Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Muncie Boyhood-The Great Pop Bottle Caper

“Hey Mike! Let’s go to a movie!” suggested my nephew, David.

“Sure,” I said. “How much money you got?”

“Maybe fifty cents. You?”

“A dollar.”

“We’re gonna need more than that,” David stated the obvious.

“Maybe we can cash in some pop bottles!” I suggested.

This is just an example of a conversation that I must have had with my best friend and nephew, David a hundred times when we were kids. As a boy in Muncie, there were only a few ways to get money. There was mom…not too reliable. There was dad…he was either asleep or at work. There was mowing yards…a good source in the summer.

And, there were the pop bottles.

All you had to do was collect them, get someone to transport you to the Wise Supermarket, and all the sudden you had money. Ten cents a bottle was the going rate when I was a kid.

Some folks actually got sustenance money by riding around on bicycles looking for discarded bottles. In those days, most sodas…Cokes, Pepsis, Dr. Peppers, Mt Dews…came in glass bottles. Most of those bottles were recycled…unlike today when most of the plastic bottles are either thrown in the trash or tossed out the window to collect in the weeds. Oh, to be sure, back in the day, people still tossed them out the window. I guess folks never change that much. However, the difference was that the glass bottles had value, so other people would come along and pick them up.

We did some of that, but mostly we just saved them up from various trips down the street to Cantrell’s Barber Shop. He had the coldest pop in town. It wasn’t unusual to open your bottle to find ice floating in the drink. Some of my fondest memories are of quick trips down the alley to the pop machines on a summer afternoon, or late night strolls down Hackley Street in the summer to get a Dew to sip on the front porch while watching the cars go by. After two or three weeks in the summer, we’d have three or four eight-bottle cartons ready for deposit, so I’d nag my mom until she’d drive me to the store to cash them in.

There was one summer when a “person that I know extremely well” was “up at the lakes” with his other cousins. “Up at the lakes” is what we called it. The actual place was a little house on a channel leading to a lake near Wolcottville, Indiana. This “person” would go up there for a week or so almost every summer, and this summer was no different. In this story, the “person” and his cousins shall remain unnamed because I’m not sure of what the statute of limitations are for their actions.  (Wink, wink.)

Anyway, this particular trip found several of the cousins all together at one small lake house. They were all boys…all teen boys…and they decided to camp out in tents in the yard. This yard was down the road and around the corner from a little general lake store called Bill & Casey’s Landing. It was one of those places where you’re not really sure if the front door is by the road or by the docks on the other side. They sold food and various boat/fishing supplies. You could get bologna and cheese out of one refrigerator and worms out of the next.

You could also cash in pop bottles there.

The thing was, it was a small little place. All of their storage was taken up with various goods for sale, so there was no room to store all of the bottles they took in through the deposit deal. As a result, they would stack them behind a little wall…outside…a practice that did not escape the notice of certain teenage boys.

A plot was hatched.

The cousins would wait until about midnight when everything was dark and quiet, then they would walk down to the little store and swipe all those pop bottles, and subsequently cash them in all over again the next day. Masterminds at work.

Night came. It got late. It got dark. The boys made their way to Bill & Casey’s. While one kept a nervous watch due to his reluctance to take part actively, the others snuck behind the store and reemerged with the empty bottles.

“What are we gonna do with all of ‘em?” asked one cousin. “We can’t take them home ‘cause our folks will want to know where we got ‘em.”

Another mastermind responded, “We’ll drop ‘em in the grass along the way, then we can get up in the morning and collect them just like we found them.”

“Good idea!”

As the boys made their way back to the little lake cabin, they began to drop a bottle or two every few feet in the grass and weeds. Brilliant! No one would know the better. Soon, all the bottles were safely stashed along the way, and the boys were back snug in their tents.

Excitement turned to slumber, and the night soon became morning. Eager to go “find” their treasure, the boys were quick to get up, and while trying to act nonchalant they made their way up the road. If their parents were looking, the very fact that they were all up and walking down the road so early would have made them wonder what was going on, no matter how nonchalant they were about it. Even so, the idea was to just act cool and sort of stumble upon the bottles. Then, collect them up, take them home, and later take them back to Bill & Casey’s store to get the deposit.

“I know I put one right here!” said one cousin.

“Where’s it at?”

“I don’t know.”

They began to trot up the road….looking in the grass along the way…..

Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. Zilch. There are no bottles anywhere to be found. Sometime between midnight the night before when all those bottles were dropped and early the next morning, someone had come along and collected every one. The great pop bottle caper had failed, but to that “person that I know very well’s” great relief there were never any ramifications.

Whether a random stranger picked them up much earlier in the morning, or their parents had seen what they did but never spoke of it, or even perhaps some neighbor of the store turned in the caper but they weren’t nabbed, none of them ever knew. It was a great mystery to everyone involved, but soon their attention turned to more important things…

Teen girls in bikinis.

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