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OPINION | Coronavirus lockdowns usher in the new roaring ’20s

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STATES with strict coronavirus lockdowns seem to be reliving the Roaring ’20s.

Alcohol is legal in the 21st century’s version of Prohibition, but with restaurants, bars and other social spaces shut down, governors in California, New Jersey and New York are struggling to crack down on illicit summer soirees and speakeasies.

As in the 1920s, driving gatherings underground has encouraged other illicit behavior, including violence. Last week police busted up a party at a Santa Monica, Calif., mansion with hundreds of revelers that ended in a fatal shooting of a 35-year-old woman. Locals report that raves are frequent occurrences in the Hollywood Hills. At least two other parties in Los Angeles have resulted in gun violence. “Since Covid, they’ve moved all the parties to the hills,” Sheila Irani, a member of the Hollywood United Neighborhood Council, told the Los Angeles Times. “The kids are going stir-crazy.” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti last week said “these large house parties have essentially become nightclubs in the hills.” At least nightclubs have bouncers and security guards.

Some parties are merely virulent rather than violent. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has been grousing that illicit social gatherings are leading to a virus resurgence. Parties attended by teenagers in the suburb of Middletown have been linked to at least 55 cases, and a Long Beach Island party resulted in 35 lifeguards testing positive. Baywatch meets coronavirus.

On July 26 Jackson, N.J., cops spent five hours breaking up a party at a rented mansion with 700 guests. Its 23-year-old organizers from Newark had promoted the party on Facebook as a “Liberian Independence Day” celebration with a $1,000 twerking contest, free liquor pouches, jungle juice and Hennessy shots. Neighbors reported the house had hosted a party with some 500 people the night before.

Police earlier this month broke up a pool party at a mansion in ritzy Alpine, N.J., which NBC reported was owned by a personal-injury attorney. Guests reported spending $1,000 to attend. Shuttle buses dropped off hundreds of guests, many from New York City.

The party host said he was shocked, shocked that there were social- distancing and face-mask violations. “This is absolutely out of hand,” he told NBC. One partygoer was taken away by ambulance, so perhaps it’s lucky the host is versed in personal-injury law. Neighbors might also seek damages for creating a public nuisance.

The state of New Jersey tweeted on July 31 that people “really” — for emphasis, the word was repeated 19 times — must “stop having crowded indoor house parties.” Really. Maybe the state should hire an influencer to pick up the message. Last weekend police broke up a pool party advertised on Instagram as “Real Big Drip 5” that had drawn an estimated 500 people.

Across the Hudson River, “illicit warehouse ragers, public binge drinking, street parties and raves continue to flout Covid-19 social distancing rules,” the website Gothamist reports. New York cops recently broke up a sex party in Midtown Manhattan. One Instagram user who has been documenting the pandemic partying told the Gothamist: “In Manhattan, clubs pay hosts or promoters or models just to sit at a table and look good to fill up the club with beautiful people, in order to sell tables to the rich people willing to pay up to $5,000 to a table.” Nice gig if you can get it, and there aren’t many licit opportunities now in New York City.

Affluent New Yorkers who have decamped to the Hamptons last month put on a charity tailgating concert headlined by the D.J. duo Chainsmokers. Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon (a k a “DJ D-Sol”) performed an opening act. Guests forked over $1,250 and $25,000 for tickets — more for air-conditioned RVs with private restrooms.

Event organizers received a permit from the Town of Southampton — whose supervisor, Jay Schneiderman, also performed — and guests were supposed to maintain 6 feet of distance and encouraged to wear face masks. Yet photos posted on social media showed thousands of revelers crowding the stage, most without masks. “I am appalled,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo tweeted.

Blue-state politicians failed to learn the lessons of America’s failed experiment with liquor prohibition a century ago: Banning normal economic and social activity creates a black market. Dine-in restaurants and bars have never reopened in New York City or New Jersey and were allowed to open only briefly in California before Gov. Gavin Newsom closed them amid a virus resurgence.

Unemployment rates in the Northeast and California look more like the 1930s than the ’20s, but at least their underground party economies are thriving.

 

 

 

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