When I pull into the parking lot of where I live and round the median to find a space, I can usually catch a glimpse of the crowd from a local bar with which I share a building. It’s the typical hipster hangout with a largely unsurprising selection of accessible beer and overpriced fried what-have-yous. There’s nothing remarkable about it at all other than the fact that it has been around for as long as it has. Legend has it that it used to be a pretty cool place back in the day with back porch group karaoke until 2am that usually ended with a rousing and heavily slurred rendition of Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey.
At least that’s what my neighbor tells me. He has also told me the schedule of every dumpster pickup in the area, when the market beneath me opens, when the chefs arrive, and peak traffic times. The man has the ears of neurotic cat and the memory of an elephant. He’s a good guy to have around when you need such details. I can also understand why being awoken to Don’t Stop Believin’ on a nightly basis would stick in one’s memory.
Two nights ago, as I came back from the protest and turned in my parking lot, the back porch of the hipster bar was empty. It was closed as its in city limits and curfew happened at 8pm in Asheville. I had arrived home around 8:10 as I stayed as long as I dare at the protest without tempting the police. Obviously, the bar was closed because of the curfew.
I made it out just in time two nights ago as watching a live feed of the protest on the way home showed a group of marching protestors get ambushed from behind by the police with several rounds of tear gas and many more rubber bullets. Yes, ambushed because there was no audible warning given and all shots came from behind the group. Reporters and innocent civilians trying to drive home alike were caught up in the mayhem and there were about 20 arrests shortly thereafter. I’ve heard it said that it’s nice to see where your tax dollars are going. I’d like to meet that fella and have a chat. Before curfew of course.
Last night as I pulled into my parking lot, the back porch of the bar was so full that people were spilling into the parking lot. Dozens of people were drinking and smoking as if it was any other Thursday evening. I parked my car and walked back slightly in shock as the realization of what was happening slowly dawned on me.
I watched for a few moments as everyone carried on like there wasn’t a curfew and tear gas being fired at their fellow citizens less than three miles from where they were drinking the latest overpriced microbrew. It took me that long to reckon the contrast of realities I had experienced in just a few minutes.
I walked into the bar and found an unsuspecting waiter to ask what was going on. When I inquired as to how they were open when there was a curfew in place, he replied that as an establishment that served food, they were an essential business. I scanned the people sitting inside and saw two people eating food. Two out of more than fifty. 4% at best. That was enough for the rest of the crowd to carry on life as usual. The waiter said I was welcome to “belly up for a drink.” I hesitated… but did not share my opinions about how his employer was abusing the system and definitely did not belly up for a drink.
On my drive home, I saw other bars open and figured they were just clearing out since it was close to the 8pm curfew. I guess I was wrong. On my way home, I also saw families taking walks around their community. I saw people taking bike rides. I saw people ordering dinner from a food truck. I saw what looked life as normal. If I hadn’t known there was a curfew, I would have had no idea there was a curfew.
Tonight I saw two Americas. I saw one group of people asking the government to put a stop to legally-protected murder, and then those same people being forced to go home under threat of tear gas and physical harm. At the exact same time, I saw another group of people enjoying a comfortable lifestyle in a warm, cozy, detached bar just three miles away due to a legal loophole, and no one threatening them with anything other than a late-night drunken singalong.
Do you see the problem here?