Farewell, Utah liquor law that never directly affected me

The "Lost" spike and the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad

The “Lost” spike and the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad

This is going to be a weird post because it’s about a liquor law from my homestate of Utah that I never really ran into, but I could have — before today. In the past, bars were “private clubs” where customers had to buy a “membership” before you could enter and buy a drink (or else be a guest of a member). It was an interesting hurdle for people who are used to something different (or normal).

The private club memberships went away at midnight MDT, and with them went my last chance to become a “member” under this unusual law.

In the end, I kinda wanted to get a private membership. Yes, it’s weird that I would want to get a private membership for the sake of getting one. Did I ever mention to you that I wanted to visit a Quizno’s in Seattle?

Don’t get me wrong, being a member of a private club in Utah was probably less cool than becoming a member of the National Geographic Society or Consumers Union, or wearing a Members Only jacket. It never came up when I was growing up (because I was obviously a minor). I’ve only been back a few times since turning 21.

When I visited Salt Lake City in July 2008, I thought I might need to buy a membership when tagging along with a friend who now lives in the city. Alas, the opportunity never came up in three chances.

  1. An evening concert in the park had a beer garden. They checked ID, but there was no membership requirement.
  2. On a separate day, we went to a brewery in Trolley Square. No membership was needed — apparently breweries could sell their wares without them.
  3. The last chance came when we went to get brunch on a Sunday. It’s a nice restaurant with a bar area. Surely, I would need to pay for a membership here. No dice, my friend knew a member on staff and we were admitted as guests.

While I may have missed my chance to become a “member,” it’s still not too late for me to become utterly confused by Utah’s new liquor laws. The private clubs are essentially gone, but will be replaced with “social clubs” and “dining clubs,” each with different, yet similar rules. On top of that are full-service restaurants and beer taverns which can serve alcohol but follow another set of rules. A short rundown is here.

These changes only address clubs. If you wanted to buy a six-pack of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale to enjoy in the comfort of your home, you still need to go to a state liquor store.

Photo: The photo behind the “Lost Spike” at the California State Railroad Museum shows the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah in 1869. Here’s a better look. I saw the workers holding up champagne and was intrigued that alcohol was used to commemorate this landmark event that happened in Utah.

Fighting back against excess airline fees


I don’t fly the major air carriers very often. An experience with onerous fees during a recent trip makes it even less likely that I’ll choose to fly them again in the future.

At issue is the fact that airlines are seeking new ways to charge passengers more for services that have been included in the standard service for decades.

It’s been a gradual process that slowly removed in-flight meals and other amenities from the standard fare. Now, it’s come down to checked baggage — last summer they were charging for two or more bags. This year, they’re charging for the first checked bag and may have gone too far for my taste.

Charging for the first bag is a major hassle and an inconvenience heaped upon a stack of flying inconveniences that have increased since 2001. Checking a bag is the easiest option if you want to fly without making sure your liquids aren’t carefully rationed out and bagged.

In some ways, checking bags makes it a lot easier for passengers boarding and deplaning. I’m never one of those people you might see taking five minutes trying to cram a steamer trunk into the cramped overhead bin.

Earlier this month, I was traveling to the Midwest for a wedding. Because I was taking an extended trip and anticipated bringing some Michigan goodies back with me, I brought my larger suitcase to the airport.

Facing an early-morning departure and a desire not to park my car for $9/day at Sacramento for more than a week, I opted to fly out of San Francisco International Airport.

Getting there about eight hours before the flight, I hoped to check my bag in before heading into the city for some entertainment. No dice — the agent said rules prohibit checking in baggage that early. Given the post-2001 rules, I acquiesced and ended up lugging this big bag through the streets of San Francisco. I only got a few weird looks at the karaoke bar.

When the ticket counter opened in the morning, I was ready to check my bag and ran into another roadblock. For the convenience of checking a bag, Northwest (which is being absorbed into Delta) wanted to charge me $15.

Prompted to pay this new fee, I was a little testy when I told the agent that I was extremely unhappy. She noted it’s a fee that nearly all the airlines are now charging.

“Southwest is the only airline that doesn’t charge for the first bag,” the agent said.

“Exactly. That’s why I’m going to fly with them from now on,” I replied.

After clearing through security, I was still miffed by the fee. I called Northwest reservations to complain. They helpfully gave me the number of customer relations, but the call center wasn’t going to open for another hour.

For a few minutes, I delighted in thinking about what I was going to tell Northwest. I fantasized telling them that I would rather fly Southwest to Chicago and then take a 10-hour bus ride to my destination rather than giving Northwest/Delta another dollar of my business.

Eventually, I realized it was all a little silly and waited bleary eyed to board my flight.

The incident started to fade my memory after a couple of weeks and a relaxing train trip home without extra fees. I was content to let the matter drop until I read this quote in an article about fees:

“They’re going to keep nudging them up until they
run into market resistance,” said Ed Perkins, a contributing editor at
the Web site Smarter Travel.

