Monday, February 08, 2010

No ID, No Beer

My worst job ever was probably the summer in college I worked at a kennel, where people left their dogs and cats when they went on vacation. I mopped out dog pens with bleach and cleaned litter boxes, and eventually got fired because I wouldn't follow a direction of the boss that I really felt cheated the customer and was bad for the animals. I once got bitten by a cat so hard that it punctured the skin on both sides of my hand and made my hand swell up like a latex-glove balloon.

Still, this is not my best "cocktail party story" regarding part-time jobs.

That would probably be the stint I did later in college as an undercover alcohol buyer with the local police department.

I was just a few months away from turning twenty-one, so I was a perfect candidate for the job--looking old enough, but still underage. I rode around in an undercover car with two cops, stopping at various gas stations, grocery stores, liquour stores, etc. My job was simple: attempt to purchase an alcoholic beverage in order to see if the clerk would allow me to purchase the item. Often, they did.

If they asked for ID, I was to show it to them. Because cameras are on the clerk and can see whether or not they check the ID, sometimes the clerk will check the ID, but sell the item anyway. (As anyone who's ever seen a robbery surveillance tape knows--the camera can't see detail like the birthdate on the ID, just the action of the clerk looking at it.)

I was to take note of any signage in the store warning underage customers that ID would be checked, or displaying the youngest birthdate required to legally purchase cigarettes or alcohol. At one store, there was a sign on the cooler that said "No ID, No Beer." So I bought wine instead.

Sometimes, a young clerk (especially a male one) would check my ID, but then give me a nudge-nudge-wink-wink sort of look and proceed with the checkout. If he said "You're not 21," I would smile coyly and say "well, almost..." and sometimes that would work.


If the clerk did sell the beer or wine to me, the officers I was riding with would go back later and give the manager a warning, making them attend an alcohol awareness seminar. About a month later, we went back, and if the store sold to me again, the clerk actually got taken to the station (not arrested, but just written up or something). I feel like such a square even admitting this, having a) made life more frustrating--though safer--for teenagers and college students in that town, and b) having gotten an old man carted off to the police station.

I also got a girl not much older than myself carted off from her post at Kmart's aisle 5, and I felt so bad. She gave me the nudge-nudge-wink-wink look, and I thought to myself "oh, you don't want to do that..." But she did. It's interesting, this strange form of generosity the clerks sometimes felt, wanting to be kind or cool, even when they have nothing to gain and a lot (a part-time job, at least) to lose.

One such act of (very determined) generosity will always stand out in my mind. I carried my six-pack up to the young female clerk at a gas station mini-mart. She asked to see my ID. I handed it to her, and she looked at it quizzically.

"Why does it say 'Under 21' on the side?"
"Well, I'm from Kentucky. That's how they make them there."

She proceeded to type my birthdate into the register (one of the few equipped with that function at that time, it seems). The machine beeped at her, so she took a closer look at my ID.


"Huh. It says I can't sell this to you."
"Hmm. That's weird," I replied.
"Let me try again."


The machine beeped at her a second time.


"Huh. You were born in 1981?"
"Yep--July 4."
"And it's 2002 now?"
"Yep." (April something, but I didn't bring that to her attention.)

She stood there puzzled for a minute, silently checking and rechecking her calculations. 2002 minus 1981 was 21, right?

"That's weird," she said. "I'll just override it."


"Cool. Thanks."

Who says kids can't do math anymore?

5 comments:

Melody said...

I've always wanted to be a mystery shopper...always. Now I never ever thought about an alchohol mystery shopper before but I guess somebody's gotta do it. Great post!

SpeasHill said...

Really interesting. I remember when I first realized that I felt entitled when an employee at a fast food joint wouldn't give me extra chocolate on my sundae. As a friendly, relatively attractive young female, I had come to expect that generosity. At first I was annoyed/slightly mad -- then I realized that there was no reason at all that I should get something free. Interesting moment. When I thought about it, I pretty ashamed!

Katie Bug said...

In high school, our resource officers would often recruit students from my mentoring class to do "beer runs". I always wanted to go, but was shot down every time because I looked waaaay too young.

Amy said...

This is so funny! I mean it's not funny (I'd feel bad like you did) but it's also hilarious.

I love what you said - "I'm from KY. It's how they make them there." HA!

She didn't look at the month?! I'm a rule follower. No way I'd sell if the license said UNDER 21, even if my version of math came out different.

Sonya said...

What an interesting job! I'm sure it happens a lot more than we think it does! Although I live in a college town and every so often there is a newspaper article and the number of people in trouble for alcohol, not to mention the staff and the establishment. Some people just don't think I guess!

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