The Little 500 is a 50-mile bicycle race, and the centerpiece of “The World’s Greatest College Weekend”. The race is idiotic, and almost all are. Thirty-three teams of four riders share the load in the race, and like the Indy 500 – the race that inspired the Little 500 – the crashes and the last two laps are interesting.
The riders train year-round for the opportunity to ride and win the race. The rest of the people at the race are drunk, or will be soon. This is what students do at IU, and believe me I’m not judging.
I’ve never understood the attitude of the IU powers who try to manage the reputation of the school by trying to go all Cary Nation on the students to prevent the binge drinking that defines life in Bloomington and particularly during Little 500 Weekend. It’s a party, and one thing that most kids at IU can excel is being drunk and idiotic. As always, we don’t condone that behavior, but to ignore the obvious is silly.
My days as a participant in the mayhem are over, but as Jack Nicklaus did last weekend at Augusta National, it’s always fun to reminisce about past adventures. To that end, I offer the best moments of our time as participants (not as riders, for God’s sake) in the Little 500.
Below are the Top 10 All-Time Little 500 Weekend Moments:
Great Moment #10 – 1992
IU Women’s Basketball Coach Jim Izard enjoyed our visits through the 1990s, and usually overindulged himself. To his first Little 500, he brought a flask of Jack Daniel’s. I told him he wouldn’t need it, and should put it away. We brought more than a dozen gallon jugs of screwdrivers to the stadium every year. Inexplicably, we were never stopped or asked to pour them out – either as students or alums. Izzy enjoyed the screwdrivers, always consumed by hoisting the jug to the mouth, and repeatedly said, “There ain’t nothing in these.”
Shortly after the race, as we were leaving, one of the more recognizable leaders of athletes on campus stumbled and wobbled until he fell backwards into the chain link fence erected to stop drunken boobs like Izzy from tumbling down the hill to the IU Track Stadium. He was shepherded by an assistant coach to his car and never returned.
Great Moment #9 – 2007
Four years ago, a dozen of us returned to IU for Little 500 Weekend after a decade long absence. At some point it became ludicrous for us to keep going back. By 2007, we were old enough to pass for parents of students and so far beyond out of place that we no longer felt uncomfortable. The night before the race, we went to Nick’s because what the hell else can you do on Friday night in Bloomington. What were we going to do – go to the Union to see some David Lynch movie?
At Nicks, we all wore a credential on a lanyard we had created for the race the next day. The credential (pictured above) made us laugh. It featured all the requisite logos – that year’s Little 500 logo, the IU seal, and pictures of Bill “Army” Armstrong (the great guy and namesake of the stadium where the Little 5 is run), Rosa Parks, and other logos for good measure (the Fraternal Order of Police and the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure among them).
It wasn’t perfect, but it was likely to get us past the volunteers at the gate. At Nick’s a man roughly our age walked up to me and asked, “How do I get one of those credentials?” I looked at him and said, “We give a lot of money to the university.”
He said, “I give a lot of money to the university.” In the best ‘I-didn’t-want-to-drop-this-card-but-you’ve-forced-me’ way I could, I said, “We build buildings.”
The guy dropped his head and shuffled away.
Great Moment #8 – 1994
Someone had the great idea to combine the Little 500 with a bachelor party, and mayhem ensued. A group from South Bend made the drive to Bloomington on the morning of the race, and the celebration in the vehicles commenced as the caravan rolled out of St. Joe County.
By the time the sots rolled in, they were in fine form. Our group was 40-50 strong, and each carried a gallon of screwdrivers. As was usually the case with first-timers, they also brought some very unnecessary back-up beverages.
We knew that meant trouble, but trouble for others usually meant fun for us, so who were we to question.
Over the years, we had become lazy and brazen in the obviousness with which we enjoyed our gallons of cocktails. One year, an IU ticket taker sniffed the first couple of jugs, but they smell like orange juice, and she let us through. Once into Bill “Army” Armstrong Stadium, no one ever looked twice at us.
