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Drunk driving is a policy choice
Plus: Spuds MacKenzie… trans icon?
Editor’s note: No Fingers Weekender this Sunday. Hope you’re able to a) take Memorial Day off and b) enjoy it safely. Please don’t drive drunk. I’ll see you on the other side!—Dave.
Folly Beach is a little hamlet in the greater Charleston metropolitan area, hard by the Atlantic Ocean. I’m partial to it because my wife and I spent a fair amount of time there when we lived in the area, but for all intents and purposes, it’s your standard-issue beach town.
A few weeks ago, a drunk driver going 40 miles an hour over the speed limit on a Folly Beach road plowed her vehicle into a golf cart1 carrying a newlywed couple that had been married earlier that evening. The groom survived with injuries; the bride “died on the road in her wedding dress.” Incredibly grisly stuff. Not that there’s a good time to be slaughtered by a drunk driver, but a wedding night at 34 years young is probably about as bad as it gets unless there are children involved. Which of course there often are.
A few days after this fatal accident, I was on Facebook trying to sell some shit—please buy my like-new WiFi router, thank you—when I stumbled across a post on a Charleston food & beverage industry page. The poster was encouraging people not to be so judgmental towards the driver, a 26 year-old woman who reportedly worked at a restaurant in Charleston. I thought this was remarkably compassionate for Facebook in general and this page2 in particular, so I kept reading (emphasis mine, all sic):
[A] lot of y’all are quick to say terrible shit like “Jamie [the driver] can rot in jail” “she’s a murderer” etc etc BUT that could have been ANY one of us. I’ve seen specific mfs say shit like that who have NO room to even comment on this situation. Y’all drink and drive as if its the norm.
I say y’all quit wishing the worst for Jamie and instead hope some kind of good could come out of this… such as a wake up call for this community to Fuckin chill on the drinking and driving and for her to be an advocate for such.
Ah. Close, but no potato. I of course agree that this senseless killing should be a wakeup call about the dangers of drunk driving, but I doubt it’ll fix the problem, for two reasons. First, people are dumb and selfish and have terrible capacity for assessing risk. Telling people to “Fuckin chill on the drinking and driving” is like telling them to floss: no one really disagrees on the merits of healthy gums, but flossing is inconvenient and time-consuming and it doesn’t really seem like it matters, so people skip it sometimes. Who cares? Not me, what you do with your mouth is your own business. But drunk driving is everybody’s business, because it takes place in public. If roads are a public good, drunk driving is a public bad. Which brings us to Reason #2: individual choices are not a good solution to systemic problems. Appealing to people’s decision-making faculties (bad!) means the outcome is reliant on that decision-making (worse!) To solve this problem, we need more imagination about what’s possible.
If you found my flossing simile hackneyed and inadequate, here’s a more relevant analogy. Protected bike lanes—i.e., those that keep cyclists separated from moving cars by a physical barrier like a cement wall—reduce traffic injuries, whereas “sharrows” painted on the road by and large do not. Why? Because telling drivers not to hit cyclists isn’t as effective as making it impossible for them to hit cyclists! The underlying logic here is straightforward. To create safer streets, don’t encourage drivers to make smart individual choices; engineer the system so they can’t kill someone when they inevitably don’t.
We can’t separate a dedicated drunk-driving lane with cement barriers for reasons you can surely surmise, poetically just though it might be. So curbing the public bad of drunk-driving calls for a different sort of infrastructural solution: public transit. Buses! Subways! Uber, no! Aerial gondolas? If the topography calls for it, fuck yes! We know that some percentage of people will make the bad choice to drunk drive, and some percentage of those drunk drivers will slaughter innocents as a result of that bad choice. The bad choice flows from their dumbness and selfishness and “terrible capacity for assessing risk”-ness, yes, but upstream of that, it flows from the utter dearth of transit options for getting around most of this country other than driving a car.
New York City has the most public transit in this country by far, and not only is it falling apart after decades of neoliberal privatization and underfunding, it’s also just like… not very good, compared to the rest of the world. By the same comparison, Charleston has jack shit. The standard bus system is underfunded, a promising bus-rapid-transit project has been inching along for about decade, and despite the tangle of privately owned, at-grade freight lines that carve through the region, building a light-rail or streetcar system is out of the question due to a classist, racist “pro-business” regime of privatization and low taxes. Folly Beach and every coastal town like it should run free shuttles with tons of stops to ensure no one has to walk more than a block or two to catch a ride. The fact that it doesn’t is a policy choice. It’s the same one made in so many cities and towns across the country,3 and it’s killing us.
