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Binge Drinking, B.C.


Between the city council’s passage of the “21-Only” ordinance aimed at keeping those under the age of 21 out of Iowa City bars after 10 p.m. and The University of Iowa’s new “Think Before You Drink” initiative aimed at cracking down on tailgating-related drinking, the powers that be are hoping to alter the course of the river of booze that flows through Iowa City.

Part of the city’s new ordinance has raised the possible fine for being under 21 in a bar after 10 p.m. to more than $1000. Meanwhile, the fine for possessing a nuclear weapon within city limits is $500. Speaking only for myself, I’d prefer that 19-year-olds were downtown experimenting with new ways to drink tequila rather than at home experimenting with uranium enrichment because, from what I’ve read, radiation poisoning is even worse than a really bad tequila hangover–and much more likely to affect a larger number of people.

One might wonder if the council members had been drinking themselves when they came up with this fee structure.

This would not be without historical precedent as inebriation, and the oftentimes poor decision making that accompanies it, has been a popular pastime in college towns ever since Oog the Caveman opened the first Division 1 College in the world during the Paleolithic Era over 40,000 years ago. (Based on its enrollment, which was only two, it really should have been a Division 3 school, but people could not count that high at the time.)

Oog’s “Learn use club. Learn kill bear. Learn catch women. Learn get job.” curriculum (which we now know as a “Communications Degree”) was pretty rigorous for its day. Yet, even then, his students still spent a lot of time trying to alter their consciousness.

For the first 35,000 years that humans attended college, this was normally achieved by students hitting each other on the head with their clubs (which is why, to this day, a hangover feels like you’ve been hit on the head with a club; it is a vestigial remnant of the very first hangovers in human history.) Then, around 4000 B.C., the ancient Egyptian god Osiris invented beer to impress a girl, Isis. His newly-invented drink helped him woo her, and, later–after they were married and he learned she was his sister–it was very useful in helping him process this news.

The very first cover charge (so named for the fee one paid to drink indoors while taking cover from swarming locusts) was created shortly thereafter.

Oog’s college later became “The University of Oog” when it started offering a post-graduate degree, “Learn Make Fire,” but not much has changed since then, really.

Locally, the first known instance of underage drinking involving University of Iowa students occurred at 9:15 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 6, 1855–not quite three months after Iowa became the first public university in the United States to admit women and men on an equal basis.

It was a bitterly cold night, and a male student who had invited a female classmate back to his meager quarters in a nearby stable to study poured them each a glass of whiskey to help them warm up.

What they were really planning to study was each other, but their plans were halted when she unexpectedly shared her whiskey–and the potatoes she had eaten for dinner–with the horses. Her spontaneous act of generosity spooked them, and one horse reared up and stepped on the young man in the place men would least like to be stepped on by a horse, especially while feeling studious. (Shortly thereafter, he dropped out of school, became a minister, and never again touched alcohol, women or horses.)

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His impromptu gelding inspired the university to launch their first anti-drinking initiative–“Nuts to Drinking”–but it was to no avail.

More recently, on the west side of campus, folks who may have been too drunk to notice the 70,000-seat stadium they bought homes across the street from have started complaining about the fact that their neighborhood gets swarmed with people when the Hawkeyes are playing. (And by “people” I mean “people who have been drinking since 7 a.m.”)

The city council heard these complaints and, acting on them, denied the beloved Magic Bus a permit to relocate to a new location when its original home changed owners, their lease was not renewed and they wanted to drop anchor a few blocks away.

“The Bus,” as it was known to its fans, began its life on Melrose Avenue in 1856 as a handcart pulled by two Mormon pioneers trekking west to Salt Lake City who were waylaid when a well-endowed female Iowa student (who was drinking her ninth beer of the morning) offered them a beer and said she would flash her boobs to them in exchange for a free radio station T-shirt.

Although they were deeply pious men who had no idea what a “T-shirt” was and who had dedicated their entire lives up to that point to abstemiousness in all things, the ancient siren song of alcohol and women caused them to abandon their trek–and their faith–entirely (thus creating the mold that many future religious leaders would be cast from.)

Inarguably the most famous tailgating destination in town, watching the game at “The Bus” was just like watching the game at home, in your living room, except with 500 of your closest friends and while standing on a lawn that was, by day’s end, a sea of mud, spilled beer, urine and turkey leg bones. It was the most fun you could have with your shirt on–and sometimes with your shirt off also–as it continued to draw women willing to flash their boobs to strangers in exchange for free radio station T-shirts, a transaction much easier to complete now that radio stations and T-shirts had actually been invented.

For most men (being, as we are, a rather singularly focused and simple-minded lot) this one-of-a-kind combination of football, flesh and beer could only be described as paradise itself.

The property’s new owners felt that paradise needed to be improved upon so they decided to pave it, add a helipad, build a tram that ran across the street to the stadium, and dig a small lake with mooring space for one yacht.

These improvements were aimed at attracting a “more professional crowd” of drinkers to the site on game days under the new, swankier-sounding name “The Stadium Club,” which was rumored to feature new “professional drinking” amenities like a coat check, complimentary cucumber finger sandwiches, liver dialysis treatment and “valet puking,” featuring specially trained attendants who would hold your hair back for you while you vomited.

The city, however, after inspecting the improved site, decided to deny a temporary use permit for tailgating at this location as well.

They did this because a) these improvements were only dubiously “temporary”; b) they don’t like drinking; and, c) they felt like it. (There may have been additional reasons, I’m not sure, but a newly passed ordinance prohibits the use of the words “tail” and “gate” in the same sentence, so I wasn’t able to legally call and ask.)

Rather than see the site remain empty on opening day, the property’s new owners are in negotiations with several other organizations that have an interest in using the site, including “The Bus” itself which may yet emerge from this bureaucratic hangover to live again.

Perhaps, if no agreement can be worked out that satisfies the city’s capricious zoning standards, the university could buy the property and open its own tailgating business there.

If the university does open a tailgating venture there, they could even serve drinks in the many “Officially Licensed” University of Iowa shot glasses, beer steins, martini glasses, beer glasses and pitchers that feature their colors and logos. (But only non-alcoholic drinks though, since their own licensing policy expressly forbids the use of their trademarks or logos on merchandise used for alcohol consumption.)

All of these drinking-related crackdowns, in concert, seem like taking the hand that feeds you and sticking it into a margarita blender.

If The University of Iowa (and its sometimes boozy students) weren’t here, would Iowa City really be much more than a rest stop on the road from Des Moines to Chicago?

“Welcome to Iowa City: A UNESCO City of Clean Bathrooms. Gas. Arby’s.”

The first measure of how this will ultimately play out, long-term, won’t be known until November, when the petition to rescind the 21-Only ordinance is put to a vote.

In the meantime, if some gray-haired and well-dressed 70-something alum is tipsily stumbling home from an open-bar, university-sponsored charity fundraiser and he gets a quart of vomit “charitably deposited” on his black-and-gold silk tie by a 20-year-old sorority girl wearing a radio station T-shirt who’s had one (or seven) too many jello shots trying to beat the 10 p.m. cut-off time, I only hope I’m there to witness it.

It would be really touching to see a sweet grandfather-granddaughter bonding moment like that.


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