The High and the Low: One for the Road
The fine art of drinking on the run
There’s a scene in Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins in which the protagonist, Dr. Tom More, is holed up in the Paradise Estates pro shop with a skinny black kid named Elzee Acree and the slightly unhinged white Colonel Ringo, who has been defending the Christian Kaydettes from Bantu snipers (the book, it should be noted, is set during “a Time Near the End of the World”). In addition to the fact that Percy has here written some of the funniest passages in all of American literature, he highlights two of the more time-honored means by which the average Southerner has managed to enjoy a much-needed drink of whiskey. First, when Tom arrives at the pro shop, he has on his person a pint-size flask—in fact, he has it always, as did, presumably, the young Walker Percy, who grew up in Mississippi at a time when the Early Times both he and Tom preferred was not legally available. Then there is the restorative concoction requested by the colonel after a bullet grazes his private parts: “Bring me a Seven-Up, Elzee…. Now pour out the neck and fill it up from Doc’s bottle there.”
“Pour out the neck.” The very phrase is proof of Percy’s unerring ear and flashes back to teenage dances and Friday nights hanging out with the bad boys underneath the football bleachers before anybody knew how to buy marijuana. A spiked Seven-Up, Coca-Cola, or Dr Pepper remains the perfect beverage for foxhole moments, hot days, rural road trips, and places where it is still not very acceptable to be seen imbibing.
Of course, in New Orleans, where I live and near where Percy set his novel, there are few places where the latter is the case. It is legal to drink on the streets, and people persist in drinking while they’re driving. They bring their own drinks into restaurants, and they take the restaurants’ drinks out. The most popular—indeed, beloved—receptacle for all this activity is the plastic or Styrofoam “go cup” (or, to use one of the hokier monikers lately emblazoned on the thing itself, a “Geaux Cup”).