If the ID Says 21…

Cullen Murray Kemp

Hands down, the three best jobs in America are President, back-up NFL quarterback, and bartender. Being a numbers guy, I figure I have a 0.00068% chance of being the President, a 0.47% chance of being a back-up NFL quarterback, and about a 75% chance of being a bartender. Don’t ask how I arrived at the first two numbers, but the third is simple: three out of every four writers have been, at some point in their career, a bartender.


That being said, I also believe I have a 98% chance of getting fired as a bartender because I would certainly “lack” the ability to detect fake IDs.


What a racket these are. A good racket though.... I’m a firm believer that if fake IDs weren’t invented many years ago, our society would not have progressed in the way it has. They are a way to combat a senseless law that is the legal drinking age of 21.


The fake ID is not a new thing. I remember my Dad’s friend—the late, great Toby—telling me about how my Dad got kicked out of a bar for using a fake ID under the alias Harry Holland. Little did Pops know Harry Holland was actually a part owner of the very establishment where he was trying to purchase that Budweiser.


That was the '60s, and since then the pursuit of a great fake ID for underage drinkers has only amplified.  

Before I was 21, I would have done anything to find a great fake—that perfectly laminated card that allowed you to feel older and cooler than you really were. Often, during Spanish class I would doze off… the crowds of high school friends roared as I stepped into the booze-less party strapped with 10 cases of beer. Chants: “Cullen! Cullen! Cullen!”


“Senor Cullen!!” Ms. Rosario would screech, jarring me from my dream.


I remember it like yesterday when I finally got my first fake one. Four buddies and I packed ourselves into a Toyota Rav 4 and embarked on a three-hour trip to the Philadelphia slums. Our destination was a rundown printing place called the US Copy Shop, that we heard would put any age on your ID. After the inevitable GPS misdirection, we found the place, and began sifting through a binder of ID cards to pick our desired state.


I picked Florida, which was tied with Hawaii for the one that looked least authentic. But I had lived in Florida, and have always thought of myself as a Floridian. The glee I felt that day walking out of the US Copy Shop with my palm tree-studded Florida fake ID was something spectacular.


The Florida ID was not something that could really fool anyone who knew anything about IDs, but it was good enough. Good enough to be great really, considering it enabled me to consistently buy alcohol from a Korean-owned liquor store about 20 minutes from my house. Before the liquor store got busted for selling beer to an underage (and undercover) cop, it would literally sell alcohol to a diapered baby if the infant had the money. 


At 16, while I working at the Hyatt Regency Golf Club, I caught wind that the liquor store didn’t card anyone. After work, a fellow employee and I headed down to the store. I nervously walked to the back cooler and grabbed a 40-ounce of Old English and approached the register where Mrs. Lee stood. (Mrs. Lee and I would become friends, until recently when I bought alcohol from her with a real ID, and she realized that for all those years she had been selling to an underage customer.) For some reason while she was ringing up the malt liquor, I threw a pack of Orbit gum at her, like I can’t have my parents smelling beer on my breath. She looked at me funny, shrugged her shoulders like I know you’re not 21 but I really don’t care, you idiot, and said, “$3.22.”


A week later I returned to Lee’s Liquor. This time I had a few of my high school friends in the car with me—not a one of them believed my tale of the malt liquor purchase. I thought, “This is my time. I have to prove them wrong; my social reputation was riding on it.”


This time I entered the mart with a bit more confidence and headed straight to the rum aisle. I picked up a half gallon of Captain Morgan. I approached Mrs. Lee again and she smiled, recognizing the nervous idiot from before. “You back again? I need ID dis time!” Mrs. Lee almost shouted at me. “I’m screwed,” I thought. But then, as I was digging around for cash, my Hyatt ID card glimmered in my wallet. I had recently realized that my employee number actually resembled a birthdate: 081186 could also be 08/11/86, and with a stroke of suave genius I handed the card to Ms. Lee indicating the numbers as my DOB.


“Ohhh, I see. You work at the Hyatt. We love Hyatt. You good customer!”


I almost fainted in relief. I can still remember that smile I had walking out to a car full of friends in disbelief.


For the rest of high school I was one of only a few kids who could consistently get alcohol. I became so well known in Mrs. Lee’s mart that my friend Julia, who for some reason Mrs. and Mr. Lee thought was my wife, was able to buy alcohol there as well. Then, to compound the ridiculousness of my fake ID situation, during my senior high school all-star basketball game I was shaking hands with fans before the game and got approached by a man that I recognized. We embraced, and then as I was warming up for the game I did double take on the guy and realized that he was an employee from the Lee’s Liquor mart. An employee that, on numerous occasions, had helped me load cases of beer into my car. He knew who I was, but rightfully so, it just wasn’t that big of a deal.


Then I got to college.


It was the eve of my freshman orientation day, and with my parents gone it was time to get into some mischief. My roommate (who, in random roommate fashion, turned out to be one of the strangest people I’ve ever met) and I drove in his purple Honda Civic to the local college hangout. The place was called House of Pizza (Ho Pi) for short, and it was a primary college hangout for one reason; it was the only on-campus establishment that served beer.


Riding the confidence wave from three years of buying beer from Lee’s Liquor Mart, I strutted up to the counter and asked, “Can I get a six-er… man?” I asked, trying as hard as possible to emulate Matthew McConaughey from Dazed and Confused.


“ID?” The gruff man sputtered in a thick Italian accent.


I handed over the glorious Florida identification card. The man looked at it, looked back at me, and pulled out a huge stack of fake IDs from his pocket. “Ey, Charlie,” the man yelled to his friend in the back wearing a cooking apron and tossing a pizza, “this bozo has a fake ID from Florida. And best part about it is, he’s wearing his freshman orientation shirt!”


Charlie grunted in amusement and went back to his pizza making.


“So you not getting this ID back, buddy. You want some food?” the Italian man asked me.


At that point, I couldn’t get my mouth to move. I looked over my shoulder for reinforcement, but my roommate had already high-tailed it out of there—peeling off in his purple Honda. The only people paying attention were a group of older soccer players, whom I later learned, sit there every year and laugh at naïve freshman like myself who get their IDs taken on orientation day.


I ordered a piece of pizza and a coke, and walked back to my dorm room deflated.


I can’t fault the Italian man for taking my fake ID, nor can I get mad at downtown Charleston bar bouncers who deny people who are under 21—it’s the law and they are protecting their businesses. It just seems very peculiar that a man or woman can fight for his/her country in the Middle East for six, eight, 18 long months and presuming they don’t die, can’t legally drink a beer when they return home. After three years of combat and a long-ass plane ride home, I think I’d want a damn beer… 


Photo credit: Imgur.com