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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Bootlegging in College

The key to going into the bootlegging business was that booze was sold in Washington only in state-run liquor stores and, like so many other things in wartime, was strictly rationed.  We got, as I recall, ration stamps for only one bottle of whiskey and two of rum and such per month.  On the street in the Skid Road area of Seattle down on the waterfront, a bottle of whiskey would bring ten to fifteen dollars from the many soldiers, sailors and marines on liberty.
Bob and I set up what amounted to sort of a black-market organization.  V-12 was full of non-drinking youngsters (I was one of the oldest in the Beta house).  We recruited several of them that were of legal age, had them get liquor ration cards and buy their rations each month, then we would pay them a dollar more than the prices they paid in the liquor store (which ranged from a dollar or so for rum to two or two and a half for whiskey in those days).  We had them get cheap brands, of course.
At the Beta House in our ground floor suite we had discovered a perfect hiding place for our stock.  It was a shoe riser in a closet.  The floorboard could be lifted off to reveal a generous space below.  (It was obvious that Beats before us had used the hidey hole.)
We had a perfect route to leave the house after taps without the CPO’s knowledge which made us AWOL, but we did not worry about that as the whole thing was illegal in all respects and had we been caught we would have gone to sea on a destroyer in short order.  Our method was simple.  The bathroom window opened onto an alley.  We could slip quietly out after full dark, walk down to “The Ave”, and catch a bus to downtown Seattle.  We would be carrying a zippered ditty bag with three or four bottles of assorted booze.
Our modus operandi was to get down to First Avenue where the joints and dives were, stash the ditty bag in a dark alley, and carry one bottle at a time under our peacoats.  Watching for SP’s or MP’s in the vicinity, we would spot a group of tipsy servicemen coming out of a joint at the midnight closing.  Nine times out of ten they were looking for a taxi driver or someone who would sell them a bottle of booze.
Regardless of whether we happened to be carrying Two Seal whiskey or a bottle of rum, we would sidle up and offer to sell them a bottle of Old Crow because we were broke, showing only the neck of the bottle with the seal intact inside our coat.  If they wanted to see the bottle we would whisper, “o way, Mack.  Shore Patrol might spot us!  Take it or leave it.”
Almost invariably a quick collection would be taken up and they would take the paper-bagged bottle and slip it under someone’s coat.  By the time they found an alley and pulled the bottle out to discover that they had bought cheap bourbon or run, we were long gone in the darkness and by one o’clock would have slipped back through the bathroom window with some very tidy profits.
For three or four months Brosy and I had money for our regular train rides south and some left over to spend for movies, flowers, dances, and such with our fiancĂ©es.  Our bootlegging days came to an abrupt end, however.  One night I was making a run (we travelled separately) and when I caught the downtown bus I wound up in a seat behind two Marines who boarded at Pier 91.  One of them was new to Seattle and the other was briefing him on how to ind girls and booze.
I listened rather idly to their conversation until the briefer said, “Tell you one thing—I’m gonna keep my eye out for that blond-headed sailor (it fitted either Brosy or me) that sold me a cheap bottle of rum claiming it was Old Crow.  If I spot him, I’m going to beat the crap out of him!  Paid him twelve good dollars for a buck and a half bottle of rum!”
The night suddenly seemed very cold.  I scrunched down in my seat, pulling the collar of my peacoat up and tipping my white hat over my eyes pretending to be asleep.  I stayed on the bus for a couple of blocks after the Marines got off, then caught the next bus back to the University District.  That Marine had been a big rascal!  When I told Brosy what had happened he shrugged and said, philosophically, “Well, we had a good thing going but we probably would have got caught sooner or later and been canned from the program.”