The SEC Booze Mule
I remember the year. It was 1988, because I was a pledge. We know this because there is a lot of embarrassing photographic evidence dating squarely from that semester. And it was football season. Quite frankly, after that, the rest of the picture gets hazy. My date for the weekend was going well, just a feeling. Although I wasn’t sure where she was at the moment, I was sure that all was well. It was late afternoon, and I had a fine, if somewhat numb, attitude towards life.
Until the actives – the upperclassmen in the fraternity – caught site of me. They lured me upstairs, away from dates and parents and alumni, and the yelling started. I don’t know what exactly the three of them were barking at me about, and time hasn’t improved my memory. I was standing there, still in my Game Day clothes: gray suit, white shirt, rep tie. I wouldn’t say I looked good, that suit was so funky it stood up in the corner of my room when I took it off. The game was over and despite my fine feeling, I couldn’t really say who’d won.
The actives didn’t have me upstairs to talk about the quarterback’s performance, but mine. I was being accused of all sorts of awful things and that fine feeling was starting to fade. Still I was too overwhelmed to fully grasp the perimeters of the problem. It was like being in a foreign country and trying to pick out the five or eight phrases you’d memorized in the guide book. The rest was just gibberish. “Slackass” and “Bumbling drunk” were obvious, partly because they were being repeated so often. Then someone called me a “thief”, which I didn’t understand, then the word “pirate” was used. Now I was intrigued. Had I pirated something? I’d have to pay closer attention. Instinctively, my hand drifted to the right eye, groping for a patch.
A lot of charges were being laid out against me, and to be honest, it all sounded like stuff I’d do. I didn’t even know of what I was being accused, and I was already believing them.
Then an active I’ll call Billy asked for the change in my coat pocket. There was about $1.75, which was odd because normally I didn’t use that side pocket. Fragments of a half-drowned day started to come back. What was the legal definition of “piracy”?
THE PLEDGE CLASS HAD BEEN CALLED TO THE HOUSE at five that morning to clean up the House after a band party that ended at four. We got the house in order, set up the bar for the alumni and actives who would go to the house before the game. Then we all had a drink and had two hours to get home, change into our Game Day clothes, pick up our dates and be back at the house acting like young men on the make to impress the alums, ply them with enough booze to get them wistful about the ole college fraternity, and write us a check.
If I had laid down at that point, I’d have been out for ten hours, so I bought a 32 0z Mr. Pibb on the way home and had a Bloody Mary of almost the same size in the shower. Which seemed to me a perfectly good substitute for sleep. I filled a soft leather wine bottle, the kind with the red cord for slinging it around your shoulders, with scotch. And then ambled over to pick up my date at the freshman girl’s dorm. I was pretty sure we’d had a good time the night before. I had not, however, met her parents yet. For the life of me I can’t now remember who she was, or what she looked like. My guess is that she doesn’t want to remember any of this either.
At the house, a much more sober, and less angry Billy made the reasonable request that I smuggle in a flask of bourbon for his date’s little brother...I’m told I stowed the spare flask somewhere.
In those days the pledges had to get to the game an hour early to stake out the seating in the Greek section and bribe the concession people into selling us 20-30 pounds of ice. As I was leaving, Billy gave me ten dollars (that was money back then) and told me to get cokes for the girlfriend and the little brother.
It occurs to me now that I didn’t do that.
At least that’s what they were telling me later that night. The theory that was being advanced with such violence was that I had taken the money and the booze and was wandering the bowels of Bryant-Denny Stadium, drinking unauthorized bourbon and cokes. Someone asked, loudly, if I’d had a good time quaffing stolen booze with my date. It was a silly question; I’m sure I had.
Which is all to say, you have to be particular about the way you smuggle booze into the games. We were all searched on entry to the stadium. If you were sober, they generally eyeballed you and let you pass without patting the small of your back. About once a year, the equilibrium live and let live attitude was shattered by the Crimson White – the student paper harbored an unsettling hatred for the Greek system. They would run some op-ed on student drinking at the fraternities and lots of well-meaning people who contributed little to nothing to the University would get all “causey” and they’d demand a crack-down on student drinking. Then security would have to pretend they were actually trying to stop us at the gate. Fortunately, these were short lived, some actress out in some place more hip than Alabama would start a relief campaign for hungry in South America and then you were free to drink in Tuscaloosa. Still, during the crackdowns, you had to be clever.
The truth is that Columbian drug lords could learn a thing or two about how to run a smuggling operation from the average SEC undergrad. If somebody figures out how to make a bomb from Jack Daniel’s the TSA is gonna get really out classed.
THE BLADDER METHOD
The leather wine bottle is masterful way to hide booze in plain site, if you don’t have a real gut. The sort of thing you used to be able to buy in outdoors type stores. Sling the strap over your shoulders, under an undershirt and button down, on your stomach. Then dress normally, securing the soft bottle with the waist of your pants. Under a suit, the wide flat bottle looks like a beer gut. This is not the time to be vain, and you never know, the look might grow on you. Apparently, I liked the look so much that I got a real one of my own.
