Sunday, July 20, 2008

It's wasn't about the beer - honestly.

Today is my birthday!  I am 41.  41 is a rather dull birthday year, coming right after the big 4-0 and before the Ultimate Answer (42).  There really isn't much to say about it except - nope, no perimenopause yet.

However, exactly 20 years ago was my favorite birthday year, the year I turned 21. There is more background story to why my 21st birthday was my favorite than just the alcohol I was now allowed to consume. There is the drama of offers made and reneged on repeatedly in the years prior to my birthday. While drinking is the focus of the story, it was never really about the drinking. It was about the sheer irritation and annoyance of constantly having the metaphoric rug pulled out from under you.

The drinking age in West Virginia as of January 1985 was 18.  Yes, that is right, 18. The nationwide push to raise the drinking age back up to 21 was gaining steam but my home state had been holding out. They made a token gesture though around April or so. The state government announced that as of July 1st you had to be 19 to buy alcohol, and they very kindly added a grandfather clause, if you were 18 by June 30, you could still drink. So anyone born before July 1, 1967 was legally allowed to purchase beer and liquor.  I was born on July 20th.  Missed it by *that* much. I, and everyone else born in the second half of 1967 were pissed. What made people born in June more responsible than us? That's just mean!

Not that the majority of us had any trouble getting alcohol when we wanted it. Unless you looked really young, you rarely got carded.  I looked really young. It isn't that I wanted to drink specifically. Had I wanted a beer, there were some in the fridge at home I could have with my parents full permission. It was that something I regarded as a right was being taken from me.

So ok, fine, I'll wait a year. I'm a freshman at WVU, which then the #1 party school in the nation, obtaining alcholic beverages is not a problem. We had keggers and grape & grain parties in the dorm rooms and I was a pledge at AOTT, the number one party sorority on campus. Not drinking was a bigger problem actually.

Then word came down from above (the national government) to the state "You will raise your drinking age to 21 or we cut off your highway money." WV is a mountainous state. We need our federal highway money to keep the roads driveable. So the state legislature caved in and said on August 1st 1986, you will have to be 21 to buy alcohol. And they didn't grandfather it!!! There was no fine print reading "must be born on or before July 31, 1967" this time. You must be 21. Period.

What this meant for me was that I was legally allowed to drink for 11 days and then at midnight on the 12th day it was all over.  I know people who stockpiled beer and wine coolers in those last couple of weeks of July because it would be 2 more years before they could get any. The new drinking age also brought more rigorous ID checking. So everyone who's fake ID said they were 19 now had to go get a new, better, more realistic ID that said they were 21. I got one. Not especially because I wanted to drink but social life was in bars and at frat parties & they now had to check your ID.

Honestly, I've never much cared for beer. I was more of a wine cooler girl. But bars never offered 25 cent wine cooler nights.

I was again irritated and annoyed by this change in the drinking age because one again I was being denied a right. Not only that, I was losing one I ALREADY HAD! It could have been the driving age, the voting age - it wouldn't have mattered. I would have been pissed at the way I was being yanked around for any of them.

Early in 1988 I began to be nervous. Were they going to do it again? Would they find some reason to raise the drinking age to 22 or 25 this time? Once again the carrot was being dangled in front of me. Would I at last be able to grab and keep it?

They left it alone. Finally!  To celebrate my long awaited, lost and regained legality I had a tequila party. It might not sound like a big deal but for a bunch of people who's budgets usually ran to 25 cent draft night, buying bottles of Jose Cuervo was highly significant. We had shots, margaritas, tequila sunrises and something called a prickly pear that involved pineapple juice. We ate nachos, burritos, enchiladas, chimichangas, and quesidillas. It was a great party and my favorite birthday year ever.

So far.

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