The irony wasn't lost Saturday on most of Gary Fuller's customers at the drive-up window of the Last Chance Saloon & Package Store.
It was the last chance for anybody in New Mexico to buy liquor at the window. Midnight marked the start of a new state law banning the sale of alcohol through drive-ups."There have been a lot of comments from the customers today," said Fuller. "Mostly they've said (the ban) is stupid . . . but they're also kind of surprised it finally happened."
Many New Mexicans were surprised when Gov. Gary Johnson signed the new law in May. It marked the end of a bitter, four-year struggle between liquor store owners and lawmakers in the state with the highest rate of alcohol-related traffic deaths.
Supporters of the ban argue it will reduce the state's abominable drunken-driving record - the worst in the nation - and reduce the number of teenagers buying alcohol illegally.
Retailers - about 230 in all - say it will put undue strain on their businesses and have little to no effect on drunken drivers. They also say the ban's enactment was little more than election year politics.
A July 30 letter from the state told drive-up owners that no products can be sold through the windows, including nonalcoholic goods such as snacks and cigarettes. Drive-through businesses such as pharmacies and fast-food restaurants, which do not operate on liquor licenses, will not be affected.
"It's probably the goofiest thing they've ever done," Chris Southern, owner of a liquor store in eastern New Mexico, said Saturday. "Now we can't even sell lottery tickets or candy or Cokes out of the window - but look at Mc-Don-alds."
State regulators and police planned sweeps over the next few days to enforce the ban. A business caught selling liquor through a window could be fined $10,000, with second offenses possibly bringing jail time.
Retailers plan to appeal a court decision upholding the law.
"Those people are talking about losing jobs; I'm talking about losing lives," said Nadine Milford, president of the Albuquerque chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. "They've had almost five years to decide how to handle this and make it part of their business plan."
New Mexico is No. 1 in per capita alcohol-related traffic deaths, with 11.79 deaths per 100,000 people in 1996, the last year for which figures were available.