The Drive Up
It was the early 60s and we all worked at the Ford Assembly Plant in St Paul, MN. There were usually two car loads of us, maybe eight to ten guys. Once a year on opening day of the walleye fishing season in Minnesota we would arrange to get off work and head, as they say in Minnesota, "up north". Most of us worked 58 hours a week and if money wasn't a problem, time off was.
We worked ten hour days and usually another eight every Saturday. It was pressure work because the place we worked built 52 automobiles an hour; 46 passenger cars and six pick ups. That was hour after hour - every hour. The assembly line only stopped when there was a major, and I mean major, problem. You came to work in the early morning usually around 6:00 and the buttons were pushed and the assembly line would start and you knew that for the next 10 hours 52 vehicles an hour were going to come off the end of the line. Some might be missing doors or gas tanks or some other part but they were going to come off the line, then to be finished by repair people in the "hole". Every day was a challenge and every day was different than the day before it. Hectic days, sweaty days (there was no air conditioning in the plant). Lots of yelling at one another and lots of moments of panic and in a strange way lots of satisfaction.
By the time the day came to leave the Twin Cities and begin our drive up to Lake Tamarack, Minnesota for the annual fishing trip, we would pretty much all be in a state of wild anticipation. Both for the opener, which was always fun, but also because we knew that the drive up was undoubtedly the most fun of the three days. We were mostly in our early to mid 30's, we had money in our pockets, we had no wives along, we all knew and liked each other and it was time to make our ceremonial drive by the plant and give it the finger.
Our first stop would usually be a place called the Flying Saucer, just on the north edge of Minneapolis. It was near the Munitions Plant and had a shift that got off work in the early morning hours, just when we would be leaving town. It was downstairs and would have a band playing and lots of smoke and noise. On the steps leading down to the place you might well find a couple in a deep embrace and her telling him that he couldn't come over yet because her husband hadn't gone to work. Down we would go and the smoke and music would get louder and louder. We'd find a place for all of us to sit and have our first round of drinks. Remember, this was in the early 60's and we didn't have enough sense to worry about driving while drinking, and in those days we all drank. No designated driver.
One of our guys, Loren Hansen would usually end up dancing with somebody before long and the show had started. Loren thought he was a lover, still does. He's short and fat and looks like Tom Bosley but still hed be the first one out on the floor whispering in someone's ear at 8:00 in the morning. He would dance "slow dancing" where according to Loren, the only thing you moved was your bowels. That early in the day it wouldn't take long for us to tire of the place so we'd load them up and head for our next stop, a place similar to this one called the Launching Pad.
By now a few who couldn't hold their liquor would already be starting to talk a little stupid and none of us could wait to get a little further down the road and out of the city and into the next bar. Round after round. Even though we vowed every year to not talk about the plant, eventually it would start, shop talk. Who had had something funny or disastrous happen to them at work, who had screwed up and who had lucked out; what member of management should be tarred and feathered. I was a "line feed" foreman and responsible for about 3,000 different parts and one day I ran out of front seats.... for all vehicles and in the true tradition of our assembly line, cars kept coming off the end of the line anyway, but without seats. This resulted in people driving the cars off the line sitting on the floor (it was routine that all cars be driven off the line to "test rolls"). Naturally, what I had to listen to as soon as some of them started getting full was "When did we hire all those midgets that were driving cars off the line?" But that would only last for a little while and we would slowly work our way into competitive bar room games, usually pinball machines or those shooting games where you put in your money and see how many ducks you can get before they leave the screen.
Back in the car and now we would be leaving Minneapolis proper and start hitting the small towns. Bar rooms and pool halls. But they had to serve liquor and they had to have snacks and they had to have some sort of competitive games to play. Pool was the big one. Usually a four handed game of 8 ball would start as soon as we settled in and by now our stays would be longer and longer at each stop. Once in a while, as we got further and further into the evening hours, we would even have trouble locating everyone to load up and head out. Some would be in the toilet or in a booth talking to some stranger and occasionally even in the car already asleep. I always had the feeling that every bartender was suffering from mixed feelings about our bunch. Chances are they were glad we came because Lord knows we spent money, but with a bunch of guys all getting half drunk and talking freely to any stranger who might listen or God forbid to some strangers wife, and no doubt sounding like we were about to erupt in a fight amongst ourselves, because we always referred to one another as "ass hole" or "dick head", that they were always sort of happy when we decided to head on down the road and bless some new joint with our company. Looking back it seems a miracle that there never in all the years we made this journey, always with lots of booze and competition going on that there was never, not one time, any trouble within the group. I dont even recall a serious disagreement. Amazing.
We would slowly work our way to the little town of Tamarack. This would be our last bar before actually going out to Al's cabin, a nice place by the lake, and calling it a night. When we got to Tamarack everyone would be in grand shape. No one was sober but the capacity for drinking booze would be surprisingly undiminished (this being our first day out and everyone in their prime). Everyone knew that the trip up was just about over by now and the real drinking would begin in earnest. Some guys, full of beer or whatever they had been drinking, would switch to straight shots. I remember that I would start sipping on blackberry brandy about this time and on one occasion, one of the guys wanted to know what I was drinking. When I told him what it was he wanted one. He said he liked it. Started telling me about how good it was. Made him feel real nice and warm. A few hours later the blackberry was all over the linoleum at Al's place. The pukee said that it was still a "damn good thing to drink but was hell on the linoleum..."
When the day and evening festivities ended there would be bodies crapped-out all over the house. Remember there were 8-10 guys and beds for maybe 5-6. We all knew this was the case but we never in all the years we made this trip ever allowed for proper sleeping accommodations. A few would stay up and play, cribbage which I always called a girls game. I called it that because I didn't know how to play cribbage and still don't. I remember one night I somehow luckily ended up with the davenport to sleep on but there was a lamp shining directly in my face and two guys using the light from it to play cribbage by - so that the light shone directly in my eyes. This went on for hours, and for hours I bitched. All I really had to do was switch ends and put my head on the other end but it didn't seem at the time that I should have to do that. Finally the house would go quiet, except for the snoring, and in Northern Minnesota you truly have quiet.