The men sat along the bar at Rock Hill’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2889 after the noon hour struck on Tuesday, meaning – with at least three wars among them – it was all right to take a drink.
Two months ago, one guy quit his two-and-half-packs-a-day smoking habit cold turkey. He gave up booze, too.
“Spent weeks in a coma, then a nursing home,” the guy said from under his Vietnam War veteran’s cap.
He nursed a Sprite, thrilled to be alive.
The cigarettes sat at the ready on the bar for a couple of the other veterans who fought in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan. The beers were ice cold. It is a place where honor and valor and courage and freedom mean something.
The VFW in Rock Hill, including its bar with a stool that has his name on it, was a second home for many years for the late L.C. Rice, a Pearl Harbor survivor. Rice fought in three wars in the Navy and Army, killed many men. Somehow, war did not kill him and he didn’t die until old age got him in 2013 – age 89.
Before Rice died, he said war was worse than cigarettes – and he knew both.
Talk turned to the failed attempt to ban smoking at the city’s 21 parks and recreation centers, just as the city and York County did at places such as the VFW a few years ago. The effort came as a shock, since nobody has seen anybody smoking at a park or rec center in years.
But Rock Hill, the city that once threatened to cut off water to people who didn’t want to be annexed, likes to tell people what to do. It has laws for how large signs can be and whether you should paint your house or not.
So, between beers, the smokers at the VFW on Tuesday had to trudge outside to an outbuilding with picnic tables and ashtrays.
An outbuilding with the ambiance of a shed, because that’s what it is.
“We have some older veterans, ancient some of them, and these guys are the best,” said post commander Ira Adams. “These guys fought in wars all over the world, and then some politician says they have to go outside and smoke.
“It’s cold out here, and these men have to go out of their VFW post because other people said that smoking is bad for them.”
But that is where smokers have to go when bans are enacted. At places like the VFW and the American Legion and some bars, “no smoking” often means smokers don’t show.
“That ban has cost us a lot of money,” Adams said. “We are still trying for a reversal.”
Despite complaints about the smoking ban in public places, there is little chance that it ever will be reversed. Smokers are pariahs in Rock Hill and – let’s face it – everywhere.
Nobody ever has anything good to say about smoking, because there is nothing good to say. No smoker, including me, says it is great. It is not. It makes your clothes stink and your health stink worse. Those who want smoking to be eradicated have the zeal of missionaries.
However, as at least a few people in Rock Hill government know, while smoking is unsavory and awful and not very 2015 – it is still legal.
Just like beer and booze and guns.
Even with the City Council’s not having enough votes to ban smoking in city parks, there is little doubt that someday the city will stamp out cigarettes forever on any city-owned property. Smokers know the end is coming.
Cold beers after work are dying out. Bicycling to buy arugula from a neighborhood where houses costs $200,000 or more is in.
American Legion Post 34, the third largest in the state with hundreds of members in a brand-new building on Heckle Boulevard, has no smoking inside the new place and won’t, said post commander Craig Charlton. Smokers at the Legion post complained when the ban was enacted years ago, but there is no going back.
At Rock Hill’s River Park during the lunch hour Tuesday, nobody smoked. There were walkers and a couple of joggers and people just looking at the Catawba River sliding by – but no smokers.
At downtown Rock Hill’s new and beautiful Fountain Park, just one cigarette butt stamped into the paver stones or flicked into the water of the fountain would make anybody irate.
There was not a single cigarette butt out there Tuesday afternoon. No smokers, either.
The park smoking ban failed Monday night in Rock Hill, but everybody knows they will try again and, eventually, it will pass.
But at the VFW, for now, those who survived all those wars and bullets and bombs will go outside to smoke, because they do not want politicians to tell them how they will die.
Or how they will live, either.
Andrew Dys • 803-329-4065 • firstname.lastname@example.org