Holding the Line

— Well, it looks like we may have more or less beat the smoking ban. But it’s not over yet. The vote has yet to be scheduled, as far as I know, and there’s the opportunity for a lot of politicking before then. So vigilant we must remain.

Yesterday’s Council hearing made plain who the banners are: political operatives, professional public health fascists, and dimwitted puritan scolds clearly shaken by the possibility that somewhere someone might be enjoying himself. Smoke-Free DC’s vastly superior funding could not keep their speakers from coming off as arrogant, censorious, moralizing busybodies, infatuated with any bit of junk science that might reinforce their pinched, joyless weltanschaung. The Ban the Banners, on the other hand, came off as fun, articulate, intelligent people who do not consider it a categorical duty to live as long as possible, but who think it’s damn nice to live as well as possible, as long as one happens to live. Not only were our arguments better, but we showed ourselves to be better human beings. And cooler, too.

The restaurant and bar owners were simply amazing. Dante Ferrando of the Black Cat made his point loud and clear. The Cat is his private property. He owns the building. He owns the land it sits on. And the reason he owns it is that he likes to drink, he likes to smoke, he likes to rock, and he likes to surround himself with smoking, drinking, rocking people. His dream was to build a community, a family, united by a lifestyle. And he’s succeeded… so far. But the ban would cripple his business, and destroy his family. John Arce, a bartender at the Cat, noted that some members of the Council can’t seem to tell the difference between a public elevator and a private club (and, in good DC socialist-punk fashion, said that if the Council really wants to help him, it can institute a universal health plan.)

Cici Mukhtar, owner of Polly’s Cafe, made a point I hadn’t thought of before. She says she’s trying to open a second Polly’s, perhaps up on Georgia Ave. In order to do it, she needs a loan from a bank, and banks don’t care about “public health” policy, they just want to get their money back. And Banks are smart. They know that a smoking ban could hurt business. If a ban goes in place, Cici won’t be able to finance her new Cafe. And neighborhoods that would be helped by new business will have to go without.

Stephen Greenleigh shared the witness table with me and Justin Logan. His testimony was heartbreaking. He runs a chain of hotels in DC. Since 9/11, they’ve been struggling. He said every time a “Code Orange” alert goes out, his switchboards light up with cancellations. He said his businesses have taken one hit after another, and some of them are losing money. But he won’t close them, because he cares too much about the employees, and maybe, MAYBE, they’ll be able to pull through. But Mr. Greenleigh was downcast. With emotion in his voice, he said he wasn’t sure how he’s going to make payroll this month. The smoking ban would be just one more hit, and quite probably the last one. Unlike the bureacratic prohibitionists, Mr. Greenleigh, a businessman, understands margins. He is not bouyed by the fact that over time the macro effects of the ban may not be negative. If his business dips because of a smoking ban, that’s it, he’s done.

I’d be remiss if I failed to mention Allan Jirikowic, owner of Chief Ike’s Mambo Room, a bushy-faced, voluble, bearlike man of simply amazing wit and spirit. I can’t begin to do justice to his hilarious, satirical testimony. (To employee, shouting: “Don’t you know that Robert Wood Johnson is doing this FOR YOUR OWN GOOD!!!”) If I could put a face on the anti-prohbitionists, it would be Allan Jirikowic’s fat, happy, smiling-eyed, hairy face. This is a man who loves his business, who loves his employees, loves to laugh, and lusts for life. He doesn’t smoke himself. But he understands that some people ENJOY it. And he’s in the business of helping people enjoy themselves. It’s what he does, and you can tell he loves it. The prohibitionists are in the business of saving people from enjoyment. Judging from their earnest, crabbed, whining performance at the hearings, they’ve done a wonderful job of saving themselves.

[For your listening pleasure, I’ve recorded my super-cheesy testimony from the hearing, Powered by audbloghere.]