People-toasting-wine-glas-007A few years ago, several people told me there was a woman who’d just moved to Somerset whom I had to meet. She was a huge foodie and cook, my age, loved to travel, and didn’t have little kids or plans to have any.

I’m here to tell you, it’s extremely rare to find someone with whom you have all of these things in common (especially the cooking and kid part), so I was immediately intrigued. Then, with the endorsement of several mutual friends, I sent her a text and asked her on a blind friend-date.

Admittedly, it was a little awkward when we met for the first time at the local pub Tap on Main. If I remember right, I think we even needed to tell each other what we’d be wearing so we’d know we were approaching the right person. But, after we laughed about the fact that our meeting felt both like an interview and a real date, we relaxed and had the most wonderful conversation.

Now. Before we met, I already knew that this woman had come to Somerset to take an extremely high-powered job, one that has and will continue to bring her to other towns and cities as she climbs up the corporate ladder. But during our lovely conversation, I learned she had been offered the job a few years before when it had again been vacant. She considered it, researching Somerset by reading the newspaper online and visiting its website.

“But when I found out Somerset was dry, I didn’t take it,” she said. “If it had still been dry, I wouldn’t have taken it this time. It told me everything I needed to know about the town.”

This has resonated with me a lot over the past few years. First off, it’s made me think about how many other educated people have passed over Somerset simply because it prohibited alcohol sales. Secondly, it’s made me consider what impact this woman has made on our community because she did come.

In the two and a half years she’s been here, she’s pledged company sponsorship for the Master Musician’s Festival. She’s behind an effort to host more 5K runs and other fitness-related events to make an impact on obesity and people’s health. She’s trying to change what people eat at lunch by overhauling her company’s cafeteria.

These are real, impactful changes.

Now. Let’s look at things from the opposite direction. A few years ago, before Somerset went wet, my best friend Kristin and her husband David were in town visiting as part of a lengthy road trip they were taking through the States. After visiting Cumberland Falls, we stopped at Kroger to pick up a few groceries for dinner. David doesn’t drink alcohol so picked up a six-pack of O’Douls to wash down the hot summer day.

But upon check out, the cashier told us that he wasn’t permitted to buy the beer because it was a Sunday. Shocked, I explained to her the beer did not contain any alcohol and it was for that reason, in fact, why it was even permitted to be sold. But it didn’t matter — those were the rules.

I left the grocery store that day feeling so embarrassed and angry. My friends were embarrassed for me. I felt completely alienated from the place in which I lived, governed by rules imposed on me for something that was, incidentally, legal.

“The same people who are against the government telling you to wear a seatbelt or a helmet when riding a motorcycle are somehow in favor of that same government telling you what you can and cannot drink, apparently whether it has alcohol in it or not,” I fumed.

I’m positive that when Kristin and David continued on their road trip, they had a conversation about what had happened. I’m positive the words “antiquated,” and “21st century” were part of it.

But. When Somerset went wet, I suddenly felt more connected to my community. Did it have to do with the fact that I could go and buy alcohol? Actually no. It had to do with the fact that the obstacles that kept the high-powered corporate exec away and my visiting friends aghast were gone. The Vote Yes campaign in Somerset used the word “progress” and they were right to use it. Because that’s exactly what omitting obstacles implies.

Now, Willie Sawyers has already written a very good column about why London should have voted yes, using Somerset as an example. More than $2 million in taxes collected. Decreased DUI numbers because people aren’t driving as far to drink.

Obviously, these are important, convincing statistics. I’m here to tell you about a few more advantages. The restaurants, they come. The boaters, they do all their shopping here and we finally benefit. The camaraderie of getting together for a drink after work, it happens. Eyesores getting razed to make way for new businesses? Yep.

Does it all have to do with alcohol? Nope. It has to do with the spirit of change, the connection people feel because the obstacle has been removed.

So enjoy your progress, London. Enjoy your new city, because that is what you have now. Cheers. May the beam of the glass never destroy the ray of the mind.

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