Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Opinion

Eighty years later, the dry are dwindling

My late father was a wise man. At a very tender age he taught me a valuable lesson: When traveling always make sure you pack a bottle of booze, for you never know when you might find yourself in a dry county. And as a good former Boy Scout, I still am prepared for a crisis of cocktails. Isn't this the entire raison d'etre for hotel ice machines?

Some men teach their sons how to throw a curve ball. Others pass along the finer points of scotch, which certainly has more pragmatic long-term life applications.

A couple years ago, Steve Canyon the Elder purchased a lovely home in rural-squared northwest Georgia. It is easier to get to Waziristan than Deliverance Estates. Imagine our horror when we discovered the place was also dry.

You know you're out in the middle of nowhere when the nearest place to get an adult beverage is Chattanooga. Where had I failed as a parent? And that is why, whenever we visit, the back seat of the car looks like a Total Wine warehouse.

Memo to self: Avoid Florida's Madison, Lafayette, Liberty and Washington counties. They are also dry places with pinched, humorless people. Why would anyone want to visit them anyway?

Between 1920 and 1933, the nation was subjected to one of the loopiest laws ever perpetrated on the public, the 18th Amendment, prohibiting the manufacture and sale of hooch. The law had about as much success as banning jaywalking, although it did help create jobs for rum-runners, speakeasy floozies and mob hit men.

The law was quickly repealed upon the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who appreciated the charms of a dry martini. It may have been his singular achievement, aside from the whole winning World War II thing.

But north-central Florida's Madison and Lafayette counties and the Panhandle's Liberty and Washington counties have remained in a teetotaling time warp. Until last year, there was a fifth Florida county, Suwannee, that was also somewhat parched. But the alcohol ban was lifted by a 2-to-1 vote and happy days, some 78 years late, were here again.

Things could be worse. Of Florida's 67 counties, only four are absolutely no laughs at all. Many other states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi and Texas have dozens of dry counties, which may explain why their best features are the interstate highways — escape routes — running through them.

Madison County might quibble a bit with its designation as "dry," since one can indeed purchase a beer. But if you want anything stronger, like a bottle of pinot noir, you probably need to travel to that den of sin and depravity, Hamilton County.

The attention paid to Florida's few remaining dry locales comes as Madison prepares to consider if it wants to transform itself into one wild and crazy county. An Aug. 28 ballot measure will allow voters to decide if full liquor sales will finally be permitted, thereby leaving Lafayette, Liberty and Washington as the only fuddy-duddy holdouts.

Given the overwhelming vote in Suwannee to approve saloons, along with a similar decisive 2005 ballot measure in Santa Rosa County to start bellying up to the bar, it would seem Madison could well have a shot, or two, at passing "The Aperitif Relief Act of 2012."

There are opponents who claim allowing liquor to touch the lips of Madisonians will lead to perdition, not to mention the potentially embarrassing arrival of Abba-themed karaoke nights.

What is freedom if not the freedom to make a complete dufus of yourself?

The touchy reality is that if you find yourself living in Madison, Liberty, Washington and Lafayette counties, you probably have every right to have a good stiff belt occasionally simply to deal with all the surrounding sanctimoniousness. You shouldn't have to drive miles, perhaps even into another state, to pay for it.

Maybe that explains why the pro-imbibing group in Madison County is called "MadisonYES!" —we would like to have another.

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