JIM DAVIS: An Idea Too Good to Last
In the early 1950s, I was stationed with the U. S. Air Force in Rome.
Sounds exciting, doesn't it? Flying all over Europe, seeing the Coliseum every day, side trips to Capri and Venice -- how wonderful it all sounds. It would be even more wonderful if it were true.
You see, the Rome where I was stationed was in New York state, not far from Syracuse. And the only flight I took was from Rome to Long Island, where our Men's Chorus gave a concert.
Hold on -- it gets even better. My assignment at Griffiss Air Force Base was to be in charge of the Officers' Club. This was a mixed blessing, as you will see, but I'm not complaining. At least nobody was trying to kill me.
No, wait. There was that time when the Officers' Wives' Club was unhappy with the luncheon menu for their weekly meeting. They complained to their husbands, and the whole base was mad at me.
Fortunately, such incidents were rare. I ran a very nice little restaurant and bar, and I arranged bingo games, casino nights, and all the other nice things that my fellow officers expected and deserved.
I still have a dinner menu from the restaurant at the club. Here are a few prices: T-bone steak was $2. Lamb chops were $1.35. Complete dinners started at $1, including an entre, two side dishes, a salad, beverage, and dessert. The most expensive complete dinner was lobster tails at $2.25. We also had a child's menu that offered soup, entre, vegetables, beverage, and dessert for $1.
Prices at the bar were huge bargains. A martini was 40 cents. Bourbon and Scotch were 40 cents too. Cognac was 50 cents, and premium beer was a quarter. A bottle of champagne was $3. A bottle of wine with dinner ran about $2.50.
The prizes for the bingo games were special.
I found a company that legally sold watches, jewelry, and the like to government installations at huge discounts, as long as the merchandise was to be given away and was not resold. At bingo night, I would give prizes with price tags totaling $1,000 that cost the club about $200.
It was liquor that very nearly became my undoing.
I don't mean I overimbibed, although the Officers' Wives' Club gave me plenty of cause. I got the bright idea to open a package liquor store.
Government taxes were (and are) a big portion of the retail price of liquor, and as a government installation, we didn't have to pay those taxes to the wholesalers when we bought our liquor supplies. There didn't seem to be any law preventing it, so why shouldn't I pass the savings along to my fellow officers?
I ran it past the general who commanded the base. He liked the idea, so I set up a secure room in the club, stocked it with the best booze, and started selling liquor by the bottle. It was a sensation.
As I recall, I was selling Jack Daniels and Dewar's Scotch for under $4 a fifth. Beefeater's gin was around $4.50. It was like coining money. The monthly profits went through the roof.
Then the general summoned me to his office. I thought he was going to congratulate me, but he wasn't. He ordered me to close down the package store. We hadn't reckoned with the liquor store owners in town. I was putting them out of business. They were screaming at the general and threatening legal action.
So I shut down the store, and my career as a legal bootlegger was over. I had to be satisfied with running just the restaurant and bar for the remainder of my time in the Air Force, which ended in 1954.
But I sure had fun.
Excuse me, but I have to go now. I'm taking Marilyn out for drinks and dinner for old times' sake.
Contact Pinehurst writer Jim Davis at email@example.com.
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