The Klan, the ‘Vette, and the Sleazy Greasy Greek

25 02 2011

Last Saturday, I drove from Princeton up to Bloomington to meet with family for the annual tradition of eating some of the best pizza in the world at Mother Bear’s and celebrating my birthday.  On a whim, I decided not to take the route that includes quite a bit of dual lane highways and, instead, journeyed along the state highways I traveled back in the day.  This was the route I took between Princeton and Bloomington back in the late 1960s when I was at IU.  According to Mapquest, my selected route covered slightly more than 109 miles and was estimated to take just over two hours to traverse.  We all know that Mapquest can be wrong at times but in this case I discovered that the time and the distance estimated were not technically incorrect but on Saturday it took over forty years to cover the distance–the distance between that young, arrogant college freshman and the semi-wise old man of today.

Passing through wide spots in the road designated by road signs with names such as Bicknell, Bruceville, Bushrod, Beehunter, and Switz City, memories came flashing back to me of some experiences on those highways.  Once I realized that, I was no longer on a state highway but had unexpectedly turned onto memory lane.  I slowed down enough to be an annoyance to those who had to get someplace other than where they were at the time in a big hurry.  Fortunately, I am one of those people who adds at least 30 minutes to my anticipated driving time on any journey over 100 miles–at my age, pit stops are no longer a luxury but a necessity.  Anyways, I knew I could meander and still arrive on time in Bloomington.

The first specific memory that came back to me was of a warm Saturday morning in late fall and my first experience with hitch-hiking.  Of course, today, hitch-hiking is a major taboo and should only be considered as an act of last resort and desperation. However, back in the 60s, it was still an bit of a societal rite of passage honored by the males of the species.  I was going back to Princeton to attend the wedding of a friend–I think the rabbit died.  As I said, the weather was nice and I figured, “What the hell!  This is a great opportunity to hitch-hike for the first time.”  I was not oblivious to the possibility that something could go wrong when dealing with strangers on the highways so I took my guitar out of the case and filled it with a change of clothes and the end off of a cue stick.  I figured that unless I ran into someone with a gun I should be able to get to the cue stick and extricate myself from the car if necessary.

Everything went according to plan coming out of B-town and I got a couple of rides, one from an old man (probably he was younger than I am now) in a farm truck with bales of straw on the back and another one from a guy that all I remember about him was that he drove a two-tone Pontiac.  Those two rides got me to Switz City.  I was making great time; I had traveled 35 miles in just a little over 45 minutes.  However, I stood with my thumb out for nearly an hour before my next ride came along.  Two guys in an black early-1950s Chevy stopped.  I asked them how far they were going; it’s not like I was going to turn down the offer but that was what you were supposed to say when hitch-hiking.  They were going someplace just north of Vincennes.  That would put me only about 25 miles from Princeton.  I got in the backseat with my guitar case and we drove south.

We each lit cigarettes and started to talk.  They asked lots of questions about why I was hitch-hiking and where was I coming from.  When I told them I was a college student at IU, one of them said, “What do you think about them goddamned hippies protesting the war?”  I was not then nor am I now the shiniest marble in the bag but I knew I needed to choose my words very carefully.  See, I was an anti-war protester and a pseudo-hippy–I enjoyed taking showers and wearing clean clothes too much to be a real hippy.  My hair was down over my collar but not down to my shoulders.  If these guys would have picked me up six months later, I doubt the question would have been asked.  As I look back on it, this was one of the few times that I was thankful for the strict dress code/grooming code of my parochial high school.  In the fall of 1967, my hair had not grown out to the length it would eventually become.

I told my inquisitors that I really didn’t know too much about it, I had to study a lot and didn’t have time for that shit.  Apparently, they bought it because the next topic they brought up was the civil rights movement.  They both went into a tirade complete with racial slurs about how the white, Christian way of life was in danger in America.  They said that was why they were American Knights of the Imperial Klan…

Toto, I don’t think we are in Kansas anymore.  There I was, a former altar boy with a college roommate named Herbie Greenberg, sitting in the backseat of a car with two Klansman in the middle of nowhere.  They would never find my body.

My concerns may have been exaggerated but I was very thankful to get out of their car north of Vincennes.

The next memory that came back to me on my backroad odyssey to Monroe County was of a Sunday morning back in 1981 when my wife and I were dating.  We were coming back after a day of water skiing on Lake Monroe and a night of partying in Bloomington with my best friend and his girlfriend.  Linda and I were in her 1980 silver Corvette and driving that winding road was a real pleasure; that kind of road is what a sports car is designed for.  Without going into detail and getting myself in trouble, I will just say that I had a lot of problems keep my focus and the ‘Vette on the road. When it comes to that memory, outside of the sly grin on my face, no further explanation should be expected or needed.  To quote Forrest Gump: “That’s all I got to say about that.”

The final memory of State Highways 67/54/45 goes back to spring of 1968 when several of us were heading home for Spring Break.  Back then, going south for Spring Break was not as big of a deal as it is today (I figure a lot of it had to do with college kids not being able to get credit cards back then.  If you didn’t have the money, you stayed at home).  Five of us from Princeton loaded into a maroon and rust Buick Skylark owned by Louie Andriokas. Louis was and is somewhat of a character and a bit a an urban legend in Princeton.  Louie is the owner/operator of Greek’s Candy Store, a multi-generational family business that has been featured in numerous national magazine articles and television show features.

I haven’t talked to Louie in several years so he might have changed but back in college he was a schemer/scammer and loved to gamble.  You know the kind of guy; he always had an angle.  If there was a poker game going on in the dorm, you could bet Louie was right in the middle of it.   Because of his antics, the guys in the dorm tagged him with the nickname of The Sleazy Greasy Greek.  His reputation for being a hustler and gambler was reenforced as we motored south on that spring day back in ’68.

As Louie drove the twisty-turny 19 miles between Bloomington and Bloomfield he was talking at the three of us in the backseat as he had his left hand on the steering wheel and his right elbow on the top of the front seat so he could look at us in the backseat.

Louie has one of those unforgettable voices that is nasal and mostly monotone in nature.  He also speaks, even in close quarters, at a volume that elementary school teachers would describe as “our outside voices.”  His cadence would be most accurately compared to the rhythm produced when an LP record was played at 45rpm.  I don’t think Louie ever took a breath when he talked–he just kept talking till he finished what he had to say.

Anyways, picture us zooming down the road at least 10 miles over the speed limit with Louie spending more time looking towards the rear of the car than looking out the windshield as he spun some sort of a cock-and-bull story that, although we knew was probably not true, was still funny as hell just because of the way Louie talked.

Well, eventually my friend riding shotgun could not take it any longer and told Louie to slow down and keep his eyes on the road.

In classic Louie Andriokas form, he replied, “Goddamn, Horrall, I’ve driven this road drunk at night lots of times and it’s daylight;  besides I’m not drunk yet.”

“Shit, Louie, at least slow down then.”

“I can’t.  My brakes are shot.”

“Dammit, Louie!  That would have been nice to know before we left Bloomington.”

Without slowing down and with a bit of an incredulous tone, Louie said, “If I told you guys that, you wouldn’t have chipped in for gas when we filled up.”

Still today, I have no idea what any of us could have said that would have registered with Louie.

Two hours later after timing stoplights and lots of downshifting we came to a stop on an incline in Princeton.

I never rode with the Sleazy Greasy Greek again–

I love how memories that are deep in our subconscious can be brought back to the surface by seemingly insignificant stimulus from happenstance such as taking a different road on a whim.

Life was, is, and will be good because these kinds of experiences and memories are what life is all about.





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