Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Bellingham's drinking black eye

A drunken riot happened last weekend (October 12) around Indian Street in Bellingham. When police tried to break up one large "college style" party, the participants went out onto the street and merged with revelers from other parties. Around 500 people were cursing and tossing glass bottles at police who eventually used means, such as pepper spray, to disperse the crowd. Media coverage of this riot has embarrassed local residents who say this is not a good image of Bellingham. It's Bellingham's drinking black eye.

It isn't usual for such a riot to happen, but whether we like to admit it or not, there is a lot of drinking in Bellingham. Bars and house parties are big spaces for social connection in our city. Other cities and towns have similar drinking scenes so Bellingham isn't necessarily any worse, but we do have our problems like the rest of them. This was our city's turn to be in the limelight of cities where drunken riots have taken place.

I remember the news about a riot in the frat house district of the town I grew up in; Pullman, WA. That was back in the 1990s (if I remember correctly) and it was a similar embarrassment to the town and local university officials. Bellingham's riot also involved a lot of non students, however. For all I know, maybe Pullman's riot had non students as well. Both towns are dominated by their student populations; especially Pullman.

One would think there are other kinds of social settings than just mindless drinking parties. For instance, why don't more people sit around in the nude in saunas and have intelligent conversation? I'm not an anti alcohol, anti fun person. Moderate drinking isn't the end of the world, but if I had to make a choice between public nudity and public drunkenness, I'd chose the nudity. Also it's ironic that alcohol is a big industry while so many other recreational drugs are strictly illegal.

Here in Washington State, the voters have taken steps toward making marijuana legal which is long overdue. Compared to alcohol, I hear marijuana is fairly mellow.

There are a lot of things that people can do to interact and even push boundaries a bit, but drinking is most common. Think of all the bars in downtown Bellingham. It used to be there was hardly anything open downtown after 9 pm except bars. More recently, that situation has improved as quite a few late night restaurants are now open. One dilemma of small towns is that the bar is sometimes the only business in town. Bellingham is bigger than that, but bars are still common.

Drinking and bars are okay in moderation, but lets use our imaginations. There's got to be more variety of things to do.

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