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Life, liberty and the right to a pregame Sunday beer

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By HOWARD TROXLER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published April 16, 2003


Please indulge a less-weighty topic.

It so happens that St. Petersburg, which as you know is famous around the world for its trendy, cutting-edge lifestyle, is considering loosening its existing rules on the sale of alcohol on Sundays.

These rules are time-honored, and common across Florida. No person may sell or purchase alcohol before 1 p.m. on Sundays. This is true whether they are the riffest of raff, or society's elite indulging in fancy brunches.

No Bloody Marys.

No screwdrivers.

No PBR before the magic hour.

Me, I am not a Sunday bruncher. But what I am, is I am frustrated at 12:45 p.m., several times a year, particularly during the season of National Football League games.

It is the most arbitrary of tyrannies that in these last-minute Sunday excursions, I might legally provision myself with chips and dips, and all the other tools of game-watching save for one: certain malt beverages, or, if you will, beer.

Beer!

All I want is to be able to buy beer on Sundays in time for 1 p.m. kickoffs.

At 12:59 p.m., it is a crime for a person to buy, or for the poor, abused clerk at the supermarket to sell, the forbidden beverage. If caught, the clerk would be shamed, fired, destroyed. A smaller store might lose its very license (as if, you know, they would ever pick on Publix).

The final second passes. Ding! What was a forbidden act instantly becomes legal. Meanwhile, at home, the television shows the kickoff, unwatched. The Bucs have yet to run back a kickoff for a touchdown, but there is no doubt in my mind it will finally occur while I am standing in a checkout line.

It is a denial of freedom to the citizens by the government. It is worse than that, of course. It is a blue law foisted upon the citizens by churches, and by Christian churches at that. (If we really wanted to do some good by banning alcohol sales on the "Sabbath," we would take the Jewish version, from sundown Friday till sundown Saturday).

I mean no disrespect to my ministerial friends. Many of them are of the opinion they will have a better shot at attracting customers if the customers were not lying in gutters clutching paper bags, which doubtless they would be doing with earlier alcohol sales. ("What! I can't pour Boone's Farm all over myself and panhandle? Then I will hie me hence to Sunday school!")

Some blue-nose politicians, while nodding and winking at their churchly friends, will pretend there is a secular basis for a Sunday morning ban, to wit: "I just think there ought to be one day a week that you can't buy alcohol until the afternoon."

Okay, fine. I'll take Tuesday. Nothing ever happens on Tuesday anyway.

If there was ever a clear revelation of the hypocrisy of this, it came this spring, when the City Council rushed to pass an "emergency" exception to allow Sunday morning alcohol sales at the Grand Prix auto race.

See, St. Petersburg desperately hoped that with the Grand Prix, it would be seen as a Glamorous International City where the likes of Paul Newman might hang out before jetting off to Monaco.

One set of rules for glamorous, international jet-setters.

A different set of rules for the mere citizens.

This led a member of the City Council, John Bryan, to propose the relaxing of St. Petersburg's Sunday-morning laws. He is not talking about handing out Jell-O shots on Central Avenue at dawn. He is talking about, say, an 11:30 a.m. starting time, to accommodate late-morning brunchers and shoppers.

So far, the City Council has not rushed to adopt Bryan's proposal. Bryan tells me that he doubts he has five votes. Even the liquor stores are not crazy about the idea (losing their only day off) and the retailers are not leading the charge either.

Nonetheless, the e-mail and letters to City Hall have been almost unanimous in support. I respectfully urge the seven other members to consider whether they really want to continue to abuse the power of government in this way. If so, their names ought to be posted on all the cash registers.

Eleven-thirty! It is not so much to ask.

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