When I first got back to the US in January, I flew into Los Angeles and went to visit a friend in San Diego. He had recently graduated from his Masters degree, and his family and friends were throwing him a big graduation party which I attended. After the speeches had been made and the parents and relatives had gone home, I stayed on with him and his girlfriend and friends for the after party. I helped grab the bottles of champagne he had received as graduation gifts, and we hopped in his car and headed off to the bar.
As my recently graduated friend turned up the music and drove off, I pulled out one of the bottles of champagne and uncorked it, then went to take a swig from the bottle before jubilantly passing it around. But my party mood was cut short by my friend barking at me, “What are you doing? Don’t you know that’s illegal?!”
Oh, right: open container laws! D’oh. I had forgotten.
In many states in the US, it’s illegal to have open containers of alcohol in public places, including motor vehicles. In the UK, you can buy a six pack of beers at an off-license (corner store), then crack open a can and start drinking from it as you step outside the shop. In the summertime, London’s parks are full of boozing picnickers. In the US, on the other hand, you might catch people “brown bagging” 40 ounce bottles of beer in a flimsy attempt to conceal the fact that they’re drinking from an open container of booze on the sidewalk or in the parking lot. Classy.
Similarly, American motorists in most states aren’t allowed to drink alcohol while driving, nor are their passengers allowed to have open containers of alcohol inside the vehicle. That’s not actually the rule in many countries – in the UK and New Zealand, for example, it’s legal for passengers to consume alcohol in a car; indeed, it’s legal for the driver to drink while driving, so long as they’re not over the blood alcohol limit.
I’d gotten so used to drinking on the road – indeed, what is a road trip without knocking back a few cold beers? – that I’d forgotten it wasn’t allowed state-side. (I’d also forgotten about getting carded for looking under 21.)
Oops. Fortunately when we arrived at the bar, we found a dark quiet corner of the parking lot to polish off the bubbly…