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7 Bizarre Laws (That Are Actually Enforced)

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Outdated and odd statutes and ordinances are common in every state and often act as a history lesson: at some point, it made sense to prohibit anyone from playing pinball in Oakland, California. Some local laws, however, are not only strange but regularly enforced. Expect fines, a stern lecture or worse if you should ever attempt to.

1. Enjoy an alcoholic drink while standing (Woburn, Mass.)

Woburn simply will not tolerate vertical intoxication. According to the city’s License Commission [PDF], no restaurant is allowed to serve an alcoholic beverage to a person who isn’t seated; patrons are not permitted to carry booze or consume it unless they’re firmly rooted to a chair. Exceptions are made for businesses that are granted a special "Approved Standing License."

2. Buy a car or t-shirt on Sundays (Penn., Bergen County, N.J.)

So-called “Blue Laws,” a remnant of Puritan oversight, remain on the books in several states. Pennsylvania and other states prohibit the sales of motor vehicles on Sundays unless it’s a private transaction. (Shoppers can and do enjoy browsing in salesperson-free lots.) In Bergen County, New Jersey, the retail sale of books, clothes, furniture, and housewares is against the law. Try to score some socks and you might get slapped with a $250 fine [PDF].

3. Open a chain restaurant (Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif.)

The oceanside city of Carmel-by-the-Sea—best known for Clint Eastwood’s mayoral stint in the 1980s—has cultivated a reputation for strange ordinances. Until Eastwood had it repealed, it was illegal to sell ice cream on public streets; high heels over two inches are prohibited, though that law isn’t enforced. But if you wanted to build a franchise empire there, you’re out of luck: the city doesn’t allow chain businesses within its one-mile radius, preferring visitors frequent one of the locally-owned storefronts.   

4. Pick up trash too early (Sandy Springs, Ga.)

The wheezing, clunky sound of garbage collection is a necessary evil—but lawmakers in the Atlanta suburb of Sandy Springs were so annoyed with it that they declared any attempt to collect trash before 7 a.m. a violation of the city’s noise ordinance. CNN reported sanitation worker Kevin McGill started his route at 5 a.m. last March and was quickly slapped with a 30-day jail sentence. (He wound up serving two weekends.)

5. Get drunk in a bar (Alaska)

Places where it’s not OK to be drunk: day care centers, operating rooms, shooting range. Places where getting drunk is encouraged: bars, weddings, school plays. Unfortunately for adult-beverage enthusiasts, Alaska isn’t on board. In 2012, the state sent undercover police to locate and arrest people who were publicly intoxicated in bars. Anchorage police told ABC News that officers target “drunk-plus” lushes, not just people “out having a good time.” Bartenders can also be penalized for serving to an overly-liquored patron.  

6. Own pet ducks (West Lafayette, Ohio)

The village of West Lafayette got its feathers ruffled when Iraq War veteran Darin Welker insisted on keeping over a dozen pet ducks at his residence. Welker claimed the animals helped him cope with post-traumatic stress disorder; CBS News reported some of them would occasionally take up residence on his recliner. Welker paid $50 for the minor misdemeanor of keeping farm animals within village limits.

7. Dangle fake testicles from your truck (Bonneau, S.C.)

Owing to a South Carolina law that prohibits obscene or indecent bumper stickers, 65-year-old Virginia Tice was ticketed $445 for sporting a pair of plastic testicles that hung from her vehicle’s trailer hitch. According to the Post and Courier, Tice declined to pay and requested a jury trial. If only Oakland's pinball enthusiasts had been as determined.

