Shine On, Spring Break!

Back in 1980, when I was studying at Ball State University, the two main spring break destinations were Ft. Lauderdale and Daytona Beach. College students from across Indiana would flock to the sunshine state for sun and fun. However, my love for the outdoors combined with a keen sense of adventure overrode this natural instinct to migrate south that year. Instead, my friend Bruce and I made plans for a fishing trip to the back hills of Kentucky and Tennessee on Dale Hollow Lake. We had all of the ingredients for a successful trip — gas money, a boat, enough tackle to stock a retail store, and a lifetime of fishing experience. Notice I didn’t mention anything about money for food? We didn’t have any. The lack of money, we reasoned, would not be an obstacle. We would eat like kings for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, on the bounty we pulled from the lake. What fish wouldn’t want to be caught by two blindly ambitious eighteen-year-olds? The lake was full of fish and the world was at our feet.

The Ford LTD Station Wagon was jammed to the gills with fishing tackle and camping gear yet scarcely contained enough food to fill the glove compartment. No problem! We set off from Indianapolis to lose ourselves on the water and tame this giant reservoir. Nearing the lake we noticed that the countryside was dominated by simple homes. Seemingly forgotten for decades, these cabins lacking in paint had rusted tin roofs and cluttered front porches. They conjured up thoughts of the movie Deliverance. For two boys from the suburbs it was a culture shock. Surely, we naively thought, every cabin had a still on the property! The idea of buying a jar of moonshine to drink in the evening as we ate our catch became the topic of discussion. We stopped at a small country store that had a wood plank floor covering half the space and dirt covering the rest. We wondered out loud where we could buy some moonshine. How much could that stuff cost? Let’s ask the guy at the counter! Cutting our nonexistent food budget was the only way to afford some. So that’s just what we did, opting to purchase only a bag of potatoes, peanut butter, jelly, and bread. The potatoes, we reasoned, could be baked, fried, or diced and wrapped in foil with the fish adding diversity to our diet. Oil and foil we brought from home. Wisdom and his close friend common sense were left at home.

On day one we awoke before light. Full of energy and peanut butter we set out to conquer the lake while discussing the idea of stopping mid-day on some island for a shore lunch consisting of fried fish and potatoes. Arriving back at the campsite that night, our growling stomachs announced to the campground that we hadn’t eaten a shore lunch. Not one fish had been caught. Nothing too small, nothing that got away, not one hint of any aquatic dweller…turtles included. We fished from sun up to sun down without even a hint of a fish. The weather was great though, and as slumber came we were confident that day two would be different. Both days two and three ended in much the same way. By the end of the third day we were over the potatoes and peanut butter. It was time to find the fish. So we lit the lantern, opened the lake map and pored over it looking for a solution. Midway through day five we started discussing Plan B.

Finding someone selling moonshine had met with much the same fate. Every night we drove around in the dark looking for a cabin that had a moonshine vibe. (As if there would be some sort of rusted arrow pointing at the roof from the sky above with a sign that read…Get Your Corn Liquor Here!) The process went like this: Bruce would pull up to a shanty, let me out, I would walk up as if I were selling vacuums door to door and coyly ask if they knew of anyone selling sour mash. Sour was the look they gave me, and the conversation was over with the slam of the door. It didn’t bother me. I didn’t know them. In retrospect it was great training for both comedy (tough crowd…said like Rodney Dangerfield) and sales. In fact all sales people should have to do that as a rite of passage; if you actually talk your way into buying a jar then you are immediately promoted to director of sales!

As we drove further into this wild goose chase we continued talking about our empty stomachs. Small farms dotted the hillside. Farms have chickens we reasoned. I knew how to butcher chickens. My grandmother raised them and we butchered them every year. If we could find a chicken coop I’d sneak up, grab a chicken, wring its neck, throw it in the trunk and we would eat like kings… if kings stole chickens. As we rounded a curve we came across a big pig laying at the edge of the road — just a random pig…on a random gravel road…in the middle of nowhere. Bruce stopped the car and for a moment the two of us pondered the idea of butchering that pig. With our fillet knives. Thankfully that ridiculous idea was dismissed — as if stealing someone’s chicken wasn’t ridiculous.

Just beyond the pig we spied a chicken coop on the side of a hill between a barn and farmhouse. Our plan called for Bruce to stay in the car with the motor running and the lights off. I would sneak off to do the deed. Wearing denim from head to toe I was dressed for this covert operation…or a bluegrass festival. All was quiet as I crept up the hillside in the shadows. Slowly I snuck closer while listening for the sound of roosting hens. As I reached the door to the coop I was giddy with the thought that we were about to pull this off. The building was as weathered as the shanty homes. The door to the chicken house was on the side that faced away from the farmhouse. As I slowly opened it the hinges creaked. The silence was broken. Their dog started barking. Dog! Yes the dog! The chickens rustled and clucked in surprise. I quickly shut the door. My adrenalin spiked. The dog sounded big and he was on a mission to protect the farm. His bark was like a shot from a starter’s pistol. The race was on and I was off with a dog somewhere behind me. With the slope of the hill beneath my feet I ran like the wind so fast that I nearly ran out from under my legs. Unfortunately, I didn’t see the fence that separated the pasture from the barn area. Running full stride through the darkness I hit the fence at waist height and in an instant was flipped and hung up on the opposite side of the fence on the barbed wire that was strung across the top. Both of my arms were extended out in either direction from my body as if I were strung up on a cross. The sleeves of my denim jacket were trapped in the barbs. I struggled to break free. The dog was barking somewhere behind me. Suddenly Bruce was at my side helping to free me. He was laughing nervously having seen me run straight into the fence. How could I not see it, he wondered? It was plain to him, as he sat there comfortably in the car with nothing chasing him except the thought of flame-grilled chicken. Struggling to my feet I stumbled my way into the passenger side of the car and we sped off into the darkness with the lights still off, laughing. I never saw the dog. I never touched a chicken. We never ate meat the entire trip.

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One Response to “Shine On, Spring Break!”

  1. VA Roberts Says:

    Funny Stuff Greg.

    Ann Roberts Advanced Service Solutions 760-963-2733

    Date: Mon, 11 Mar 2013 01:15:03 +0000 To: scramblera@msn.com

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