Monday, October 31, 2022

Keep Colorado Local & Independent

The state of Colorado has a thriving beer, wine, and spirits industry, and that economy can be linked to the unique structure of local, independent liquor stores. However, the corporate supermarket industry has long been envious of those small business owners. Thus, during election season, the Colorado ballot will inevitably see propositions to allow increased sales in national grocery chains. My thoughts are in this week's column for The Villager.

“If it ain’t broke, then don’t try to fix it.”

Everyone knows that’s the first rule for governing, or any decision making really. And that sagely advice runs through my mind every time another ballot issue about liquor sales and supermarkets comes up, like clockwork, around election time. This year Colorado ballots have three separate liquor-related propositions, and only one of them should even be considered by voters. Proposition 124 will remove the limit on licenses individuals can hold, allowing independent liquor store owners to expand. This change is necessary for parity between liquor stores and supermarkets, which have been selling beer since 2016 and are allowed more licenses than independent owners. The other two propositions, 125 and 126, are simply more unnecessary legislation attempting to correct a problem that doesn’t exist.

Colorodans appreciate and value the role of the independent business owner in supporting a vast market of craft breweries, wineries, and distilleries. There’s a reason the Mile High state is called “Beer’s Napa Valley,” and it’s related to the state being a bit of an incubator for independent businesses that appeal to and are supported by local markets. Visiting one of Colorado’s brew pubs opens consumers to local specialties, and local liquor stores often stock neighboring businesses’ products for retail. Thus, locally-owned businesses are able to support each other and the community. That model took a hit several years ago when the state allowed beer sales at supermarkets, and independent stores saw a noticeable drop in revenue. The sale of wine and spirits enabled small businesses to remain solvent.

As every Coloradan knows, local supermarkets always have a liquor store nearby, and for decades these businesses peacefully coexisted. However, the big three grocers of King Soopers, Safeway, and Walmart covet the livelihood of independent owners, and for many years have been trying to edge out the little guy. While Coloradans appreciate the local model, newcomers to the state who are used to beer, wine, and liquor sales in supermarkets are likely to support the national corporate chains because that’s what they’re used to. I know, having been one of those new residents twenty years ago, when I moved from Illinois. I still recall wandering the aisle of my King Soopers, looking for some wine. When I asked a young clerk stocking the aisle, he just smiled and said, “You’re not from around here, are you?”

When that clerk pointed me across the parking lot to my local beverage store, I came to appreciate the value of an independent liquor store the minute I walked in and was greeted by a staff that knew their product and had a wide variety of it. While some consumers talk about their need for convenience in one-stop shopping, that model is not actually the norm nationwide. In fact, only seventeen states offer liquor sales in supermarkets. Perhaps more interestingly, seven states actually have state-owned liquor stores, and they are not the types of places you’d expect to have socialism managing the booze industry: Alabama, Idaho, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Utah and Virginia all own their liquor stores directly.

If supermarkets are allowed to sell wine, and eventually spirits in their quest to monopolize all food and beverage sales, the stores will inevitably sacrifice shelf space for those products, an unnecessary move for a business model designed to provide for the daily necessities of food and household products. The big three corporate chains are certainly not hurting for business, and they don’t need to nose in on someone else’s. The most unnecessary of the ballot props is the call for third-party delivery of booze. Currently, many liquor stores have sanctioned delivery services, which many of us discovered during the spring and summer of 2020. But expanding delivery leaves too much margin for error in terms of underage sales, and it’s one more example of trying to fix a non-problem.

The reality is that Colorado’s unique system for liquor sales works quite well for everyone, except the out-of-state corporate supermarkets. The Walmartification of Main Street across America has succeeded in providing consumers with cookie-cutter one-stop shopping, though it’s always been at the expense of local independent business owners. Other than Proposition 124, these ballot proposals seem like one more example of change for change’s sake, which is the downside of progressivism. The more prudent and conservative approach is to stop legislating every aspect of our lives and not try to fix what ain’t broke.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

New Year's in the Fall

I've posted on this idea before, but I revised the pieces for one of my recent columns in The Villager, and so I thought I'd post the follow-up here as well. This one is a bit late, as I originally published it right after Labor Day. Yet, even as we move into November, and fall starts to feel like winter, the sentiment remains. Fall is also a time of rebirth:

On Labor Day weekend I mowed the lawn for probably the last time of the year, as I sensed the late summer southern exposure is sending the grass into its dormant state. That chore came after cutting down and raking up what is left of the tiger lilies. And it was just before I started pulling the first of the leaves out of the gutter. Yep, fall is coming, and all of my chores were part of the “fall cleaning.” For me, the cleaning up in early September is always part of the alternative off-track New Year’s weekend celebration we all know as Labor Day. Seeing the end of summer holiday as a sort of new year is an idea I’ve kicked around and practiced for a few years now, having heard similar views from friends, neighbors, and other writers.

Labor Day really is the perfect time for a “spring cleaning” of our houses and our lives. We all know the first weekend in September as the end of summer when the pools close and kids return to school, as days and nights cool off. Though many schools and communities are long past the days of school starting after Labor Day, it’s still a great weekend for one last hurrah of play and carefree whateverness. After that three-day respite, weekend activities tend to dial back a bit in the fall, and it’s a time we can turn inward for how we will make this year our best yet. The natural connection to the seasons changing and a move toward hibernation can open our minds as well as our closets.

