When I was in my 20’s, way back in the 1980s, I lived in the city of Chicago. I moved down with a two friends from college, met up with some more friends from college, and made lots of new friends
In addition to the opportunities that Chicago afforded, there was also the endless diversions and entertainments. Most of these you can anticipate, but the entertainment that was a surprise even to me, and the one that became a passion, was throwing darts.
[NOTE: Before I go any further, I need to qualify something here: by throwing darts I am not referring to those insipid machines that involve plastic tip darts which populate bars across Wisconsin. I am, instead, talking about honest-to-God, real steel darts, hurled at actual dartboards!]
I was introduced to darts by one of my roommates, Jeff, who landed a job in a bar that featured a back room with eight separate dartboards. It turned out that this bar hosted monthly tournaments and sponsored over a dozen different dart teams. Unfortunately, Jeff had a falling out with the bar’s management, and our fledgling team was without a sponsor almost before we began playing competitively.
Jeff is tenacious, however. He became determined to find us a new home bar to sponsor our team and, within a week, he found the Parkside on north Lincoln Avenue, which became our sponsor bar for the duration of my time in Chicago.
What began as one team playing one night a week, soon became three teams playing on three nights a week. And there were weekend tournaments virtually every weekend somewhere in the city. The culmination of the darting experience in Chicago was the Windy City Open, which drew top darters from around the world for a four-day tournament held in one of the big hotels by O’Hare International Airport. My success at this tournament was limited, but it was fascinating to watch the skill of the top players.
So sometime in the mid-1980s, after we had been playing darts for a number of years, a large number of us made a weekend trip up to Port Washington. Mary, one of our dart teammates (and now Jeff’s wife) was raised in Sheboygan. Her aunt had a home in Port Washington, and when her aunt died, her home passed to Mary’s father. The fully furnished home was sitting empty, Mary had a key, and so a road trip during a drab winter seemed like a great change of scene.
In downtown Port Washington, only about 10 blocks from the house we were staying in, was a bar called Sir John’s Pub, which featured over 180 different types of beer. Naturally, we headed there our first night in the town.
Like everyone else, when we left the Port Washington house, we took our wallets, our keys, and our money. Unlike everyone else, we also took our darts, safely sheathed in our leather cases, which slipped neatly into our vest pockets.
Upon our arrival at Sir John’s, after a very cold walk, we were delighted with the huge array of beers, but dismayed that they offered only three electronic dart machines. Our tungsten darts remained in our pockets.
Over the course of the evening, and many beers, we struck up a conversation with bar’s owner, who also happened to be very involved in the Wisconsin Tavern League. Eventually, we couldn’t help but broach the subject of his ridiculous dart machines.
After listening to us sing the praises of real darts and the Chicagoland dart leagues, he explained that his bar did indeed offer competitive dart leagues, but his leagues used the dart machines. He further commented on the money he made from the machines.
We were quick to respond that the dart leagues in Chicago generated terrific revenue to the sponsor bars and that, unlike his dart machines, real darts had no electronic circuits or other parts that broke down. And at about this point in the conversation we pulled out our darts to show the owner, adding that the sale of flights (the “wings” at the back of the dart) and ferrules (the shaft that screw into the front portion of the dart and holds the flights) added to the revenue stream of each host bar.
As he examined one of our darts, the bar owner stated that while he recognized that real darts were probably very lucrative for bars in Chicago, they would never fly (pardon the pun) in Wisconsin. To paraphrase his argument he stated that bar owners in Wisconsin weren’t particularly keen on the idea of a whole bunch of patrons toting three miniature weapons in their pockets.
As you might surmise, we were taken aback by this comment. Real darts have between 1.5 inches to perhaps 2.5 inches pointed shafts at their head, and it had never crossed our minds that these could be considered weapons. Indeed, in all our combined darting experience we had never seen anyone use a dart in a threatening manner let alone as an actual weapon.
When we made these points the bar owner simply commented that real darts were never going to happen in any meaningful way in Wisconsin and that largely ended our conversation on the matter.
As I mentioned earlier, Jeff is tenacious. He grew up in Columbus, Wisconsin, just north of Madison, and he was skeptical that real darts were actually that scarce in the state. But after considerable research, he could only find three bars that offered real darts anywhere in the state. Apparently, the majority of bar owners actually did view real darts as potential weapons. And so, our darting was confined to Chicago and, when we all returned to Wisconsin, our darting careers came to an end.
So what is my point in this rather long reflection? Well, folks, the State of Wisconsin has just passed a concealed carry law, which will allow individuals, who pass certain requirements, to carry guns hidden on their body or their bags. And this is the same State, that while not actually having any laws prohibiting real darts, has virtually no venues for playing the game, because real darts could be used as weapons.
Maybe we need a constitutional amendment providing for the right to bear darts.