Last year, I visited my family in Alabama. After a long full-day hike in Bankhead Forest, my sister and I decided we needed Mexican food. El Patron Mexican food. Sent to us from heaven up above.
My brother-in-law dropped us off since he wanted to get dinner with his family. Caked in mud to my knees and exhausted, we took our seats and started shoveling chips and salsa into our tired bellies. I ordered a margarita. A large, sweet-assed peach margarita with salt around the rim. Double tequila and keep them coming. I knew I’d have to sleep in the hot, second-floor bedroom of my grandmother’s house, listening to the ear-shattering loudness of the frogs from the yard. I’d have to share the concrete, old sheet covered bed with my sister, and I can’t sleep in the same room as other people. I’d needed alcohol all along to put up with my extended family’s hateful, judgmental attitudes and to sleep at all. You know what was there for me now? Alcohol. For the first time, sweet, sweet, literally sweet peach margaritas that I enjoyed before sipping from the flask of Buffalo Trace I’d brought.
Growing up, we had to drive to Littleville, Alabama for beer. It was on the Colbert, County line, and they had several package stores and bars with neon signs. In our sleepy little town in Franklin County, beer, liquor, and wine were illegal. Devil’s sauce.
When I was in high school, liquor laws came up on the ballot for a vote. The churches organized and put an old car on the side of the road by the middle school. They crumpled up trash bags on the hood to make it look like it had been wrecked and spray-painted a sign to protest the legalization of alcohol. This was 2010 or so, yet I was visiting the mythical town of Footloose.
So alcohol sales were legal, but advertising it wasn’t. Signs went up like: “We got it, and it’s cold!” “It” was the sweet, sweet nectar of Natty Lite; the drink every old man sucked down but could never before buy in his county. At the same time, several church people said things like “sometimes evil prevails,” and “there’s a reason sin is fun.”
My county had a long history of bootlegging and moonshining. The Dawson Gang brought in cases of booze, and several law enforcement officials were taken down over the years for taking a $1 in bribes per case of beer illegally brought into our town. Dry counties forge their own economies and stifle the mainstream. Families had made their livings bootlegging liquor, while other families couldn’t make a living selling the sauce. At least three liquor stores have opened in Russellville since it went damp. A boutique motel with a restaurant opened in the desolate and empty main street of downtown. I can’t help but note how economically beneficial relaxed liquor laws must be for the depressed town, despite how many bootleggers will lose their livelihoods.
This week, the Tennessee legislature voted to allow liquor sales on Sunday. Tennessee has some of the strictest liquor laws in the country. North Alabama, being part of Greater Appalachia by some standards, echoes Tennessee in almost every conceivable way. Central and South Alabama have relaxed laws, but most counties are dry or damp in the Northern area. Take this map of Tennessee laws:
I moved back to Nashville in December from New Orleans. In New Orleans, I could walk down to CVS on Magazine Street on a Sunday morning with a beer in my hand to buy a bottle of Buffalo Trace. I wandered home from the bar next door with my trust Miller Lite in tow to enjoy on my sweet Garden District porch.
In Nashville, I couldn’t buy my favorite wine label’s new bottle on a Sunday evening. To say it was an adjustment would be a gross understatement. The law barred me from downing a bottle of 19 Crimes on Sunday evening, the night I need it most. I ain’t drinking on a Monday. This ain’t New Orleans.
During Monday’s session last week, the House will vote on the measure approved by the Senate , allowing liquor stores to remain open on Sunday along with other provisions that will delay the grocery store wine sales measure until January 1. It’s a step: a majority of the yellow counties in the graph above will move over to blue with Sunday sales. With liquor sales comes tax revenue, increased small business prospects for families and, perhaps most importantly, my piece of mind knowing I can have a good time in more than five Tennessee counties.