Remember the scene in “Leaving Las Vegas” where Nicolas Cage’s character has decided to commit suicide by drinking himself to death? He goes to a grocery store and nearly fills a shopping cart with booze in bottles. Nobody really steps in at any point and asks, “What’s up, buddy? Feeling a little overwhelmed or depressed?” He’s allowed the freedom, you might say, to follow the path he’s headed down.
In bars and restaurants, however, the servers are asked to mitigate. It’s not really to anyone’s advantage to keep a drunk drinking until something bad happens. Whether it’s fair or not that servers are put in the position of having to cut people off, that’s what happens. To which a customer might respond, “What are you, my shrink?” Server: “Yes, right now, maybe I am.”
Even the most benign commercial for a TGI Fridays (or any franchise food and drink outlet) represents the fun and social uplift of having alcoholic drinks with your popcorn shrimp. The message is pretty clear: Alcohol opens the door to fun, relaxed moods, and even hints of sexual adventure later in the evening. It isn’t lost on the corporations that run restaurants that the profit margins on said shrimp bits are nothing compared to the profit margin on beer, wine and liquor.
Cut to: A very civilized event for public radio at a local recording studio just a few nights ago. A much-touted musician was about to play a set when, with a heavy heart, my partner and I realized that we were standing in the crowd right next to “Whoo! Guy.” You know him. Every announcement from the stage is answered with an exuberant “Whoo!” Every guitar solo, every new song … even the “Turn off your phones” request got a resounding “Whoo!” Whoo! Guys are everywhere, and this one might have been near 40 years old. And yes, he was drinking.
But I don’t believe Whoo! Guy was over-served by those dealing out the free refreshments; it might not take all that much to trigger his expressive mechanisms. And there’s the rub. How much is too much before a drinking person turns into someone we don’t want on our roads or standing next to us at a country-rock listening party?
The Santa Monica Police Department and California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control held a Responsible Beverage Service training seminar on April 5th to assist employees of clubs, bars, restaurants and liquor stores in our city to help sell and serve alcohol responsibly. Compliance laws are made clear, skills are offered for refusing to serve minors and intoxicated patrons. It’s described as way “alcohol licensees can help mitigate public hazards that spill over (their words…) to the community such as drunk driving crashes, street fights, sexual assaults, loitering and public nuisance calls.”
All good, and we thank you SMPD and ABC. But, would any amount of training have prevented Whoo! Guy from shouting out loud at every conceivable opportunity? You can’t rewire his brain so that he somehow learns that every moment in public does not require his primal shout of approval.
For a long time, states would forbid the sale of alcohol on Sundays. Yet when I lived in Denver, it was a well-known fact that after a defeat of the Broncos in an NFL game the rate of domestic violence calls to police would spike. Beer, or the Broncos turnovers? Alas, neither Budweiser or the NFL was going to boldly step in to change that unpleasant statistic. It’s great that our own city cares about serving alcohol responsibly. For us to care about ingesting it responsibly takes some self-reflection and maybe stepping away from the bar to get that thinking done. To the general idea that we all take a moment on a regular basis to consider our relationship to alcohol in the context of being not just good but possibly likeable citizens, I say “Whoo!”