As he looks out the cracked window of the old Airstream trailer, Junior Errands, Jr. takes a last long pull on his dying Cigarillo. Outside, spotlights dangle from three well-worn telephone poles - highlighting a hailstorm of Golf balls as they fly into the night.
"Ask what you want. But, hurry up." He turns toward me and glares. "I'm busy." Smoke curls out of his mouth as he tosses the butt into an old fertilizer can behind the counter, grabs a piece of Nicorette and turns to face his newest customer at Errands Pick-Your-Own Golf Range.
Errands is the son of Junior Errands, Sr. - the man who, 20 years ago, turned a vacant lot next to the County Dump into Traylor County's only stand-alone driving range. "Big or small?" The customer, a young man in his late teens, looks confused. Errands, irritated now, picks up two canvas bags - one smaller than the other. "Ya'll can fill up this one for 10-bucks: or, this less-big bag for 8 bucks." The customer takes a moment to ponder. Errands presses on: "Or, for and even $20, ya'll can have both bags side-by-each." Salesmanship!
The kid nods and pulls out a twenty. "Both." He reaches for the bags. But, Errands pulls the bags out of reach quickly. "Sign here, first." He slaps a legal-looking document on the counter. The kid looks as confused as I feel. Errands explains: "It's just some lawyer stuff. No big deal." The kid nods, signs - initials in three places - and grabs the bags. "Ya'll wear these, too." Errands shoves a dented bicycle helmet and an orange life vest across the counter. I try not to make eye contact as the teen picks up his gear and heads out. As the trailer door slams, Errands calls out helpfully: "Try and keep a hand up in front of your all's face."
As others smack range balls into the night sky, the young man straps on his protective gear; and, cautiously steps out into the storm of rocketing Golf balls. The first few steps are tentative. But, soon, he's striding through the barrage as if he's walking in a light rain shower - balls bounce off his head and chest like bullets off Superman. Is he laughing? He is! And, so is everybody back on the tee.
Things seem to be okay. I turn back to the Golfing Entrepreneur. "So, where did you get the idea for a pick-your-own driving range?" Junior smiles and spits out his gum as he slides another Cigarillo from his shirt pocket.
"See, everybody thinks owning a driving range is all money. And, it ain't bad money. But, the problem is, after the knuckleheads hit the balls and whatnot, I gotta go out and, whatchacallit, pick 'em up. In this business, you gotta have balls. But, pickin' up golf balls ain't no way for a businessman like me to make a living."
"So, you decided to let your customers do your work for you?"
A barrage of at least ten balls hits the kid at about the same time. There's a roar of laughter from all the guys on the tee. Junior snickers. "You got it! See, after people hit all my balls, I don't want to pick 'em up. But, somebody's got to. Right? Might as well be the customer. They're the ones wanna hit my balls."
Makes sense. But, as more balls bounce off the kid in the bicycle helmet and life vest, I have to ask: "Is everybody up there on the tee trying to hit that guy?"
Errands lights up and nods. "Everybody gets their turn in the barrel." A line-shot bounces off the kid's thigh. He drops to one knee as several of the balls he's retrieved trickle back onto the ground. He scrambles to grab the balls as more range balls streak in from the tee to find their target. I'm awed. "These guys are good!"
A slight smile escapes Errands' lips. "They're finding the range now. Watch." The kid's glasses fly into the night sky and his belt buckle is sheared off. His shorts drop to his ankles. More laughter. More balls. The kid drops one, hard-won bag and scrabbles, crab-like, out of the line of fire with only half a bag. He escapes directly into the arms of Junior's 28 year-old son, Major, who quickly removes the protective bicycle helmet and life vest. No double dipping here!
The Golfers on the Astroturf mats quiet and return to the boring work of hitting balls out into an empty field. The fun's over. The kid limps into line to wait his turn to hit. Junior stares out the window and doesn't say anything for about 10 minutes. I finally ask what's on his mind.
"I'm wonderin' when you're gonna leave."
Editor's Note: Since this story was written, "Errand's Pick Your Own Golf Range" has gone public and is now available to franchisees. If you are interested, purchase an old Airstream trailer first, then contact:
Junior Errands, Jr.
297118 East State Highway TT
Lickendine Gap, 284-9541.
Attn: Someone Who Cares
Larry Caringer has been writing humor for broadcast for a long time. Now, he's writing it for you. The stories, here, are from a collection of short stories from his book "Golf Beat: A Year in the Life of Persimmon Pines."