This year, we had allowed a group of loudmouthed oddballs, and the police were immediately alert to our behavior. The police stared, talked, and stared some more. The mopes from South Bend continued to act like boors, so there was no escaping our comeuppance. I walked down to the police and asked if there was a problem. They said that we were suspected of being drunk, and that the gallon jugs likely contained alcohol.
Of course, they were right, except for the drunk part. The people who were not a part of the bachelor party were sober as judges. That included me, and explains my willingness to confront the cops. My goal was to ascertain their mood to see if I could buy us a reprieve. As the drunks continued to raise hell, it was clear that they wanted us gone. So I switched to Plan B, which was to buy time.
The police asked me to get the guys to clear out, and take the gallon jugs with us. I agreed and agreed and agreed – without moving. The cops finally said it was time for me to gather the fellas and jugs for our trip out.
We gathered, and walked behind the cops. The first three of us followed close behind as the police took a right toward the exit, and the other 40 guys hung a left. I kept walk and talking, and finally turned to see no one behind us. Clever guys. We reached the exit, and the cop asked where everyone had gone. I thanked him and kept walking.
We walked for a while, and returned without the jugs. We found our party sitting with the Sig Eps in the northeast corner. As it usually the case, friends had been easily made by alums with access to unlimited hooch.
I found Paulie Balst and Len Totlan sitting next to a tall kid, who kept yelling, “Hey, McBarkeep! Give me the juice!” Paulie introduced me to the thirsty Sig Eps fan, IU quarterback Chris Dittoe.
Great Moment #7 – Also 1994
The lone legal casualty of the group from South Bend was a guy who drank a bunch of beers on the way down, screwdrivers at the race, and when no one was looking knocked back some whiskey. No way he wasn’t going to wind up in the Monroe County lockup, but it was his method that everyone found hilarious.
After the race, the guy bolted from the group and managed to get into Sembower Field, the home of the Indiana Hoosiers Baseball team. He wandered around a bit, then decided to leave. He walked the fence for awhile, but couldn’t find a gate. Eventually, he tired, and thought it best to get some rest before resuming his search for the exit.
The unconscious are most at risk for apprehension by the police, and this episode proves that rule. The cops found the entrance/exit to the field just fine, and handcuffed our brief acquaintance in centerfield. He spent Saturday night in the lock-up because no one was willing to rescue a dumbass who didn’t have the insight to find a gate or climb a fence.
That guy, whose name I never knew, remains the only legal casualty of our many visits to the Little 500.
Great Moment #6 – 1986
In 1986, the biggest party Walnut Knolls Apartments (now Campus Court Apartments) has ever seen was held in the courtyard in D-Building. It was filled with thousands of people from all over the midwest. The Knolls were (unintentionally, I’m sure) designed perfectly for socialization. All doors and front room windows faced a common courtyard, so it was almost impossible not to get to know the people in your building. They have renamed and redesigned it since with crazy staircases all over the place, but until a few years ago, it was the best place on campus for fun.
The Knolls never made any pretense about being anything more than a poorly equipped flophouse for marginal students more interested in parties than studying or participating in any of the university sanctioned activities more serious students enjoy. Bobby Knolls (no one bothered to learn his real name, although his first name might have actually been Bobby) ran the place, and he was the king of tolerating anything that didn’t require him to move or think. We had a pretty good idea of how far to push.
Thousands of happy people drinking beer not so quickly, because the lines were forever long unless you could get to one of the secret kegs stored in apartments where only residents could get to them. Instead of staying downtown at bars like Kilroy’s or The Bluebird, the hot dog vendors camped at the Knolls.
This was all just a prelude to moment #6 which occurred on the following day. After yet another race filled with antisocial socializing, a large group came back to D-Building where the party continued. As the afternoon gave way to evening, a group of us were talking to a guy sitting on the second floor railing. The railing was designed to keep people from falling 12-feet to the courtyard below. It usually worked, but not for idiots who swing their legs between the spokes.
