Monday, March 7, 2011

The Night Riders

One night in my sophomore year, GeorgeB (best college friend)) and I were playing poker at a boarding house down on Erie Street. One of the other players went downstairs to stretch his legs and reported back that there was a train stopped outside in the middle of town - two blocks away.

Someone suggested we jump the train. In the scramble to get our shoes on, George and I got separated from the other two. We jumped into an open boxcar just as the train began to move and before long were in the countryside with the train picking up speed. It was winter and the moon was out. The countryside looked just the way you expect from "over the river and thru the woods....".

Our first thoughts were how beautiful. Great adventure this riding the rails stuff. Then, "I wonder if the other guys made it on board? I wonder where we are going? How are we going to get off this thing? etc." After awhile we felt the train slowing down. As the train entered the rail yard, we jumped off. The snow was friendly; we landed outside the yard in Jackson. Then the question we should have asked long ago occurred - "How are we going to get back to Albion?" I was due to work Baldwin Hall breakfast crew at 6 am and it was now two. Walking twenty miles in four hours wasn't going to work.

We decided to find the state highway and hitch it back to Albion. After a half hour walk we were at the highway. Cars went by and time went by. I began to wonder if we had made the right choice. Then a car pulled over - a patrol car! A state trooper stepped out while his partner was busy on the radio. "What are you guys doing out here?" Gulp! Forunately George was a quick study. I explained we were frat pledges from Albion and had been dumped in the country and were trying to make our way back to college. After the ID checks and a series of questions, the officer said - "You guys know you'r standing a quarter of a mile outside the walls of the State Prison - don't you?" No wonder cars weren't stopping.

The police packed us into the back seat of the patrol car and off we went, George and me ad-libbing all the way to Albion. As I looked around, I noticed there were no inside door handles; we were definetly caged! The story we were spinning better work or I would be more than late for morning breakfast crew.

When we entered Albion, they asked us where we wanted to be dropped. Certainly not on campus. George said we were Delt pledges and they could drop us at the Delta Tau Delta house - the most remote house from campus. They did; we thanked them and they watched as we ran up the steps. Fortunately, the door was unlocked. We ducked into the parlor and watched to see if the police would leave. Whew - they did and we were free at last.

I walked over to Baldwin and crashed on one of the sofas with an hour to rest before it was time to make breakfast for the Seaton Hall crowd.

One Too Many or One-to-Many

After my freshman year, I moved to the Quate's (Ms. Quate was a manager in the college food service) up at 5 Points. They had a hugh old house with a big barn and 10 acres they still farmed. In my senior year, my friend GeorgeB showed up one fall everning with a pint of vodka and some 7-up. "Want a drink?" I was raised in the Methodist tradition and did not imbibe. But I was now 21, so why not try. We got a couple of milk shake size paper cups, climbed up to the hay loft, opened the loft door, and sat down to mix our brew. My first reaction was: vodka sure did screw up the taste of good 7-up.

We sat with our legs dangling out the open door, drinking this stuff, and talking about our future after college. George was the best piano player I had ever heard and music was in his blood. I was applying to grad schools in Chicago and Pittsbugh. After a little while, we were talking pure non-sense. "Want another?" asks George. "Sure, why not." About half way through the second cup, I began feel not so good. Maybe this is not such a good idea. We dragged outselves over to the ladder and stumbled down.

The first few steps out of the barn didn't go in the direction I was looking. After a few more steps in all directions, I took hold of George and he took hold of me. We began our journey along (or around) the sidewalks north of town, headed toward the McGraw-Edison plant. At the plant we turned around - and around - and around until we were headed back toward the barn. Time passed; I have no idea how much. As we got closer to the barn, I began to feel that where I pointed my foot was, more or less, where it landed. Finally we arrived and hit the sack, sleeping it off in the bottom of the barn. I decided I did not need that experience again in college or forever.

Several years later in grad school, a professor asked a friend and me to attend bar at a welcome dinner for a group of professors attending a summer conference at CMU. Neither of us knew anything about mixing drinks. "No problem", says the professor; he would mix martinis and manhattans in advance. We just had to pour upon request. He also planned to offer guests his "Moscow Mule" and would show us how to make the mule. This is one of the southern comfort mixes you drink on hot, sticky Pittsburgh days - like lemonade. The mule was vodka and lime juice with ginger beer. Sure enough, the professor greeted his guests and "sold" at least half of them on trying the mule. They were tasty and the first one goes down smoothly. Many of the guests choose a second round. That's when the mule begins to kick. We didn't have to worry about  attendees leaving the after dinner speech early! I decided that whenever I drink, my limit is one. If it's a new drink, it's a small one. No more one too manys for me.

When I moved to California to teach, I met a long time member of the finance faculty who taught investing. We were takling at a dinner party and he mentioned he invested in the preferred stock of Napa county wineries. I asked how they were performing? He said, just as he expected. The dividends were steady and tasted good. Each year after grape harvest and crushing, these wineries paid their dividends in that season's vintage. Most of these were boutique wines, found only by dinning at expensive, out of the way restaurants in San Franciso. Now that's my kind of investment. I adopted wine as my beverage of choice and left the hard stuff forever.

Today I enjoy California wines, usually with meals, several times a week. If I could speak French or Italian, I'd say I'm living in Alsace or Tuscony - without the travel cost. There are even vineyards planted on hills in some parts of Danville where I live. Ocassionally, when playing bridge at one friend's house, he opens one or two bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon from Stag's Leap Winery where he is part owner. You ask me why I live in California? Sometimes I wonder, but not for long.