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Being sober in old-time Phoenix


I've always been fascinated by the word "sober", meaning not intoxicated. Of course, it could also just mean calm and well-thought-out, the way that judges are, but mostly it's used to indicate that someone isn't drunk at that particular moment. And it's a window into understanding old-time Phoenix.

As a man who likes a shot of whiskey on special occasions, or a glass of beer in the evenings, it's hard for me to imagine how regularly pixelated the people in old-time Phoenix were. It's like thinking about how much they smoked - most people started smoking as children, and always had a pipe, or a cigar, or a cigarette, in their mouth, unless they were sleeping. Nowadays we would call that "chain-smoking", but in old-time Phoenix it would have been perfectly natural. Women tended not to smoke, unless they had reached an age where they really didn't care what people thought, and the image of an elderly woman with a corn-cob pipe is a stereotype because it was actually quite common.

But I digress. We're talking about being sober here. And that means abstaining from intoxicating beverages for the length of time it takes for alcohol to wear off. And that means about a day. In other words, intoxication from alcohol would be gone from someone's system if they simply slept it off. They might have a terrible hangover, or be deathly ill, but they're no longer drunk, they're sober. Well, give it until that evening.

From a modern perspective the use of alcohol seems as if Phoenix were populated by a bunch of drunks. It wouldn't have been unusual for a working man to have a swig of whiskey in the morning, and carry a flask with him all day. Mothers would rub whiskey on the gums of teething babies. And yes, you would take a shot of whiskey to help deaden the pain if they had to take a bullet out of you. Ouch! The list goes on and on of "medicinal purposes" for alcohol, usually whiskey. And of course whiskey can cheer and inebriate, which for some people falls into the category of "medicinal purposes", not unlike the taking of various drugs today.

So if I were to walk into old-time Phoenix right now, I'd be sober. I would also, by the way, not be smoking. So I'd feel a bit out of place.

Image at the top of this post: 1911 ad for whiskey, the pure food, which physicians often prescribe.

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