“It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into”

Jonathan Swift
"The Democrats have moved to the right, and the right has moved into a mental hospital." - Bill Maher
"The city is crowded my friends are away and I'm on my own
It's too hot to handle so I gotta get up and go

It's a cruel ... cruel summer"

Monday, May 09, 2005

I'm a joker / you're a smoker / let's call the whole thing off

Saturday night, midnight, the men’s restroom in Gecko’s at Sixth and Georgia: I take a hefty snort into my left nostril. Then a nice snort into my right. Ahh, there, that’s better. Reinvigorated and feeling way more alive than I should be allowed to, I head back out into the bar to listen to Pants Mandolin—a great local band you should check out.

Earlier, before we went out, I went to Drug Imperialists. I smiled sweetly at the nice little old lady cashier, and plunked down cash for a gross of pseudoephedrine.

It’s not what you think. I am not a coke fiend, nor do I run a meth lab. It’s just that lately any smoke at all aggravates my allergies, already quite miserable from living in a climate no human being was meant to inhabit. A few minutes in any local bar or restaurant and my nostrils are sealed up tighter than a new CD.

So, anyway, after my quick snort of Afrin No-Drip Nasal Spray, I head back into the unventilated bar. The dance floor is filled with cigarette smoke; I was wholly unable to drink a Shiner Bock and breathe at the same time. The S.O. was similarly afflicted, and wailing, “Why, oh why did I vote against the smoking ban?”

Well, we voted differently but we both, as Dylan sang, had God on our side. Her vote was right from her side (civil rights) and mine was right from mine (not giving inhuman Corporations further power over human lives). Of course, there are those who believe I was entirely misguided, that it wasn’t about huge corporations but about the soda fountain down the street painted by Norman Rockwell and run by Wilfred Brimley. There are also those who believe that life here began out there. I was tempted, however, to view the nonsmoking ordinance as a civil rights issue. Both the S.O. and I straddled the fence on the smoking ban for a mightily long time; in the end we were happy to cancel out each others votes and let people who felt strongly one way or the other decide the issue.

Scott Camarata, owner of Café Marizon on Polk Street, felt strongly and, on Saturday night while I was listening to live local music, he was fretting about the possibility of another petition drive and another referendum on another smoking ban:

"It's going to have to take a little more effort. They are going to have to go out and get 25 percent of who voted this time on their petition to bring it before the City Commission," he said. "They are going to have to come up with a lot, more so than the 1,100 they needed this time around."
Sure, Scott, whatever you have to tell yourself to feel safe and secure. I’m not so sure. From here it looks like 14,718 people have invested in a smoking ban by voting for it. I expect that Clean Air Now wouldn’t have any trouble getting three or four times the number of signatures they got last time. Exert a little control over the language of the ordinance and it would probably pass. But should they even try?

Currently an underserved population in this city can’t enjoy some live music or a meal in a restaurant because we can’t breathe due to excessive smoke. A group of radical activist anti-smokers clearly exists. And half the voting population of this city wants smoking disallowed in public spaces.

There is a solution that both CAN and Speak Out Amarillo should be able to endorse—a solution that acknowledges the rights of both nonsmokers and businesses. Encourage restaurants and bars to voluntarily go smoke-free. Do you have a business that is failing or not doing as well as you might like? Do you have a cool place that has gotten lost in the constant shuffle of restaurant and bar turnover in this city? Do you desperately need to generate some buzz? Remind people that you exist? Fill up your parking lot?

Try this: go completely nonsmoking. I know business owners don’t like risky experiments that might make things worse. But this won’t make things worse. Look at the numbers again; fifteen thousand citizens—"customers" as they are called in hypercapitalistic America circa 2005—who want a place to go that does not now exist. Plus a radical contingent that will probably go out of their way to support a nonsmoking business. I’m not asking at this point for a high-performing business to be the first to take the plunge. Lincoln’s should probably leave things as they are for now. But if a local business owner is looking for a way to improve slumping numbers, it’s almost a guarantee. Think of the free press coverage. Think of the customer loyalty.

The day may come to put another smoking ban on the ballot. But not today. For now, let’s encourage some business owners to cater to nonsmokers. We’ll see where it goes from there.