Wednesday, April 21, 2010



Saturday nights in the summer months of July and August were Indian nights and I was the Saturday night bartender.  My shift began at 4 P.M. and ended at mid-night when the bar closed. The Indians started arriving at 4 P.M. and left at mid-night when the bar closed. Trucks from the orchards started dropping the Indians off at 4 P.M. The farmers brought them in pickups and two-ton stake bed trucks. They rode in the open backs of the trucks. Some trucks had just a few Indians and some had ten or twenty. They dropped the Indians off at Reed's and went back for more. On the return trip they would drop more Indians off and pick some of the Indians up and head back to the orchards. They were like shuttle buses at Disney Land moving tourists back and forth between the park and their motels but on a much smaller scale. The farmers did not try to stop the Indians from their Saturday night binge but they did try to control it with the shuttle trucks. It was a win-win-win solution. The Indians drank in peace. The bars made money and the local population was never bothered by the Indians. In fact most church going Mormons did not even know about the drunken Indians.

On one afternoon, Clifford, a steel worker, asked me why they even came to the bar.?  His question was, "Why don't they send someone for beer and stay in the orchards?"  "Simple," I replied.  "They want to see old friends from other reservations.  They do not all live on the same reservation so Saturday nights is a 'catch up on friendship' night.  They move around to different orchards to check out the other crew's quarters and bull shit with old friends and see the women."

"Why Reed's and not the other bars," he asked. "First", I said.  "They do not have trouble here with the locals when they are at Reed's.  Every one knows it's Indian night at Reed's.  "Second, they respect Reed.  As long as they do not cause trouble he welcomes them." "And third, it's a perfect for a central meeting place".

When the Indians started arriving the regulars started disappearing. I suppose in the climate of the 21st century that would be called prejudice but in the 1960's it was a way of life. No one hated the Indians but none of the regulars wanted to be around a bunch of drunken Indians and the Indians did get drunk. It didn't take them long. That is why the trucks shuttled them back and forth. Some would get off the truck, buy a two or three cases of beer and go back to the orchards to drink. They would usually make two or three trips during the evening. Some would drink for a few hours and stagger out to the trucks with a case of beer under each arm or on their shoulders. Some would stay at the bar the entire night or until they got to drunk for me to serve them anymore beer.
Every stool had an Indian and behind every stool were four or five more Indians. They rotated in and out but the bar was always full. Every time a new group would come in they would yell, "a round of beer for all the 'Inians'." They all left their money on the bar and as they ordered I just took what was necessary. I never cheated them. They never question the amount I took. The bar top was always full of draft beer, bottled beer, empty beer bottles and spilled beer. They ordered draft beer, bottled beer, pickled eggs, beer sausages (sausages steamed in beer in a crock pot), cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and snuff. I poured the drafts, opened the bottles and wiped the bar of spilled beer. I served the pickled eggs, the beer sausages, the cigarettes, and the chewing tobacco. I washed and rinsed the glasses and mopped the "beer sticky" floor when I could find a minute. At any one time I had 40 or 50 Indians milling around, talking, arguing and drinking. They never played music from the juke box. Some shot a little pool but mostly they drank. They conversed in English and a little Spanish. When they got drunk I cut them off. I simply said, "You're done Sam, it's time to get on the truck." Speaking of Sam as a name, the Indians didn't have Indian names. They had common English names like Sam, Joe, John or Harry. At last that is what they went by at Reed's.

I stopped serving draft beer and open bottles at eleven. They could get 6 packs or cases to go but no open beer. I wanted them out by twelve so I could clean up and go home. There was always a bar full of open beer. It was impossible to tell whose beer was whose. They didn't care. They just drank whatever they got their hands on. I would ask whose beer was setting on the bar and if no one claimed it, I dumped it out. Between eleven and twelve they bought every case of beer that I had. I never finished a Saturday night with a bottle or can of beer in the cooler or the locker.
The only trouble I had in my three years of the "Summer Indians" was a scary one. I told one of the Indians he was done drinking at the bar and he had to leave. He didn't want to hear that so he pulled a knife and threatened to cut me. It was only a pocket knife with a 3 inch blade and he had a little trouble getting it out and getting it open.  I had that moment of "Oh shit, now what happens?" I din't have to worry because the Indians around him grabbed him and the knife and took him outside. I never saw him again. I was later told by the boss of that particular crew that he was banned from coming back to the bar for the entire summer. He broke a rule. It wasn't my rule. It wasn't Reed's rule. It was the Indian's rule. They did not want any trouble. They wanted to drink. They wanted to get drunk. They wanted to sleep it off and when they sobered up they wanted to pick fruit.

