had to go home and chill them. This was of course to thwart college kids from drinking cases of beer in the store itself and running amuck. The town fathers had a good sense of how to prevent vice after all. Oh yeah…and not on Sundays. That was never mentioned anywhere on a store’s sign, because you were just supposed to know. Unless you were from Arkansas (more on that later).
So let’s say you are an Ole Miss student. You have money burning a hole in your pocket, you’re thirsty, and you want some beer. Only it’s Sunday and you know the county leaders have already figured out that you’re too stupid to just buy beer ahead of time (actually they were right about that). Let’s say you’re not even legally allowed to buy hoppy suds in these United States. Checkmate right?
Not so fast. Remember SOME Mississippi counties made their yearly revenue through enforcing morality. This then requires OTHER Mississippi counties to make their yearly revenue selling you into depravity. And thankfully Panola County was right next door.
There’s not much in Panola County until you get to Interstate 55. And even then really it’s just a pothole- filled ride on the way north to Memphis. Yet back in my day there was a place called Rick’s. There’s a line in Casablanca where one of the characters mentions “everyone comes to Rick’s”. In the film, Rick’s is Bogie’s character’s oasis of a bar during Nazi occupied Morocco in WWII. Our Rick’s while a little bit different was also an oasis.
The Rick’s everybody came to in our neck of the woods was a run-down gas station/ convenience store maybe two or three inches over the county line. I’m not kidding. It was clear even to the much younger and less world travelled me back then, that Rick’s sole purpose in life was to sell cold beer on Sunday to Ole Miss students. That’s because there was a giant sign that read “Cold Beer…Sundays” next to a Colonel Reb sign that read “Ole Miss students welcome”.
The other thing that was funny was that there was nothing within ten miles of Rick’s other than cotton fields. And, if you drove past Rick’s on any other day of the week, it was empty. On Sundays it was packed with SUVs and pickups with fraternity tags and Ole Miss parking stickers. Rick was a hell of an advertiser after all. He knew his target market.
The funniest part about Rick’s place was what you saw after you walked in. There was nothing, and I mean nothing, blocking the wide path from the entrance to the giant beer cooler. To the right and left were chips, candy, toiletries and other items that were covered in dust. I guess Rick wasn’t too concerned with people figuring out his front operation. He also had another saying that quickly made the rounds of campus (also probably in new student orientation), “if you can walk, you can buy”. No questions asked. And he even had Polaroids of people getting their picture taken there with him. Rick was a hero! Well…more like a hero to the corruptible deputies who wanted to supplement their income.
The law is the law. Students will be Students. Money is Money.
Just take it easy crossing back in Lafayette County.
On a regular weekday however you didn’t have to go over to Rick’s. He was probably closed anyway (I never could tell). So the place to go was the Rebel Barn. It kind of had a “if you can drive you can buy policy” if the right people were working. And if your Hawaiian ID said “McLovin” that was all gravy. It was kind of a nice ritual to go there after class on Friday or instead of class on Friday and stock up for game day or just the weekend in general.
Then there was that one special Christmas of 1996. Well not so much Christmas but Christmas Ale. And it wasn’t even Christmas but January 1997 after we got back from break. It rarely gets down to freezing for any long period of time in North Mississippi, but I remember it being quite chilly. The cases of beer in the Rebel barn were about to freeze and become wasted. The stoner dude who worked that day, who was known to be lax on the rules, mentioned to us that they had to unload cases of 1996 Abita Christmas Ale and that they were on sale for $4 a case. Yup, $4 a case for Abita…and by the way Abita is a very good Louisiana swill.
So needless to say we got ourselves a huge stockpile of Abita Christmas Ale. I think it took months to get through and we even had our TV sitting on top of some cases. The getting it there was the hard part. You had to lug beer several six packs at a time up to your dorm room.
Of course, you had to hide this from the petite authority of the dorm R.A.s But this could be achieved by placing the six packs in your book bag. Clearly we were all attending the university to study and were returning from the library. I think our Abita Christmas Ale took about 50 trips to the “library”. I do remember one visiting parent remarking about “how studious we were”. Smart aleck kid that I was I probably thought he didn’t get it. Now I’m thinking he was probably an alum himself and knew what we were doing. After all library books don’t make clinking sounds.
There was a whole ritual to getting beer my first couple of years. Learning the laws, learning the REAL laws, learning about Ricks, learning how to properly pack a book bag, and then learning how to chill them quickly in the micro-fridge (you didn’t think micro-fridges were used for milk and butter did you?)
After I turned 21 and the thrill of the chase was transformed into a mundane walk into any grocery store or mart when the mood struck, the blue laws didn’t really affect me much. I had gotten used to them, and not having buying beer on Sunday wasn’t a big deal, nor was even buying or drinking beer even a big deal. I’d honestly forgotten about the “No Sunday beer” rule.
Then one day while I was getting gas I saw a rickety late 70s Camaro pull in. It had Arkansas tags and the man that got out of the car clearly went with it. He had a dirty ball cap, long hair and a beard, torn jeans, and a t-shirt and shoes on that were clearly being worn because they were required to purchase in this particular establishment.
Seconds later he angrily emerged from the store and then spoke to me. Why people like this always come up and speak to me, I don’t know, but thankfully they make such great material. He asked “HEY MAN! HOW COME THEY WON’T SELL ME NO BEER!” I paused, remembered what day it was and then told him that in Oxford they don’t sell beer on Sundays but that there’s no sign, you’re just supposed to know. Then he calmed down and replied “Oh, I just thought it was because I was from Arkansas.”
You can’t make this stuff up.
In any case, I sent him to Rick’s. It’s on the way to Arkansas.