We’ve got trouble, right here in river city, with a capital “T” and that rhymes with “B” and that stands for booze. Yes, while we may be high-functioning folks, and retain our look of respectability during the day, late at night, when the more temperate are tucked safely in bed, we have a drinking problem.
I don’t know whether the City Council has ever considered solving that problem by starting a boys band, as Harold Hill did in “The Music Man,” but I think they’ve discussed every other possibility. Soon, they will pass a modest ordinance aimed at the heaviest drinkers. If that doesn’t work, they will probably take more dramatic action.
The fact is that Naperville has become a big bar town, not the only one but, on some nights, one of the rowdiest. That bothers a lot of folks who worry about the town’s reputation, its cherished brand. And they think that nothing says “Naperville” these days like a crowd of young men milling around in front of the police, starting fights, urinating on buildings, and throwing up in the parking garages.
They want it to stop, the sooner the better, and are ramping up the political pressure on the city to take action, like closing the bars earlier. The trouble is that most people believe that would do very little good and could do a lot of financial harm. The goose doesn’t have to be sober to lay the golden egg. Those young bar-goers spend a boatload of cash, and generate a lot of tax revenue. Nobody involved in the business wants that to stop.
Besides, the trouble isn’t being caused by traditional tavern goers, the young men and women who enjoy flirting in bars because the people look better and better as the night wears on, or the guys who like to have boisterous arguments over things about which they know next to nothing. I would argue that the great majority of the people who go to bars, those who go there to ease their social inhibitions or just to relax and meet new people, aren’t causing anyone any trouble.
But every year we are in fact seeing more problem drunks, aggressive, belligerent young men and, yes, women who apparently come here just to get as drunk as possible by closing time. These aren’t regular drinkers. They want to get wasted, to have their lips go numb, to stay on the edge of being out of control. When Mark Twain wrote “Sometimes too much to drink is barely enough,” he meant it to be funny. In real life, it’s anything but.
The problem drunks are the ones spoiling the fun. They start the fights. And when they get near a car, they’re the accident going some place to happen, the tragedy getting ready to unfold. We keep acting as though it’s too much booze turning regular bar patrons into 2 a.m. Mr. Hydes, but it’s not.
While forcing the bars to do what they should already be doing, and which some are in fact doing, things like limiting shots before closing and preventing last-minute bar hopping, will help, I think the problem drunks will somehow find a way to do their mischief anyway. They may simply drink more beforehand.
So if the new ordinance doesn’t do the trick, I think we should try what many casinos have found to be effective. Blacklisting. If some guy starts a fight, is found sitting in the middle of Chicago Avenue, becomes disorderly, threatens a tavern employee, or finds some other ingenious way to be a first-class jerk, his picture and identification should go on a blacklist to which all the bars adhere. That will accomplish what fines and even arrests will not.
It’s easy and popular to blame the liquor, but if the temperance movement has shown us anything, it is that the demon isn’t the rum itself, it’s the guy guzzling it.Tags: bars, City Council, downtown Naperville