Once you get into the stadium, get to a bathroom, find a stall, reach up under your clothes and free the flask. Since this was about an hour before the game even started, the restrooms were about as clean as they would be – which isn’t saying much. It was still a good place to contract cholera. The trick is to pull the strap over your head before you untuck the shirt. Then just reach up under your clothes and pull the bottle free. It won’t do to be seen walking around with the bottle, but you wouldn’t get searched again, so stick it in the small of your back under your jacket.
If you don’t want to go to that trouble, my friend Joe had a variant on this technique that skips the trip to the bathroom altogether. He pointed the flexible nozzle downward towards his zipper. To make a drink he just unzipped, pulled out the nozzle and “pissed” in the cup. No one, not even his date, caged drink off him either.
Quality control is important here. Buy a soft bottle. Enthusiasts who tried to engineer their own systems generally regretted it. Avoid the gallon sized ziplock bag and a straw - it will open or break, leaving the mule with a 750 ml wet spot in his pants that smells like bourbon and cheap laundry detergent.
THE JOHNNY HUNGWELL METHOD
Of course, different schools had different cultures about that sort of thing. Despite the gentile debauchery the University allows in The Grove, Ole Miss is relatively strict about smuggling booze into the stadium. My brother’s method was to simply stick a flask down the front of suit pants (pleats help) on the theory that the crotch was to one place the fuzz wouldn’t grab you. Until they did. The cop was woman about his height and after she’d reached down and cupped his crotch in front of God and everybody my brother, I swear, turned his head and coughed.
THE SUPER COOL
This method is almost foolproof, but it doesn’t work with bulky bottles. I’ve never tried it myself on the grounds that I’m not super cool. This technique works well for those guys who will soon graduate with fair grades and go on to make a pot of money in sales. If you don’t have a crystal ball to tell who that is going to be, just look for the guys who seem to get laid without trying. This works for them, and on the same principle – they aren’t really trying.
You’ll need a wide, flat flask that is no taller that the height of your Game Day program. Just fold the program and fold it over the flask. DO NOT try to hide the program, just carry it casually in the hand without the ticket. Should you be patted down, you’ll be expected to lift your arms away.
I was never cool enough to try this. The smart bet is neither are you.
ALMOST TOO SHAMEFUL TO MENTION
Yet, it worked...once. For obvious reason the contributor of this method wishes to remain anonymous. And it really should be pointed out that the world wasn’t nearly so sensitive as it is these days. But this chapter isn’t about political correctness, its about smuggling, and act which, by its very nature, is illegal.
First you find a paraplegic. Barring that rent a wheelchair...yes a wheelchair. You can actually fit a pony keg under the seat in the frame. Do this late in the year because you’ll need a blanket.
If none of your drunken friends are confined to a wheelchair, someone will have to play the injured party. And this isn’t like the mascot on the field where you can switch out the fella in the costume every quarter. Who ever draws the sort straw has to stay in the chair. It won’t do to suddenly be “cured” by the desperate need to go to the head or eat a stadium dog.
The other problem is the tendency of the “injured” to play up the part as he drinks more. A simple spine injury will do; there is no need to be plagued by tics and twitching. Also, Turrets Syndrome will not, repeat not, confine you to a wheelchair. Although it does free you up to honest about your feeling regarding the refs dodgy call.
The main drawback (logistically, not ethically) is that there is no good way to keep the beer cold. Fortunately, you will be drinking very fast to offset the growing sense of shame that you faked being handicapped in order to drink quickly warming beer at a football game.
YOU MIGHT THINK, given the incredible amount of booze in the stadium on any given Saturday, that the games would be a violent place. They aren’t. It may because of the fabled Southern manners, but the British are renowned for their manners too and just look at Ricky Gervas, Piers Morgan and that guy from talent show whose black tee-shirts shrunk in the wash. The Brits can’t go to the game without football hooligans exploding all over their knickers. This may be because they call a game played primarily with a ball and the foot “football” instead of “soccer” like good Americans.
For the most part, other that some random smack talk, the crowds a SEC football games are pretty civil to each other. Which is not what you think for a concrete bowl full of randy, inebriated college students baking in the Southern sun. Perhaps it’s hard to get into a really damaging fight when neither of you can see straight, or that student section's are often separated from the rest of the stadium. Perhaps there is something more - that Game Day is a good thing.
As for my saga gone awry, later that night, the upperclassmen had made their point and I was released to go home, take a shower and pick up my date. She seemed delighted to see me and I learned that we’d spent a great deal of time hiding from the active – doing exactly what I was accused of – with her parents. “Mom just loved you!”
Times change, and as I understand it, the crack down on security is no passing fade these days. But times don’t change that much, as a recent recon from Tuscaloosa will attest.