If that’s the case, then it’s almost my duty to complain. After all, I wouldn’t like to see airlines continue to nickel and dime the passengers they rely on.

Now, it’s just a matter of waiting for that call center to open.

Winners and losers in the digital TV conversion

Digital TV converter boxI want to check out some winners and losers with the recent switch to digital TV over-the-air signals. Depending on where you live or what you like to watch, the switch had some pretty interesting outcomes.

Here’s a quick look at the scorecard:

Winner — The National Football League. The original conversion date was set in mid-February. Lawmakers took pains to avoid making the switch around the Super Bowl. Even the summer switch doesn’t affect the NFL.
Losers — The National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League. It’s pretty clear that Congress _didn’t_ consider these two when setting the new date of June 12. Both the NBA and NHL were the midst of their league finals. For the NHL, a pivotal Game 7 took place on the day itself.

Winners — Big cities. When I visited Salt Lake City in March, I checked the DTV set-up at several relatives’ houses. Not only was the set-up fairly easy with indoor antennas and strong local signals, the number of channels available was amazing — upwards of 20+. Of course, SLC has 3 public TV stations so it’s not a huge surprise (those three stations are responsible for about 12 channels alone).
Losers — Small cities. It’s more of a crapshoot pulling in DTV signals from more distant locations (such as trying to view Redding stations from Chico). My neighbor has been on the roof at least four times adjusting an antenna to pull in Redding’s PBS station, KIXE 9.

When you do manage to pull in a signal, the station offerings aren’t as robust, although there are some additional channels. In many areas, some viewers may give up over-the-air viewing and opt for satellite. This isn’t necessarily an option in the smallest of markets which currently don’t have local channels on satellite.

Winners — People with good converter boxes. Having a good converter box can greatly add to a viewer’s DTV experience. Look out for the ability to change the viewing options (such as zooming in on the image) and having a reliable on-screen program guide.
Losers — People with bad converter boxes. I tested a couple of boxes that stunk out loud. It was next-to-impossible to change some of the viewing options. Some of the boxes had a clunky interface, requiring scrolling through several on-screen menus.

Draw — People watching TV over-the-air. Assuming you can pull in DTV signals on your antenna, the viewing
experience is much better than before — clearer pictures, more
offerings, etc. It’s free, but you don’t necessarily get all the channels that other systems offer.
Draw — People watching over cable/satellite. Clearer pictures and tons of channels are something that cable/satellite viewers have enjoyed for years … at a cost. Also, the new DTV subchannels are just now being added to cable systems, but they’re often require a digital cable box (at additional cost) to view.

Undecided — The people who didn’t make the switch. In the lead-up to the switchover, there were concerns that some groups of people, including the elderly, indigent and non-English speakers, wouldn’t make the switch. The number of people who weren’t prepared for DTV was shrinking, but I don’t know if it shrunk enough.

So, how do you think the DTV switchover game played out?

Photo: A Digital Stream converter box used during a May 2008 E-R test.

‘Jon and Kate’ to do something that rhymes with ‘8’

Jon and Kate GosselinTonight is the night where there is supposed to be some sort of pay off for months of hype regarding Jon and Kate Gosselin. The couple will make a “major announcement” on their show tonight (airing at 9 p.m. ET).

For those needing a refresher, the Gosselins have managed to parlay their ability to have many, many children into the reality show “Jon & Kate Plus 8” on a network that used to be called “The Learning Channel.”

Oh, the things that we have learned! Not necessarily on TLC or the show itself, but elsewhere in the infosphere–the tabloids, the ceaseless entertainment Web sites and TV shows and their ilk. Depending on where you look either Jon cheated on Kate or vice versa (the couple has denied both rumors).

Regardless of what happens tonight, I’m sure the headline writers of the world are preparing to chronicle the announcement with no shortage of plays on the show’s title. For example, we’re all bracing for the headline, “Jon and Kate separate.”

While a separation is possible, here are some other possible outcomes from Monday’s announcement:

  • “Jon, Kate, Octomom set playdate” — think of the ratings if these two child-making dynamos get together.
  • “Jon & Kate to legislate” — if they choose to announce a joint run for elected office.
  • “Jon & Kate to sell plates” — they’re taking their show to QVC.
  • “Jon & Kate EXTERMINATE!” — the couple announces they’ve become Daleks of “Doctor Who” fame with the sole goal of exterminating inferior life in the universe.
  • “Jon & Kate kids to emancipate” — Sure the sextuplets are just 5 years old, but they’re probably old enough to know when to pull the plug.
  • “Jon & Kate fail to placate” — the likeliest headline if the announcement turns out to be nothing but fluff.

Photo credit: AP Photo/TLC, Karen Alquist, File