By Nita Johnson
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
A favorite past time during pre-adolescence for country-raised children often involved the art of climbing trees.
What an accomplishment it was to reach the highest possible level of a 40-foot tree with a bird’s eye view of those envious and competitive childhood companions standing below. What an adventure to cling to upward limbs while inching carefully along another limb extending from the tree trunk, providing a Tarzan-like experience.
But at my age, height and weight, going out on a limb is not always a good idea. First of all, my age is proof enough that a fall from a limb will probably result in broken bones, although those witnessing me take several falls over the past years have insisted that I “bounce” when I hit. Perhaps that coincides with my weight and even height, as I instantly get a mental picture of the Abominable Snowman in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and Yukon Cornelius’s analogy that “Bumbles Bounce!”
However, recent controversy over an alcohol tent, city ordinances, and the Kentucky H.O.G. Rally, however, sends me precariously out on a limb.
The 30th anniversary of H.O.G. (Harley Owner Group) in London was a huge drawing for our community. With thousands of persons predicted to gather in our fair city, it is necessary that these tourists be welcomed with open arms. Despite the large area around the Wildcat Harley-Davidson dealership, there simply is not enough space for the general public to see all the various machines present at last weekend’s display.
A motorcycle show in downtown London would have provided both the space and the parking availability for the community to fully participate in the event and truly showcase the city-like atmosphere with country charm and hospitality. With estimates of $2.5 million in revenue generated from the rally’s attendees over the three-day event, a downtown gathering would have enhanced that income for our community.
But protesters, most of whom were church groups, quickly squashed the downtown event, once word that a caterer with license to serve alcohol was to set up at the downtown event. Some citizens simply do not want alcohol served anywhere in this county or city, and certainly not in public.
Too late, folks.
For a city that doesn’t want bars along Main Street, London now has two. While both meet the standards of the city ordinance, the facts remain in place -- two facilities on London’s Main Street serve alcohol and at least four other restaurants in city limits have an area designated as “the bar.” At least two of those restaurants have a private entrance to the bar area.
Downtown restaurants are not the only choice for those wishing to enjoy drinking alcohol. Exclusive memberships to certain organizations in the county also delegate the right to drink alcohol when participating in events.
For more than 50 years, Richmond and Jellico got millions of Laurel County money for alcoholic beverages. Now Manchester and Corbin are cashing in. In a town where most family incomes are under the national poverty level, the revenues generated from alcohol sales would greatly enhance a stretched-to-the-limit City budget. It’s a no-brainer -- people are going to drink, regardless of whether it is “legal” or not. Some will abuse the privilege, and some will respect it.
A downtown event to welcome those visiting our fair city for the H.O.G. Rally would have been beneficial to both tourism and downtown. Some of those tourists might wish to return to London and Laurel County once again. But the protests of some halted the entire downtown event and inevitably denied many of the citizens in the area to enjoy a new facet of event never held in London before.
These protests may well have halted any future H.O.G. rallies, once again gypping the city and county of millions of tourism dollars.
However, the insistence that alcohol MUST be served in order to attract tourism to the area is just as disturbing as the protests of those who abhor alcohol.
A downtown event for the H.O.G. Rally would have undoubtedly involved children and although these Harley owners surely would not risk their lives nor their $30,000 motorcycle to harm by drinking excessively, their overall presentation to the community should be one of sobriety. Refusing to come to a community where alcohol is not served raises red flags regarding the quality of the planners and participants of such events.
If alcohol is an absolute ‘must have’ for people to gather in London, then perhaps the priorities of these people should be questioned. There are enough restaurants in the area and close proximity to liquor stores in Corbin that those seeking solace in alcohol have ample choices. They can drink with their dinner and even pick it up in Corbin and take it back to their motel rooms for later.
But a blatant refusal to convene in a city where a downtown beer party is prohibited sends a message that perhaps the problem with alcohol is a bit stronger than simply “drinking a beer.”
With that said, I will now slide carefully off this limb, back down the trunk and hope my feet land on solid ground.