On Tuesday, the News-Gazette reported that “Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day” — which, like REO Speedwagon, Roger Ebert and that Miss America lady, are the spawns of Champaign-Urbana — cost the community more than $30,000.
These costs came mostly in the form of overtime pay for officers in charge of keeping violence and rowdiness to a minimum. Unfortunately, not much of the $30K went to cleaning up the piles of vomit on and around Green Street that seemed to multiply as the day wore on.
Either way, $30,000 seems like a high price for the community and university to shoulder for a “holiday” that is essentially a marketing ploy by local bar owners to make up for sluggish sales during spring break. I would imagine that if we tallied up the profits for that one day by those establishments who were selling drinks to the green-clad mob, we would find more than enough to cover the $30,000.
The question then becomes: How do we collect?
My first thought was that maybe we could find those two students who were so adamant in their fight against the university over not being able to dress up as the Chief anymore and have them channel their anger into a more practical cause. What if we had them don their appropriated “Indian” garb and go from bar to bar and party to party collecting a special “police overtime” tax?
But maybe the problem is that I’m looking at this the wrong way. Maybe the city should embrace this as lustily and capitalistically as local businesses do. Yes, students want to drink. Yes, they want to drink a lot. Yes, they want to drink from daybreak to whenever it is they happen to black out or get arrested or get run over by that funky Za’s conversion van or fall off of a high structure. And since all these students want to drink, why doesn’t the city block off the streets, board up local businesses (including the bars) and bring in a couple tanker trucks filled with beer and get the party started? The beer could be utter swill and the city could still charge whatever it wanted, provided it infused some green food coloring into the mix. The proceeds for the event could go to the community and if there’s a profit (after paying all the overtime costs), then it could pay for something we all enjoy like those little mini-parks the city of Champaign puts up on random street corners.
I know what you’re thinking: Mini-parks won’t cut it; we as a community simply cannot endorse this “unofficial” behavior. But what about other events like the Sweet Corn Festival? Okay, it’s more family friendly and local artisans are involved, but there’s still a lot of public drunkenness and less-than-decorous behavior. Perhaps what “unofficial” really needs is a locally-produced agricultural product to sell like soybeans (think: freshly steamed edamame) so that local farmers can share in the profits.
All this is to ask: While bars and many students may love this holiday, why is everyone else resigned to sitting on the sidelines grumbling about it — and paying for it — for years to come? I can tell from many of the undergrads I’ve talked to that this “unofficial” is a tradition they will proudly continue for years to come.
So, why not endorse the free market? Just imagine that the next time you accidentally step in a pile of green beer/burrito vomit or almost hit a shirtless kid who’s lunged in front of your car that all those gallons of Bud Light fueling the mayhem are actually helping the community. Maybe then we’ll all like “unofficial.”
Photo by Justine Bursoni