Hurry Back!

When I was a freshman at Vanderbilt, 18 years old, I heard a rumor that there was a market down on Elliston Place that would sell beer to you, as long as you were cool about it, if you were under age. It was called the Hurry Back Market, and I was underage.

So one night, late, I walked down from my dorm room on West End to check it out. It was a narrow, compact place, crammed with snacks and soft drinks and, of course, several coolers of beer. The counterman was very tall and impossibly skinny and wore a wide brim cowboy hat. Later, I learned his name was Tex. He was so tall he had to bend over to see under the overhead cigarette displays when I came in.

I wandered in as though I’d been there many times before, but my studied nonchalance alerted Tex immediately to who I was and what I was doing there. To him, I’m sure I had “callow Vanderbilt student” written all over me. He followed me with his eyes from under the cigarette displays and the brim of his hat, probably with considerable amusement, as I sidled around the racks of food trying to decide what to do.

Finally, I strode resolutely to the coolers in the back. Then I walked back out and plopped a quart of Busch down on the counter in front of Tex. He looked at me for a moment and I looked back at him, trying not to blink, just as I used to do at the state line joints in Alabama. Tex said, “You got any ID, son?”

I was afraid that was coming, so I went to Plan B and pulled my ace in the hole out of my billfold. I dropped it on the counter, hoping Tex wouldn’t take the time to look at it, and continued to hold my now-wavering stare on him. What Plan B was was a flimsy piece of creased, well-thumbed paper issued to me at age 15 by the Lauderdale County Sheriff’s Department as a learner’s permit for driving a car. The deputy had filled it in by hand, so I had taken an ink eraser to it and changed one of the numbers on my birth year. According to Plan B, I was 23 years old.

Tex had seen it all before, I’m sure, but when he bent down close to the counter to see what the paper said, he whistled softly and looked up at me and said in a deep solemn voice, “Son, that is the  WORST forgery I have ever seen!”

Busted! So I smiled at Tex and pulled Plan B out from under his nose and started to return it to my billfold. But Tex interrupted and said, “Hold on, son. You got any money in there?” I said, “How much?” And he quoted me the price of a quart of Busch, with tax, and took my money. “See you next time,” he winked, and I left with what I had come for.

In the months that followed, Tex and I became pretty good friends. He always sold me beer, as long as there was no one else in the store, and we’d lean on the counter and talk about country music.

[This post is for my friend Bob Black, who in his student days at Vanderbilt lived right across the road from the Hurry Back, in an old brick apartment house that still stands. Bob grew up across the river from me in Sheffield, Alabama, and is one smart son-of-a-bitch. He’s another redneck boy like me, plucked from the small town South and reconstructed, with moderate success, by Vanderbilt. He wound up at Princeton.]