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Free Beer

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By: Gary Rose

 

A Santa Ana wind blew through the San Fernando Valley that night, and I guess like a ton of other teenage boys across America, we just had a bit too much time on our hands. Boredom soon set in.

Volume 4 blared from the stereo speakers in Mitch’s room, as we lay on our backs throwing darts at his ceiling. This dangerous game of cat and mouse with gravity was soon replaced with an overwhelming and simultaneous feeling of the munchies. Four long hairs, with red eyes climbed into Steve’s 1970 Camaro Z-28, in search of food. As the key turned in the ignition, the 8-track tape player sprang to life playing Black Sabbath over the roar of the Chevy’s V8’s headers. It was late, but none of us wore a watch, so we headed north to Tommy Burger in Van Nuys, because as far we knew it was never closed. With the windows down, our hair flying, and the adrenalin of the warm summer night we made our way towards the land of triple chili cheese burgers, fries, and cokes – A true munchie nirvana.

The lights were bright as we waited in line to order. Three girls stood in the line next to us whispering and laughing, it was pretty apparent that they too had come to Tommy’s desperately in need of copious amounts of carbohydrates. By the look of their perfectly feathered hair and sprayed on jeans they would regret the 1500 calories they we about to consume in the morning.

Feeling like we were being watched, we grabbed our food and walked to the tables outside. Mitch tripped, catching himself and saving his airborne food, as he desperately tried to steal one last glance at the three “Betty’s” now at the counter. “Fuck – that girl has perfect tits!” Doug turned back to Mitch, “You have no chance.” Everyone laughed but Mitch, as we sat on the permanent concrete benches attached to the round permanent concrete tables. The tables were stained from years of french fry oil, ketchup mishaps, and burger explosions. The arid smell of hops and barley assaulted our nostrils as the warm summer wind traveled past the giant Anheuser-Busch factory looming in the distance. Yes, 1,700,0000 square feet of beer brewing, just off the 405 freeway, in the heart of Van Nuys, California.

I can’t remember who brought it up, or who’s idea it was, but as we sat there eating triple chili cheese burgers, the focus shifted from trying to keep the chili from dripping on your tee shirt, to the giant beer castle only a few blocks away. It lit up the night sky like the Starship Enterprise and seemed pretty accessible since it was just down the street. During the day, adults could enter a beautiful beer garden filled with exotic birds and drink as much beer as they liked from the numerous free flowing taps, dispensing various beers made by the world’s largest brewing company.

We had all agreed we had no shot at the girls, so this seemed like a pretty good consolation prize. We would embark on a quick excursion into the beer garden, in the middle of the night, to enjoy the exotic birds, and have a couple free beers. Simple enough, right? What could go wrong?

We finished our food, and with large cokes in hand, we set off on the three block walk towards the beer factory. I took off my glasses wiping them on my tee shirt and noticed a couple chili stains, frankly it was impossible to eat a triple chili cheese burger and not leave with a souvenir somewhere on your clothes.

As we approached the land of free beer, we realized it was a good call to leave the car back at Tommy’s because as we expected, all the parking lots were locked up tight as a drum. We quickly walked across the tremendous parking lot in the direction of the bird sanctuary. It was dark and bit spooky. We could hear bird’s squawking as we got closer to a fence, and without saying a word, our walk turned into a run. As we walked along the fourteen-foot-high chain-link fence, I’m not sure what we were thinking, maybe that there would just be an open gate, with some kind of welcome sign. We finally determined that we were going to need to find a spot where we could climb over, and upon getting to the top, swing over, grabbing a pole, and slide down it like a fireman; which made perfect sense at the time.

I’m not sure how, but it was decided, that I would go first, Doug would go second, and so on. So we ascended up the chain link fence, I flipped my leg over, reached out for the pole, grabbed it, and immediately began to slide knocking my glasses hard against the post. I tried my best to slow down but the rubber tread on my sneakers had worn thin from skateboarding leaving me no ability to put on the brakes. I could hear my glasses snapping as I landed a bit harder than I had anticipated.

As soon as I hit the ground, all hell broke loose, spot lights came on, and security guards came pouring out of the bushes. I was suddenly a foot from a security guard who had his flash light inches from my face. I bent over to pick up my glasses, managing to affix them back onto my nose, only to see Doug scrambling in the opposite direction up and over the fence in the direction of freedom.

So they got me! The security guards continued to bark at me, while leading me through a series of corridors. They made it painfully clear that I was being arrested for trespassing, and that the police were on their way. I asked them for just one beer, ya know, for putting in a good effort and all, but none of them thought it was funny, which was sad, because from the look and smell of those guys, they had already had their fair share of the product.

The police came and took me to the West Valley Police department. I could hear them, calling my dad and waking him out of a sound sleep. I asked one of the cops if my dad sounded mad, and if he was on his way. The cop laughed, saying that my dad was not sure if he was going to get me tonight or in the morning. I was now officially scared, but managed to hang tough holding back the tears. I sat handcuffed to a bench feeling like pond scum next to an unconscious, snoring hooker… The sounds of a real police station at night are not easily forgotten and reinforce everything you’ve been told about not wanting to end up in jail.

My dad eventually arrived, talking with the officers and signing some papers. The cops un-handcuffed me, and my dad and I walked, unceremoniously and silently, to his Cadillac Coupe deVille with the large bench seats. He didn’t say a word on the entire thirty minute drive home. He pulled that tank of a car into our driveway and turned off the engine. We sat silently for a beat and then he said, “I only have one question for you… Did you, or any of your moronic friends, stop for one second, and ever say maybe it’s a bad idea to break into the world’s largest beer factory in the middle of the night?”

I thought for a second, and all I could say was, “No.”

My dad then got out of the car and walked into the house. I sat there for a minute as the sky began to lighten and the birds began to chirp.

Interesting how life happens, because I actually learned something that night. From that point moving forward, even being the testosterone filled teenager that I was, I began to think things through, at least some of the time.

And as it turned out the Anheuser-Busch dropped the trespassing charges against me, so I guess what they says on their bottles is not always applicable “For all you do, this Buds for you…?”

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