The guy we had just met flipped off the balcony right in front of us. We thought for an all-too-brief moment that he had done him on purpose because he made no “Whoooooa!” noise – no nothing. No noise at all until the thwack of his skull crashing into the cement. It sounded like a coconut had been dropped on the cement sidewalk below.
Someone called 911 because the boob below was unconscious and Ian, one of the first floor knuckleheads couldn’t tell if he was breathing. Nothing like drunken pizza restaurant assistant managers assessing the condition of blunt force trauma victims. Ian initiated unnecessary and foul-tasting (I would guess) CPR until the EMTs arrived.
The victim recovered quickly enough to initiate a lawsuit which was fruitless because several Walnut Knolls residents told the truth during depositions about the drinking and the way he sat on the railing. We felt that was a fair exchange for Bobby Knolls looking the other way when we flooded his 35 D-Building apartments with 7,000 drunken 21-year olds.
Great Moment #5 – 1991
In 1991, the most important discovery in Little 500 fun was made. In the Little 500 program, there is a group photo of the IU Student Foundation blue blazer-clad do-gooders who busy themselves running hither and yon during the race doing all manner of unimportant things throughout the two-hour race. The photo was accompanied by a key just below that listed their names.
Two-plus-two equaled a bunch of boobs in their late 20s yelling foul and embarrassingly personal information to the well-meaning students immediately after looking up into the crowd because their name was shouted. If there is a way to have more fun during a dull bicycle race than yelling at a bunch of self-important resumé builders, I don’t know what it is.
“Hey April, April Sommerset! (She waves) You get home last night? Christ, I’ve seen drunks, but you take guzzling hooch to whole new level! Hey, who was that guy? You couldn’t even repeat back his name this morning. I’ve got your bra and panties in my backpack!” Multiply that by 35 IUSF members and you have a great afternoon.
Great Moment #4 – A Star Is Found
One of the great gifts of being the only people in Bill “Army” Armstrong Stadium with 20 gallons of screwdrivers is that it prompts some interesting people to stop by our perch in turn one (now turn three) to say hello and hold out their empty cups.
In 1998, three people showed up near us, and because we overpacked, the orange colored liquor flowed freely. One of the people was a lady named Star an oddly friendly, but not in a horrible way, and another was a strange mildly obese fellow. There was a third, but to be honest I don’t even remember whether it was a he or she. The guy and girl weren’t a couple ias we found out later.
Can anything be more fun than turning your life over to strangers and agreeing to do whatever a couple of strangers tell you on the day of the Little 500, so we followed tham to a party that stunk on ice. Being that they knew the hosts, we thought ducking out to go to Nick’s would be easy. “We think the party sucks too! We’ll come to Nick’s with you,” Star said as we tried to tiptoe away.
While the 12 of us waited for a table, the big stranger got flush and started sweating like Albert Brooks in “Broadcast News”, but worse. The guy looked like someone was holding a garden hose to the top of his scalp. Words like “liability”, “contributing” – to what I don’t know, but if the guy died – we sure as hell contributed something, and “call the nearest relative” ran through my head. My mission was to get this guy out of Nick’s right now.
I called the bouncer over, “Hey, my friend is really not feeling good. Doesn’t he look awful? He’s been drinking all day, and I’m not sure where this is headed.” The guy we now referred to as “Puddles”, nodded affirmatively, which was damn nice of him, and the bouncer started thinking about liability too. Bouncers are paid to think about liability, so Puddles was removed from the property with dispatch, and was out of our hair.
