The Bootlegger Gets a Job

The statute of limitations has expired for any crimes committed. The following story is mostly true. Some details have been left out. Others have been changed. I don’t remember the exact wording of conversations that took place 25 years ago. Names and nicknames have been changed to protect my own ass.

My first full time job was as a bootlegger. Ok, technically my first full time job was as a warehouse lackey, but I was “promoted” pretty quick.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, my dad had a pretty debilitating case of Ankylosing Spondylitis. He should have been over 6 feet tall, but due to spinal fusion and compression, he stood about 5’8”.  To say his back was fucked would be an understatement. He said to hell with it and retired from Firestone during the strike of 94/95.

Between his retirement pay and disability, we did OK, but things were pretty tight. I was never exactly an exemplary student, so I dropped out and got a job to help pay the bills.

I worked a few part time restaurant jobs and hated them. Then an opportunity fell in my lap. We’d had a new neighbor (let’s call him Jimmy) move in who owned a beer distributor. His company specialized in imported and microbrewery beers and shit like that. It was a small operation. Him, a full-time driver, and myself if I wanted the job.

 He needed someone to do the grunt work in the warehouse. And he was paying above minimum wage. In cash. 7.50 an hour, no taxes, in 1994/1995 when minimum wage was 4.25? For a 16 year old kid? Fuck yea. Dad had some reservations, but Jimmy was a charismatic guy who could talk people into things. I think the promise of keeping Dad stocked with new and interesting beers might have tipped the scales. I could be wrong.

I learned the ropes in no time. At the risk of tooting my own horn, I’ve got a brain that is wired perfectly for inventory management. Tracking what comes in, what goes out, where it is stored in between, who is buying what… Those are second nature to me.

As with so many things in life, it started small and snowballed. I went from “grunt” to basically running the warehouse in no time flat. Then things got interesting. Tony (not his real name), our driver, called off sick. Jimmy was in a panic. Tony was supposed to make the weekly run to our supplier that day. And the supplier didn’t like missed appointments.

Then inspiration struck. He looks at me and says, “you’re a good driver, right?” To which I replied that I was indeed a good driver. Apparently, that was enough to land me a temporary promotion. He wrote out detailed directions for me to a place in a city 3 hours away. With the instructions to “tell them Two Shoes sent you”.

Note: The nickname Two Shoes has been changed to protect my own ass. Let’s just say I ended up dealing with a lot of people with nicknames like that. And a lot of vowels in their last names. Yes, with 25ish years of hindsight and a lifetime of experience, this should have been a red flag. Back to the story:

Being a dumb punk kid, I didn’t think much of it. I was getting paid good money. I’d do almost anything Jimmy asked. It honestly never crossed my mind how illegal it was. I just wanted that cash.

Armed with the keys to the truck, some money to grab lunch with, my directions, and a phone card in case I needed to call Jimmy, I was on my way. I should mention at this point, we’re talking about a straight truck. Like something you might rent from U-Haul. Not a tractor trailer.  

When I got to where I was going, the door was locked. I rang the buzzer and waited a few minutes. Right as I was reaching to ring the buzzer again, the door opens maybe 6 inches.

“What?” came a very gruff voice from the other side of the door.

“Two shoes sent me. Tony is sick. So, he sent me to make this week’s pickup.”

At this point, the door swings open wide. Standing in the doorway is an absolute mountain of a man. And it takes a big dude for me to say that, being a big guy myself. He looks at the truck, looks at me, looks at the truck, looks at me, and shakes his head.

“He sent a fucking kid? Why didn’t he come himself?” He asked.

“Rule 1 of working for Jimmy: Do what your told and don’t ask jackass questions you don’t need the answer to.” I replied. “He doesn’t like jackass questions.”

The big guy (henceforth known as Bob) cracked a mile wide grin and gestured for me to come inside. “Well said, kid. What’s your name?” I told him. “Oh, so you’re the warehouse monkey Tony’s told me about. He said you were a kid, but I didn’t think he really meant it.” He points to a couple of pallets near the door. “That’s your stuff. Let’s get you loaded up.”

We chatted idly while we loaded the truck. Mostly him asking me questions. How old was I? Why wasn’t I in school? How’d I meet Jimmy? Stuff like that. You know, small talk. Bob was a nice guy. Probably not somebody I’d want to be on the bad side of. But he treated me like I was one of the guys once he got to know me.

Bob will be a regular feature in this series of stories.

After we get everything loaded into the truck, Bob shakes my hand and says “I’ll call Jimmy and let him know you’re headed back. It was good meeting you.” And I was on my way home.

I got back to the warehouse late in the afternoon. It was an uneventful trip home. I got the truck backed up to the dock on the 3rd try.  Jimmy was waiting for me when I walked through the door.

“Jackass questions? Jackass fucking questions?” I’ll give Jimmy this: he had one hell of a poker face. I couldn’t tell if he was legitimately pissed or just fucking with me.

“Well, it’s true isn’t it? You’re always telling Tony and me not to ask jackass questions.”

At which point Jimmy loses it. Laughing his ass off. “I’m yanking your chain. You did good today. Now let’s get the truck unloaded and see what you brought that is new.”

And that was pretty much the end of the day. But it isn’t the end of the story. There is a lot more to tell. I’m not sure how much I actually will tell. But I’ve got at least a couple more stories I can milk out of my time working for Jimmy.

Author: dave