By D.W. Ulsterman
May 19th, 2037
Going through the door of the aptly named Freedom Tavern was actually a movement of stepping back in time. I had seen photos or film depictions of places like this in America, and was just old enough to recall actually walking past them as a child – locations where people gathered, paid for alcoholic beverages, sought out conversation, companionship, or simply a moment away from the countless other distractions and responsibilities of life. Environments of rough-hewn communion where both the best and worst aspects of humanity were openly on display.
While the actual practice of owning a business that served alcohol had never been formally prohibited by the United Nations mandates, the taxes and unavoidable fines levied against those businesses made their existence increasingly prohibitive until, inevitably, they simply died out, at least privately. Government-run establishments now existed in their place, but the entrance fees and “character” requirements were such that only the highest ranking government officials could afford, or be allowed, to frequent them. The last privately owned drinking establishment I had personally seen was nearly fifteen years ago when I was not yet ten years old. And even then it was only available to the very wealthy as the cost of alcohol had increased multiple times in just a few short years following the U.N. mandates and resulting taxes so that only the rich could afford to purchase alcohol. Everyone else was left like me – looking at pictures of an America that once was, but would never be again. Of course, it wasn’t long after that those who still enjoyed private riches had that wealth stripped from them in the name of the common good, and made to live like the rest of us – servants to the planetary power of the new United Nations.
Here in this remote Alaskan town of some 500 people, a tavern still stood though –privately owned and its doors open to the public. Music came from an antique contraption I knew to be called a “jukebox”, where a song from generations before titled Sweet Home Alabama played in the background. I am certain my face registered visible shock when I took in the unmistakable smell of burning tobacco, and saw no less than three men seated at the bar smoking IN PUBLIC, with open bottles of what was likely beer sitting in front of each of them. These men were smoking cigarettes! Unlike alcohol, cigarettes had been banned outright by the mandates – cited as dangerous public hazards and “prohibitive to the well being of society”. That was just over 20 years ago. I remembered lessons on the ban in school, the teacher reviewing all of the reasons supporting the ban, and how it was our responsibility not to question, but to simply accept these newly developing rules of the world society. We were also instructed to turn our parents into the authorities if they continued to smoke inside their homes because by doing so, we were told, they were putting our lives at risk and were in fact guilty of serious child abuse. One of my boyhood friends in fact did just that – his father was charged with the crime of smoking/child abuse and spent six months at an adult education facility. By then the government no longer used the term prison, or jail – almost all forms of discipline were simply called “education”.
Apparently these men with cigarettes dangling from their mouths didn’t get the lesson. The tobacco smoke hung over them like their own personal clouds of defiance. Each of their faces, weathered, worn, and hard, also appeared quite content. One of them laughed at the ending joke of a story told by another, clapping his hand on his shoulder and shaking his head while the third of them gestured to the person behind the counter…the “bartender’ if my memory was correct, for another beer.
It was all so remarkable. As I said, I was convinced I had somehow literally stepped back into time. An America before the U.N. mandates. An America where personal freedoms still existed in some form and all those rules to protect the “well being of society” were not yet fully implemented. An America that still governed itself.
An America before Obama…
Coming In 2013
A novel by D.W. Ulsterman