The first time I visited Japan, about 10 years ago, two things stood out above all else:
1. For the first time in my adult life, at 5-foot-10 and three-quarters, I actually felt tall.
2. One could buy wine, beer and other canned or bottled adult beverages from vending machines on the streets. No I.D. required; if you had the yen, you could buy the alcohol.
“What a different society this must be,” I remember thinking. “No way this would ever fly in the United States,” where political correctness reigns supreme, and where the drunk driving laws, well intentioned though they may be, are turning harmless casual drinkers into criminals.
Well, 10 years is a long time, and now it is possible to buy wine from a vending machine in the U.S. – not on the street, but in two supermarkets.
The wine dispensers, which are being referred to as kiosks, are being tested by the Liquor Control Board of Pennsylvania. And unlike the vending machines in Japan, there is absolutely no level of trust extended to the general public.
In order to purchase a bottle from the kiosk, one must:
a) select a bottle, via a touch-screen display, from 53 offered (interestingly, none are made in Pennsylvania);
b) swipe an I.D. card;
c) blow into an alcohol sensor (similar to the devices that some would like to see tied to car ignitions);
d) look into a surveillance camera so that a state employee in the capital city of Harrisburg can match the face to the I.D. and approve the sale; and
e) pay for the purchase with a credit or debit card – no cash accepted.
If that sounds like a lot of trouble to go through just to buy a bottle of wine, you have to keep in mind that this is Pennsylvania, a state that sells wine and other alcohol only in state-run stores that are staffed by public employees.
When it comes to one of America’s most historically important states – where the concept of individual freedom first took hold – buying and selling wine remains in the 18th century. The state’s policies would be laughable if they weren’t so stupid.
So, in that context, I guess you could say that the kiosks are a step in the right direction.
A baby step… but a step.