When I was a kid, part of the normal weekly experience was watching variety shows like the Jackie Gleason Show. There were a lot of variations of that show, but the one I recall ended with Gleason coming on stage alone with a cup of coffee in hand. Then again, I might be confused, maybe that was Dean Martin who had his own show and his own reputation for drinking. In any case, the host doesn’t matter (but if you know, please comment) it was the action that has my attention. Most people assumed that there was liquor in that cup. Some argue that it was really coffee or tea and that it was just a signature element – today we would call that “branding” and the alcoholic inference would be part of their personal brands – those were different times. I always liked that part of the show, whichever one it was, because an adult was doing something bad – right in front of us. Alcohol, hidden in plain sight turned out to be a periodic recurring theme in my life.
I think the concealment mechanism that has always made the least sense to me was the “sack.” The notion that students in a college town or on a college campus weren’t allowed to consume alcohol but would be ignored drinking from a brown bottle in a brown paper bag seemed strange. Was that a 4th amendment thing (we can’t search the bag) or perhaps just a boy-will-be-boys thing (not that girls didn’t drink from bottles in sacks)? Maybe it was just a law enforcement thing:
“If you are obviously breaking the law, you don’t give me any choice, but if I don’t know what’s in the sack – wink wink – then we’re ok”
Once while visiting a friend in North Carolina, I had the best experience with law enforcement ever. Several of us were enjoying some Frisbee and a picnic lunch in a local park when a Sherriff walked over to us. We were all drinking beer, but he looked down at me. Picture the stereotypical big southern sheriff – uniform, weapon, hat and sunglasses – looking almost like Jackie Gleason in another famous role (Buford T. Justice). So picture that and imagine a soft southern accent (and a shaky northern one):
“Son, are you folks aware that this is a dry county?”
“I wasn’t…sir. Does that mean that we can’t drink here?”
“Nah son, that means y’all need to put those beers in a sack.”
I encountered a more literal officer several years later after moving to Connecticut. We wanted to spend the day at the beach on Long Island sound. A friend and I drove down to Hammonasset Beach State Park and unpacked a 6-pack cooler of beer. We cracked one open in the parking lot and very quickly became familiar with CT’s no-alcohol policy. A State Police officer instructed us to “pour out the contents” of the open beer. I could accept that, although one last sip would have been nice, but he added “and open and pour out the contents of the bottles in the cooler” – that seemed harsh. It wasn’t just drinking that was prohibited; it was possession of alcohol on State property. I’m sure he was just doing his job. We weren’t looking to be drunk on the beach so it didn’t ruin our day but I always wondered what would have happened if that beer had been in a bag. They don’t call them sacks up here.
These memories from over 30 years ago came back to me this past weekend. Some friends of ours offered to take my daughter and I with them to Foxboro to watch the Patriots play the Steelers. Note that nothing will be said here about the outcome of that game. After enjoying a very nice time tailgating, it was time to hike over to Gillette Stadium. Before putting the cooler away, our host asked us if anyone wanted a beer for the walk. He added:
“if you want to carry a beer, pour it into a cup. If you carry the bottle you will have to throw it away pretty soon. If you have it in a cup, you can walk up as far as the entrance.”