Trouble With The Authorities

Wi len i was a senior in high school, i desperately wanted a fake ID. This was 1989 in Annandale, Virginia, just outside the Beltway, and there wasn't much to do on Friday nights except drink beer, blast Appetite for Destruction, and attempt to dance like Axl Rose. My friends and I were going to get our alcohol one way or another, and the practice of shoulder tapping— loitering outside 7-Eleven and offering a free six-pack to incoming customers willing to buy us a case of Milwaukee's Best Light—was getting old. Not to mention risky. And, frankly, pathetic. Ultimately, this was a matter of pride. At seventeen, were we not man enough to buy our own damn beer? Were we not resourceful enough to find a way?

It was my friend Phil who came up with a simple scheme that now reminds me of Willie Sutton's famous answer when somebody asked him why he robs banks. ("Because that's where the money is," Willie said.) We would drive to the Arlington branch of the Department of Motor Vehicles, back his gray Honda hatchback up to the Dumpster in the parking lot, and load his trunk with DMV garbage. "That's where the IDs are," Phil reasoned.

And he was right. After driving back to Phil's house and sifting through three or four bags of soggy, rancid trash, we managed to harvest the raw materials for twenty Virginia driver's licenses. The main things we needed were the perforated green cards on which each driver's info was printed. But we also needed the clear plastic sleeves that held the cards. (This was before Virginia started laminating its licenses, making things far more difficult for underage drinkers all over the state.) We found plenty of sleeves but only twenty green blanks that had managed to stay dry in the garbage. Still, Phil deemed the operation a success.

We opportunistically recruited a friendless computer geek named Hal to match the font and format the information on his Commodore 64, then print the cards and mount the photos just so. (He was paid with an ID of his own and some quality time with the semicool kids.)

Phil was the first to try his ID in the field (we had to change 7-Elevens so as not to be recognized)—and it worked. But Phil was a big guy, six-foot-two and well over two hundred pounds, with a passably mature-looking mug. Would it work for me, with my slighter build and baby face? Yes. For Nate, whose blond curls made him look like an overgrown cherub? Yes. For Walter, who stood five-four on a good day? Yes! We were in business.

Literally—and that was our downfall. We decided to sell the fifteen remaining IDs to our classmates. Hal was again recruited to do the grunt work. (We did cut him in on the action.) We charged fifty bucks apiece and sold out within a week. That's a lot of beer money, especially when your brand costs $6.99 a case. We were golden—until a few weeks later, when Mr. McGowan, a retired Army man who now taught shop and doubled as an administrator, overheard one of our customers bragging about his new ID. I never did hear a convincing account of what happened next, but suffice it to say the kid did not MacGyver his way out of his predicament. In fact, he sang like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

We were finished. It seemed tragic at the time, but now I realize the school went easy on us. All we had to do was return our IDs and rat out all fifteen of our customers, and the charges would be dropped. It shames me to admit it, but we took the deal. ( We may have sang, but we weren't exactly Sopranos.) And then we went back to shoulder tapping.

Bummer, huh? Well, yeah, I guess. When I was seventeen I certainly felt that way. But now I'm glad it happened. I'd rather have the story now than the beer then.

And that's the thing about unexpected run-ins with the powers that be. Below a certain threshold of seriousness—say, jail time and/or a fine of five hundred dollars or more—they almost always yield stories that justify the hassle.

Like these.

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