Thursday, November 26, 2015 • 01:31

A different type of underage drinking

April 16, 2014
In the early 1980s, the drinking age wasn't enforced as rigorously as it is now. So, from 1981 until I turned 21 in January 1985 I was pretty successful in my efforts to obtain alcoholic beverages.

I first got away with drinking in a bar when I was 17. Between when I was seven months old and when I was two, the Army stationed my father at Fort Valley Forge Hospital and we lived in the Philadelphia suburb of Phoenixville. In 1981, Ron Zappardino, who was originally from Philadelphia, owned a bar in Downtown San Diego called Frenchy Marseilles. Ron also had an entity called the Philadelphia Club for San Diegans who once lived in Philadelphia. Even though I was young at the time and lived in a suburb, Ron let me join. In fall 1981 when the Eagles were on Monday Night Football, there was a Philadelphia Club event at Frenchy Marseilles. There was also a special: if the Eagles scored a touchdown kamikazes were $1.

The Eagles scored early in the game. I asked for a kamikaze, was served, and gave the bartender my dollar.

If I hung around the right company I could buy liquor after that. My grandparents' 50th anniversary celebration in March 1982 included an open bar. I was 18 and my brother Martin was 13. I asked the bartender for a kamikaze and was given one. Martin asked what that was, and after I told him he asked for a kamikaze only to be turned down. That was the end of my liquor at the open bar, although during dinner I was seated at a table with wine.

Freshmen at Northwestern University weren't allowed to have cars on campus when I was there, which meant I could drink all I wanted without worrying about driving drunk. The drinking age in Wisconsin was 18 at the time, and a few days after my 19th birthday I had my first legal drink. Our dorm went on a ski trip to Lake Geneva, and after I failed to master the bunny slope I retired to the lodge. I ordered a kamikaze and was given one along with a quote for $2.50. I paid the money and drank my beverage. It was that simple; there was no action of getting away with a drink when I was too young to do so legally.

Between Wisconsin and Tijuana I had already obtained alcoholic beverages legally by the time I turned 21, so my 21st birthday was no big significance. My first alcoholic drink after I turned 21 was a glass of wine in a Persian restaurant in Chicago. Drinking or buying alcohol was all of a sudden simple without the excitement of trying to beat the drinking age.

I got carded twice between my first drink in a bar and the time I turned 21: once at a topless bar an older friend wanted to patronize and once at the Northwestern student bar an older co-worker wanted to use to continue our conversation. In both cases it was the other person rather than myself who wanted to go to the bar, so getting carded and denied was more a matter of principle. Now getting carded is once again a matter of principle; if I look young enough to attract a 20-year-old woman I'm going to take my winnings and go home.

Last year, Jack in the Box had a $1.99 Ultimate Cheeseburger special. That, a value drink, and sales tax in unincorporated San Diego County translated into a $3.23 meal. I took advantage of that special enough times to know what I owed before I ordered.

One afternoon in May the cashier told me that my order came to $2.69. I figured she might have omitted an item. Then she gave me my receipt. I had ordered a value drink, but she gave me the senior drink price. At 49 I received my first 55-and-over senior discount, and I hadn't even asked for the senior drink.

So far that's been the only time I got away with the senior drink discount while being underage. Between now and when I turn 55 in January 2019, we'll see who else gives me a senior discount I'm actually too young to obtain.

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