Open Container Law

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(Photo caption: Drinking in Central Park)

It was a beautiful fall day in the big apple. A fellow graduate student and I decided to take a stroll and watch the sunset after a long day in class to try and clear our heads. As we sat down on the steps of the Belvedere Castle, overlooking the great lawn in the center of Central Park, I pulled out a cider to drink along with the bread and cheese we had brought along the way to the park. After I cracked open the bottle, he looked at me with shock and said, “you can’t do that.” I wasn’t sure what he was referring to, so I just continued to take a sip and say, “what are you talking about?” I was not privy to the knowledge that the open container law of New Orleans is not a countrywide stance.

Now I realize I grew up in Shreveport, but the open container law did not enter my vocabulary until I was about 18, when I went to college. It should be noted that I went to undergraduate in Savannah, Georgia where you can walk around with a drink in your hand in the historic district. But I only realized this was a privilege when everyone around me was so excited to hold a plastic cup. I had been doing that with alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks since I was a child. For god’s sake, they throw them to us for free during the Mardi Gras season. I didn’t get the hoopla.

As I started to try and understand what the deal was, I was informed of the brown paper bag law or the plastic cup exception. This wasn’t my first encounter with this notion. During the summer I spent in DC, I went to a bar with my roommate and ordered a plain Coke. After only three sips, my roommate got the text that her friend couldn’t come meet us anymore and so we decided to leave. I grabbed my coke in the plastic cup and started to walk out the door, but I was stopped by the bouncer. He told me I couldn’t take the cup out of the bar and I proceeded to explain that it didn’t contain alcohol but he didn’t seem to care. He took the cup from me and threw it in the bin behind him. I then needed more of an explanation of the liquor laws from my roommate.

Outside the southern region, where alcohol is part of the day-to-day culture and in some ways embraced as part of the normalcy of the society, it seems strange to me to think that a brown bag is going to do anything or deter anyone from buying it. As a man walks down the street holding a brown bag with a glass bottleneck peeking out the top, we all know he has alcohol. I do not sit around thinking I wonder what’s in the bag. Even children know what’s in the bag because the bag makes the action of buying alcohol to be different and more unique than buying regular food or soda. And some people hold the neck of a bottle with the paper crinkled around it. You aren’t fooling anyone with that bag.

It seems to me that by making alcohol a taboo or something that’s instantly special in some ways, you are making the item more exciting and idolizing it into a “forbidden fruit.” I think the Europeans got it right when they decided alcohol was a normal part of life, children are introduced to it at a young age and it’s not a huge deal. They also have a smaller rate of drunk drivers because they learned how to hold their liquor before the car keys were in their hands. Nonetheless, I want to applaud the south on being so progressive in this regard and I can only hope the North will get on board because there’s nothing wrong with a glass of wine with a picnic in the park–or in my case, a cider at Belvedere Castle.

-Mackenzie

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