Ban last call

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Last call for drinks, I’ll have another stout.¬†-Tom Waits, from his¬†album, “Closing Time.”

In the city, last call is a social anachronism, as out of place as a choir boy in a go-go bar.

Here we are, in the last days of the millennium, and we are evolving into a fully hot-wired, 24-hour-a-day, no-doze town, instantly interconnected with the rest of the world at every moment. Yes, the lights go out, but we’re always linked by cable TV, the Web, orbiting satellites, ATMs and voice mail. We sleep, yes, but our e-mail is waiting when we rise.

And yet, while the buzz never stops in the digital world, the Bud does.

At 2 a.m., closing time, the taps turn off. You down the last glass of whiskey, suck on the ice cubes and head into the dark emptiness of a town that is suddenly, awfully bone dry.

Quaint, isn’t it, that in a non-stop civilization, a man can’t find a drink for a few hours every night.

Normally, you’d be tempted to chalk up such a cruel quirk on our uptight founders, the Quakers. Never completely comfortable with the notion that an adult might actually enjoy an occasional sensory numbing, our forefathers devoted themselves to the proposition that thou shall not be permitted to purchase more than two sixpacks in a tavern.

Last call, then, is a bit of government-mandated Quaker-style self-denial, a pause to reflect (or pass out).

Pennsylvania liquor rules, of course, are insane. But it’s not all the Quakers’ fault. I’m not sure we can blame them, for instance, for our bloated State Store bureaucracy. I can only imagine the agency is disproportionately staffed by yahoos from Tioga County who believe it’s not wine unless the label says “Gallo.”

OK, that was a cheap shot.

Many Americans, even some who drink, hold a pretty dim view of booze. Instead of regarding it as simple adult refreshment, our laws are soaked with restrictions – roadblocks – that treat alcohol as an insidious vice that must be curbed. Prohibitionists carp so much about drunken driving, alcoholism and bingeing, you’d think a midafternoon gin and tonic was the last stop before heroin addiction.

Given Madison Avenue’s crass glorification of alcohol, though, I can’t say I blame ’em. It’s a little hard to defend man’s inalienable right to intoxicate himself when the message is being carried by cartoon frogs and big-breasted blondes. It’ll be even harder when the family of some diseased former drinker – encouraged by judgments against cigarette companies and gunmakers – brings one of those tear-jerking wrongful-death lawsuits against a money-grubbing brewery.

It is a world of recrimination.

And in such a place, a proposal to extend closing time merely feeds the battle.

Here’s Joe Sixpack’s proposal: Open the taprooms 24 hours a day!

For, as long as the state tells us when to stop drinking, there will remain, between abstainers and imbibers, eternal enmity.

Your hear it every night at 2 a.m.


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