White Hair, Wrinkles Aren’t Valid ID at These Drinking Establishments

Barry Newman, Wall Street Journal, April 2, 2013

Five or six times a year, Larry McCoy goes to Yankee Stadium to see a game and have a couple of beers. At the concession stand, the Yankees require him to show a valid, government-issued photo ID to prove that he is above the legal drinking age of 21.

“Why is a photo so important?” he wonders. Mr. McCoy, an ex-radio newsman, is 75 years old. “I got white hair,” he says. “It sticks out of my baseball cap. If you’re old, why would you be pretending to be someone else who’s old? Using their picture?”

Such wonderment occurs often at the stadium because the Yankees ask for identification cards from beer buyers of all ages. So do the Boston Celtics; the Fairway supermarket chain, which has stores in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut; liquor stores in Elk Grove Village, Ill.; and lots of other spots scattered around the country. A bunch of state and local governments have gone in for it, too.

The point is to eliminate the guesswork and social goofs that often seem to go with making sure youngsters don’t drink. But it’s a point many oldsters don’t get. They’ve taken to pushing back, and some of the universal ID checkers have been backing down.

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A prime place to dig for the sometimes-tangled roots of the card-the-codgers phenomenon is Blockheads, which has a bar on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The manager, 33-year-old Vicky Contreras, was at a table there one afternoon, doing the accounts.

“We card everyone,” she said. “It’s procedure. You can’t ask for ID from young people and not old people. That’s profiling.”

At the bar, Yulenny Severino had just inspected Lillian Baker’s driver’s license and put a large margarita in front of her.

“We don’t discriminate,” said Ms. Severino, who kept her own age to herself. Ms. Baker, who admitted to being 56, said, “I could be your mama.” {snip}

Filling in details by telephone, Blockheads co-owner, Ken Sofer, says his policy was devised, back in 1993, to be nonprejudicial. He also declared an expired license invalid at Blockheads, even if the picture on it is of the old person ordering the drink.

Mr. Sofer, 59, says customers occasionally complain that “any idiot can see they’re over 21.” His response: “Not idiots like us. We’re special idiots. We earn our name every day at Blockheads.”

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Discrimination concerns, though, are real enough, not legally but socially. “This is obvious,” says Rick Banks, 48, a civil-liberties professor at Stanford Law School. “You don’t want to card someone who’s 40 but looks 20, and not card their friend who’s also 40 but looks 50.”

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The card-everybody solution removes doubts, promotes age equality and leaves only the 50-to-114 crowd befuddled. It has even enjoyed some political appeal.

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{snip} In 2007, Tennessee enacted universal carding. Indiana did it in 2009. But then some crabby old folks got on the phone and gave the politicians an earful. Annapolis repealed its law in 2002, Tennessee in 2008, Indiana in 2011.

“It didn’t work the way we thought,” says Bill Davis, Republican chairman of the public-policy committee in the Indiana House of Representatives. Scott Pelath, the Democratic minority leader, says, “All it did was set folks off. We forgot that there’s a fine line between clever and stupid.”

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