Smoking mad over city council move

  • By Michael Sebastian
  • January 19, 2006 @ 12:36 PM
Last Monday was a sad day for America. What could have been just another unseasonably warm Monday in January proved the day Chicago – a city founded by hustlers and tycoons – folded to the Do-Gooders. It was, as all of us careless, self-indulgent smokers know, the day the Clean Indoor Air Ordinance – better known as the indoor smoking ban – took effect.

Chicago is a smoky town. Puffs of vile smelling smoke once plumed from large stacks in the City’s meat packing district. In “The Devil in the White City,” author Erik Larson cites the historical record painting a portrait of Chicago, circa 1890, where the coal smoke was so thick it was nearly impossible to see beyond one city block. The legendary swindlers that dotted the City Council would cajole and gamble in smoky backrooms. Wrinkled and battered blues men toiled away their nights in smoke-filled clubs as brokers discussed their incredible gains and losses over scotch and a smoke.

But no more – the outside air was cleaned-up (at least marginally) and now the indoor air as well. The Do-Gooders successfully infiltrated the City and they brought with them a giant fire extinguisher and a giant public relations campaign based around pity and fear. Commercials appeared late last year featuring a non-smoking waitress who developed throat cancer allegedly due to the second-hand smoke she inhaled while working as a server. My heart goes out to her. Still, the majority of the servers I know either smoke or else worry little about second-hand hazards and instead fret over drunken hassling and their evening’s tips.

As a smoker, I’m relatively unaffected by the Clean Indoor Air Ordinance. Hell! Maybe it will help me cut down. What most concerns me is the slippery slope this measure allows. First the Do-Gooders have smoking ousted from indoor places and then what? Well, they’ve gone after foie gras attempting to axe its sale in city restaurants. Sure it’s inhumane, but have they tasted foie gras? Hot Damn! Goose liver is tasty. Supposing the Do-Gooders get their squeaky clean fingers into that racket, what’s next? Is rock ‘n’ turncoat Pete Townhsend going to lead a coalition to Chicago insisting rock clubs like the Metro, Riv or Vic turn down their amps because roadies and stage hands are going deaf? Will podiatrists descend on the city insisting servers be given a break and be allowed to scoot around restaurants in Segways? Does the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs plan to lead raids into private residences fining people for watching bad television? Maybe that’s rash, but legislating clean-air inside taverns is a slippery slope and in Chicago it should be deeply scrutinized because this is a land-locked seaside town they’re trying to infiltrate.

It was Nelson Algren, who in his book, “Chicago: City on the Make” observed about our city: “When the Do-Gooders try to quiet it down they only add drums to the tumult. The village squares arrived too late for a foothold.” Then the Do-Gooders drove Algren out of his Wicker Park apartment and to the East Coast where he drew his last breaths.

But maybe, just maybe Algren was onto something and the village squares did arrive too late since the Chicago City Council allowed a loophole in this clean air ordinance: a two year break for bars to comply as well as an opportunity to install high-powered air filters to allow cigarettes. It’s a smoky city, a tough place, a loathsome and beautiful town and its leaders gave the hustlers a chance. Maybe that gives the other Do-Gooders a warning? Perhaps I won’t have to give up foie gras, loud music and bad television, after all? Then again, if they decide I must, at least I’ll have two years to kick the habits.


ROBERT JOHNSON, 10-29-2008

Now that the bar ban has been in placew for almost a year, door buzzers are big sellers.