Star, on the other hand, was deep into our hair. At the table, as the other 11 of us ate our strombolis and laughed, Star made a drunken trip around the table whispering in our ears. I don’t remember the order, but the whispering was a very specific and forward proposition that she issued to us – one after another. It was fun watching the guys react in that stunned way they do when a girl whispers, “I want to f*** you. Let’s go!” Each guy blinked a couple of times, stared straight ahead for five seconds, and said something like, “No thanks,” or “Uhh, not just now, thanks.”
What was mildly entertaining for fifteen minutes became monotonous as Star made her third cycle around the table. Even if any of us had been so inclined, the fact that she would have settled for any of us made her repellent to all.
We finally talked one of the single guys into getting Star the hell out of Nick’s. This was a table for men to laugh at manly things, not for Stars to be plucked.
When we got back to the hotel, we asked the guy what we did with Star. This is not the kind of thing I’m usually proud to write publicly, but the guy said, “I titty-f***ed her.” It still makes me laugh. She was willing to do anything, and the guy decided that was the appropriate physical response. Hilarious.
Greatest Moment #3 – 1992-ish – “We Need Some Space”
The race was like all of the others. Bikes went around and around in circles for two hours, Ed Kink flipped up his eyelids during lap 88, and the screwdrivers were mixed and chilled to perfection. Over the years, the status of the vodka rose with the level of our earnings. While we were students, we bought Popov or McCormick’s. Shortly after graduation, graduated to Smirnov and maybe treated ourselves to some Absolut. Later, it was nothing but Stoli and then Grey Goose (you don’t have to remind me that mixing Grey Goose with orange juice is ridiculous.)
My wife’s eldest brother was a grad student at IU at the time, and Julie asked him to join us. He’s a smart, funny guy, so he was welcomed by all. Our group of friends was always exceptionally inclusive and loved inviting new people. Julie’s brother didn’t need me to vouch for him, but I would have. He was a freshman at Georgetown while Bill Clinton was a senior, and disliked Clinton intensely. That would have been good enough for most of our group if such a credential was necessary.
Julie’s brother was another of the rookies who drank too much too quick. He was older than us, so who were we to quibble? During the race, another thirsty stranger ambled over. A girl named Heidi Flobeck, who had ridden in the earlier separate but equal women’s Little 500 enjoyed some long gulps from one of the many plastic jugs, and seemed like a good kid. The only reason I mention her is that I am stunned I still remember her name. I can’t remember people I met 15 minutes ago, but Heidi Flobeck stuck.
The Little 500 has always done things as closely to the Indianapolis 500 as it could afford to – minus involving the Purdue Marching Band – so dignitaries ride around the track for a couple of pace laps in convertibles. This year as in many others, Senator Richard Lugar was in a car smiling that giant smile of his, and as he came toward our turn one stand, Paulie Balst began chanting “Dick Lugar, Not Indiana! Dick Lugar, Not Indiana!” One the second parade lap, there were 50 or 60 of us chanting “Dick Lugar, Not Indiana! Dick Lugar, Not Indiana!” Lugar heard his name, turned and waved, and then the smile vanished. It was replaced by an inquisitive look, and then a hard glare.
We got the same look from IU President Thomas Ehrlich when Balst yelled “No Penn State! No Penn State!” every time his car came around. This was immediately prior to Big Ten’s expansion to 11 teams by inviting the Nittany Lions. Everyone yelled. Ehrlich grimaced. Everyone laughed. That’s Little 500 in a nutshell.
Anyway, Julie’s brother enjoyed his gallon jug, and was ready to head over to see Otis Day and the Knights. No one was feeling any pain, but Julie’s brother was pretty popped, and he was a big guy. Not huge, but looked like he might have played football back in the day. There was a huge crowd, and nowhere for us to go, but we moved forward to within 30-feet of the stage. People are never happy with festival seating vultures who get there late but force their way into a great position. If normally people are not happy, imagine their level of discomfort when Julie’s brother started to dance.
