Good Times in 1968, Hippies, coke bottles and the long arm of the law

Bob Senitram

You can Ask Bob a question! He has a degree in…science!

This column is inspired by Irving Bronsky who in 2001 submitted a story about what it was like being a kid in the 1930’s. It wasn’t exactly a “strange story”, however, I figured, here’s this 80-something year old guy who wants a piece of his life to live on (The Stool Pigeon and the Indian Lake 1933). This is for you Irving…

Coke Bottles and Hippies

It was the summer of 1960-something when me and my brother decided to collect coke bottles.

Back then you could get 5 cents for each coke bottle you took to the store. My older brother, suggested we take our little red wagon door to door and tell folks we’re collecting coke bottles, they give ’em to us and we take ’em to the store to collect. Since stay-at-home-moms was the norm back then, the lady of the house that usually answered.

Women seemed more generous than men. So it became a profitable venture; be that as it may, one this day we came to a house where a man answered the door. He must have worked odd hours or something.

“Why the hell should I give you my coke bottles? I paid good money for those” he half yelled at us. “Now get out of here!” he yelled as he slammed the door.

I was little shook up. Most men say no, but this was a bit much. I wanted to stop, but my brother insisted we continue on…so we did.

We ended up with a pretty good run and made a whopping $2.50, which is like $25 in today’s economy. That’s when my brother had an idea.

“We should go to the store and buy a big bag of chips and soda and sell them to the hippies at the park. If we charge 20 cents for a handful, and we get 10 handfuls per bag, at a $1 per bag, we’d more than double our money. Then we could fill small cups of soda with ice and charge 10 cents. With about 10 small cups, with ice per quart, we’d make a dollar for a soda that cost 50 cents. He calculated we’d spend about $1.50 and make about $3.00.”

“Where do we get the bowls and cups?” I asked.

“That’s the perfect part!” he replied. “We’ll get ’em from “Chicken Delight” (a restaurant that went out of business). Behind the back fence are boxes of unused food bowls and cups. You’re limber, just hop the fence and take what we need.”

“Isn’t that stealing?”

“Not really, they’re out of business. Who ever buys that store is just gonna throw all that stuff out because they have the chicken delight name on ’em.”

The cunning logic of a future lawyer had me convinced.

The next day, we got the containers courtesy of Chicken Delight, bought 1 bag of potato chips, one quart of soda, set up a cardboard box as our stand and went in business.

Our older brothers played football in that field on a regular basis, but we couldn’t… on account of the hippies. They took our field, it seemed only fair we take their money.


Side note: Our local playground, Mira Vista park, is about 5 miles from Height-Ashbury, the hippie capitol of the world. For some reason, it became a popular hangout. The grass field was filled with hippies “hanging out” (getting high).

I remember one hippie, buying a soda saying, “Chicken Delight! I remember that place, where’d you get these?”

“They just had them stored out…” I started.

“We bought ’em at a discount since they went out of business.” my brother interrupted. He knew I had no filter.

At the end of the day, my brother had another idea…

“We should sell sandwiches too.”

“But bread and baloney would cost more.”

“Not if we steal it. Then it would be 100% profit.”

He explained the plan, “I’ll buy the chips and soda and you walk into the store pick up a packet of baloney and bread and walk out the door. We’ll sell the sandwiches for as cheap as we want, because it’ll be 100% profit!”

“It’ll be obvious that I have a loaf of bread under my shirt.”

“No, no, no, you don’t hide it. You just pick it up and walk out, it’ll look like you’re exchanging it or something. No hiding, if it looks obvious that your not trying to hide it, it won’t look suspicious.

“I don’t want to get in trouble for stealing…”

“You won’t get in trouble if you don’t get caught.”

“Oh, that makes sense.” I concluded.

The plan was carried out the next day. I did the stealing and didn’t get caught. Sales were great because pot smokers get the munchies and we were cheap. We were now sitting on a $10 financial empire.

So the next day, we went to the store where my brother would buy chips and soda, and I would take advantage of the 5 finger discount of the day.