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History
84 Years Ago Today: Goodbye Prohibition!
A huge queue outside the Board of Health offices in Centre Street, New York, for licenses to sell alcohol shortly after the repeal of prohibition. The repeal of prohibition was a key policy of Franklin Roosevelt's government as it allowed the government an opportunity to raise tax revenues at a time of economic hardship.
A huge queue outside the Board of Health offices in Centre Street, New York, for licenses to sell alcohol shortly after the repeal of prohibition. The repeal of prohibition was a key policy of Franklin Roosevelt's government as it allowed the government an opportunity to raise tax revenues at a time of economic hardship.
Keystone/Getty Images

It was 84 years ago today that the Twenty-First Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, repealing the earlier Amendment that declared the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcohol illegal in the United States. Prohibition was over! Booze that had been illegal for 13 years was suddenly legal again, and our long national nightmare was finally over.


A giant barrel of beer, part of a demonstration against prohibition in America.
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Prohibition of alcohol was not a popular doctrine. It turned formerly law-abiding citizens into criminals. It overwhelmed police with enforcement duties and gave rise to organized crime. In cities like Milwaukee and St. Louis, the dismantling of breweries left thousands of people unemployed.


Photograph courtesy of the Boston Public Library

Homemade alcohol was often dangerous and some people died from drinking it. Some turned to Sterno or industrial alcohol, which was dangerous and sometimes poisoned by the government to discourage drinking. State and federal governments were spending a lot of money on enforcement, while missing out on taxes from alcohol.


New York City Deputy Police Commissioner John A. Leach (right) watches agents pour liquor into sewer following a raid during the height of Prohibition.

The midterm elections of 1930 saw the majority in Congress switch from Republican to Democratic, signaling a shift in public opinion about Prohibition as well as concerns about the depressed economy. Franklin Roosevelt, who urged repeal, was elected president in 1932. The Twenty-first Amendment to the Constitution was proposed by Congress in February of 1933, the sole purpose of which was to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment establishing Prohibition.


American men guarding their private beer brewing hide-out, during Prohibition.
Keystone/Getty Images

With passage of the Constitutional Amendment to repeal Prohibition a foregone conclusion, a huge number of businessmen lined up at the Board of Health offices in New York in April of 1933 to apply for liquor licenses to be issued as soon as the repeal was ratified.

The Amendment was ratified by the states by the mechanism of special state ratifying conventions instead of state legislatures. Many states ratified the repeal as soon as conventions could be organized. The ratifications by the required two-thirds of the states was achieved on December 5, 1933, when conventions in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Utah agreed to repeal Prohibition through the Amendment.


Workmen unloading crates of beer stacked at a New York brewery shortly after the repeal of Prohibition.
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A brewery warehouse in New York stacked crates past the ceiling to satisfy a thirsty nation after the repeal of Prohibition.


Keystone/Getty Images

Liquor wouldn't officially be legal until December 15th, but Americans celebrated openly anyway, and in most places, law enforcement officials let them.

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Courtesy New District
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Food
Say ‘Cheers’ to the Holidays With This 24-Bottle Wine Advent Calendar
Courtesy New District
Courtesy New District

This year, eschew your one-tiny-chocolate-a-day Advent calendar and count down to Christmas the boozy way. An article on the Georgia Straight tipped us off to New District’s annual wine Advent calendars, featuring 24 full-size bottles.

Each bottle of red, white, or sparkling wine is hand-picked by the company’s wine director, with selections from nine different countries. Should you be super picky, you can even order yourself a custom calendar, though that will likely add to the already-high price point. The basic 24-bottle order costs $999 (in Canadian dollars), and if you want to upgrade from cardboard boxes to pine, that will run you $100 more.

If you can’t quite handle 24 bottles (or $999), the company is introducing a 12-bottle version this year, too. For $500, you get 12 reds, whites, rosés, and sparkling wines from various unnamed “elite wine regions.”

With both products, each bottle is numbered, so you know exactly what you should be drinking every day if you really want to be a stickler for the Advent schedule. Whether you opt for 12 or 24 bottles, the price works out to about $42 per bottle, which is somewhere in between the “I buy all my wines based on what’s on sale at Trader Joe’s” level and “I am a master sommelier” status.

If you want to drink yourself through the holiday season, act now. To make sure you receive your shipment before December 1, you’ll need to order by November 20. Get it here.

[h/t the Georgia Straight]

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