Think back to when you were eight years old. What did you want to be? What were your wildest dreams and fantasies?
Me? I wanted to sell beer.
Lots of beer.
Allow me to explain.
I grew up in Yukon, Oklahoma, a middle class suburb of Oklahoma City. My old neighborhood was a sprawling subdivision of homes that sprung out of some old farmland back in the 60’s and 70’s. All around the housing development were cattle ranches and wheat fields as far as the eye could see. Still, Surrey Hills was its own self-contained suburban utopia. On the northern edge of the subdivision rested a strip of shops that contained a tiny little convenience store appropriately named the “Itty Bitty”. On the southern edge of the subdivision was Surrey Hills elementary school, site of both my first kiss AND my first “wedgie” (both occurring in totally unrelated incidents). Winding through the center of it all was a meandering golf course “for members and guests only.”
We weren’t members of the golf club. My family was neither poor, nor wealthy. My dad (and hero) was a general manager for a local tire company, and made a decent living. Some others in the neighborhood were a different story. They worked in the oil industry in the late 70’s and early 80’s and made pantloads of money. So, I was good friends with their kids, who had open tabs at the golf club. There, I tried to look like a regular while I sipped on mooched Shirley Temples and ate my body weight in maraschino cherries.
One hot summer day, walking home from the club, we noticed how many golfers were driving by in their carts, sweating like crazy. My friend T.J. and I immediately had the idea to open a lemonade stand. So, we went to T.J.’s house, filled a Radio Flyer full of Solo cups, a pitcher of lemonade, and a homemade sign, and snuck on to the #15 tee box.
We taped our sign to the wagon. “Lemonade – Small Cups, 10¢ Big Cups 25¢” The first thirsty foursome approached. As one of the men stepped out of his cart, he chuckled and said, “Are you sure you don’t have any beer? I sure could use one!” Recognizing T.J. as the son of a club member and me as his mooching friend, he pulled out a pocketful of change and purchased a few cups of lemonade for himself and his buddies. Nice guy! We pocketed the 70 cents and beamed at the thought of the 20 pieces of Super Bubble it would buy us at the Itty Bitty.
The next foursome arrived at the #15 tee. A man with giant, swollen gut tottered out. He spotted our sign and said with a smile, “You got any Coors?”
“Nope. Sorry. Just lemonade. Small cups ten cents. Big cups a quarter.”
He came back, “I’ll take a big cup then.”
We handed him his drink and took his quarter. We watched silently as they teed off, mentally noting the brisk sales pace. Two groups of golfers. Two sales. This is too easy! Like shooting fish in a barrel. We were marketing geniuses.
Just then, a third group came and went without a sale. This dampened our mood a bit. Was the market softening already?
Then a fourth group made their way to the tee box. Before even exiting the cart, a plaid-clad duffer boomed, “I’ll take a Bud!” His buddies laughed. We gave our sales pitch, but we were largely ignored this time. They hit their tee shots and drove off without buying a thing.
In the silence of the moment, I complained, “Man. I wish we were selling beer. Everybody asks for it.”
I looked at T.J. His eyes got a bit larger. “My dad has beer. Lots of it!”
Before the words were out of his mouth, we were packing up the Flyer and heading toward his house.
We didn’t even enter the front door. Instead, we went straight into the garage where the “special fridge” was located. Inside, we found a decent inventory. Though it wouldn’t supply a fraternity party for more than an hour, it would satiate plenty of foursomes. T.J.’s dad stocked the good stuff, too. Coors and Bud were in demand, and we had 6-8 of each! Add to that a couple of Michelob and a stray Pabst Blue Ribbon, and we had quite a selection. We stashed the beers in the wagon, poured in some ice, and headed back to #15.
When we arrived, we doctored our sign to feature our newest item. Because demand was so high, we priced the suds through the roof. Cans – 50¢, Bottles $1.00. The first cart approached.
Half-looking, the first golfer wheeled out of his cart. He jokingly asked, “So, you kids got any Miller?”
I replied, “Nope. But we do have Budweiser, Coors, Michelob, and Pabst.” There is still a wet spot on the cart path where the man’s tongue hit the pavement. “Oh. And we have lemonade if you want it, too.”
For the first time, we saw one of our customers pull out bills instead of change. He handed us $2.00 and grabbed four cold ones out of our makeshift cooler, laughing the entire time. He passed the beers to his buddies as we nearly peed our pants with excitement. Lemonade was for sissies. Beer is where it’s at.