The dance wasn’t the usual head-bopping, foot-tapping white guy dance. Julie’s brother went into a full-out Grateful Dead/Phish spinfest that cleared a 20-foot-by-20-foot swath for us for seconds. Those who didn’t move were knocked over like bowling pins as he careened into and through the crowd. If you ever played Skittles – the game where a wooden top wanders aimlessly through a table covered with pin – this was the human version.
All the spinning and cavorting was too much for Julie’s brother’s constitution and it became immediately evident that it was time to get him back to his dorm. Eigenmann is a good mile from the stadium, and the emotional and physical tires on Julie’s brother were worn bald, so we tried to get him to the street where we could hail a cab.
He made it to the field adjacent to the street, wobbled, and collapsed. The police were monitoring, so Julie and I made the preemptive move to explain our friend’s low blood sugar issues. I asked if they could call a cab. The head cop scowled, “No, and if he isn’t in a cab in five minutes, he’s under arrest. Then an Asian fellow starting snapping pictures of the big fellow laying down. I went after him demanding the camera, and Julie’s brother started yelping “Honesty!” while pointing a finger in the air.
Hunter S. Thompson always said, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” I thought maybe that is what he was doing.
A cab pulled up out of nowhere, and we loaded Lee in there. Julie sat in the back and I (not being a fool) grabbed the front. That piece of wisdom kept me from being splatter with the orange projectile vomit that sprayed throughout the backseat of the cab. The driver looked at me, and a shrugged, “Sorry?”
We got him out of the cab and began the torturous process of mostly carrying Julie’s brother to his room, the number of which he could not recall. Eigenmann (see right) has 13 floors with 52 rooms on each floor, so that search would take quite a bit of time. Good fortune smiled on us again, as we bumped – literally – into someone who knew Julie’s brother.
After rolling him into bed, we were off to wherever the misfits we left behind had gone. A week later, we heard that Julie’s brother had tumbled off the bed and dislocated his shoulder shortly after we tucked him in.
Little 500 Favorite Memory #2 – Trophy Wife for Paulie Balst
The 2007 Little 500 saw our return for the first time in a decade. Once people start having kids, bolting the family for a weekend so completely insipid is almost indefensible, so while dads coached Little League or AAU Basketball there was what we thought was a permanent moratorium on Little 500 fun.
A couple of years ago with a strong sense of nostalgia in the air, we began the process of putting the band back together. Chicken Loman, Hoss, Spanky, Balst, Ed Kink and a couple of other members of the old guard agreed to make the trip, and my wife – named by Irresponsible Men’s Magazine as the Most Tolerant Wife in America in 1999, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2007, and 2009 – brought a couple of co-workers down to Bloomington for the weekend. Both were in their mid-20s, and went a long way toward legitimizing our presence in a stadium filled with kids young enough to be our kids. In fact, we saw many of our son’s friends acting like fools at the race.
Bunny and Cissy fit into our group seamlessly and enjoyed the jugs and our upgrade in attendance as we debuted the homemade credential system that not only allowed us entry, but “All-Access”. Here’s a tip about creating your own credentials: always throw the phrase “All-Access” somewhere on the thing. Then, put some fancy vague title on there. Our choice was “Special Provost”. No one knows what the he’ll a provost is, and preceding it with the word “special”, you guarantee yourself an afternoon above question by ushers and police. that’s a good thing when you are 12 strong carrying 20 gallons of toxins.
Even after walking past the police and ushers 20 times, I would still find myself getting nervous as we approached the gate. This year we raised the ante by creating our own credentials that were worth no more than the card stock and lanyards that we thought gave it them a professional look.
When we got the the volunteer who duty it was to check tickets, she looked at the jugs and credential, and told us to go to the next gate. This made me nervous, but running was out of the question, so we walked around the little shack, and found another volunteer. He looked at the credential, and asked about the jugs, “for the riders?”. We said “Sure.”. He opened the gate and we went right in.
Halfway through the race, Balst got bored and decided to push the “All-Access” tag on the credential, He grabbed Bunny and said, “You’re my trophy wife.”. Bunny, who is always up for adventure, shrugged and agreed.
