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Making lemonade out of lemons

When you are young, and told you can’t have something, that something develops more value to you then it would have otherwise. Fifty years ago, Coors beer was not available in South Dakota. With Congress imposing a 55-mph speed limit even on the interstate, there was less reason to take I-90 to Wyoming. Teenagers in Rapid City would just take Highway 16 west to Newcastle, combining the beer run with a scenic drive through the Black Hills.

Unless you had a convincing fake ID, you needed one kid in the car who looked 21, could maybe grow a thick beard, or was already starting to lose his hair. We had two guys with beards, Steve, and Barry. Steve had been shaving since he was 13, and Barry was already losing his hair.

These beer runs often produced mini-dramas, windows into the human condition. The first time we took the trip, Steve was driving. There was a kid on that trip, and I forget his name, but halfway to Wyoming he remembers some important appointment he will miss, so asks that we take him back. The other five people in that car did not want to turn around for this kid. Nobody liked this kid, which is probably why I can’t remember his name, not sure why he was allowed to even tag along. Maybe he had a nice chunk of change to throw into the beer fund. Whatever the case, Barry insisted we go on because majority rules, and I insisted we turn around, because sometimes doing the right thing entails not getting to have the things we planned for.

That left three people Barry tried to convince to keep going, and me trying to convince to turn around. In the end, the only person we needed to convince was Steve, because he was driving.

A war ensued inside Steve that would rage his entire life. He was a smart kid, was developing a sense of justice and fairness, but there was a Republican monkey on his back, always gnawing on his conscience every time situations like this tempted a magnanimous response.

At some point, Steve shook that monkey off his back, and he turned the car around. Barry was livid. Barry was also a smart guy, eventually he’d get an engineering degree from the School of Mines, but whenever life tossed lemons Barry’s way, he was not interested in making lemonade. He wanted to smash those lemons. The better angels of Barry’s nature cut and ran when he needed them most.

I won’t use the name of the kid on this next trip, but will just call him Cowboy. He had just gotten out of rehab, and he was a true believer at the moment, and determined to stop Barry from drinking as well. You are an alcoholic, Barry, you need to just admit it before you can get help, Cowboy said. Probably not a good idea bringing Cowboy along on this beer run, but he had been a cool guy before rehab. Barry wasn’t an alcoholic and so they argued mile after mile about it.

Cowboy was still drinking, but it was Country Time lemonade. In fact, he’d brought a whole case, and he kept insisting we all drink a can, so we did, but Cowboy was an actual alcoholic. You can take the alcohol away from an alcoholic, but the dry drunk behaviors will persist. I looked over and saw a whole pile of empty lemonade cans at Cowboy’s feet. He must have guzzled eight cans between Rapid and Jewel Cave. Before we reached the Wyoming border, we had to pull over so Cowboy could vomit into the ditch. All those winding Black Hills roads, all that lemonade, poor kid stayed green around the gills for hours.

It’s too bad people don’t take these beer runs anymore. Every trip provided an important life lesson, revealed people’s weaknesses, and strengths. Nowadays kids just order Door Dash, play video games, toke weed. I’m just an old fart, with no place in that room, so I don’t really know what lemons they juggle.

(Contact James Giago Davies at


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