I wouldn't want to own a bar. In most businesses, your continuing customers are the ones for whom you're doing some good, providing a service. With bars, your best customers are the ones drinking themselves to death. Beyond that, there's a history of alcoholism in my family, and just being in bars for any length of time is depressing to me.
But if I were to own a bar, I'd want to institute a simple feedback loop -- you enter the bar, you stick your car keys in a device that combines a thumbprint recorder and a blood alcohol level test. To get the keys back, you get your thumb scanned and blow into the machine -- and if you're legal, it returns them to you. If you're not, it hangs onto them. (If I owned a restaurant that served alcohol, and it's not outside the realm of the possible that someday I might, I'd institute a 3-drink maximum per person. That might fly -- at least, dining there, you'd know that your fellow patrons were less likely to smash into you on your way out of the parking lot.)
The bar scheme wouldn't work. Any bar attempting to institute it would go out of business. People getting falling down drunk is what keeps bars in the black, and the drunks would move onto a bar that didn't care who they killed on the way home. It might work if all bars in a given region were required to install such a feature, though -- I'm liberal enough to think that's not a bad idea. Try it in one city and see if the death and accident rates from drunk driving decline.
What responsibility you have to your customers is an interesting question. I think alcohol should be legal -- I think heroin should be legal, for that matter, and marijuana and cocaine and speed and what have you; adults should be permitted to stick whatever they want to into their bodies, no matter how stupid I may think their conduct. As long as they meet their obligations otherwise, it's a personal matter and not properly a subject for public policy. And it's dangerous to get too self-righteous ....
Let's say that people who own bars are on questionable moral ground. (I'm not saying that, though I am saying I wouldn't care to own one myself.) But let's say ...
OK, obviously people who sell alcohol in other venues are on shaky ground. Ditto tobacco. And restaurants who sell milkshakes and cheeseburgers. Now, I'd like to own a cheeseburger shop some day -- "The Cheeseburger Factory: The World's Best Cheeseburger Technology." (My son Bram suggested "Cheeseburger Factory." I came up with "The World's Best Cheeseburger Technololgy.") Maybe in my old age, after I've put my last kid through college -- Connor will have his bachelor's degree about the time I hit 60.
Am I responsible for serving a cheeseburger to a fat guy? When he falls over and dies from a massive coronary, are my peanut butter shakes and medium-rare burgers with Tillamook Cheddar to blame?
Maybe I can help out. Maybe I can stick a feedback loop into the equation. Instead of having a drive-through, we have a walk-in restaurant ... with skinny doorways. Then you're tempting the Winnie-the-Pooh-problem .... sneak through on the way in, too fat to get back out again. Of course, that's its own sort of feedback loop, isn't it? We stick a treadmill by the door and charge by the hour ...
Had a pretty good conversation with Bill Stewart (copyright holder of The Ring) a couple days ago. It's many months down the road before I'm going to do anything with that material, but it may be that there's room to produce something that's acceptable to both of us. (Apparently I had harsh words about Bill Stewart at one point, and he asked me about it -- I have no recollection of having said anything about him, but I remember pissing off Lou Aronica, the publisher at Bantam at the time. That project, the book portion of it at least, was screwed up from Day 1, and I'd be hard pressed to say who made the worst decisions regarding it. (Well, besides me, for agreeing to do it.) But after me, it was some combination of Amy Stout, Lou Aronica, and Bill Stewart. I haven't spoken to Lou Aronica in years (no hard feelings at all, just haven't ever run into the guy) -- and as I noted, I ended up married and having children with Amy. So I think Bill and I are cool. He's a blunt guy, he'll let me know if we're not. :-)
I look back on that project, and for all the big brass cojones I had as a young man, The Ring was dumb even for me. It's based on Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung -- which I knew almost nothing about and had never seen except in bits and pieces. (The full run is 4 nights long.) I've been to two productions since -- a full run once, and the concluding night of another production -- but at the time, I had a fairly long screenplay, a $6,000 advance (I think), and three months. I missed my deadline by a month -- and ended up with a very long book written almost entirely in stream-of-consciousness first draft. And Bantam published it that way. A chance to repair that misadventure would be nice.
Talking to JJ Sutherland, intrepid NPR producer/reporter, about a novel based on his experiences in Iraq. He seems interested, and I certainly am -- he's been sending dispatches back from Iraq, to a private list, since the war began -- I don't know if I've mentioned those posts here, since every post has contained the request that his words and observations be kept private, which, for a journalist in a war zone, is an incredibly reasonable request. But it's astonishing, wrenching material. I think he's got something there, I do.