The Word From Above

"Don't be lost when the tide comes, for the day of the lord cometh like a thief in the night." - The Reverend Cleophus James, South Side of Chicago, 1980

I have walked the streets of the (American) White City on several occasions and have found that few places compare with its natural blend of modern industry and old-world culture. I was always partial to the south side for the wealth of architectural history offered in Bridgeport, and the dozens of century-old cathedrals that sprung up from the ashes of the great and terrible fire of 1871. The Holy Cross catholic church (W 46th Street) and the Union Stock Yards Gate (W Exchange) are two less heralded personal favorites, and are among some of the more impressive of the old landmarks.

Perhaps more significantly, the south side of Chicago is a Mecca for blues musicians and a place of lore for anyone familiar with electric blues. Elmore James, Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Sonny Boy Williamson, and of course, Muddy Waters all migrated from the acoustic deltas of Mississippi and Louisiana to the south side scene, like Italian Renaissance artists drawn to Florence to witness all that their contemporaries had to offer. The ensuing waves of British (Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck) and American (Jimi Hendrix and just about everyone who plays lead guitar) blues talent that emerged in the 1960's owe their fortunes to the south side, and readily admit as much. 

Not to offend Springfield historians (who would be quick to point out that we hold our own unique place in the annals of this country's storied past, and claim Theodore's on Worthington Street as the oldest blues bar in the country), or to diminish the contributions of Taj Mahal (born in New York, but given his name in the Commonwealth), but I am jealous of almost everything that the Second City has to offer. I say almost, because apparently Chicago can't handle its booze.

Last week, an accord was reached between Chicago city officials and tavern owners to ban the sale of alcohol at the close of any potentially title-clinching games.

"Bar owners accepted a temporary ban on alcohol around the Cubs' Wrigley Field and the White Sox' US Cellular Field. In either case, if there is a title-clinching game coming to an end, area bar taps will go dry." - National Public Radio, as reported on Morning Edition, October 1, 2008.

Now this seems to be a pretty reasonable proposal at first, until you start to think back to the conclusion of the 2005 fall classic. The south side boys clinched, people celebrated, but did anyone get seriously injured or killed? I did some fruitless research into the measures taken by Chicago police and the results of the riots, but was unable to lay my hands on any reports of fatalities or widespread chaos. Beyond a few burnt cars and minor injuries, peace and orderly partying ruled the night. [I am not 100% certain on that, if anyone has better first-hand information, feel free to post] Incidentally, I was unable to find any such ban on alcohol sales during the White Sox' clinching game over the Astros. This presents an awkward issue of how Chicago officials are going to measure the success of the current measure, where so few problems manifested in 2005.

So, to briefly review the facts, the White Sox win the world series, liquor flows; the Cubs are (were) in the playoffs, and might potentially win, no booze. Reasons for Mayor Daley's decision are thus somewhat unclear.

I concede that the simplest answer is most likely the correct one, and that the City of Chicago decided on the ban as a result of having two teams in the postseason. I refuse to believe that the decision was made solely based on the presence of the Cubs (though I do admit that their fan base has much more motivation to self-medicate), and if the simple answer is really true, I guess I'm more confused than anything.

Obviously, it's not a reach to suggest that cutting off raucous fans for a few innings near the end of the clinching game would be beneficial to public safety. It is a fact of this life that some people just cannot handle alcohol and will get destructive in the wake of a championship and the excitement it fosters. Examples of this are as embarrassing to the host city as they are plentiful in recent history, so limiting the consumption of all individuals in and around the ballpark has been looked upon as one way to reign in the wayward cowboys in the crowd. (Practical, thinking men and women will be quick to point out that banning the sale of alcohol for three innings can only have a marginal sobering effect at best. Drunks want to drink, and they will find ways to counter the dry spell).

Surely someone in 2005 suggested that such a strategy be employed and was passed over. I guess the real question then, is what happened in the last two years to make Chicago authorities change their collective mind.     

The ban cannot just be the result of having two franchises in the playoffs, can it? Didn't New York host a subway series without the sky falling? And that city is full of kind-hearted, ever-cordial New Yorkers. Are Chicago's citizens somehow less able to hold their booze, or are Second City officials just more fearful than their New York counterparts? Possibly both, probably neither.

I don't expect an answer, but I would imagine that paranoia cannot be the only reason for the ban. With the Cubs swept out and the White Sox facing elimination again in game 4, chances are we won't have the opportunity to see if the ban "works." For me, it's yet another example of how politicians can project concern for public safety, when liability is their real worry. Without the ban, any violence would be evidence that the government didn't take all possible steps to secure the safety of its people. Tough to get re-elected when you aren't protecting your constituents. 

It doesn't even matter if riots breakout, with the ban, City Hall wins either way:

"The crowds were completely peaceful; the ban did its job keeping the public safe from a few violent drunkards trying to ruin it for everyone."   

"The crowd turned violent and several people were injured; police made arrests and got the mob under control thanks in part to the enforcement of the ban on alcohol sales instituted by Mayor Daley. Who knows how out-of-control the situation would have gotten without it?"

Kind of sickening if you think about it. No one is saying that the government shouldn't be taking a proactive stance to reasonably ensure public safety; I am just questioning the reasonable part of it. Regarding the ban, this much is certain; There was no problem before it, there is no way to measure its success, and there is no way it is going to prevent people from drinking and partying. So you tell me, what good is it exactly?



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