Back in 1996, I was stupid. I’m still kind of stupid at times, but I was generally, consistently stupid back then. I consider myself very lucky, though my luck as a younger man was often simply the fact that I didn’t die or get incarcerated for my stupidity.
Here’s a little story about some madcap hijinks and a caper or two from yours truly.
Sophomore year at the University of Houston had begun. It was my first year there, I had transferred in from the University of Texas. I was living on the 11th floor of the south tower at Moody Towers. Rick Burman was my roommate, and had just transferred from Wharton County Junior College. We met Larry Dean a few days into the semester, and Larry had just come to UH from Austin College up in Denton, Texas.
Many underage beers were had. Well, the beers were the proper age. The consumers of those beers were not.
Fast forward to some undetermined time in the semester. We had become friends with a few guys from a historically Jewish fraternity, Sigma Alpha Mu. These guys seemed cool enough, and they liked us enough to start trying to recruit us for their fraternity. The chapter at UH was about as “historically Jewish” as the bacon-wrapped shrimp appetizer at Pappasitos, so the fact that we were not members of the Tribe was completely irrelevant.
We were invited to a recruitment event at that venerable bastion of refinement and gentlemanly culture, the Hooters on 59 at Kirby in H-town. I remember a mountain of wings being brought to the table, and to the Sammies credit, there was no alcohol at the event. Alcohol was prohibited at recruitment events. So we drank soda, and to paraphrase Forrest Gump, “I must have had like 25 Three Mile Island wings, Jennay.”
Believing in following the letter of the Inter-Fraternity Council rules, the recruitment event was declared “over,” but, we were all invited to a non-Sammie sanctioned get-together that was happening about 20 miles north of where we were on I-45. The attendees of this non-Sammie function were (a) potential Sammie recruits and (b) Sammie actives. Right.
For those of you who are familiar with Houston, what do you think of when you think “20 miles north of downtown on Interstate 45?”
If you answered “Gallery Furniture” or “Bi-Rite Furniture,” or “George Bush Intercontinental Airport,” you get partial credit, but you didn’t really think about the framework of the question.
If, however, you answered “strip clubs,” then you, my friend, are a true H-town baller.
So, northward bound, this loosely affiliated band of scholars drove numerous vehicles (as is the Houston way) to go look at nekkid ladies.
Now, back in 1996 in Houston, there were two kinds of gentleman’s clubs: 18 and up clubs, and 21 and up clubs.
A 21 and up club (1) sells liquor and beer, and (2) the dancers are topless.
An 18 and up club (1) doesn’t sell booze, but lets you bring your own, and (2) has dancers who wear neither tops nor bottoms. Yeah.
We loaded up an igloo cooler full of shitty beer, bought a few handles of shitty whiskey, and went to work. A little pre-gaming on the way, a little more in the traditional Houston caliche parking lot behind the club, and we were well on our way toward being ten feet tall and bulletproof.
Being a responsible 20 year old, I cut myself off when by BAC was around 2x the legal limit, aka 5 minutes before we even set foot in the club. As I told the fellas, I still had to drive all the way back to UH when the shenanigans were over, so I can’t get too knackered. “Too” is the operative word there. I told you, I was stupid. What, you didn’t believe me?
Enter: Rick from Connecticut. Not Rick Burman, my roommate. Rick from Connecticut was a Sammie.
“Hey man, if you’re slowing down because you have to drive later, I can drive your truck home for you. I’ve been on cold meds for the last few days and I haven’t had anything to drink all night.”
Just then, a light from Heaven shone down upon Rick from Connecticut, for he had empowered me to do what I had always wanted to do, since I was a little boy: get extremely drunk at a Northside strip club.
ROUND 2. FIGHT!
The drinking and ogling resumed in full force, until they threw on the ugly lights. Fortunately, my beer goggles were tinted, so I wasn’t completely blinded.
Rick from Connecticut and I gathered our wits (I didn’t bring any with me, so it was really just him on the wit-gathering) and hopped in my truck to head home to UH.
About 75% of the way home, we hear a loud POP. Rick from Connecticut asked, “What was that?”
“I don’t know, probably just ran over some junk in the road,” I said.
We kept driving.
The engine started sputtering and seizing. “Hey man, I think there’s something wrong with your truck,” Rick from Connecticut coolly alerted me.
I looked over at the gauges. “Oh shit, man, the engine is overheating!”
“What do I do?”