I nervously grab a loaf of bread, go to the lunchmeat meat isle and pick up a pack of bologna.

Casually, I walk toward the check-out area and pretend like I’m looking for my mom, I wander around the check-out area; however, I can’t find her. Then I head for the door as if she might have left without me. Some pretty good acting if I say so myself.

I was home-free at this point. The automatic door opens as I step on the black mat, just as I’m about to make my get-a-way, a big hand lands on my shoulder.

Its security.

“You didn’t pay for that son.”

“I…I…I’m looking for my mom.’ I was 8 years old, but only about 3 feet tall so I looked like a 6 year old, so according to our pre-determined alibi, I’m lost and looking for mom; however, the guard didn’t buy it.

“Come with me.” He took my hand and lead me to a managers office and told me to take a seat.

“Wait here while I get the manager”

The Long Arm Of The Law

I was getting more nervous by the minute, in addition, I started sweating and my stomach started with the butterflies. I was certain I was going straight to prison. My mind started to wonder if they had a special prison for kids, and if I would still be in prison when school starts. And does that prison have a school? If not, maybe it would be a little like a vacation. Maybe not so bad.

The manager walked in and sat down at the desk facing me. He looked me right in the eye, sizing me up to see if I would try to lie my way out of this. I had the perfect back-story, but now I’m questioning the alibi, coupled with the fact that I’m a terrible liar. He’ll see right through me with that piercing stare.

“You know what you did was stealing…I’m supposed call the police when someone gets caught stealing. But we’ll wait before we do that. Security said your were looking for your mom. No one’s reported a missing kid. You can just wait here and we’ll wait and see.” And at that, he left.

I knew it…I was going to prison. I have no idea how much time passed, but it seemed like I was there for hours. Finally, the manager returned.

Tears welled up in my eyes. “Please don’t send me to prison, I still wet the bed!” I have no idea where that came from, I stopped wetting the bed when I was four; however, after I said that, the manager cracked a half grin.

“You knew you were stealing didn’t you?” he asked. “I mean, you didn’t try to hide the stuff.”

“I don’t know, I was scared, I never did this before…” I confessed.

I couldn’t lie, he would know. But a partial truth might work, I’ll tell him I’m guilty and leave out the part about selling the stuff for the love of money.

I wiped the tears from my eyes and noticed something.

This was the man who yelled at us for collecting coke bottles. I wondered if he was just mean by nature, or if we caught him on a bad day when we were out collecting bottles. I gambled on the later.

For years my brother beat me at every board game we played. Checkers, poker, chess, he always won by finding an angle that I never thought of. All those years of failure came to a head, and for the first time, I saw the angle.

“My mother’s divorced and she doesn’t have a job, and, and, we’re hungry…I’m hungry right now.” My stomach growled right on Que. “I just wanted to make sandwiches! We tried collecting coke bottles to get the money, but we didn’t get enough. Everybody kept saying ‘no’…so, so, I had to steal.” I put my head down continued to cry. That mumbly-sounding cry that a 6 yr old would do.

I looked up and saw the manager also recognized me from the day before.

“OK, ok, its like this, Taking stuff and not paying for it, is stealing.” he continued, “I could call the police, but I’m not going to do that. If you promise…you promise, never to do this again.”

“I promise” I muttered, in a sigh of relief.

“I’m going to let you go, but I can’t let you take the things you stole.” He opened the office door.

“Thank you, thank you, I promise…never again!” I got up, head down, and slowly took the walk of shame toward the door…

“There’s one more thing.” he added.

“Yes sir?”

“Here’s a dollar…and no more stealing!” he said as he handed me the money.

I took the dollar, and met my brother outside. He said I was gone a long time and he was getting worried. Nonetheless, we proceeded to sell the legal goods to the hippies for a hefty profit.

Once we had our profits, my brother was excited that I got an extra dollar out of the whole ordeal and congratulated me on my cunning wit, but I was shaken by the whole ordeal.

I told him I didn’t want to do this any more. No more soda, chips and especially sandwiches. And at that, our short business came to an end.

And now your know.

Coming Next: The Truth About Global Warming.

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