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Friday, October 28, 2016

I Stole a Bottle of Coca Cola —Then Tried To Give It Back

Here we see the scene of my crime. Lloyd's Pharmacy at the corner of Snelling and Minnehaha in St. Paul. The picture looks southeast. You can see Hamline Library behind Lloyds along Minnehaha Avenue. From the back of the library an alley heads east. Take it two and one-half blocks and you get to the backyard of my house which fronted on Van Buren Avenue--the next parallel street south from Minnehaha. A few backyards before mine was that of Jerry Weiman whose house fronted on Minnehaha.

Not only is this the scene of the crime, but it could well be the year. The cars are from the early fifties when the crime took place. The picture, however, seems to have been taken on a day when streets were sloppy with some snow. The crime took place on a hot summer day.

Jerry Weiman and I wandered down our alley toward Snelling and Minnehaha. I suspect we had no destination nor purpose in mind. We may have stopped into the library for a drink of water. In any case, as we arrive at the back of Lloyd's we notice a Coca-Cola truck parked exactly where that Chevrolet (or Plymouth, or …) is parked behind the pharmacy in the picture. Nobody, nobody is around. The driver has obviously gone into Lloyd's to fill the Coke machine.

In those days, beverage trucks had cases of 24 bottles exposed on slanted racks on the outside of the back of the truck. The driver could easily pull a case off to make his delivery. There we were next to hundreds of bottles of Coca-Cola on a hot day; nobody was around. Except for climbing into people's apple trees to steal some green apples as a form of typical boyhood recreation, we were not theives. Thus, we had to look at each other, acknowledge the temptation, look around, look again at each other, and again all around. Scared by our own criminality we each grabbed a bottle of Coke and took off like hell. We ran as fast as we could. Nobody shouted behind us. It was a clean gettaway to the back of the library, then, still running, into the alley of the next block. There we stopped. Nobody had seen us. We could safely drink our Coca-Cola (once we got home to sneak an opener out of the kitchen), but I was overwhelmed with guilt. I can't say if the guilt was genuine for having done something wrong, or if it was really fear that somehow we could get caught no matter how perfect and trivial our crime seemed. I was frozen there. Jerry too was a bit uncertain of how to feel about what we had done. We both did want to drink the Coke.

I could go no further and told Jerry I wanted to take back my bottle. He thought that to be a little crazy. Afterall, nobody was after us. Nobody saw us. If we took the Coke back, not only might the truck be gone, but we could get caught and somehow punished for our crime rather than rewarded for our honesty. Nevertheless, I walked back toward Lloyd's trying to hide the bottle as I walked. (That was not too hard because Coke came in small bottles in those years.) Jerry shook his head and continued through the alley toward home.

When I rounded the back corner of the library I could see the truck had gone. What to do? I could not undue my crime because I stole from the driver, not Lloyd. I walked toward the pharmacy trying to work up the nerve to go in, hand it over, and confess my crime. I was a coward. I got all the way to the main door you see at the corner in the picture, but I did not have the courage to go in. Again, what to do? I sheepishly walked back along Minnehaha to near the back of the building … Do you see the small door there near the back? I knew where it went only because doors like this were typical for the day. Behind the door would be a stairway that would lead to the apartment above where I presumed Lloyd lived with his family.

Feeling every second more exposed to the world as a criminal, I had to get rid of the bottle of Coca-Cola. Behind the building, perhaps. No, first I'll try the door to the apartment. I opened it a crack. Nobody, yelled down, “Yes, who is it?” I quickly placed the bottle just inside the door and closed it as quietly as I could. Then I walked away, slowly at first, wondering if my attempt to undue a crime might have been witnessed by somebody who thought it to be a crime. I retraced my steps to the back of the library, started to trot, then run, cross Albert Street, then another block to cross Simpson, and finally to the alley of my block. I did not see Jerry in his backyard. Later that afternoon I would see him, tell him my story of courage, cowardice, and questionable redemption. He smiled, shook his head, and told me how much he enjoyed that bottle of Coca-Cola.

Before that rehashing of our adventure, I got home and went to my room. Alone there, I felt almost safe, almost relieved. I also felt somewhere between silly and stupid and guilty. That's how I feel today as I tell you the story.

(c) from date of posting, by Bob Komives, Fort Collins 

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