The West Palm Beach City Commission seems to believe that only those of us born between 1983 and 1986 have caused Clematis Street to turn into, as West Palm Beach Mayor Lois Frankel put it, "Bourbon Street."
Cue Skynyrd's "That Smell." Or whatever song makes you envision a huge, steaming pile of crap.
When the commission voted April 12 to evict the younger crowd from city clubs, the scene at City Hall was like a high school dance. A pissed-off younger crowd of roughly 50 men and women stood on one side of the chambers. On the other side were older dad types with shiny foreheads wearing dark-colored suits and accompanied by soccer moms in knitted cat sweaters.
Douglas Kalinsky, a 32-year-old bike taxi driver from West Palm Beach, stood in the middle, at the podium, delivering a calm and collected rant. "These nightclubs are for everyone," he said. "Take them away and where will people go? CityPlace? That is not for us. It's for tourists there six months of the year. CityPlace is not enjoyable." As he spoke, Kalinsky stared at the mayor with the intensity of the fire of 1,000 suns. Frankel naturally avoided eye contact with most young speakers. Before the meeting had commenced, the matronly grand dame urged "all the kids" to come down to Meyer Amphitheatre over the weekend and "show me some of the new moves."
Cue "Out of Touch" by Hall and Oates.
West Palm Beach city commissioners' unanimous vote was the first step toward alienating "all the kids" by raising the minimum age at downtown bars and clubs from 18 to 21 (the second reading is set for April 26). The rise in crime is just too nail-bitingly disconcerting, the city elders felt. This action, Frankel said, is for young adults' personal safety, and "it's so they don't get victimized."
Hey, Lois! Yoo-hoo! According to West Palm Beach police, there were 257 under-21 arrests last year, most involving disorderly conduct and open containers. But there was four times that number of collars for those over 21.
Walk along Clematis and observe the glut of Palm Beach magazine look-alikes. This ban isn't for the young people. It's really a dirty knife designed to sever the jugular of downtown nightlife and let it bleed on the ground for a few minutes before it's shipped to the morgue.
Better finish it ASAP, guys. Can't have a scene like that shaking up the vanilla frappuccino crowd at Starbucks.
Twenty-year-old Matt Parker, a local promoter for Ray's Downtown Blues and a member of several local bands (the Ridicules, the Come Ons, and Die Stinkin), laments the city's decision. "I think it's abhorrent that the actions of a few underage kids are going to further pull Clematis down the toilet," Parker says. "Chances are, these kids causing trouble while being intoxicated did not get drunk at a bar. I've done a lot of shows on Clematis, and never once have I seen someone get served without showing proof of legal age. At this rate, Clematis will in no time be a festering corpse lying in the shadows of what once was a desirable city."
A corpse is a corpse, of course, of course. Parker's voice echoes the feelings of many club owners and clubgoers. In a recent letter to Mayor Frankel, Rodney Mayo, owner of Respectable Street and the Lounge on Clematis, voiced his discontent: "Ray's provides all-ages concerts earlier in the evenings, and Respectable Street has a safe and responsible venue where the 18-plus patrons can go to listen to music and dance. Who will provide this service [now]? The city government? Not likely. Ask any nonpolitically motivated police officers and you will find that they attribute most, if not all, of the recent crime wave downtown to three clubs. For my safety, I will not mention those three clubs, but are these proposed ordinances a result of the mayor's desire to force them out of downtown? Will it also drive out some of the 'responsible and safe' clubs? Look at other cities that have had this problem and have solved it without these ridiculous ordinances that erode civil rights. Most live music venues survive on a young audience, many below the age of 21. Most national touring acts will not play a venue that has age restrictions. Is this what the commission wants to accomplish? To put a stranglehold on live music?"
Andrew Frazier, age 18, already feels the squeeze. "It's bullshit," Frazier says. "Bands only have so many places to play. [Now] we'll have to go to places like the Kelsey Club, which is more expensive, or Swampgrass Willy's, which is kinda small."
An April 23 show originally booked for Ray's Downtown might have been canceled altogether had the Red Lion British Pub in Boynton Beach not been available that night. The show features Minnesota's Rivethead, as well as local punk bands the Come Ons, Die Stinkin, and Off with Their Heads -- all of which cater to a largely underage crowd. Die Stinkin's Eric Ridgemont, who has promoted shows at Ray's for the past several years, says he's a little disappointed in the youngsters' all-talk, no-action attitude so far. But the 22-year-old notes that if the kids don't care, it's their problem. "The kids can bitch, but they don't want anything to do with protesting the law. So fuck 'em. Make it 21 and up. I hope they get drafted."
Anna Wallerstein, age 19, also feels her under-21 peers may be of the apathetic variety. But she is baffled that the city would want to take away live music from paying patrons. "How can you tell someone 19 or 20 -- an adult-- that they can't go to a concert and someone 21 they can?" she asks. "I'd like to say I could count on my friends to rally against this ridiculous law, but people get lazy. And then people forget. And that's the bigger crime."
At the other end of Clematis Street, club DJs such as Dan Wilkes are equally miffed at the city's decision, noting that the under-21 crowd hardly has a monopoly on crime.
"It's downtown West Palm Beach," Wilkes exclaims. "Everyone's trying to outdo everyone else anyway. It doesn't matter if it's a young male in his early 30s or his late teens. When it comes down to it, all the fights are over girls."
So why not give 18- to 20-year-old men a ticket for hitting on girls? Hell, why not just ban women from Clematis altogether? It would fit in quite well with the recent wave of petty tickets issued to jaywalkers. In fact, why not go the extra Orwellian mile and issue tickets for all the other crazy things young hooligans do: arguing against the entropy of the Earth, being visibly "jazzed" or "crunk," having junk in your trunk, owning a boat, making the band, breathing near a fire hydrant.
Once again, as it has in every decade, the generation gap has unfairly labeled a whole group as no-good troublemakers. While floating on their stinky cloud of old fart-ocity, Frankel and friends might succeed in their proposed goal of making the streets "safer." But they are only putting a Band-Aid over the gushing wound they've inflicted.
Assistant Calendar Editor Jason Budjinski contributed to this article.