They made their way down to the track, showed a Bloomington cop their credentials, and the cop waved them across the track into the infield. Shortly after that Julie and Rick headed down and were likewise waved across.
That was the last time we saw them for the afternoon. The foursome made their way to the reviewing stand at the end of the race where the winning team would receive their trophy for riding a bicycle 50 miles faster than any other four-man team.
When the Cutters crossed the line first, the rider hopped off his bike, was joined by thrilled teammates, and found themselves standing next to Paulie, Bunny, Julie, and Rick for the first series of pictures taken as the 2007 Little 500 Champions.
After the pics and associated fooferah, several of the IU Foundation high muckety-mucks shook Balst’s hand and thanked him for coming. That’s Hoosier Hospitality!
Greatest Moment in the History of the Little 500 – 1986
Half of our group of friends from Walnut Knolls graduated, so when they returned in 1986 in a 31-foot long deluxe RV, they were welcomed like conquering heroes, and the fun commenced. In a half decade of stupidity on Little 500 weekend, we had never enjoyed a drive to Bill “Army” Armstrong Stadium for the race. With Chicken Loman at the wheel and the RV packed full with students, recent grads, a couple sets of parents, and 30+ jugs of citric hilarity, we hit the road.
The race went as expected – 200 laps of tedious circling and Ed Kink’s inverted eyelids during lap 88 (Kink did two things well at the race – one was the flipping of his eyelids, and the other was passing out just prior to the end of the race and staying in the stadium until about three hours after when the place had completely emptied) – and then ended. The drive to the race had been uneventful. The drive home would be different. It was possibly the greatest ten minutes in the history of irresponsible comportment of 60 people jammed into an RV for a trip of any distance.
After everyone, including the parents of Kerri Melda, climbed aboard, Chicken Loman moved the RV north from the fieldhouse parking lot to the corner of Fee Lane and State Road 46, which was backed up for more than a mile. Loman wasn’t interested in waiting. “Heeeere Weeee goooo!” yelled Loman as he turned onto the gravel shoulder of 46. “You don’t see RV’s do this very often,” grinned Loman as he passed stopped cars with the RV at 50 miles-per-hour.
He slammed on the breaks, and turned left into the gravel parking lot at Memorial Stadium. As he did, the woman who would become my wife in a little over a year, was in the lavatory answering an urgent biological call. She neglected to lock the door, and Spanky Froat popped open the door. Flummoxed and embarrassed, Julie diverted attention from her spicy muffin by pulling up her shirt and showing Rick her fleshy chest pillows. Loman got the RV going nice and fast, and yanked the wheel. The RV spun like a top.
Loman grinned from ear-to-ear as the RV did doughnuts in the gravel. The Melda Parents held on for dear life and their faces were ghostly white. As is usually the case with senior adolescents, we laughed harder with every spin. People flew through the RV and at some point furnishings started to break. Once the guys who rented the RV started to grasp that their security deposit was likely going to be forfeited, Loman was encouraged to stop the madness, and get us back to Walnut Knolls.
The mayhem continued as the Melda Family recovered, the rest of us finally stopped laughing, and finally John Mellencamp rocked Memorial Stadium with a sound system that was totally inadequate for such a big place.
The Little 500 will be held Saturday, and we won’t be there, not because we’ve outgrown any of this stupidity, but because we are relatively certain that we have exhausted all the possible avenues of fun possible before, during, and after a bicycle race. It may take us years to be inspired to find a new and untraveled road.
We do not encourage any current students to adopt our choices as their own. There has always been a divine providence that has guided our actions, without which we certainly would have been punished again and again by the Monroe County authorities, Indiana University representatives, or God and karma. We have shown a well-earned knack again and again for walking up to the edge of the abyss, but never falling in.
Enjoy the race, but leave the madness to professionals.