Greetings from the insanely controlled and completely locked down state of California. A place where optics matter far more than anything things else. They matter more than public health, more than scientific data, more than constitutionally protected freedoms. Perhaps we should be used to this, being in a state that is the home to the movie industry, a place that regularly caters to those whose livelihood is based on nothing more that optics. Optics are important to our state, they are important to our regional health orders and important in our discussion of how we justify the decisions and actions we take.
It is not so much that you are doing the right thing, or the good thing, or even the necessary thing, it is simply that you are doing something. Something is better than nothing, at least that is what the optics tell us. it’s like the old warning about the end of the world. Better look busy because judgment day is coming. It doesn’t really matter what you are doing just as long as you are doing something.
So, the way this has played out in our state is to destroy small businesses. I mean it has destroyed a lot of churches as well, but that is only because the churches have conceded our Lord’s authority to Caesar (So perhaps they deserve to be destroyed?). But in the end, as other states are opening, as other people can go back to work and conduct their business as they had always done, this state is reluctantly hesitant to make any such move. It makes sense, I suppose. After all, it would undermine their precedent and make them seem like bigger fools than they already appear to be.
But there has been a delightful surprise in all of this. And that is the rise of the speakeasy.
Now I am a man who loves a good bar. A bar is a public house, a place where the masses gather and sit as equals to discuss anything and everything. From government controls to sports to religion to marital issues, everything is open to discussion at the bar. And everyone sitting at the bar has an equal voice. It doesn’t matter if you’re some sort of alcoholic and derelict of society, or you’re a local attorney, or you’re a preacher from the church down the street, everyone gets a say.
So, in my town, one of the silver linings to the extensive lockdowns is that rise of the speakeasy. Bars have begun to open again. Not open to the public the way they once were, but open to those who know which door is open and which establishment won’t turn you away. There is risk involved in all of it. Risk to the owners and employees who keep the place open, and risk to those who populate such establishments.
But behind the blacked-out windows and the darkened neon beer signs that once announced their intentions to the world, there is life and joy and laughter. Stories are still being told, friendships are still being nurtured and life goes on despite the governor’s mandates. The lockdowns didn’t deprive us of booze the way prohibition had done. No, what they have done was far far worse. For they deprived us of fellowship, of community or a life lived out in the presence of other people.
The modern speakeasy isn’t full of bathtub gin, but of conversations that have been stifled and filtered through our media into comfortable talking points. There is something real here, something to be desired. Not to mention the rye tastes a little better when it is consumed illegally. Now, that may not be good for the optics of things but it is good for the soul.