On October 17, I will celebrate the thirty fifth anniversary of my franchise.
No, not that kind.
It was the autumn of my freshman year in college, and there was a plan afoot in the bustling-but-oh-so-dry city of Irving, Texas to pass what was known as a ‘Local Option.’ For those of you unfamiliar with this term of electoral art, ‘Local Option’ is the right given to county and municipal political jurisdictions to allow decisions on a potentially divisive issue by popular vote. In Texas, the ‘issues’ almost always involve alcoholic beverage sales, or as it was characterized more than a century ago, the license granted to the inhabitants of a district to extinguish or reduce the sale of intoxicants in their midst. Believe it or not, there are still seven ‘Dry’ counties in Texas, as of the end of 2015.
No, not that kind. There are LOTS of that kind.
The Local Option election in 1981 would have allowed the sale of alcoholic beverages by businesses that generated 60% of their receipts in food. Las Colinas, the property from which my university had been carved in the 1950s, was finally under development, and Irving’s prohibition carryover was seen as a major hindrance to the growth of that planned community.
It’s Happy Hour at Bennigans! (Actual Photo)
But I knew nothing of this; dry counties, local options and business growth meant nothing to me; I was in college, and I could drink!
This makes me want to head for the mountains…and hide.
The Texas to which I had moved after my high school graduation was the home of many enlightened traditions:
The ubiquitous wearing of cowboy boots by people who had never seen a cow.
Oh, and the hats.
Juneteenth, which commemorates not the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, nor the end of the Civil War, but rather June 19, 1865, the day African Americans in Texas finally got the word they were free.
Naming things after a very small mission church.
No open container laws,* and the concomitant sales of single beers in convenience stores for the evening commute.
This looks like a six pack traffic jam.
And the laissez faire drinking age of eighteen.**
**The drinking age actually changed to 19 like a week after I got to college. It didn’t stop us.
*The open container law changed several years later (!)
I arrived on campus, primed to relive all the best parts of Animal House, only with better music. Imagine my shock when I found we had to drive into Dallas – all the way to Northwest Highway – to buy booze at Texas Liquors.
Three point eight miles – can you imagine?
And then, one day, some very nice people showed up on the mall, at a table festooned with posters, bumper stickers, and voter registration cards. Fill this out, they said, and YOU CAN CHANGE THE WORLD.
They may have put it differently.
The fact that I was a poor college student, who wouldn’t really be able to take advantage of this change for several years, never occurred to me. I was intoxicated with what Ambrose Bierce called the instrument and symbol of a freeman’s power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country.
Did you see what I did there? Literary quote AND terrible pun; Dr. John Alvis would be proud.
A month or so later, there was a new voting precinct in Irving. Little booths were set up in the Maher Athletic Center. Officious looking grown ups sat at a folding table. I stood in a longish line, and when my turn came, I cast my very first ballot.
Where do I punch the hole for BEER?
In the largest turnout in Irving’s history, “the legal sale of mixed beverages” was approved 13,158 to 12,373, or a margin of 785 votes. By way of comparison, there were about 900 undergraduate students on campus that fall, the vast majority of which were eighteen or older.
The future is in our hands – what can go wrong?
That was the first and last time I felt my vote actually made a difference.