Flying and Drinking and Drinking and Driving

Two things about this post of Atrios’s interest me.

First, this:

As a sort of compromise I’d propose the option for the under-21 crowd to choose between a drinking license and a driving license. You couldn’t have both until you become 21. We could figure out if this was a one time choice irreversible choice or if switching were possible, and there are some other logistical issues, but it would seem to make sense.

My cousin recently graduated from high school and is going away to college in the fall. She’s a bright kid with nice friends and had an upbringing about as free of pointless self-denial and authoritarian bullshit as you can have and still be raised sensibly in America, so she knows what a beer is and how dumb it is to drive after you’ve had 12 of them. My aunt and I were talking about the drinking life at school, and we both agreed that what you need is not so much to be told not to drink, as a teenager, but to be taught that you can have two beers, get a little buzzed and happy, and that’s enough. You don’t have to anesthetize yourself every time you go out. It’s not all or nothing.

It became a joke in college among my friends, that you could always tell a freshman because a freshman didn’t have one beer, she had six, no matter what situation she was in. Not that seniors didn’t get rip-roaring drunk far too often, but they were on average more capable of drinking below the limit, having a beer at the end of the week and then going home. It wasn’t that alcohol had lost its appeal, more that they’d learned the difference between having a drink and drinking, between drinking and getting drunk.

And even once they’ve learned their limit (something that is not all that easy to do, to which my liver will attest) there’s lots of reasons college kids drink too much, and a huge part of it, I think, is that there’s nothing else they want to do more than they want to party. Today, for example, if I drank all day long I wouldn’t be able to work, because in defiance of every stereotype there is, I do not find alcohol useful to the writing process. I can’t write drunk, and when you get right down to it, I want to write more than I want to drink. That alone prevents me from living like a college student. Not to mention that if I quit working and just got hammered all the time, I wouldn’t be able to afford the booze I can tolerate and couldn’t tolerate the booze I could afford.

Second, this:

Also it would help to achieve a better policy goal which is reducing the amount of teen driving.

Because I don’t know when the hell it became the law of the land that every driving-age person in a house had to have a car. This is me being an Official Crabby Old Person, but the only kids I knew with cars in high school were rich assholes whose parents bought them BMWs for their Sweet Sixteens, and kids with jobs who drove beaters they paid for themselves. It certainly wasn’t some kind of middle-class expectation, the way it seems to be now. Every weekend there’s another story in the Chicago Tribune about some car full of Happy White Teenagers So Full Of Promise And Potential who pasted themselves all over a tree somewhere, not necessarily because they were drunk, but because they were young and stupid and there were six of them in a compact yakking and texting each other and not paying attention.

Which, even when they do drive decently, they add to the congestion and pollution and general stupid quotient in the population. Their parents come to city council meetings and complain that the neighbors and the planning department won’t let them build a 5-car garage and plus, the parking spaces are too small for all their cars. And if there’s anything funnier than watching a 17-year-old try to parallel-park an Escalade, man, I don’t know what it is.

Part of it again goes back to the way the suburbs are constructed, such that there’s not really an easy way to get to teen hangout places like a mall or a Starbucks one town over, especially not with the joke of a suburban bus system we have in Chicago. Kids want to hang out and they want to stay out late and in the city they can take the L, but in the ‘burbs, most of which are impossible to bike through on the larger roads, it’s expensive cabs, inconvenient buses, or sitting at home with the Playstation and the bag of Cheetos.