Every single cart that passed the #15 tee box bought beer from us. We sold out in less than an hour. We had over twelve dollars in our pockets. With this kind of money, we could buy so much Super Bubble that we could chew on one piece for a minute or two, spit it out before the flavor fades, then unwrap another piece without even thinking about it! Luxury at its finest. But why stop there.
“Does your dad have any beer?” T.J. asked.
Again, we packed up the Flyer and walked a few blocks to my house. When we walked through the front door, my mom asked “So, how is the lemonade business?”
Without making eye contact, we barked, “It’s great!” and moved toward the garage fridge.
My dad was not a big beer drinker, but we usually had a decent stash left over from dinner parties and neighborhood get-togethers. Inside the fridge we found a hodge-podge of brews left over from a family Christmas party seven months prior. Being only eight years old, I knew nothing of old, skunky tasting beer, so we filled a bag with as many as we could carry, and headed back through the house.
“Whatcha’ got in the bag?” my mom inquired.
To this day, I am still amazed at my mother’s emotional restraint in this situation. As a father, if I saw my eight-year-old son hauling beer through the house on a hot summer day, I would immediately think the worst. He’s gone off the deep end! Where did we do wrong? How much does celebrity rehab cost?
Instead, my mom patiently asked, “So, what do you need the beers for?”
“We’re selling them on the golf course. Nobody buys lemonade, but EVERYBODY buys beer! We’ve made twelve dollars so far off the stuff we got from T.J.’s house!”
“Hmmmm. I’m not so sure that’s the best idea. Those are your dad’s beers, so you should ask him if you can have them. We should call him.”
Though my mother could have shut down our bootlegging operation right then and there, she always loved sharing such parental joys with my dad. Smiling, she dialed the numbers and handed me the phone. My father answered. His voice sounded as if it was coming from an echo chamber.
“This is Ken Dannemiller.”
“Hey Scotty. Whadja’ break?” To this day, this is my dad’s default when we call.
I contemplated the best way to ask. After all, Dad was the linchpin to my achieving financial wealth in beverage sales. I had to be persuasive. Unfortunately, my eight-year-old communication skills lacked the finesse of a high-priced power broker.
“I need your beers. I want to sell them on the golf course. We already sold T.J.’s dad’s beers and made twelve dollars.”
I heard a huge belly laugh coming from the echo chamber. However, it was not my dad’s laugh. Apparently, he was in a meeting with a client and had me on speaker phone. I can only imagine the pride my father felt in that moment.
“Twelve dollars, huh?”
“Yeah, Dad! Isn’t that great!”
“That is great, son.”
Trying to close the deal, I glance at T.J. and quickly add, “So, can I have your beers?”
“Well son, I would love for you to make some more money, but I see a problem.”
“Yeah. Not just anybody can sell beer. You have to have a license.”
“Can I use yours?”
“Not a license to drive. A different kind of license. If you aren’t at least 21 and have a special license to sell beer, then you could go to jail.”
“Jail? For selling beer?” I can still hear the other man laughing in the background. T.J.’s eyes are the size of a Wham-O Frisbee.
“That’s right. I don’t want you to go to jail, so I’m going to have to say no.”
My emotions were a strange mixture of fear, anxiety, and dejection. Not only had my business plans been shunned, I was also in danger of getting thrown in the clink for selling suds on hole 15. I imagined life on the chain gang. In the face of such opposition, I caved.
With a knowing glance from my mother, we walked back to the garage and deposited the beers back in the fridge. She helped us make up another pitcher of lemonade.
That day, we made another two dollars selling the legit stuff. With our day’s take exceeding fourteen dollars, we wheeled our wagon down to the Itty Bitty and invested no less than ten bucks in a mountain of candy and pocketed the other four. That night at T.J.’s house, we unpacked our stash of Starburst, Now & Laters, Chic-O-Stix and tons of other junk and dumped it all into a communal bowl. We played Atari and gorged ourselves on the fruits of our labor until we both puked in Technicolor.
In retrospect, it was crazy, impulsive, and ill-advised.
Then why did it feel so great?
Because instincts trumped anxiety. When opportunity presented itself, we went for it without hesitation. Passions ignited.
I’m beginning to feel like I’m at a crossroads in life. A full-grown adult this time. Opportunity may be knocking once again. Very softly. But there’s no need to call Dad. I know the rules. And there’s no risk of incarceration. All I’m lacking is the child-like exuberance.
Anyone know the way to the nearest lemonade stand?