Charleston’s Adult Baby Sitters
By Frank Waszut
I have bounced in Charleston area bars for 7+ years and have been privy to the human freak show that is the Charleston food and beverage scene. I have seen bartenders and bar owners that think they are rock stars and acting accordingly to the point of absurdity. I have seen waitresses act like their favorite movie hunk came out of the closet over a lousy tip even though the quality of service they offered made Paris Hilton look like Mother Theresa by comparison. I have seen sorostitutes get into those all too classy hair pulling fights over Citadel trust funded knobs. I have seen frat boys get into fist fights, because the “bro-ing” went too far. I could write a book on the degeneration of human nature that can be found in the Charleston binge drinking scene if I wanted to. However, I prefer to write science fiction since fiction has to make sense. Well----most science fiction anyway, that book with the talking snake and Jewish hippie turned zombie seems to pull a lot of weight in Charleston’s socioeconomic infrastructure. Guess who gets caught in the middle of all this while having to break it up in a way that can be explained to a police officer as well as the bar owner in order to keep their employment? That’s right, the bouncers.
Now when most people think of bouncers they instantly visualize some ruggedly handsome guy in a tight black t-shirt or rash guard, blue denim jeans, and black boots designed to throw round house kicks like they are the second coming of Bruce Lee. In reality the position could be more accurately described as nothing more than being a glorified babysitter that is caring for drunken adults. We are the guys that get paid to make sure that all of the little ( and not so little) roided up, Gucci and Prada wearing, Polo Ralph Lauren Flashing, wanna-be redneck, proud redneck, law school student, kiddies that can’t handle their liquor don’t cause any problems or at least keep it to a minimum. In theory it’s a great idea, especially for a town like Charleston were alcohol has always been the preferred method of escaping reality; that and cocaine.
The thing about our position is that bouncers are usually the only sober people in the bar at any given time. That’s not to say that it is unheard of for a bouncer to be under the influence on the clock, I have been guilty of that myself, but for the most part our senses are less compromised than anyone elses’ in the bar. Bartenders will take shots with patrons to satisfy their own addiction and to get better tips by keeping their customers happy. Waitresses will do the same. Bar owners, at certain Japanese restaurant, have told me allow shady characters into their businesses to allow drug deals to go down and if we happened to walk in on one it was pretty much expected for us to look the other way. I personally got fired from a certain said sushi bar/ night club off of Market Street for NOT allowing a woman in with a fake ID. The police are well aware of this, especially Chief Mullen hence why he has been working to have ordinances pushed through city council that would make it expected for bouncers to police the sidewalks which is city property and the responsibility of the Charleston Police Department the last time I checked. The truly funny, and tragic, thing is that bar staff shouldn’t allow the clientele to become inebriated to a point where such a thing would be an issue. That is when bouncers are supposed to be allowed to do their jobs to protect bar patrons from not just others, but themselves as well. In Charleston, bartenders and bar owners usually frown upon such a thing.
That’s the thing about alcohol; the drug is designed to impair your senses and your ability to make responsible long term decisions. If our state and federal governments truly cared about allowing it’s citizens alleviate the stresses of their realities in safe and responsible ways then the issue of legalizing Class 1 Controlled Substances (THC, Psychidelic Mushrooms, etc.) wouldn’t be an issue and you could head to your nearest local pub to get a cocktail infused with Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or Psilocybin (the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms) since those are much less likely to make someone a danger to themselves or others. The last time I checked acting a fool seemed like a bad idea while I was “high” or “tripping”. It made me just chill out and enjoys the company of others. Unfortunately, Charleston and Western Democracy at large is operated as more of an alcohol, tobacco, opiate, and amphetamine society while our governments profits off it generously despite study after study showing the true danger of using those drugs in recreational manner.
