By JOHN McCALL
Nasruddin, so the fable goes, was asked to judge a marital dispute. He listened to the husband’s argument and then said to him, “I believe you are right.”
Then Nasruddin listened to the wife’s argument and said to her, “I believe you are right.”
At which point the bailiff said, “Nasruddin. They both cannot be right.”
To which Nasruddin replied, “I believe you are right.”
That’s how I feel about the BYOB issue, and I have lived in Ocean City for the better part of 60 years, as a summer visitor and as a year-round resident. The character of most healthy communities, like the character of most men, is not determined by the inclusion of alcohol on the dinner menu. I’ve never noticed that abstinence improves a man’s character, and I’ve seen as many men made mean and intolerant by abstemiousness as by drinking.
In the case of the individual whose character is overly effected by alcohol, the issue seems to be one of control. (This, by the way, is an issue with many different substances and behaviors including gambling, certainly, and tobacco, caffeine, sugar, sex, none of which is banned by law, although all are restricted.)
Is control the issue for Ocean City? It would seem that this all depends on the wording of the law and its enforcement. If the law contains loopholes that allow for the sale of alcohol or the establishment of bars, or if the law is as blatantly disregarded as the city’s alcohol restrictions are now, somebody will try to put a bar here, or a retail sales outlet of some kind. Judging from the past, that is a near-certainty.
The BYOB issue is not a red herring although it is diverting voter attention from other issues, issues more important in choosing a candidate to support. BYOB is a non-issue to the extent that it does not have anything to do with the issues that truly do shape the character of the town, such as overcrowding, parking, or the preservation of those architectural elements that make the atmosphere of the town special. These are the elements safeguarded in beautiful towns such as St. Augustine, Florida, New Hope, Pennsylvania, or Martha’s Vineyard, where “don’t change” means far more than it does in Ocean City right now.
Just a look at our most visible families shows the extent to which “Don’t Change Ocean City,” is absurd. The Jernee family, for example, destroyed one of the finest, most historically significant buildings on the island at 36th Street and replaced it with a string of duplexes, changing the character of that south end area absolutely and forever. The Gillian family has changed the city’s skyline, the footprints of both of their amusement sites, and in the case of Wonderland removed offstreet parking and ran amusements right up to the sidewalk in a residential neighborhood.
Think of the impact of the new bridge. Think of how the Tabernacle Society has expanded, or the high school, for that matter. Think of how some individual property owners within the city’s historic district have done all they could to circumvent the law and alter the atmosphere of their neighborhood permanently. Nobody was thinking, “Don’t Change Ocean City.” Quite frankly, I don’t believe any of them are thinking that now.
Years ago (most people don’t even remember when) the Blue Laws were contested for the same reasons,
See Your Views, page A9
Continued from page A8
and their repeal changed nothing. Some people were scandalized by the idea that books might actually be sold on Sunday. Today, as only one example, every bank in town does business seven days a week. The Sabbath, as known in the Ocean City of my boyhood, has ceased to exist, but not because the Blue Laws were repealed.
Voting for or against the BYOB change is not a vote for or against prohibition. You can drink booze in Ocean City, obviously. As has been noted repeatedly in print, everybody does it. You can buy a beer in Ocean City on Sunday, if you know where to go. Voting for the change means that you think it’s a good thing if people in our community are not prohibited from having wine or beer with dinner in a public place. That’s all.
What a man does tells you what he believes. As a community, in our behavior, we already recognize that alcohol is a legitimate part of just about every good time from dinner to Night in Venice to private receptions to sitting on the beach. Calling Ocean City a dry town is really a misnomer and a misperception. Alcohol, particularly as an adjunct to dining, permeates our community as it has for years.
Take 1958: Merion Park was a group of small houses in the swamp, West Avenue ended at 35th Street, and there were no houses on Bay Avenue south of 18th Street. Medical attention was hard to get to, and once when I got a bad foot wound chasing jackrabbits along the train tracks that ran through the marshes to the railroad bridge at 51st Street, a neighborhood cleric who knew first aid cleaned and bandaged my foot. As I recall, my father, who was not a drinking man himself, nonetheless thought it appropriate to thank him with a bottle of wine, which the cleric graciously accepted. I believe they were both right.
John McCall is a resident of Ocean City.