“Pull over man! Pull over!”
Now, in most of Houston, pulling over isn’t a big deal. There are wide shoulders, construction sites, huge parking lots, “feeder” roads (those are frontage roads to the rest of you), Whataburgers and Sonics…there’s no shortage of space in Houston to assess the damage to your truck.
Except for where we were: the Pierce Elevated.
Interesting tidbit about Rick from Connecticut: he had never driven a car before that night. He failed to tell me that in the lead-up to our adventure.
The Pierce Elevated is a stretch of Interstate 45 that runs through downtown Houston. There are several problems with this situation.
Problem 1: The Pierce Elevated is not at ground level, hence the clever name.
Problem 2: It’s 2:30 am.
Problem 3: The area around the now disabled vehicle is what Larry Dean might refer to as “sketch-tastic.”
So, we reach for our cell phones and call for help! The end.
Oh wait, this is 1996 – we don’t have fucking cell phones yet. And no cell phones means we don’t have clever abbreviations for situations like this yet, so I can’t even abbreviate what I was thinking. I have to write it out: fuck my life.
Rick from Connecticut and I find a place that we can scale down the side of the Pierce Elevated, and we spot a pay phone outside of a Mobil station at the corner of Pierce and Dowling Streets.
While we’re outside, trying to call AAA to get a tow truck to come get my truck, an Indian man with a thick accent comes out of the Mobil.
“You guys should not be out here.”
“Yeah man, we’re just calling a tow truck, sorry.”
“No,” the man says, “I don’t care that you’re here, I mean you shouldn’t be out here at this time of night. It’s not safe. Come inside here and call from my store.”
When a gas station attendant at 3 am tells you it’s not safe here, believe him. And when he offers you refuge, take it.
We go inside and call AAA, and begin the waiting game. The doors are locked to the outside world. We have access to coffee, a bathroom, and a warm, safe place to exist until we’re rescued. Can’t ask for much more.
About then, my stomach, a.k.a. the cauldron of Three Mile Island wings, Miller Lite and plastic bottle whisky, started bubbling. Maybe it was the ninja moves I’d put on to get down from an elevated freeway. Maybe it was alcohol poisoning. I’m not into “labels,” okay? And I really don’t understand why they don’t put warning labels on Miller Lite. You know, something simple to alert unsuspecting underage drinkers you that the yellow fizzy stuff should not be combined with greasy, spicy food and scaling works of civil engineering. I mean, how was I supposed to know that?
Friends, I want to take this moment to warn you about the intense pain of drunk vomiting Three Mile Island wings. I love spicy food. But spicy food mixed with stomach acid coming out of your nose is, as the Spanish say, “no bueno.”
The Indian man came to check on me. “Are you okay my friend?”
“Yeah, I’m good, just a little sick,” a muttered as my salivary glands flooded in an attempt to protect me from my predicament.
Having vomited literally every ounce of food and liquid in my body, I regained my composure and made my way to the Indian man’s cashier cage.
“Man, do you have a mop and some towels? I want to clean that mess I just made in your bathroom.”
“It’s no problem, my friend, I will clean it up in a little bit. You should just drink some water,” he said.
I bought a bottle of water and sat down. The water burned my raw throat. I dozed off.
Hours passed. The sun rose. AAA arrived around 6 am.
I didn’t know how to thank the Indian man, but I thanked him nonetheless. He was kind beyond what was necessary for the situation. I promised him that someday I would repay him, though I didn’t know how. He insisted it was no problem at all.
I went back to my dorm, and life has gone on.
It strikes me, in retrospect, that a person who looks different than me, worships differently than me, and talks differently than me, took me in when I was in need. He didn’t ask why I was in need. He didn’t care that I was in need because I was stupid. He didn’t expect repayment. I “redecorated” his bathroom in a lovely orange, acidic hue, and he didn’t even let me clean it up. He gave me refuge and rest because I needed it.
I can’t repay him, but I’ll ask all of you to help me pay his kindness forward. Next time you have the opportunity to help someone, do it. Don’t stop and wonder why they are in this predicament. Don’t question what they are going to do with the money. They might be an idiotic 20-year-old college student, a homeless heroin addict, or a refugee. Don’t let it be a burden. Smile and take care of them as best you can, simply because they need help.
Oh, and for the sake of closure: I didn’t join Sigma Alpha Mu. I pledged Delta Upsilon. And Sigma Alpha Mu was kicked off campus about a year later.