This had been an issue that most Charlestonians could ignore by just downing another shot of grandma (Grand Marnier) while chasing the skirts or crotches of their stereotype of choice. Charleston has always been a town governed by stereotypes or peacefully segregated as I like to call it. Basically everyone feels the need to be a character that falls into a certain archetype in order to fit in. The “good ole boys” have to be Andy Griffith with a coke habit. The thugs have to fall in line with the Project Pat mold. The white girls have to be the Barbie looking for their Ken doll, etc. On top of this the bar owners have to be rock stars while the cops have to be Vic Mackey from The Shield. The issue is that everyone is afraid to be an individual. They are afraid to be human. That’s why our politicians preach the sanctity of marriage and life yet disregard those ideals when met with reality. Just look at the handling of the case involving the murder of Kate Waring if you want to see how much Chief Mullen, and his department, truly cares about the safety of those that live within the Charleston city limits. To them it’s all about meeting their quotas and cashing their checks on payday.
The bar owners know this which is why they allow their bartenders to over serve their customers without any accountability whatsoever even when those customers are leaving the bar while reaching for their car keys. That’s why it’s not unheard of, and becoming alarmingly common, to hear stories about underage women leaving bars by themselves while intoxicated only to be attacked and raped while walking home since they are easy targets. Constantly the banter from the police is that the victims shouldn’t put themselves in such positions, which is true. Then again how many smart decisions does anyone ever remember making while drunk short of handing a sober friend their car keys? Even though someone shouldn’t put themselves in bad situations doesn’t mean that our police and politicians shouldn’t be held accountable to address this problem and come up with a solution to it; shouldn’t it? As far as I can tell the question has yet to be contemplated. They are more interested in telling bar owners how to do their jobs. These are jobs which they should have already been doing in the first place and could be enforced with the laws which are already on the books. Chief Mullen has no interest in protecting those he took an oath to serve. He is more interested in doing Mayor Riley’s bidding and keeping the revenue flowing into Charleston while keeping up its illusory prestige. It’s a charade in which bouncers like me are stuck playing a game of cat and mouse with the cops, bar staff, and owners in order to keep our employment so that we can pay our bills on time. Our job is just to protect people while in our presence.
Its joke and unfortunately those that fall on the short end of the punch line are the bar’s customers since it is the responsibility of the bar staff to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for their employees while the job of the police is to protect them after they walk out the door. Instead of Chief Mullen enforcing the laws that are already on paper in regards to enforcing age limits on drinking, which many bars have found a loophole in knowingly allowing entry to those with fake ID’s since it is technically not the bars responsibility to catch fake ID’s as well as informing bouncers that it is illegal to take fake ID’s. These policies not only exacerbate the issues, but also keeps the revenue rolling in with the police being able to periodically perform raids on these bars knowing they will find one or two college students with fake ID’s which they can ticket for $500 while knowing their parents will flip the bill.
More accountability needs to be undertaken on both sides so that bar patrons can feel safe and secure so that they can have a more enjoyable time in our local drinking establishments. The problem with the nightlife in Charleston isn’t what’s going on in the sidewalks and parking lots when the bars close. The problem is what takes place inside the bar which street cops only have limited jurisdiction on and that wouldn’t even since the cops in our town are becoming more incompetent and unqualified by the day. The only thing a cop is now capable of doing in this town is to write tickets whether it for DUI, drunk and disorderly, or drinking underage. All of these issues could be significantly alleviated if the police held the bar owners and bartenders more accountable for their actions, but for the Charleston Police Department there isn’t a constant revenue flow in that. There has never been a constant revenue flow for a cop that has been willing to protect harm from coming to others. There is only money in making it look like they are doing their job while staying on time with their quotas and that is what this issue all comes down to; money.
That has been Charleston’s issue all along and once the Civil War ended Charleston’s main source of income dried up since it was no longer profitable due to the fact slavery had become illegal. Up to this day we have looked for another way to generate revenue, besides tourism, without the need for an outside source. Recently we have seemingly given up on that ever idea since the economy began to decline which is a shame. Charleston will always be a vacation destination due to our nightlife and history. That doesn’t mean it has to live in a bubble of ignorance while refusing to change. Our town can change without forgetting its roots. That’s the balance it must find since no law or ordinance will alleviate our issues until then.