Hitting the Bottle | Vox Pop | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Hitting the Bottle

Lashing out at the state store system

Are there things in your life that make you think your head will explode? I'm talking about the stuff that seems so obviously ridiculous, yet those around you act as if it's perfectly normal. The stuff they've been brainwashed to believe, the absurd that is the norm. That's what I think of when I think of the state of Pennsylvania owning the liquor stores.

When I've done talk-radio shows on this subject, I get some callers who share my outrage. But others question why I'm making a big deal over nothing. After all, they say, you can still get the booze, and you can still get drunk. What are you complaining about?

Here's what I'm complaining about. It makes absolutely no sense, and just about every other state has stopped doing it. Why? Because it's ridiculous. This thing is a giant boondoggle. The Liquor Control Board is stacked with political friends of those in high places. How exactly are they "controlling" the liquor? And more importantly, why? It's a legal product. If word hasn't reached you yet, Prohibition is over.

When I return to my ancestral home in the tiny metropolis of Kankakee, Ill., I walk into the Jewel-Osco grocery store. There I can get a bottle of Grey Goose vodka, some decent but not-too-expensive white wine, a six-pack of Heineken and a bag of Tostitos ... all in the same freaking store. Then I can get stinking drunk and pretend that my relatives aren't nearly as annoying as they really are.

The convenience is exhilarating. But then the obvious question occurs to me: Why can I do this in little Kankakee, but I can't in much larger and (theoretically) more sophisticated Pittsburgh?

The answer, apparently, is that state-owned liquor stores turn a profit for taxpayers. But that is a major part of the absurdity. We could turn a profit by demanding tobacco be sold only through state stores. We could turn a profit by demanding Doritos be sold only through state stores. We could demand that Tampax ... well, you get the idea. But we don't do those things. Why? A little thing called the free-enterprise system.

You'd think with all the talk about letting the free market work its magic, we could get Harrisburg to join the 21st century. But Pennsylvania holds on to its absurd anachronisms like Fast Eddie Rendell grips a Philly cheesesteak.

Some argue that if we gave up state stores, underage drinking would rise. They stopped having state liquor stores in Iowa, and that didn't happen. Other studies contradict that. I say it doesn't matter. Two words: free enterprise. It trumps all.

Then there is the ridiculous complicated maze one must navigate to buy out-of-state wine. For a while, you couldn't get wine from out of state through the mail. The courts have ruled that's not fair, but the legislature hasn't yet passed a new law to make it legal. So FedEx and other couriers, afraid to run afoul of the law, won't deliver the wine.

Even if the legislature does make it legal, the current plan is that the wine would have to be dropped off at the state store so they can drop it off at your house ... for a fee.

They're interfering with the delivery of the U.S. mail, for Chrissakes -- and people act as if it's normal! Meanwhile, it's technically illegal for you to buy wine in New Jersey and bring it back here. Nobody's really going to arrest you, but it's still technically illegal! How idiotic is that?

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette just spent eight million column inches detailing this absurdity in an in-depth look at the state of the state stores. My question is, why is this shit so goddamn complicated that it takes so freaking long to explain it?

Well, I've gotta go. If I don't get drunk before my head explodes, then my brains will be all over the place. Although if I have only one brain cell left after it explodes, I'm sure I'll still think the concept of having the state selling liquor is idiotic on its face.

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