- Jesse Spaccia illustration
I like to take a beer with me on a walk. Other than driving seven or so miles per hour over the speed limit, it's the only illegal thing I do with any regularity.
Yet somehow I have to remind myself that I'm engaging in illicit behavior, because it doesn't feel very wrong. In fact, few things feel more right than the reassuring weight of a mostly full bottle of IPA swinging in stride at my side on a warm evening. I'm not sure if the walk makes the beer taste better or if the beer makes the walk more enjoyable. And I don't care to know. I just know that if you give me a stellar sunset and 12 cold ounces with which to saunter, I will be happy.
It's hard to feel like you're doing anything wrong when you're pushing your children's stroller down a sidewalk with a beer in the cup holder. I mean, there is a cup holder, after all, and it fits a beer bottle or tall can with the sort of snugness the stroller's engineer, or maybe God, clearly intended. But Washington state, like most states, does not allow you to walk with a beer. "No person shall open the package containing liquor or consume liquor in a public place," the law reads.
Never once have I felt guilty for walking with a beer because it's illegal. I don't feel that the sight of me cruising the sidewalk with a bottle or can in my hand will send my community into moral chaos, or cause the neighbor kids to take up drinking any earlier than they inevitably will. No, but I do feel a little guilty knowing that what I'm doing is arrogant, and that if I looked a little different or lived in a different city or even in a different neighborhood, I might have my life torn apart for this simple act.
Let's say I lived in downtown Spokane. I don't think I'd take a beverage along for a stroll because, well, there are more police there. If I were not a white guy with children and the dress and body of a boring middle-class dad, maybe I'd leave the beer at home. Maybe I'd realize that walking with a beer could lead to a citation, which could lead to a court appearance that I'd be unable to make or a fine I couldn't afford, which would lead to me being a fugitive, all because walking with a beer feels good.
In Matt Taibbi's book The Divide, the Rolling Stone political and financial writer details the stop-and-frisk laws of New York City that — in one year alone — led to 140,000 open container violation citations in the city, many of which led to the recipients of those citations finding themselves tangled in the legal system. He juxtaposes this with the lax enforcement of the crimes perpetrated by Wall Street executives, virtually all of whom got off without even a slap on the wrist following the 2008 financial meltdown.
That comparison makes you think a little bit about the real intention of an open container law. Maybe some of those 140,000 people were guys who just "felt better" with a beer in their hand while strolling the neighborhood. Maybe their strollers even had cup holders and they, like me, just followed the logic and placed a beer in there.
Yes, I am aware that there are places that allow a beer on the sidewalk, but unfortunately those are places like Las Vegas, where such a privilege is wasted on the wasted. And maybe a walk with a beer wouldn't feel as good if everyone else was doing it. Perhaps there's joy in the risk, be that risk real or perceived. All I have are the facts: Beer makes walks better and walks make beer better. And if that truth runs afoul of law, well then, I'm happy to be a criminal. ♦