In less than three days’ time, the population of Athens will double. Thousands of revelers will descend on the town, anticipating a weekend of house parties and bars.
But what some of the HallOUween first-timers (college freshmen who roped their visiting friends from high school into buying them a dorm pass) may not expect to see is the sheer volume of a different kind of perennial visitor: law enforcement.
Each year, in tandem with the horde of young folk amassing in Athens, what appears to be the state’s entire levy of law enforcement manpower lines the streets, patrols Mill Street, and generally tries to bust up the atmosphere.
In fact, subtract the party-goers, and the streets of Athens look like a military occupation, or as if they are preparing for Goths and Vandals to come pouring over the Appalachian Highway ready to loot the town of valuables and set it ablaze.
You’ll see, in their bid to prepare for the ensuing barbarian horde, men on horses, platoons of officers marching up and down Court Street as if on parade, cops lingering in alleyways, hoping to catch a drinker who couldn’t wait any longer to relieve him/herself, and the many burly state liquor agents in plain-clothes eager to treat under-aged drinkers like violent felons.
Undoubtedly, the city and the university have the investment – no, the imperative – to protect the property of the city, university and private citizens. This I am not doubting. Many of our treasured HallOUween guests are less than respectful of our property and should be punished accordingly.
I am, however, arguing in favor of a loosening of the overwhelming force the city presents to partygoers each October. When Athens looks more like turmoil-engulfed Hong Kong or Caracas than a college town, one must wonder if it’s too much.
If the mustering of statewide police force isn’t enough to dissuade you from visiting, fortunately, the university and city employ a divide-and-conquer tactic on prospective visitors.
Want to visit your friend for the weekend? Be prepared for someone to shell out $50 and to be subject to checkpoints and patrols in the dormitories a la ’50s East Germany.
I remember how getting a guest in the dorms over HallOUween was such a hassle; it’s almost as if the university doesn’t want to generate thousands of dollars from this obvious shakedown.
This way, it appears the city and university work together to stifle the spirit of the block party. The shock-and-awe tactics employed by the police coupled with the ridiculous university policies only strip the element of revelry that draws so many people to town in the first place.
Ultimately, HallOUween does still carry the same charm as all those years ago. This doesn’t mean that it hasn’t lost some of its luster at the hands of the sanitization efforts of the powers-that-be.
I just urge city and university officials to mindful of this aspect: What makes HallOUween special? For one weekend, these young people from across the Midwest come to Athens to step out of their normal lives for a brief time. It is a time for them to let back and enjoy themselves.
I can imagine the perpetual and ever-present threat of arrest or detainment for capital infractions such as stepping on the sidewalk with a cup of beer is enough to shatter the illusion of a good time for some.
Not only is HallOUween supposed to be enjoyable for the guests, I am sure the party is enjoyable to the city auditor when she reads how much the city generated in the transient guest tax and sales tax during the weekend.
For such a vital influx of currency into the local economy and the coffers of the university, these two institutions seem to be hell-bent on removing all the fun from the event.
This is where officials must find themselves in quite a bind. I’m sure city officials would love to wake up in November with the transient guest tax, sales tax and court fees deposited in the bank without having to go through the effort of organizing a military occupation of the town.
But alas, they are tied at the hip to HallOUween; they need the revenue.
So enjoy your weekend, my friends, and stay safe. And to those of you visiting who bothered to pick up the paper in line at Wendy’s or Big Mama’s, remember that law enforcement is in every nook and cranny (maybe even peering over your shoulder, reading this) and they intend to do their jobs of enforcing the law.