Americans are always game for ideas of reinvention, as it’s practically written throughout our history and our quirky little traditions. New Year’s Resolutions and spring cleaning are embedded in our spirit, times when we recharge and remake ourselves. We simply love the idea of starting over. However, to be honest, I’ve never really felt like the middle of winter is the optimal time to reset and “clean out the garage,” literally or metaphorically. The traditional end of summer, on the other hand, is a perfect time to clean up and reset. What shall we do with this moment and this transition? One other writer who has thoughts on this is Mike Vardy who wrote an insightful column years ago describing “Why Labor Day has Become my New Year’s Day.”

The idea of reinvention in pursuit of finally getting it right is, in my view, the whole point of living. It’s what Transcendentalist poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow meant when he wrote “Neither joy and not sorrow is our destined end or way, but to act that each tomorrow finds us further than today.” Getting better is the goal, and we can make a resolution to change any day of the year. That point of view is developed by Mike Varcy in his book The Front Nine: How to Start the Year You Want Anytime You Want. Anytime can be a good time to make a fresh start. Granted, many of us naturally gravitate to traditional schedules, which makes a weekend like Labor Day the perfect time for a fresh start.

So, as we head into the fall, I’m trying to live deliberately and artfully. As my children finish up high school and college, transitioning into their adult lives, and I head into my fifties, it’s time to begin thinking about what comes next, to make some plans for what Act III will look like. For example, a couple years ago, I started learning to play the piano, and I’m actually starting to feel more comfortable at the keyboard. Someday I might actually be a piano player. I have a new streak started on Duolingo with my French Lessons, trying to recall those four years studying it in high school. My health and fitness are good for middle age; or at least my doctor had no complaints during my recent annual check-up. Finally, as I continue to try and meditate every day, I am starting to believe I may be just a bit less stressed and, perhaps, even a kinder gentler Michael than I was last year.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

10% Happier? At what cost?

"Undoubtedly, life in contemporary America can be busy, even hectic, and Americans are notoriously bad at slowing down, taking a break, and practicing self care. Too often people respond to challenges by relying on some sort of substance to help them deal with the dissatisfaction." In a recent column for The Villager, I share some thoughts on a story in Colorado media about drug use as a coping mechanism.

“Stressed out, busy moms turn to microdosing.”

That recent headline in the Denver Post both caught my attention and freaked me out. The article from Colorado Public Radio reported on a new trend among working moms in Denver – taking small amounts of psychedelic mushrooms to help them deal with the overwhelming nature of their lives. The impetus for this habit is the “mounting stress and anxiety of what it is to be a mother on the go in 2022.” Apparently those pressures must be significantly different than they have been for previous generations, as the solution is radically different as well.

“It's just 10 percent helpful,” said Courtney, a mother of two who works in the cannabis industry and microdoses mushrooms. “You're 10 percent more patient, 10 percent more joyful, maybe 10 percent more willing to play and roll around in the grass with your kids. And 10 percent goes a pretty long way. Sometimes that’s all you need.”

So, that’s ten percent more helpful, patient, joyful, and playful. And, I guess, we might add, ten percent more drug-dependent. That’s the telling detail that gives me pause – the reliance upon intoxicating chemicals to deal with everyday life. Granted, as the CPR article notes, the use of a chemical “mother’s little helper,” as the Rolling Stones’ described it in their 1966 song, goes back generations. And relying on a pill or a drink to calm the nerves at the end of the day is not at all limited to working moms. In fact, a wind down cocktail at the end of the day is as much a part of the daily routine for many adults as breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

But self-prescribing psychotropic drugs is certainly not routine, even as the use of psilocybin is becoming more accepted in the medical community. Michael Pollan, a journalist and professor at UC-Berkeley, has written about the growing research into the use of psychedelic drugs in the treatment of a wide range of mental illnesses. His book “How to Change Your Mind” discusses studies into using such drugs to literally change a person’s brain chemistry and improve their mental well being. That said, most medical experts would caution against experimenting with self medicating, especially with no evidence for dosages or safety of the drugs. Thus, even as the medical community researches the substances and looks for medical benefits, many people are in fact experimenting on themselves.

It’s the 10 percent comment from the mom in the CPR story that intrigues me, as it reminds me of another approach to stress. A few years ago I ran across a book from Dan Harris titled “10% Happier Revised Edition: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works--A True Story.” Harris is a former ABC news anchor who struggled with addiction and suffered a panic attack on air. After struggling with his mental well being, he used his journalistic skills in search of a cure for his inability to handle the stress of his life. Ultimately, he found mindfulness and meditation as the answer to his problems. In response, he wrote a book and developed an app to help others access help through mindfulness instructors such as the esteemed Joseph Goldstein.

What is it that has left so many people struggling and incapable of managing their daily lives? And why do so many turn to medications to handle work, family, and life? Undoubtedly, life in contemporary America can be busy, even hectic, and Americans are notoriously bad at slowing down, taking a break, and practicing self care. Too often people respond to challenges by relying on some sort of substance to help them deal with the dissatisfaction. And, at the same time that CPR is reporting on microdosing moms, NPR is reporting on the increasing rates of marijuana and hallucinogen use among teens, which are at their highest rates in two decades.

In his classic treatise on “Walden, a Life in the Woods,” Transcendentalist writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau advised readers to “Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.” Too often, he warned us, “Our lives are frittered away by detail,” and people are overwhelmed with lives they have filled with materials, responsibilities, and expectations beyond their own abilities to handle. If someone needs a bottle of chardonnay or a psychedelic trip to deal with their lives, they might want to consider changing their priorities.