I am a big fan of Eric Felten’s weekly column in the Wall Street Journal. Felten highlights cocktails and rather than just providing his many readers with instructions on how to build the perfect Zombie or Mai Tai, he tells a story that is always interesting and informative. A recent column caused me to recall one of my own cocktail stories.
During the last oil boom, I began working as a geologist for Texas Oil & Gas, the most aggressive driller at the time and possibly since. My first day on the job, I had lunch at a downtown restaurant called Over the Counter with the district geologist and another company man.
Having just left Cities Service, a conservative, old-line exploration company, I was used to brown bagging a sandwich washed down with coffee or iced tea. Because of this, my lunch companion’s choice of beverages gave me a start.
Neither man actually had to order a drink. Gerlinda, our very German waitress brought Larry a Bacardi and Coke and Roger a Crown and Seven.
“You are a new one,” Gerlinda said. “What are you drinking?”
“Iced tea,” I answered.
Larry and Roger smiled when Gerlinda shook her head and said, “TXO geologists don’t drink tea.”
“A Coors then,” I said.
“There is no beer at Over the Counter. What kind of cocktail would you like?”
Larry’s grinning shrug clued me that he expected no argument from me.
“Bourbon and water, I guess.”
“What kind of bourbon?” It was my turn to shrug, and shake my head. “TXO geologists don’t drink house liquor and you look like a Wild Turkey man to me,” she said. “From now on I’ll bring you Wild Turkey and water.”
She did, three of them before we finished eating.
“Everyone drinks at lunch,” Larry informed me as I stumbled back to work. “Turkey and water suits you, Wildman.”
“Thanks,” I said as I returned to my office and tried not to fall asleep at my desk.
Lunch was the beginning of my indoctrination as a TXO geologist. I was instructed to put at least three-thousand dollars per month on my company expense account, even if I had to treat friends, cohorts and secretaries every meal. The Company expected me to create at least one drilling prospect every single week, no mean feat even when you are sober, much less when you can hardly hold your head up off the desk after lunch.
I - or I should say my liver - slowly grew accustomed to the daily consumption of alcoholic beverages that often continued into the wee hours of nearly every night. It did not seem to matter much as my seven-year marriage was already in shambles. An underground concourse wove a dark maze beneath downtown Oklahoma City, a pathway populated by restaurants, bars, barbershops and jewelry stores. The proprietors soon knew my name, and my poison of choice, greeting me happily when I stumbled through their door.
The last oil boom was populated by a cast of almost unbelievable characters – ex-used car salesmen sporting Rolex watches, diamond encrusted belt buckles and gold nugget necklaces, preying on the unwary investor, hungry to participate in the multitude of newfound riches and burning up with incurable cases of oil fever. I bought my own gold necklace, a half moon with a diamond eye, from an eight-by-ten jewelry store in the concourse that catered to the newly rich.
I managed to survive almost two years with TXO, having almost a hundred of my prospects drilled during that time. I do no remember if it was I that said uncle, or my liver. Whichever, I moved down the road with my life.
All this brings me to my cocktail story. Sometimes when I was simply too drunk to continue drinking Wild Turkey, I would switch to a drink called a Bullshot. A Bullshot is beef bouillon and vodka. I never learned the exact recipe although I tasted many varieties during my two years with TXO. The one I liked best came from an eight-ounce can. I cannot remember the company that produced it and I do not believe they are still in business.
The last oil boom is long gone, along with Penn Square Bank and thousands of drilling rigs cut up for scrap. Oklahoma now has liquor by the drink instead of liquor by the wink, and you can no longer leave a bar with a roadie to tide you over until you get home. Oklahoma City police no longer tolerate drunk drivers, nor should they.
An era of overindulgence died in Oklahoma City, along with the last oil boom. What survived was a group that could smile when someone said, “Last one to leave the State, cut off the lights.”
That was nearly thirty years ago and the lights in the City are again burning brightly. It has been nearly that long since I drank my last Bullshot. Still, the cocktail helped me survive an era every bit as exciting as the Alaskan Gold Rush, and Felten’s column every week reminds me that mixed drinks are more than a bartender’s recipe. They are an untold story.