America gets a lot of things right: interstate highways, tap water, fried chicken and waffles ... the list goes on and on. But we're a young country, and we'd be smart to turn our eyes to the older and wiser members of the global community every now and then and take their advice. Not on, like, health care or welfare or anything. But maybe with stuff like ...
#5. Legal Street Drinking
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If anything makes me unpatriotic, it's thinking about all the open container laws around the country strangling America's good times like a buzz-killing python. Is there no place in this nation where an honest man can openly pull from a jug of malt liquor without invoking the terrible wrath of John Law? The answer to that question is "Yes -- Las Vegas," but I think we can all agree that Vegas is its own country, so that doesn't count. America needs to be more like Germany, which is totally cool with getting blitzed on the sidewalk.
I first arrived in Berlin the way I arrive for the first time in most cities: in dire need of exactly seven beers. I thought those beers were miles away, but what should greet me at the entrance to the station but a kiosk loaded with colorful plastic screw-top bottles of what was surely the German answer to Miller Light.
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I bought my first bottle and seamlessly blended into German culture.
I staggered up to the cashier with the wide, hopeful eyes of a child:
"Is this ... can I drink this here?"
The man laughed, but he did so in German, which sounds like a cross between a cough and a death threat. Of course I could drink down here. Germany doesn't have many fucks in its Fickbunkern to spare for people drinking in public, as long as they don't make a mess. Life in American cities made me expect such an attitude to be repaid a thousandfold in street urine and alley vomit, but no. Berlin is cleaner than any major American city I've ever seen, including Disney World.
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So much blood.
Still, things the Germans consider "good ideas" don't always work in the rest of the world, and it does seem like adding millions of drunken pedestrians to America's roads would be an awful idea. But here's the thing: American pedestrians are already drunk; they're just hiding it. More than one-third of pedestrian fatalities are legally hammered at the time.
The terrifying thing about drunken walking is that there seems to be no legal recourse against it. You can't ban people for simply walking while moderately intoxicated. Not outside of Utah, anyway. So the only thing left to do is to make being drunk in the streets safer. Simply mandate that all "street legal" bottles come equipped with reflectors, like this:
Suddenly that horde of hidden meandering drunks becomes a horde of extremely visible meandering drunks. Problem solved! Ish!
#4. Stop Hiding Garbage
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I'll never forget the first time I watched a bunch of hobos start garbage fires in a city street. It was right after I landed in New Delhi, India, and for the first few minutes I expected someone from the government to, y'know, do something about it. These dudes were just sweeping piles of trash -- bottles and plates and bags and half-eaten samosas -- into big lumps and then setting them ablaze. And no one came to stop them, because how else are the streets going to get cleared for tomorrow's trash?
In America, we only do this to the people who threw the trash down in the first place.
Trash can be a big cause of culture shock in India. There aren't recycling bins or all that many trash cans, even in restaurants. Everything you throw out eventually winds up in the street, where it's turned to fire. Locals accept this and tend to treat the streets like an open-air trash can. In a twist of irony, India also happens to be a beacon for the sort of yoga-loving, be-dreadlocked people who recoil in inner horror when they see someone toss a plastic water bottle carelessly onto the ground.
Even I had trouble with it, and my heart is as black and pitted as an olive. Such waste feels terribly backward and ... wasteful, and it got me tsking at India, until I found this chart:
Living a normal American life filled with Slurpees, fireworks, and condoms means that I generate over a ton of trash each year. The average five Indians don't equal one ME. Sure, most of my trash winds up in a dump, but that just means I throw out as much shit as I want without worrying. I don't have to live with it, and most of it won't even stay on my continent. By volume, garbage is actually America's #1 export. (Take that, people who say this country doesn't make things anymore.)
The USA produces 25 percent of the world's garbage with just 5 percent of its population. All these garbagemen and landfills have separated us from the consequences of our actions. What this country needs is a few years of garbage fires in the streets and gutters filled with Coke bottles and cigarette butts. It'll be nasty, but it will also shame us into change. Don't believe me? This is how Los Angeles looked in the 1960s:
Given, some of that came from George Burns' gigantic cigars.
It was bad enough that "smog-induced tears" were a real medical concern. People were miserable, so they cleaned up their act and banished that fog monster back to the island from Lost. Today, you can actually see the mountains from downtown, even though there are three times as many cars in the city today as there were in the '60s.
Even Los Angeles, no one's poster boy for a well-run city, got its shit together once it was forced to actually live with the smelly consequence of its bad decisions. I have to trust that the rest of the country is at least as wise as Californians in the 1960s.
#3. No Prescription Laws
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There are places in this world (wonderful, magical places) where the word "prescription" has less meaning than the words "I would like that box of pills and here is $11." Pharmacies that work like liquor stores are one of the little joys of traveling that make the terrible parts of traveling, like 20-hour train rides without a bathroom, tolerable.*
*More than tolerable, thanks to Tramadol's infamous ability to both stop you from pooping and make you feel just ... just super good.
"My butthole feels fantastic!"
But there are practical benefits to Wild West pharmaceutical rules. For one, it cuts the cost of health care down for everybody. Feeling sick? WebMD that sum'bitch and then go buy whatever drugs you (probably) need. Half of the antibiotic prescriptions given by professional American doctors are useless anyway, so even if half of the people self-prescribing fuck up, it'll be no worse than the status quo. Hell, replace all the misprescribed antibiotics with hydrocodone cough syrup and we'll have a happier, safer cold season.
Only 10 percent of "sore throats" are caused by strep, which can be treated with antibiotics, but 60 percent of people who go to the doctor with a sore throat are given antibiotics. These prescriptions don't heal nearly as many people as they turn into walking incubators for unkillable superbacteria. Simply letting our sick people get stoned and sleep through their cold isn't just a safer choice. It could save the human race.
"Dude, fuck the spoon. Just dump it down a beer bong and give me a soft place to fall."