Hey, Liquor Control Board? Kiss My Kiosk

Why the new wine-vending machines are a bad, bad idea

At my house, we call it “Greensburg syndrome.” For some strange reason, a lot of the really bizarre stories that show up in our local paper—the ones about, say, the torture/murder of a disabled woman, or a teen sexting ring, or a family charged with keeping a slave, or the theft of 30 cases of bad beer, or the founder of the Pennsylvania Association for the Study of the Unexplained, or a woman killed by her own pet wolves, have Associated Press bylines out of Greensburg. And as a consequence, we’re unable to take the western Pennsylvania town seriously. In our minds, Greensburg is a laughably benighted place filled with mutant subhumans, a comic civic horrorland. (Full disclosure: My mother-in-law is a native of Greensburg, but that has nothing to do with our perceptions of the town. I think.)

I thought about Greensburg last week when I saw a posting on the national media/pop culture website Gawker linking to this AP story about the rollout of Pennsylvania’s new wine-vending machines. In case you missed the piece, it explains how the state Liquor Control Board, in its role as benevolent overseer of our alcohol-craving selves, is now allowing us to purchase bottles of wine from oversized Coke machines in a couple of grocery stores—after we breathe into a Breathalyzer that makes sure we aren’t already crunk. [SIGNUP]

The article, which quotes Keith Wallace, founder of the Wine School of Philadelphia, as saying the new kiosk system “assumes the worst in Pennsylvania’s wine consumers—that we are a bunch of conniving underage drunks,” is bad enough. But what really made me cringe were the comments following the Gawker posting, in which sophisticated folks from all over the world marveled, scoffed and poked fun at our state’s arcane system of distributing alcoholic beverages. “I once spent a year in Philly; bad mistake,” wrote BadKarma, who went on to complain about drunks loitering outside state stores. “I can’t stand nanny-state bullshit like that,” Anne Boleyn opined. “They’re literally paying some guy … a state salary to sit there and give winos the okay,” wrote Skt.Smith. “That’s fucking absurd.”

I’ve said how I feel about the LCB here before. I get more hits and comments when I write about just about anything else. It’s as though our entire state has decided to succumb to union prez Wendell Young and the LCB’s bald, venal corruption, rolling our eyes and throwing up our collective hands and saying, “Oh, well! There’s that crazy state store system for ya!”

Well, guess what. The people who read Gawker, and that AP story, and all the other publicity those new “wine kiosks” are garnering, are tucking away, in their minds, one more piece of information about our state, and its ridiculous, outdated, consumer-unfriendly liquor laws. And when life calls on them to make a decision about, say, where to move, where to go to graduate school, where to retire, where to visit for the Fourth of July, it will be one of the “Greensburg” moments toted up on the clipboard under the “Pennsylvania” head. It’s going to be one more reason not to get near our state with a 10-foot pole. So even if you’ve been beaten into submission by a lifetime of standing in line in dank, unattractive, surly-staffed state stores—and are fully prepared to blow into a Breathalyzer machine when you want a bottle of pinot to go with your dinner—for God’s sake, think of the children. People, this system is what blows. It’s gotta go.