Oklahoma, Trains, Liquor

I spent 5 yrs. & received 2 degrees at the University of Oklahoma from '69 - '74. I frequently had to take the train from Norman to Houston & back. While I can’t comment on liquor on the train (I started college @ 16), I can comment on the trains & the bizarre liquor laws in OK at the time.

The trains were shitholes. They were in total disrepair, often w/ broken AC, they frequently stunk to high heaven, & what was usually a 10 hr. drive never took less than 14 hrs. by train. As I recall, there were 6 stops between Norman & Ardmore - ~85 mi. The train was never less than 3 hrs. late in either direction.

As for liquor laws, where do I start? Bars were beer only - the only thing that was allowed to be sold by the drink. There were separate drinking ages for men & women - 21 for men, 18 for women! Liquor stores were all state owned (something I had never seen before in any other state, & here in VA has been the 1st time since). If you wanted liquor by the drink, you had to join a private club. You would then bring your own bottle & pay an exhorbitant fee (usually at least $5) for them to pour you or mix you a drink out of your own bottle.

Welcome to the Straight Dope Message Boards, Boskoe, we’re glad to have you here. When you start a thread, it’s helpful to other readers if you provide a link to the column you’re commenting on. Yeah, it’s the main page now (the column actually formally appears tomorrow), but it’ll soon vanish into the depths of the Archives, so it saves searching time and helps keep us all on the same page. In this case:

No biggie, you’ll know for next time, and, as I say, welcome!

Not Oklahoma. New York Penn Station serves Amtrak, the Long Island Railroad, and New Jersey Transit. Of the three train lines, only New Jersey Transit doesn’t provide drinks on the trains. There’s even a “bar” on Track 17 (they basically sell the tiny liquor bottles), but you have to show a Long Island Railroad ticket in order to buy one. None for you Jerseyite!

I’ve asked about selling liquor on the train, but New Jersey Transit claims the trips are too short, and they’re worried about drunk drivers when people get off.

I lived in Wichita, Kansas the last two years of the 1970s.
(To say that it wasn’t a fun place would be an understatement. It also prohibited public sale
of liquor by the drink, so a system of phony “clubs” sprang up as a way to separate drinkers
from their money. The state set the prices for all booze - liquor stores couldn’t put a particular
bottle of booze on sale. Which is just as well, since they were not allowed to advertise either.

For a fun weekend we’d drive to Oklahoma. And Boskoe has shown above how great that was.)

Anyway, when I lived in Kansas, airlines were not able to serve booze on flights that
landed in Kansas. Seems an overly ambitious Kansas lawman named Vern Miller had arrested
some flight attendant for serving alcohol on a flight. That sure made it even less fun to fly back to
Kansas after visiting somewhere nice like Colorado or California.

Here are some references, courtesy of a well-known search engine:




Oh yes, that law about guys not being able to drink until 21 and girls at 18 was great. I remember as a college sophomore going in to buy a whole bunch of booze for my boyfriend and his fraternity brothers. Which they, of course, were going to use to try to get innocent girls drunk enough to–well, you know.

In college, I knew a couple of people whose parents had been bootleggers! In the '60s! If not busted for bootlegging, these were the people running the liquor stores, which I don’t believe were state-owned, but were heavily controlled.

There were lots and lots of people who absolutely did not drink, but also lots of people who did, and they tended to have very well stocked bars. No wonder, since they had to go out of state to stock those bars (Yeah, wink wink).

Once Oklahoma went wet (by county) minors were absolutely not allowed in liquor stores. You could walk in when you were 9 months pregnant, but as soon as the kid was out, if you wanted to buy liquor, one of the clerks would offer to take your baby outside. Or would stand outside with your stroller while you bought booze.

Another crazy thing that happened right before I left Oklahoma was, the state supreme court decided that places could allow nude dancing, but they had to state that there would be nude dancing in VERY BIG letters outside the bar…so no innocent people would wander into the strip club by mistake. Did they do that with a straight face? I’ve always wondered.

Most Canadian provinces have this arrangement.

Fortunately, none of these laws are on the books anymore. However, we do still have the stupid 3.2 beer laws.

I can’t speak to today, but when I lived in Maine in the 50s and in Pennsylvania in the 70s, they both had state liquor stores. (In fact, in Pennsylvania, one simply said “state store”, “liquor” being implicitly understood.)

Wikipedia cites an article in the Topeka Capitol-Journal that states that in the 1970’s Kansas Attorney General Vern Miller also forced the airlines to stop selling alcohol while they were flying through Kansas airspace. The article is not available online, but maybe samclem can dig it up with his unique access to news archives:

“Former A.G. eyeing run for old job as sheriff,” Topeka Capitol-Journal, October 21, 1999

If complicated liquor laws were reason enough for passenger rail companies to pull out of a state, there wouldn’t be any passenger services left in Pennsylvania.

Why does Amtrak not understand the difference between Train and Bus service? They stop way too much to make riding the train worth it. Even the Acela Express service stops too much between NYC and Philadelphia.

If they stopped any less, you would find the price too high, and it still wouldn’t be worth it. Those additional stops are for paying passengers; the more passengers they can plan on, the lower they can set the fare.

*Upshur County’s drier than an empty bottle
Since the Mormon’s come to town
And to run out of beer means a run to Gladewater
Highway 79 thirty miles on down

Now fair is fair, but life’s a gamble
When it’s eleven forty five
And it’s a toss of the coin to see who’s got fifteen minutes
To make a thirty minute drive*

As do Alabama, Idaho, New Hampshire, Oregon, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, and Utah. You can buy beer and wine in grocery stores, however (at least here in Oregon).

The New Mexico case is being argued before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on Sept. 20. There’s a good chance that, no matter which way the 10th Circuit goes, the case will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Here’s the case:
US Airways, Inc., v. O’Donnell, No. 07-1235, slip op. (D.N.M. Sept. 30, 2009).

It was a long tradition in Oklahoma County for the DA to raid clubs for liquor by the drink violations during the election cycle. Club owners took this as the cost of doing business, which is one reason why it was called “liquor by the wink.”

A tangentially related but interesting post by Le Ministre de l’Au-delà concerning drinking age laws and Canadian trains:

There’s an on-again and off-again movement in Washington (mostly spurred on by Costco, which is based here) to make liquor sale legal in grocery stores. I’m not sure if it’s ever made it to ballot or not.

Rhode Island has this weird system going on here – you can only buy booze in state LICENCED stores, but the state doesn’t operate them. Can’t even find beer or wine at a grocery store – you have to go to one of thse stores to find anything. Granted, they are common, but it’s a strange systen.

Quebec is also known among Canadian provinces for selling beer and wine in corner stores.