Her name was Sandy and she liked to come to the bar with her crew. She would come in around 8 P.M. and sit on the end of the bar nearest to the pool tables and the restroom. She usually stayed until closing. She ran a crew of about thirty. They treated her with respect even when they were drunk. She never got drunk. She would drink a few beers and talk to the men. She was completely at home in the bar. She had no trouble with the "john". She just got up and went to the "john". No one followed her but I do not think it would have bothered her if they had.
 She was not like the other Indians and she didn't look like any Indian woman that I ever saw. She did not have the look of an Indian woman. Most Ute Indian women were short and stocky with wide flat faces. Sandy was tall with a narrow face and a Romanesque nose. Her cheek bones were high and her eyes were a brilliant black. Her hair was black and straight and fell just below her shoulder blades. After I got to know her she told me she was a half breed. I never ask but one night she asked me if I knew that she was a half breed? I said that I didn't. She laughed and said, "Well I am." She continued still smiling, "I am half Mexican and half black". "Ain't that a kick in the ass? I don't have a drop of Indian blood and I'm the boss."

"How did that happen?" I asked. She said it was just a twist of fate. She was married to the man that had been their boss. He was killed in a farm accident. He was driving a tractor and it rolled over. He fell under the tractor and was crushed. No one else in the crew could even read let alone negotiate prices with farmers. They just accepted her as boss and everything continued as before except they had a female boss. She was a better boss than her husband. She negotiated better pricing and treated the crew better than her husband had. Her crew respected her and protected her. If you messed with Sandy, you messed with thirty angry Indians. Sandy was safe.I could tell she had been slender in her younger years but now she was in her mid-thirties and had gained some weight. She was still pretty but following the crops as boss of a crew of men had hardened her. She talked like a construction worker and loved a good dirty joke. She really loved a joke if it was about Indians. She intrigued me and I found her attractive and desirable. She was not shy about hinting that she was available. She told me that if I had never had sex with a half breed Mexican I did not know what was good sex was like. I replied that I had never known a half breed Mexican before so I guess I had a lot to learn. She replied. "I'm a damn good teacher." I said, "Do you need a ride back tonight." She said, "Yes."
She waited until I closed the bar and I drove her back to the farm she and her crew were working at. I pulled into an orchard lane that took us down among the trees. Sandy had always worn a long sleeve unbuttoned shirt over a blouse. I never thought about it but I had never seen her arms. She said she was hot and took off the shirt. Even in the semi darkness I could see marks up and down her arms and I ask her about them. She told me that they were scratches from working in the fruit trees. At first I accepted her answer. We kissed and my hand touched her arm. I started to think they were heroin tracks and I lost the desire to make love with her. My mind had decided if she did heroin she had probably been laid by every man in her crew and every bartended along the fruit trail. If she didn't have a venereal disease it would be a miracle. There was no way I wanted any part of that.
I pretended that I was so tired that I couldn't stay awake and ask her if we could go out another night. She seemed disappointed but agreed. She got out of my red 1955 Volkswagen and walked off through the trees. I never saw Sandy again. That week, she and her crew moved on to another orchard on the fruit trail.
During my last "Indian Summer" at Reed's one crew had a female boss. The Indians worked in crews with a boss. He or she in this case she represented the Indian crew when contracting with the farmer. The "boss" made the deal with the farmer and ran the crew. The boss assigned the work and kept the crew in line. The boss negotiated the price with the farmer, collected the wages and paid the crew. They were paid once a week on Saturday afternoon. They were paid in cash. The boss kept a percentage for running the crew.

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