Edited by Martha Jette
Story by Robert Layton
It was getting toward the end of a Med (Mediterranean) cruise that before the journey was over would wind up being an 11-month Med/Indian Ocean/Westpac (western Pacific)/around the world, three-ship cruise.
As normally done, indoctrination classes were given to all hands and since none of us had been to Egypt, we detachment 5s (Det-5s) all huddled around the television in ready six for the Indoc.
The normal things were covered in the brief including money exchange rates (good info), where to go (good info), where not to go (better info), local customs (good info), what to eat (okay info), what not to eat (good info), what to drink (okay info), and what not to drink (great info).
It was the later that cuts to the center of this story. You see, we had traveled quite a bit and drank a few beers along the way. In fact using common ‘sailor economics,’ we rated the money exchange on the price of a beer. For you tadpoles here’s a handy table.
Price of 1 beer late 1970’s
United States: 75 cents U.S. = good price = good liberty
Hawaii: $1.50 U.S. = high prices = bad liberty
Philippines: 1 Peso = low prices = great liberty
You can see how it works. Anyway as the brief was being held, one thing that was being emphasized was the consumption of local food and drink. We were cautioned to eat only in respectable places and they especially stressed drinking only from sealed bottles. NEVER EVER drink anything without a label, which caught my attention!
So making a mental note, I prepared to embark once again on a well prepared extemporaneous adventure.
One thing I really enjoyed doing in new ports of call was taking a local tour. In Egypt, the tour I wanted to take was to the pyramids and the Museum of Cairo, also known as the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities. So George Dahms and I signed up for the tour the first day in and off we went bumping along in a bus headed for Cairo.
We did the tour bit, saw the pyramids, and the Cairo museum. Then armed with a new awareness of world culture, we caught the bus back to Alexandria and found the nearest bar.
We (a couple of world traveling, beer drinking, seasoned sailors) walked in. The bar was an old fashion one, tall and long with just a foot rail and no stools. Behind the bar sat a couple of local Egyptians. So we bellied up to the bar and the bartender greeted us.
“Good day gentlemen. What will you have?”
George piped up with, “I’ll have a beer.”
“Me too – something in a bottle,” I said.
The bartender reached in the bar well, pulled out two brown bottles, grabbed an opener and popped the caps off both bottles in the blink of an eye. He then set the beers in front of each of us.
George grabbed his, rubs the top off with the palm of his hand and took a long pull off it. Now I was watching George for his reaction. All he expressed was a loud, “Ahhh!” And a comment that it was nice and cold.
I turned to my drink. Sitting before me was a brown, almost white (from recycling) bottle without… any label! Of course, I remembered the briefing about not drinking anything without a label. I procrastinated partaking of the enticing packaged beverage.
Stalling, I pulled out a cigarette as George took another hard drink of his beer. Still observing his condition, I waited for his demise. After all, he was drinking beer from a bottle without a label!
Looking around the bar, I expected to see bodies scattered about the room with empty unlabeled bottles before them. But what I observed was a few sailors sitting at tables drinking (mixed drinks). No help there!
Looking at George I asked, “What kind of beer is that?”
“I don’t know,” he replied and then turned the bottle up to finish it off. George thumped his empty bottle down on the bar top.
“Hey innkeeper, how about another round for me and my buddy?” he asked. Then he pointed at my beer and said, “Hey Okie, you better hurry up.”
“I don’t know George,” I replied. “I would kind of like to know what it is that we are supposed to be drinking” and motioned to the bottle that was missing a label.
The bartender sat up two more. George caught his beer mid-flight, swiped his hand over the top and brought the beer up – all in one smooth motion. Meanwhile, my beers were still sitting in the chocks – tied down – waiting on – ‘paperwork!’ Feeling as parched as the Sahara desert, I finally picked up my bottle to examined it.
“Man we just came from the Cairo museum and saw 3,000-year-old pottery in better shape than this bottle,” I remarked but old George just kept on drinking.
“Don’t you remember in the briefing they said not to drink anything without a label?” I asked.
“I guess I slept through that,” George replied showing no concern. “Well, I want something with a label,” I insisted.
Turning back toward the bartender I holler, “Hey buddy, come here!” When he came over I said emphatically, “I want a beer with a label on it!”
He just gave me a puzzled look. A few moments ago he could speak perfect King’s English but now he was babbling something in Arabic! I hoist the bottle up to eye level and point to the side.
“Label I said, beer with a label!”
He turned to his buddy down the end of the bar. So then I got both bartenders in front of me and I was trying to explain that I wanted a different beer with a label on it.
I took the well-worn full bottle and handed it back to him still pointing at the side saying, “Take it back. I wanted a brand name beer with a label on the side!”
Suddenly, bartender #2 grabbed the beer and dipped it into the deep sink. Wetting the side with water, he sat it back down on the bar directly in front of me. Then he reached under the counter and came up with an open palm that held a slip of paper in it. Then he slapped the side of the bottle.
And there… and there… was my label (Stella Beer).
Reassured that it was finally an official beer and with the knowledge that George’s two beers hadn’t dropped him to the floor, I eagerly drank it. My first… labeled, Egyptian beer!