Sunday, May 10, 2009

With Lubbock Vote, Neo-Prohibitionist Movement Seems To Have Finally Passed Out

By Manifesto Joe

Lubbock, Texas, is certainly the biggest "dry" city in Texas (population about 210,000) and perhaps the largest "dry" one in the U.S. If the early returns are accurate, that is about to change. The Associated Press reports that in a local election, Lubbock voters are favoring beer, wine and liquor sales in stores, by 64 percent in early counts.

The city has had a weird system for years. You could get "liquor-by-the-drink" in a bar or restaurant inside the city limits. But there were (and are) no package stores, and you couldn't get a six-pack in a convenience store. The city has the biggest university in that desolate region, Texas Tech, and the students of age there have to go to a "wet" suburb to buy a bottle of wine. (Or a case of beer -- now, doesn't that sound like a bright idea? I'll get to that irony later.)

I grew up in a "dry" town, but one that had smaller towns nearby where miscreants would sell any kind of booze to just about anybody, even 16-year-olds. I don't recall that those in-town conditions stopped anyone from drinking.

My family was religious and generally teetotaling; I recall being about 11 and taking a ride home with a Little League teammate of mine, and seeing an astonishing thing. My buddy's dad, home from his job as an offshore oil-rig roughneck, was behind the wheel and taking swigs of whiskey out of a "fifth" bottle. Little Buddy-roo and I were in the back seat, watching the spectacle of old Ken as he passed this rather large bottle to his bud in the front passenger seat. I'm not sure, but I think they were also chasing with beer.

I was too young to realize that these older dudes were actually risking the lives of little J.T. and me in the back seat. But there wasn't much traffic on small-town streets and semirural roads, and this seemed to be something intrinsic to the local culture. Because liquor couldn't be had just anywhere, these men (and quite a few women) would drive long distances to get it. And, in doing so, they didn't seem to think much about the consequences of driving while consuming, except to evade the local gendarmes. My recollection is that this wasn't hard to do.

Attitudes have changed for the better since 1967, even in Gothic regions like where I grew up. But this drove home a point: Prohibition actually, ironically, encourages binge drinking, and also drunken driving.

On a long-ago vacation, I remember passing through a flat, dry West Texas hamlet on the way to New Mexico. This place had a reported population of about 400; but this was Saturday night, and it looked like some kind of mini-Vegas. Looking around at the local commerce, it wasn't hard to figure out what the attraction was.

They might as well have changed the name of this little place to "Beer." For population, they might as well have put on there: Weekdays, 400. Weekends, 10,000.

A certainty is that these genuine and drugstore cowboys, who had come to town that night in their F-2000 pickup trucks, were unlikely to drive 40 or more miles back home without having had a few brewskis. And just maybe, more than a few. And maybe that was just a chaser for some hard liquor. Being a native of this region, I can tell you, there aren't very many Merlot-sipping men living outside of Highland Park.

I actually saw stranger, more opposite things in New Mexico, like package stores adjoining bars. There, a feller can git half-swacked in the bar, then finish the job by picking up a bottle for a nightcap on the way home! Again, one little blessing is that a lot of roads in this part of the world are straight and not well-traveled.

In Arizona, I saw strange, opposite things as well. You can buy hard liquor in a 7-Eleven until wee hours. It's nearly like that in Louisiana, too. And California is far more lenient than Texas, in some ways.

Then, there are the serious Puritans. I've never been to Utah, but I know someone who lived there. The Mormons are surprisingly tolerant of liquor-drinking miscreants. They just require their liquor stores to look like mini-Leavenworths. They want to make certain that their Jack Mormons feel like sleazy reprobates.

I lived in Oklahoma for a short time, and the package stores there look like low-rent warehouses, with very minimal advertising. You can't buy cold 5 percent beer anywhere in the state legally -- the real stuff has to come from a package store, and you have to chill it yourself. In 7-Eleven, they offer a relic of Prohibition, 3.2 percent beer. (They have that stuff in Colorado, too, but not with as many
other restrictions.) I recall a Lawton, Oklahoma, store clerk giving me a stern moral lecture when I was surprised that I couldn't get real beer in a corner store there -- "You gotta keep yore nose real clean up hyere, Tex ..."

And yet, living in Oklahoma, while I was jogging on residential streets, I don't remember anywhere else where I saw as many empty pint bottles of Wild Turkey littering the gutters. Obviously people were riding around in cars drinking hard liquor, then tossing their empties.

The point is that Prohibition measures, even partial ones, clearly do not work. They just make people drink furtively, and actually encourage them to drive far pieces to get it.

Similar arguments can be framed regarding marijuana, but I'll save that for another post.

Anyway, my hat's off to the folks out in Lubbock, for finally seeing reason. I don't own a real cowboy hat -- I like fedoras and a few variations -- but I'll take those off to the good folks of Lubbock. I might have gone to Texas Tech, but I went to a small Lutheran college instead. Lutherans don't have major problems with beer.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.


Cranky Daze said...

I also lived in a "dry" town some years ago, a border town with the State next door being decidedly "wet." Actually, we referred to our area as "drip dry." There, booze was served in coffee cups, and the cops that went in restaurants to dine were never charged for their meals. They had places that were called "Key Clubs" where you could go to drink, but you had to take your own bottle with you, give it to the bartender, who could serve it to you as a mixed drink or on the rocks, whichever you preferred, thereby avoiding the issue of selling spirits to the public. What is known as hard-liquor was sold only in state owned liquor stores, and in retail businesses only wine and 3.2% beer could be legally sold.

As a non-drinker (having given it a try when I was younger and finding out I wasn't having much fun being a cheap drunk...2 drinks could put me under the table)...I decided years ago that for me it was a waste of time and good money. Since then, I've been astonished at the number of people who, on offering me a drink and getting the "I don't drink" response, ask me if I'm an alcoholic. The idea being, I guess, that if you don't drink in this culture, there must be something wrong with you.

I don't care who drinks or to what extent they do so, although I have concerns about drinkers who become violent and beat their wives or abuse their children....and of course drunks who get out on the highways and endanger others.

In my travels, I've passed through several areas where I've seen signs on the interstates informing drivers that there is a liquor store at the next exit. Go figure.

Jack Jodell said...

I was astounded to learn recently, and see again here, that Lubbock has been "dry." While "dry" areas still exist all over, the thought of actually living in one seems so foreign to me since there are none around me for many hundreds of miles. I do wonder when we'll get sensible on marijuana and even prostitution...

Manifesto Joe said...

Hi, Cranky and Jack:

Different strokes -- my wife of 24 years is a lifelong nondrinker, and I've never encouraged her to take it up. Drinking in a controlled way is a bit of an art, and I got a lot of lessons in it from about age 17 on. I did find that it can ruin lives, and it did indeed destroy those of a few people I knew as a young man. They tend to be a small minority, though, and from what I observed, quasi-Prohibition not only didn't stop them, but may even have been a contributor. Rather than have a few drinks at a given sitting, they would go for days, weeks without a drop, then score some hard liquor and think they had to drink it all in one night. Yep, go figure.