As I walked downtown yesterday morning, I was writing today's column in my head. The subject had been chosen and the direction and tone selected.
Then I turned on my iMac and looked at Salem Patch. Plans were changed as soon as I saw the headline concerning the events of early Saturday morning on Washington Street.
Before continuing, be advised that I know the folks who own Bangkok Paradise personally. Some time back I worked with one of them at McCue Corporation at Shetland Park. I know him as a family man who has always worked a legitimate job for a legitimate income.
There are many rumors concerning Bangkok Paradise. While I have my opinion, the fact is that I cannot attest to the reality of those rumors.
There is one reality I am famaliar with — Salem has always had an active and boisterous night life.
As a young kid in the Point neighborhood, I remember going from one drinking establishment to another with my shoe shine kit. Later on, as a teen on Derby Street, I was witness to and a part of the culture of drinking that was supported by six bars, three social clubs and one package store along a one-mile stretch.
While working doors and tending bar at three different downtown establishments, I experienced first-hand the perils and pitfalls of working in the hospitality business — midnight brawls on Central Street; dumpsters tipped over in the marketplace; chasing fools down Washington Street who didn't pay their tabs; throwing a young man out and watching as the police searched him and found a gun in his coat pocket.
We can all engage in hyperbole about what we think happened the other morning. We can also opine loudly on why it happened and how it can be prevented. That achieves nothing except to increase the volume on an issue that was already front and center for the police and the licensing board.
Other businesses in Salem have had similar issues in the past. Some years ago, I watched as massive brawls took place outside of the old Scuttlebutt's. There were a few occasions when Central Street became a battleground when parties were expelled from the old Roosevelt's. Klop Alley has often been the scene of fairly large late night brouhahas.
All businesses that serve alcohol after 11 p.m. are potential hosts for this kind of problem. It is up to owners and staff to work actively to identify and deter the types of situations that lead up these types of incidents. That is no easy task.
An even more difficult task is trying to control a situation once it has moved outside of the business. Door staff, or bouncers really have no authority beyond the door of the business. They are not the police, and life is not a movie. People can get hurt.
Prior to all of this, the Licensing Board had already notified Bangkok Paradise that they were expected at their next meeting. Let's take a deep breath, and let the Salem Police and the licensing board do what they are supposed to do, which is investigate and determine what steps should be taken next.
We can't have knuckleheads brawling on Washington Street. We also can't act unilaterally and just close a place down.
Let the legal process play out.