I’ve never been much of a drinker, and at my age, I’m not likely to become one. I don’t think I even tried to sneak a beer during high school, even though lots of my friends did, and it was a common thing to go to a party out on somebody’s remote farm, where the grown-ups were absent or at least looked the other way.
When I went off to college, drinking became a sport. Anyone who pledged a fraternity was quickly initiated into drinking games and rituals, and almost every night of the week, you could see underclassmen staggering home to their dorms, lurching across the campus like zombies.
The easiest way to get access to beer was at one of the ubiquitous off-campus parties. I’d hear about one from a friend of a friend, and we’d head down past University Drive towards the rental houses. Approaching the door, we’d try to get our story straight about how we knew the host, and try to blend in. Once inside, we’d pay our $5, get our hand stamped, grab a red Solo cup and get hammered.
I never really developed a taste or tolerance, so after 3-4 beers, I was pretty much done. My friends, however, would keep going until their eyes glazed over, their speech slurred and one of them inevitably sprinting outside to hurl a combination of beer and pizza, splatting onto the sidewalk. They’d sit down on the steps for a few minutes, gather what was left of their wits and start all over again.
At the end of the evening, we’d head back home, trying to maintain an appearance of sobriety and evade the watchful eye of the campus police. One night, I was heading to the dorm alone, when I walked past the Field and Sports building, which was a World War II-style Quonset hut. In my inebriated state, I thought it would be fun to see if I could scale the building, since it was a dome-shaped structure. I looked around to see if anyone was watching, then clambered up the side, quickly reaching the top….only to find about 10 other half-drunk students that already had the same idea. I slid back down the side and went home.
The big drinking spot near campus was called “The Chug”, and every weekend night it was packed. It wasn’t a fancy place, to put it mildly. It was a lower-level entrance from a two-story strip mall, so it felt like walking into someone’s basement. When you walked in, there were a couple of pool tables, a long bar and a cheap, sticky tile floor that we tried to convince ourselves was beer.
The bouncers at the Chug’s door were big and menacing, but people still tried to get in with fake ID’s. I’m sure some were successful, but I heard plenty of stories about students getting busted by campus or local police for attempting to use them….and having to spend the night at the “High Street Hotel” (or, better known as the Delaware County Jail).
When my brother Jim came to town, he convinced me to go to the Chug with him. Even though I wasn’t 21, Jim said it wouldn’t be a problem, because he had two valid ID’s. One was his Indiana drivers’ license, and the other was his Army ID card. The plan was that he’d use the Army ID to get in. I’d wait a few minutes, then come in with the drivers’ license. I even memorized the details to make a convincing cover story.
Jim went in, and I waited down the street for 10 minutes. I took a deep breath, strode into The Chug, and when I was stopped by the bouncer for my ID, I pulled my walled out of my back pocket, whipped out my brothers’ drivers’ license and handed it to him. He looked at the license…and looked at me. He looked back at the license…and back at me. He got off his barstool, towered over me, and said, “This isn’t your license.”
I looked him in the eye, trying to show a semblance of confidence and indignation, and said, “Yes it is,” while inside, I was feeling my cover story crumble like a crushed sleeve of saltines. He said, “No it’s not….it’s that guy over there,” pointing directly at my brother. Panicking, I quickly tried to make my cover story work, but realized that my brother and I didn’t look like each other at all. Without thinking, I said, “Of course it looks similar….that’s my brother Jim”.
All of a sudden, lights flashed in my head that BOTH licenses had the same name on them….and it wasn’t mine. In a last-ditch, Hail Mary effort, I blurted out….”I’m James Alan, and my brother is James Edward”. I swallowed hard, and waited for the bouncer to grab me by the collar and give me the heave-ho.
He didn’t. The story worked, and he waved me inside. After that, I tried to look casual, but I felt like I was being watched the whole night.
After college, the social pressure to drink eased up, and I settled into my current pattern, which is to have a beer or glass of wine a couple times a year, which suits me fine. But I do, however, look back on college days fondly, and when I drive through the Ball State Campus, I take a turn down Martin Street to see if the Chug is still there, which it is.
I feel as though no matter what else changes, the Chug will always be there. When the sun eventually burns out, mountains tumble to the sea and cockroaches rule the Earth, the Chug will still be checking IDs and serving cheap pitchers of beer, accompanied by the sound of shoes squeaking on the sticky floor.
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