The 21-year waiting game

Garret Woodward

The sun blinded my eyes through the bedroom window. My vision was still a little blurry. The clock says 7:45 am as I groan in disbelief; I really hate Mondays. I am barely able to stand up. Clothes everywhere, scattered beer bottles, and I have no clue where my wallet or car keys are. Walking into the bathroom, I look into the mirror. Then the realization hits me. I did it. I conquered my final rite of passage. I survived my 21st birthday.

Growing up on the Canadian border of New York State, I was more excited for my 18th birthday than my 21st. If you were 18-years-old you could drink legally when you crossed into Canada and it’s a pretty liberal place when it comes to alcohol. As long as you had money and were taller than the counter, the clerks and bartenders never asked for identification when you wanted to buy booze. I doubt Montreal was the place for kids our age to be hanging out in, but my friends and I did nonetheless.

When we weren’t in Montreal, we were in our hometown of Rouses Point, situated on the Quebec and Vermont borders on the great Lake Champlain. On the weekends, my friends and I would have parties in our basements. Liquor and beer wasn’t a hard thing to come by whether it was our parents’ liquor cabinets or having someone of legal age buy it for us. In my town, most high school graduates either didn’t go to college or didn’t leave the area, so there was a plentiful resource of people to buy the alcohol. We’d find the person, discreetly hand them the money, and wait for the pickup. We all finally turned 18 our senior year of high school and started frequenting the bars just across the border from our town.

But then I moved to Quinnipiac University, 300 miles from home and 300 miles from anyone familiar to me. Scoring beer was a lot harder when you’re a freshman in college, especially since Connecticut has different alcohol laws than what I was used to. My roommates and I would come up with a plan of buying and transporting the beer or liquor, find a driver, find someone with a fake ID, and collect the money. Using large hockey bags, vast amounts of alcohol were bought. Occasionally people would get caught by security or have their fake ID’s taken away from the package stores, but for the most part we always got the booze we wanted.

These methods of getting beer and liquor continued through sophomore year; it got easier as the semesters went along because my friends began turning 21. I began going out and joining my friends at bars which didn’t ask for identification or I knew the bouncer and he would just let me in. As the year progressed I, like most college students, became a mature and skilled social drinker in the art of buying beer, drinking beer, and playing beer games such as flip cup or beer pong. It’s funny the types of games people will make up just to have an excuse to drink.

I decided to spend my part of my junior year abroad in Ireland; the beer capital of the world. I drank my share of Guinness, and in doing so learned how there is more to drinking than just drinking. Spending time in backcountry Irish pubs and London dance clubs, I realized drinking isn’t about getting as drunk as possible, it’s about the people you meet, the stories you tell, and the memories you share. I looked forward to returning to Quinnipiac and turning 21.The day finally happened this past February 5th; Super Bowl Sunday. My friends threw a party for me and I could not have asked for a better birthday- of what I can remember anyway.

I didn’t feel any different being 21 as I looked into that mirror the morning after. All those people excited to drink legally are the same ones I’ve seen in the package stores buying underage and in the bars drinking underage since freshman year. As I stood there in the bathroom, I realized turning 21 wasn’t as much about drinking as I had once thought; rather it was an entrance to adulthood where you reflect on the past 21 years and look forward to the next chapter in your life.

Later that night, I finally went into the one local bar I had wanted to go to since I came to Quinnipiac University, a bar strict on underage drinking that I could never before be permitted through the door. I walked up to the bartender, asked for a beer, and waited. He poured my beer and brought it to me. This was the moment I had waited 21 years for, the moment where I could show my legal ID, to prove I was old enough to be there, that I belonged- legally at least. The bartender handed me the beer and walked away, never once asking for my ID.