I'd always considered people who didn't drink to be psychological cripples, at best uptight or constitutionally weak, at worst deliberately dull: individuals so afraid of themselves they cut themselves off from pleasure, limiting their palette to life's beiges and grays. Five years sober, I find that assessment to have been accurate.But also there are more earnest perspectives about the challenges of conducting any sort of social or economic commerce where alcohol is an almost omnipresent element.
Still I think it's wrong to suggest that the sober are ostracized in New Orleans. Or at least they aren't shunned with the same harshness that the slightly more than casual drinker might be in some other city. It's true that planning any gathering.. be it a festival, political rally, or an academic conference.. involves figuring out where the bar will go. But if there is a bias in this it is toward unpretentiousness rather than debauchery.
Generally, one can attend most such gatherings without there being much pressure to indulge. Most often it works they way "Dave" describes here.
My friend Dave, a stalwart of the New Orleans punk scene, is "straight edge" (punkers who abstain from alcohol, tobacco and recreational drugs). He not only doesn't drink alcohol, he doesn't do any drugs at all. With DIY and all-ages venues an endangered species, I wondered how it was being straight edge in a city whose punk shows are so often inside bars.Most of the time nobody cares what you're drinking. This becomes more true the drunker they themselves are, in fact.
"At first I probably thought that people noticed [me not drinking] more than they did," Dave said, "but it turns out other people really don't care what you do or don't do. As I've gotten older, I make an active effort to contribute to bars I go to, out of respect for the bartenders and service industry folks. I learned which bars have Abita root beer on tap, which have sparkling water. I always make sure to order something, so I can contribute to the venue and tip the bartender."
I've never felt much pressure to be drunk or sober. As I've gotten older, I've tapered off naturally but that only affects occasions when I can't afford to be wiped out the next day by my old man hangovers. Not everyone's body, anxieties, social circles, etc. work the same way, of course, so your mileage may have varied.
Generally, I find I'm more grateful for the semi-casual situations where I'm allowed to drink than for the parties where no one notices if I'm sober. But on balance what we're talking about here is a wide range of malleable circumstances that exist in New Orleans. And, to me, that feels like we're mostly getting it right.