VIROQUA — Mid-afternoon on Sunday I hopped on Facebook, and this was a status update from a friend: “Just went through La Crosse and based on the way people are walking and the fella sleeping on the sidewalk, I would say they’re still enjoying Oktoberfest.”
Early Sunday morning, there were people tipping over cars near the city’s campuses.
La Crosse, the city where kids wander off drunk and drown in the Mississippi River, needs to take a long, hard look and rethink its tradition of ushering each October with everyone drinking until they puke.
Oh, sure, there are responsible festgoers. People enjoy the parades and the food. But alcohol is at the center of this fall festival, and every year it’s the same thing. Police are overwhelmed because people get too drunk and out of control.
It can be argued that this year’s carnage — not yet fully estimated because Oktoberfest runs for nine days — is the reason to end it all. Property owners were keeping their eyes on the street. Police were swarming the area. And, on top of all the monitoring and vigilance, drunks still outflanked everyone and caused tens of thousands of dollars in property damage.
“Ha, ha, ha! Watch us! We’re flipping over cars!”
Tap another golden keg.
Reading the comprehensive coverage in the La Crosse Tribune last week about all the things La Crosse had done to prepare for the onslaught of drunken revelers was enlightening. Especially telling were the photos of police undergoing training in riot gear. Nobody can say they were unaware this could happen. In fact, you could say it was expected. And if such behavior is expected, why is it tolerated?
Do we really want to have a festival where everyone is going to get drunk and destroy a bunch of property. Who approves of that?
The city of La Crosse has more than twice the population of all of Vernon County. Each year Vernon County’s biggest event is the annual fair, which attracts about 20,000 people to Viroqua over five days. The Vernon County Fair is not perfect, but compared to Oktoberfest it is rated G.
Why? No booze.
The Vernon County Fair doesn’t sell alcohol on the fairgrounds and doesn’t allow it to be carried in. Yet the stands fill for the demolition derby and tractor pulls, the midway is full of people, vendors make money, kids are entertained — and there are no obnoxious drunks tipping over cars.
The old joke about hometown festivals is that people who live in town leave as soon as they begin — nobody wants to deal with the crowds, parking nightmares and rude people.
In La Crosse, if you live near the festgrounds or between Third Street and the campus, you have to stay home to watch your property so it doesn’t get stolen, destroyed or vandalized. Yet, even watching property doesn’t work.
“We no longer have Oktoberfest. We have Drunkfest,” Pamela Strittmater, president of the Apartment Association of La Crosse, is quoted as saying in Monday’s Tribune.
Readers might be surprised to know that Oktoberfest in La Crosse began as a three-day family festival in 1961.
The festival grew and grew as those who sell alcohol raked in the cash. It evolved into nine-day drinking binge, with several streets closed off to allow for wobbly walkers and public urination.
This wasn’t limited to the festgrounds, but at parties throughout the community, especially house parties around the city’s campuses.
In 2005, the La Crosse Mayor’s Task Force to Review Alcohol Ordinances, Infrastructure of Riverside Park, and Community Attitudes and Readiness asked to have the festival reduced. After much debate, next year, Oktoberfest is to have just one weekend of partying.
It can be argued that’s still one weekend too many.