Health Politics Rochester

Just legalize it: tales from Wine Country

I have a good friend whose name you surely know if you live in the Rochester area: Evan Dawson. I met him when he worked for 13WHAM as a reporter on their nightly news, and he’s now moved on to host his radio show, Connections with Evan Dawson all week on WXXI radio. I mention him because, as you may also know, he wrote a book called Summer in a Glass about Upstate New York’s wine region and the men and women who shape that industry’s fate.

It is a book rich with poetic turns of phrase; it is a book filled with impressions of the country, the people, the history. Very clearly, Evan has a deep and abiding respect for the industry and the products of its labour. It’s a great book and you should definitely read it.

Flash back to a grown-ass adult trying to buy a goddamned bag of weed in the same state: sitting in the cigarette-reeking back of some asshole 20-something’s mini Toyota pickup truck – not the “back seat,” just a subwoofer he never bothered to plug in – waiting patiently among the food wrappers, old clothing and personal hygiene implements for an overpriced bag of agricultural product no more harmful than the stuff Evan waxes poetic about in his book.

With apologies to Evan, we live in a state that doesn’t just allow you to make wine, beer and now hard alcohol: it fetishizes those things as though they were some noble thing. “Uncork New York,” as they say. Every festival in Rochester has a wine tent. There are stores throughout the Finger Lakes that don’t even sell wine, just all the wine accessories you could possibly want including tee shirts, bottle openers, earrings. Evan’s is, as you might suspect, hardly the only written document on the subject.

Matter of fact, there is a comfort care home down the road from me that can’t house more than five people; they’re having a wine tasting in a couple weeks. A home for five people, all of whom must certainly have been told to stop drinking alcohol thirty years ago, and they’re having a wine tasting.

I don’t begrudge the alcohol industry’s success in New York State. Hell, I even used to write a column for (585) Magazine called Over Drinks, dedicated to the topic. But as silly as it’s ever been for weed to be illegal when alcohol is legal, that goes doubly and trebly for a state that makes such a farcically big deal out of hootch. There are those who want or need marijuana for medical use, recreational use and research, but even attempts to make medical weed available have stalled.

If any state in the union ought to have promotions all summer long for it’s Marijuana Region, it is a state as hilly and sunny as New York. We have conditions to make beautiful, award-winning ganja to suit every palate and preference. Setivas. Indikas. Candy bars and sodas. And sure! Why not a weed-themed New York State tee shirt?

“New York State of Mind,” or “We Came, We Saw, We Smoked,” or “My Parents Went to Weed Country, and I Had to Buy This Shirt Online Because They Forgot.” Just as suggestions. Perhaps there could be a “Toke New York” campaign with billboards on the 90?

Either way, while half a dozen other states have a referendum on the ballot this November to legalize weed, our silly-ass pols sit in Albany trying to figure out which universities are going to get weed in pill form. And then get a drink of wine with dinner. Because thank you, New York.


Hard Times, Come Again No More: the tragic story of Oak Hill Country Club

Note: for maximum effect, please scroll to the bottom of this post and start the YouTube video. This story requires a soundtrack.

It is a story of faith dashed and a legacy forsaken. It is a story of trust betrayed and democracy torn asunder in the name of convenience. It is a story, most shockingly, of frightfully-bad front of house restaurant management and the real human cost of such delinquencies.

Oh! and its also a story about unsubstantiated allegations of illegal use of surveillance equipment to film peep-show kiddie porn. But I’ll save that for an addendum paragraph at the end. First, the important things.

The gentleman’s rules of democratic country club governance are, I think we can safely say, the kind of ubiquitous cornerstone of all our lives that we sometimes take for granted. We go about our ordinary, work-a-day lives, checking our golf clubs at our $270/month storage lockers and throwing our Perry-Ellis golf pants into our $160/month lockers without the slightest notion that it could all come crashing down. We pay our $580 a month membership fees to our respective country clubs, safe in the presumption that this buys us our democracy, fair and square.

But in reality, we see at Oak Hill that with the flick of a finger, the jack-booted powers that be can bring the tanks rolling onto the green and just start expanding restaurants and moving maintenance sheds without our consent.

Pictured: shell-shocked natives attempt to fill the void in their lives with drugs and vice.

I mean, seriously! Everybody knows that you can’t increase the floor space of a restaurant without knowing for sure that you have the clientele to fill the extra tables! That’s just basic economics.

Pictured: Basic economics

One man decided to take a stand. One man – oh, I won’t call him a hero. Because what’s a hero? – but one man stood up against the authoritarian madness. That man is a 40-year veteran of the Oak Hill country club, State Supreme Court Justice Alex Renzi. His resignation letter (PDF) tells the harrowing tale of a refugee, escaping just ahead of the guns and tanks, from his native ghetto of Brighton.

He tells the tale of an immigrant boy – first-generation Italian Oak Hill – coming to the glimmering greens of the country club he regards as the “best on the planet,” filled with promise. And he tells of how his wondering eyes were deceived in later years by the sheer monomaniacal madness of the present-day power structure.

In the end, while others insist on taking the fight to the leadership, he is too broken by the experience and must – with deep regret – resign his membership. There but for the grace of god go we all.

Oh, yes. The kiddie porn. Apparently, some cameras were installed in the locker rooms and word got out that someone might be using those cameras to film girls peeing in the bathrooms. Seems like a perfectly-provable crime to me and definitely the kind of thing you’d want to go to authorities with. But like all of us small people in a faceless authoritarian regime this Supreme Court Justice simply had no power to do anything about it.