Now, yes, public transit is expensive,4 and the data is mixed on how much it reduces drunk driving. After all, drinkers (dumb, selfish, terrible at assessing risk) still have to choose to use it. But here’s the thing: build it anyway! Robust public transit systems offer all sorts of social benefits beyond drunk-driving prevention, like increased upward mobility and/or upsetting rich people. Speaking of riches: let’s take half the budget of every police department5, and half the cash every big beverage-alcohol supplier spends on ads flogging personal choice and see how many busses that’ll get us. Folly Beach, a town of ~2,000 year-round residents, spent $4 million on public safety last year. A company like, say, Heineken easily spends that much each year telling people to “please drink responsibly,” knowing full well they won’t. And if that’s not enough dough, good news, we already have a mechanism for raising money to fund public works. It’s called “taxation.” Corporations HATE this one weird trick!
We don’t have to countenance loved ones bleeding out on the pavement, mowed down by drunk drivers who made bad decisions. Enshrining drunk driving an unfortunate fact of life rather than a behavior to be engineered away is a failure of the American political imagination. The money is there and a less deadly future is possible, but only if we’re willing to socialize the solutions to drunk driving the way we currently socialize the risks.
📬 Good post alert
🐶 Spuds MacKenzie… trans icon?
OK, let’s move on to something a little lighter. Sort of. Because my brain has been terminally poisoned by acute and repeated exposure to The Bud Light Discourse™️, the other day I found myself pondering a nifty little brain-twister about the brand. Specifically, the stretch in the late ‘80s when it ran ads featuring Spuds MacKenzie, a bro-tastic “super party animal”/spokes-dog. More specifically, that the actual bull terrier who played Bud Light’s alpha male was actually female.
How would Anheuser-Busch InBev’s present-day transphobic critics handle the fact that Spuds MacKenzie, an invention of the halcyon era before wokeism turned the frogs gay, was—in their gender-essentialist jargon—a “biological woman(-dog)” presenting as a man(-dog)? Hmm!
On one hand, Spuds represented the unlimited Cold War virility of the white American male id. He was the life of the party and constantly surrounded by a bevy of wriggling, fawning Bud Light babes. To borrow some contemporary slang: he literally “had that dog in him.” Like, look at this:
That’s real America, Fingers Fam! An oasis where men were men, women were women, and there were no P.C. Police around to arrest you for innocent stuff like marketing alcoholic beverages using an adorable anthropomorphized dog that probably appealed to underage viewers. Or blackface. A golden age without a drag brunch or rainbow flag in sight! This is what trans-tifa took from us!!!
And yet: Spuds MacKenzie, one of the purest distillations of conventional masculinity that that epoch produced, was actually a chick, bro. From a 2011 item in Dog and Kennel Magazine (emphasis mine):
Spuds MacKenzie's popularity wasn't diminished a drop when some enterprising reporter discovered that the dog who played Spuds in commercials was really a she, a female bull terrier named Honey Tree Evil Eye. Budweiser officials were at great pains to conceal that information from the public, even using their coats to shield Spuds from cameras when she answered a call of nature, but eventually word leaked out.
Look, I identify as straight, so I’m loathe to make bold proclamations about the queer experience. But… the name Honey Tree Evil Eye is camp, right? Right??? And people were trying to check her genitals while she peed. Could there be a more direct correlation to the current right-wing assault on trans people? How will you cope with the fact that your nostalgic spokes-dog is actually a trans icon, bigots?! Riddle me that!!!
Don’t miss out, follow Fingers on Instagram today. It’s free and your feed will thank you. (Not really, that would be weird. But you know what I mean.) Also sorry for the screenshot. Apparently Instagram embeds, like Twitter embeds, are also broken on Substack (the platform I use to publish Fingers.) Thank you to our billionaire website oligarchs for destroying the internet’s basic functionality in pursuit of infinite profit!
Just to preempt any victim-blaming: golf carts like the one the victims were driving are very common on Charleston streets, and also technically street legal. Also, would it have been better if they were run over while walking or biking? No, of course not.
It’s frequented by insane right-wing bar-owners and Boomers from out of state (to the extent that those are even discrete demographics.) As you can imagine, it was a great source of deranged story ideas when I worked for the local paper.
Much more so because of a vampiric public transit consulting industry that thrives in the United States and virtually no other developed nation; allowing it to is another policy failure.