Sometimes when you read a headline, you don’t need to read the dateline. You know exactly where the event occurred.
Such was the case when I spotted this gem: “Man locked in beer cooler spends the night and drinks.” Only in Wisconsin.
I say this not only because cheeseheads have been known to take a second drink, but because where others see obstacles, we see opportunities. Some people, such as Iowans, might fret over their plight: “Oh me, we’re trapped in a beer cooler. Whatever shall we do?” A Wisconsinite facing the same circumstances smiles and says, “Hey, free Icehouse!”
I take you to Marshfield, where last month a 38-year-old man found himself locked inside a Kwik Trip cooler overnight. If I had a nickel. Jeremy J. Van Ert entered the cooler a few minutes before midnight and, upon finding himself trapped, decided he might as well have a few beers. As I said, we’ve been known to take a second drink.
Sure, it was only 32 degrees inside the cooler. But cheeseheads tailgating outside Lambeau Field have been known to imbibe in colder temperatures. Often with our shirts off.
Weep not for this victim of circumstance. First of all, he had beer. Second, the cooler had a glass door. If Van Ert had knocked or waved frantically, employees would’ve noticed him and let him out. Instead, Van Ert remained inert until being discovered shortly before 6 a.m. He was unharmed, having consumed antifreeze in the form of an 18-ounce bottle of beer and three cans of a malt beverage. Here in Wisconsin, we call that the breakfast of champions.
Alas, Van Ert received not a medal for surviving this harrowing and intoxicating ordeal, but a theft citation. The problem was that he left without paying for the beer. Or the stack of cases of Busch he broke open when he fell over them.
Surely, it was an honest mistake. Sometimes one forgets to attend to details when on a spree. And certainly those cases of beer jumped out in front of the man, tripping him. It’s hardly a crime to spill Busch, anyway.
No less an authority than the Washington Post took interest in this distinctly Wisconsin news flash, dispatching a reporter to cover what outsiders considered a curious incident. Van Ert’s solution hardly mystified Wisconsinites: We watched Bob McKenzie survive being trapped in a beer tank in “Strange Brew” by drinking every last drop and said, “You betcha, that’s the way to do it.”
Marshfield Police Chief Rick Gramza appeased his visitors, telling the Post his department has dealt with people who intentionally hide and get locked inside places with the purpose of committing a crime, but this case was unique. “We never had somebody accidentally locked in a place and not make any attempt to be rescued or get out because they’re satisfied with the circumstances,” he said. “He just decided to run it out for the night. It had everything that he needed.”
Everything, apparently, except for money to pay for what he consumed. Van Ert was charged with retail theft, punishable by a $170 fine plus restitution. Furthermore, he was on probation at the time for previous charges including two counts of arson and therefore was forbidden to drink. It was back to the cooler for Van Ert, who was transported to the Wood County Jail after the incident.
I don’t know what this man was thinking that fateful night. Perhaps he was battling pyromaniacal urges and figured the world would be safer if he spent the night locked up. Or maybe it was all an accident and, given lemons, Van Ert made vodka lemonade. One thing’s for sure: The only place this could happen, outside of “Strange Brew,” is Wisconsin.