We have our share of teetotalers, alcoholics and everything in between that relates to using alcohol here in Southwest Florida.
A survey about alcohol usage probably would show that 99 percent of people who drink are merely “social drinkers.” One percent would have no opinion or could not remember.
While chatting with friends about how we all probably drink more or at least more often than our parents and grandparents did, I wondered what being a “social drinker” means.
Most people probably would say a social drinker is anyone who drinks about the same amount he or she does.
It’s like asking what being “middle aged” means. I think of middle age as about 10 years older than I am, although that definition increasingly strains credulity.
Back to drinking — Let’s face it. Southwest Florida is, for many people, Party Central. We who live here full-time spend much of it entertaining visitors who want to go out and play. Alcohol sometimes is involved or at least always accessible.
My late father never drank other than maybe a beer or two every month or two. When he retired to Marco Island, he enjoyed the socializing here, at the condo pool or the beach or at dinner, in homes or out. Alcohol was always there for the asking.
“Sometimes people seem to get insulted if you don’t take a drink when it’s offered,” he remarked.
Eventually, Dad occasionally enjoyed a Bloody Mary before dinner, but never more than one. When I asked him about that, he said, “Well, I just don’t want to become a drunkard like a lot of folks around here.” He was being prudent, not prudish.
One of the pleasures for some social drinkers is “The Dress and Drink.” We learned that from a friend up north who often attends dressy social events.
“It’s just nice,” Rick said, “when my wife and I are getting dressed, often for formal occasions, to share a cocktail or a glass of wine while she does her face and I try to tie a bow tie.”
He’s right. Those dress and drink moments are fun, but they don’t last very long here in paradise, mainly because when we go out, it’s usually in shorts and short-sleeved shirts (the lady prefers cropped pants.) It takes so little time that finishing a drink is usually out of the question.
Social drinkers often seek ways to limit their intake without limiting their sociability.
“I always have a glass of water between drinks,” says a friend.
That’s nice, but often impractical. At a cocktail party with servers passing drinks, they usually don’t have water on the trays. If you ask and he says “Sure, right away,” and returns 20 minutes later, just long enough for you to have a second drink while waiting.
A drinking cliché is that you may be an alcoholic if you drink alone. What if your spouse is at golf or garden club and you’re having a burger and a beer on the lanai? That’s drinking alone, right? What to do? Call the dog and have it come sit with you?
I know people who always mix alcohol with other stuff, maybe scotch and soda, gin and tonic, vodka and cranberry. They act as though a whiskey on the rocks will morph them into Britney Spears. Some people drink because they really like the taste.
In my social-drinker-opinion of things, a great vodka cannot be improved by adding another beverage to it.
I know a guy who drinks Glenlivet and Coke — cola for the taste and the scotch for the buzz. I also know a guy who drinks scotch and milk. He thinks it helps his ulcer.
Here’s the true test of whether you’re a social drinker, safe from the ravages of demon run, or a tippler on the slippery slope toward being a toper.
If you could drink shots of your favorite spirits or glass after glass of your favorite wine or beer with no intoxicating effect, would you?
That is, if somebody could make a delicious premium vodka, a 20-year-old single malt scotch or a bottle of Bordeaux’s best without any alcohol in it, would you enjoy it as much as the distilled version?
If so, then you’re not even a social drinker; you’re a thirsty person who can appreciate hops or old vine grapes in their pre-processed state.
Anyone interested in the impact of alcohol on human society will enjoy a book by a friend and former NBC News Correspondent, Eric Burns, now a media critic for Fox News Channel.
In “The Spirits of America,” Eric writes about the impact of alcohol on the founding of this nation:
“We read that the Revolutionary War was conceived in the watering holes of colonial America, but never ask why.
“Why did New York merchants gather at Burns’s Tavern to plan a boycott of British goods in response to the Stamp Act? Why did Bostonians organize their tea party at the Green Dragon Tavern?
“Why did John Adams meet George Washington for the first time at the City Tavern in Philadelphia?
“Why did (so few) of these take place in homes, churches, town halls or schools?
Reason: “No other meeting place offered the same guarantee of attendance and devout attention as a tavern. Booze was food, medicine and companionship in the early days of America. It was how the tongue got loose and the mind receptive, how the body unlimbered and the future grew bright.
“It was a shield against loneliness, a light in the midnight hours when the stars were hidden and the moon otherwise occupied.”
So, social drinkers, unite. If a touch of the grape or a dram from the Highlands can help build a mighty nation, it can’t help but make a weekend evening even more pleasant, socializing under the swaying palms of Southwest Florida.
But don’t forget — the Founding Fathers didn’t have to drive home. I’m just sayin.’