April 24th, 2020

The protesters are in Madison, railing against Governor Evers’ policies concerning the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, Evers has the state shut down until May 26th. That is a long time. The Republicans in the Wisconsin legislature are suing Evers to block his stay-at-home rules. Wisconsin’s chamber of commerce wants to open businesses by May 4th. The protesters want everything to be opened right now. 

It’s kind of a mess.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce want to open businesses completely in the less densely populated parts of the state. Those regions show little or no signs of infection by the corona virus. The majority of the virus problems are in Wisconsin’s urban areas. So, is it a good idea to open up the economy in certain parts of the state, but not in others? Maybe, but it reminds me of something from years ago.

Back in the early 1980’s, I was stationed with the Army at Fort Rucker, Alabama. It didn’t get any deeper in the South than that. I lived in a apartment off-post in a town called Enterprise. Enterprise is famous for the Boll Weevil Monument. The monument commemorates the boll weevil plague that destroyed the cotton crops of the South. The destruction of the cotton economy forced farmers to diversify their crops. When I was living in Alabama, the farmers were growing peanuts, okra, and kudzu (mostly kudzu). Anyway, the monument is a large statue of a woman holding a hideous insect above her head. That should give you an idea of what Enterprise was like.

Enterprise was the largest city within the borders of Coffee County. At that time, Coffee County was dry. No alcohol. Period. Now, Fort Rucker, being the property of the federal government, did not have to abide by the rules of Coffee County. So people could drink at Fort Rucker, and they did, often to excess. Because of a lack of housing on the post, many of the soldiers, like myself, lived in Enterprise. We drank heavily on post, and then we drove back to our homes. When I wanted to buy booze, I went to the liquor store on Fort Rucker (the Class VI Store), and took the forbidden beverages back to my apartment in the trunk of my car.

How does this apply to the current state of affairs in my state? Well, I live about ten minutes from the Racine County line. If, for some reason, Racine County was able to open all the way up, but Milwaukee County, where I reside, could not, then it is very likely that I would simply drive a few miles south to do whatever I wanted to do in Racine County. For instance, if I can’t take my wife out for dinner in our county, I could take her to a restaurant in Racine. I would not be the only person doing this sort of thing. Basing the stay-at-home rules on a local level guarantees that people will travel and mix with folks from other parts of the state. It is a perfect way to spread the virus to places that so far seem to be unaffected. I see this as being a problem.

Then there is the question of what businesses open and under what conditions. I am betting that the very last businesses to open will be the bars. Why is that? Think about it. I will give you an example.

I don’t usually go to taverns. However, I used to go to Frank’s Power Plant in Bay View when my friends from the Dead Morticians played a gig. The Dead Morticians played horror punk, a dark and twisted sub-genre of heavy metal. It is an acquired taste. They did not play often, but I tried to listen to them whenever they did.

Frank’s Power Plant was a dingy bar with a rather eclectic clientele. It was a tiny place, and always crowded. It appealed to me in a quirky, subversive sort of way. On the nights when the heavy metal enthusiasts were there to hear the bands play, the bar was packed. The volume of the noise in the tavern was at eardrum-bursting decibels, and people were wedged in tight near the musicians. There was no stage. I remember standing within a foot of Ian, the lead guitarist.

Heavy metal aficionados are an unruly lot, even when sober. Generally, they do not remain sober for very long. There is a tendency for the spectators to yell and cheer, and get pretty wild. The music makes some people want to strangle puppies. The odds that one of the customers, after several drinks, might suddenly decide to French kiss another guest are relatively high. These people would never follow CDC guidelines, even if they could. If it reopens, this bar will most likely be an alcohol-fueled petri dish for the virus.

Frank’s Power Plant is not the only tavern that would have great difficulties meeting government health requirements in this pandemic. I can think of very few bars that are big enough and open enough to keep the necessary distances between customers. Many of these establishments will never reopen. This may dismay some of the protesters currently wandering around the state capitol. They have been driven from their natural habitats. They can no longer sit on their regular bar stools, and it is likely that they never will again.




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