I have mixed feelings about drinking laws; don't you? I was opposed to the recent San Diego beach booze ban, but I could see the point of folks who want to take their kids to the beach without getting douche vomit on their towels. It would've been more reasonable for the policy-makers to seek a compromise, but prohibition is so efficacious.
I used to work in a building on a college campus. One day, the smoke alarm went off and the building was evacuated. Turned out a faculty member had abandoned a popcorn bag in the microwave mid-nukage and burnt some kernels.
The smoke cleared, and everyone was able to reluctantly go back to work. The dean's solution to the crisis?
Microwave popcorn was banned from the building. Regular Presently Tense readers know that I'm no fan of microwave popcorn [“Pop go the weasels,” May 10, 2006], but a ban is a pretty draconian response to a blunder. Of course, it was effective in the same way that the threat of getting your bare ass caned in jail is a persuasive deterrent to tagging the subway in Singapore.
I'm not so idealistic that I always err on the side of freedom—I love that I don't have to breathe smoke in bars anymore—but I'm not such a freak for order that I think it's a good idea to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
I wanted you to know where I stood before I brought up the issue at hand. Here it is: We have a problem on the COASTER. I don't mean the Big Dipper in Belmont Park; I mean the COASTER train that carts commuters daily back and forth between Downtown and Oceanside, with stops along the way in Old Town, Sorrento Valley, Solana Beach, Encinitas and Carlsbad.
I've been a daily COASTER commuter for two years, and I appreciate its convenience and efficiency. The rail trip to and from work is a nice alternative to the daily traffic grind. Except on game day. When the Padres are in town to lose two out of three to whomever they're playing, the COASTER is packed with fans heading south to Petco, getting their drink on early and whooping it up on the train.
The fact that drinking on the train is permitted is a good thing. In February, I wrote how “this evening I am going to prepare and enjoy… Manhattans with my coworkers on the train as we commute home along the coast.” My coworkers and I are civilized people who know how to drink. But the COASTER tailgaters are a bunch of amateurs.
First, they drink bucketfuls of bad liquor. Captain Morgan-spiked Gatorade, Miller Lite 40s—you get the picture. They've got less than an hour and they're gonna chug as much as they can.
Second, they're obnoxious. These kids get fucked up. They scream and yell and run up and down the aisles, falling all over the place, spilling drinks and ruining the ride for everyone else.
Third, they flagrantly violate the law. Many of them are underage, and many of them ride without paying for tickets. If you don't believe me, ask the conductors—whom I've overheard expressing real frustration (“What do I do? Throw half the train off?”)—or you can hop on the train and see for yourself.
Every week I overhear comments from the drunken kids like, “They'll just give you a warning, but you'll never get a ticket” or “Here, pour some of that in my Coke. They don't card.”
After a hard day's work, the last thing you want is to deal with a bunch of faded juveniles competing to be the loudest, drunkest, sluttiest fool on the train.
I realize that I come off like a grumpy old parade-rainer, but hear me out. Commuters ride the train every day. We pay the $154 a month for passes (raised this week to $168) that keep the COASTER in business. Without us, no COASTER. Every regular rider I talked to about this admitted to dreading game nights. I like beer and baseball as much as the next guy, but I didn't sign up for 10 trips a month in a mobile frat house.
So what should be done? The knee-jerk answer would be to ban drinking on the train, but I am a different kind of jerk. I don't want to take away the privilege from everyone in order to calm the knuckleheads. I have waited for two seasons to write about this issue out of reluctance to add powder to a COASTER booze-ban snowball. There are some game-goers who drink moderately, chat and watch the Del Mar dolphins from the window like the rest of us. Not everyone is wrecking the ride.
Another solution would be to demand a Coaster crackdown. That would require hiring two security guards to ride on every 5 and 5:30 pm southbound train on game nights, patrolling the aisles, checking IDs and train passes and enforcing the rules. I don't like this idea, either. It might solve the problem, but an over-regulated train would sour the atmosphere almost as much as the stumbling, spewing teens do.
In seeking a compromise, I talked with Mike, a COASTER commuter, who told me that, allegedly, not long ago, a group of regular riders presented to the North County Transit District, which manages the COASTER, a proposal to designate one or two cars on the train “non-drinking cars.” Nothing came of it.
But this strikes me as a very sensible compromise.
Regular commuters, the elderly and families with children would have a place to ride without hassle; those who want to party can party on without worrying about bugging the rest of us (even the lawbreaking under-21 crowd, who at least aren't driving); the NCTD wouldn't have to hire more security; I wouldn't have to bitch about this anymore; and, oh yeah, we beat the prohibitionists to the punch.
On its site, the NCTD claims, “Your travel comfort and convenience are important to us, so please don't hesitate to contact us with your concerns.” Alright, I will (1-800-COASTER).