Louisiana boasts many peculiarities; things that just don’t fly in most places are commonplace here. Among these, of course, are drive-through daiquiri stands.
I won’t call the drive-through daiquiri stand “the last bastion of American freedom,” but in this regulated, sanitized age, we’re running out of ramparts. Oftentimes that which makes Louisiana more free also makes us unique.
The drive-through daiquiri was the invention of David Ervin, who opened the first such establishment in Lafayette in 1981, according to The Times-Picayune. Though the concept was controversial (making certain mothers very M.A.D.D.), Ervin’s business made money hand over fist and became ensconced as a cultural icon.
The City of Lafayette responded predictably, banning open containers in 1982. Ervin then forged a radical innovation, a cup with a plastic lid held on by a piece of tape.
The siren’s call of obtaining daiquiris through a car window was simply too piercing for the law to curtail. Within a few years, the phenomenon had spread like wildfire throughout the state, particularly in suburban New Orleans.
These beloved purveyors of alcoholic Kool-Aid smoothies are an essential part of Louisiana’s cultural fabric, so naturally the killjoys have targeted them. Rebekah Gee, Gov. John Bel Edwards’ newly appointed Secretary of Health and Human Services, recently announced her view that drive-through daiquiris are a menace to public health.
“Maybe you can help me: There’s a sacred cow in this state that’s called the drive-through daiquiri stand,” Gee told lawmakers this past Tuesday. “The idea that you can drive up and get liquor and drive off in your car and drink it while you’re driving — no one will let me deal with it but if you want to do it we’ll be the most unpopular people here. It just befuddles me.”
Gee, a Mormon-born native of Utah, is probably “befuddle[d]” by a lot of things about New Orleans. Nevertheless, just as I wouldn’t venture to the wilds of Utah and expect to see 24-hour bars and drinking in the streets, Gee should be circumspect about voicing her retrograde views on alcohol consumption in a state she has lived in for less than seven years.
I’m not the only one to lob this criticism, either. Writing in the Times-Picayune, columnist J.R. Ball argued that Gee’s comments may reflect prejudices that render her ill-suited for major office in Louisiana.
“While Gee is at it, why not suggest banning Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest, which is where she met her husband, because the debauchery that inevitably ensues could prove dangerous to one’s health?” Ball asked rhetorically. “If such things are wrong, I don’t want to be right.”
Ball also seemed to imply that Gee’s comments may arise from family prejudices. “A Gee stirring controversy is something of a family tradition,” he continued. “Her father, Gordon, ‘retired’ as president of the Ohio State after saying Notre Dame was never invited to join the Big 10 because ‘you just can’t trust those damn Catholics.’ ”
Obviously the sins of the fathers aren’t handed down to the daughters, but one would hope that Gee would understand that the Catholics of southern Louisiana are generally not teetotalers and that, just perhaps, she should tread lightly given her outsider status.
Moreover, she may need to explain her logic better. There isn’t a clear correlation between allowing people to purchase daiquiris in a drive-through and instances of drunk driving.
People can drive drunk either way. They can also have alcoholic beverages in their vehicle. At first blush, the drive-through aspect, at least by itself, adds little to the equation. That is, unless one is inclined to prattle on about cultural and convenience factors, as though throwing up obstacles to buying daiquiris is going to make a dent in drunk driving.
It all reeks of a paternalistic, controlling mindset. Gee essentially approaches the issue by asking “why can you buy daiquiris in a drive-through? After all, you can’t do that in other states.” Instead, she should be asking “why shouldn’t you be able to buy daiquiris in a drive-through?”
Moreover, if this is the type of person Governor Edwards appoints right out of the gate for a high profile job, it raises questions as to where our executive leadership in this state is headed.
Louisiana needs to jealously guard its peculiarities, not search for the first opportunity to abandon them based on non-arguments. Put another way, you can have my drive-through daiquiri when you pry it from my cold, dead, yet refreshed hands.
Owen Courrèges, a New Orleans attorney and resident of the Garden District, offers his opinions for UptownMessenger.com on Mondays. He has previously written for the Reason Public Policy Foundation.