Tuesday, May 13, 2014


In today's world it is chic and glamorous to bare your soul with your relationship to dope. I, too, have been involved with 'dope'. My tale is not of jet-setting, penthouse parties,'the beautiful people', etc., but rather a more mundane, heavier side. The only bright spot to this story is the stainless steel---? For 3 long months during the Summer of 1966, I pushed it day and night!

Before you disavow knowing me, let me clear this up. The 'dope' I pushed had 4 wheels and was locally known as a 'dope wagon', a 1200 lb., stainless steel food cart that I pushed through the old mill on Green Ave. I made the dinner run on all three shifts, with time of in between. It was an adventure and involved more that just Cokes and sandwiches. There was a rhythm of life to that job, with each day being different.

If everything has a heart, then the heart to the food service for the 3 mills of Uniroyal in Hogansville was the old Canteen, owned and operated by the famous or infamous, Louis Booker. Many, many tales could be told about this man. Although quite a character and would "forget" to pay you at times, I loved this old guy and thought highly of him. There was the time that Dwayne Robinson and I opened up one morning and found Louis passed out at his desk, liquor bottles and glasses everywhere, a .45 Army Colt on the desk, playing cards on the desk and floor, and several thousand dollars in a pile under Louis' head, like a little greenback pillow. We helped Louis to a cot that was kept in the corner of his office, while Dwayne bagged the money and hide for safe keeping(this was not Dwayne's first time doing this), I cleaned up the rest of the mess. We then started working on getting the day's food prepared and waited for the others that worked there to arrive. Just before lunch time, Booker started stirring around. He called Dwayne back and asked if he "found" anything earlier that morning. "You mean the $7,000-plus on the desk? Yea, I found it. You gonna get your ass run off if you don't cut that s*** out! If Mike(Link, the superintendent) finds out about these poker nights, there will be hell to pay. Even with a deep hangover, a sly grin came across old Booker's face. I guess that meant he had the proverbial "Ace up his Sleeve".

Dwayne and Buddy, the other cart guy, both loaded and pushed out of the Canteen, which used to be a small cinder-block building, located to the north end of the mill on U.S.29(if anyone has an old photo of the Canteen, or the mills, please post them to the comment section). I, on the other hand, would load everything I needed and take it across the street to my mill and to my little area there. It was a room that had been made by adding two walls to the corner of the cotton bale storage area. I had my own ice machine and an outlet to plug in the wagon to keep the steam tray heated until time to push. I kept a supply of the stapes, canned drinks, chewing gum, cakes and pies, and the life savers--headache powders! I only had to take the fresh made sandwiches and such before each run.

I think some of those good ole boys would have killed me if I failed to come in early on Mondays. It seems that the only thing that could get them through after a long weekend of partying and hangovers was several Goody's(or BC or Standback) powders and a couple of grapefruit chasers. Remember those little cans of grapefruit and orange juice that you had to have a 'church key' to open? I always made sure that I had plenty of those on ice for the guys. I always assume that the girls partied too, as the guys would gather up extras and take them back upstairs to who knows who. Now it was against the rules for workers to leave their area and to come down to where I was, but management knew that life in a cotton mill is a lot different that most other places and allowances had to be made.
I don't remember the exact menus for the days of the week, but I do remember that people liked to change it up and so I had more of some things on different days. Hell, I even sold sunglasses off that wagon.

THURSDAYS! Now Thursdays were special. Special in that for whatever reason, the Mill paid off on Thursdays. That meant that I had to have extra cash on me to cash checks, many people did not or would not do business with a bank. This was probably a holdover from the Great Depression and banks closing and keeping the folks money. Anyway this was a service that Booker offer. I would not walk through that place or any place today with that kind of money in those deserted areas, but those were different times with different people. I knew everyone by first name and knew their families. What a great false sense of security!

The other thing that made Thursdays special is that it was Collection Day. On Thursday mornings, Booker would give me a 'little black book' with the names and amount borrowed and the date. As I pushed the cart, cashed paychecks, I also loan sharked the employees. If you borrowed $7 the week before, you paid back $10, $14 cost $20. Anything above that and you had to see Booker, as mill hands did not make a lot of money and had other bills to pay. If they got in too deep, well, it would upset the apple cart as the saying goes and that criminal enterprise would come to an end. Also, if you failed to pay, you did not get your check cashed and you could not buy off the wagon, even with cash money. Booker had strict orders. As I think back, food service was just a way to get in and loan money.

There were a couple of sections of the mill that had ramps from one room to the next as the floors were uneven. Now pushing a cart loaded with cotton is one thing, but a huge stainless steel food wagon loaded with ice, drinks, and everything else is another thing. Without fail, every time I got to one of those hard ramps, several guys would come off theirs jobs without having be be asked and help give that extra muscle needed to go to the next floor. I don't see that happening today. Sad!

Two things in closing:
Yes, Dwayne gave Booker his ill gotten gains at the end of the shift, just to make Booker sweat a little.
And why was it called a DOPE WAGON? It was a holdover from the early years of Coca Cola when they actually put cocaine in the drinks. Cokes were often called Dopes.

When I was a small child, I remember there was a time that Mother worked the 3rd shift and on Thursday mornings she would have treats for us. It would either be Nutty Buddy Bars or the little You Can Eata chocolate covered cake with cherry filling. They were only a nickel each back then, but man was that a big deal!

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