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I have a job and a house. I can vote and join the military. Why can’t I drink?

I'm a 19-year-old loose in Pittsburgh, living on my own, working in an industrial apprenticeship with a great company. Instead of college — too expensive, too much time, too little payoff — I'm attending a liberal arts academy online. I drive, pay bills, make meals, and have a social life. Yes, I'm trying out adulthood, and mostly succeeding.

But there is one huge hangup. The law doesn't allow me to buy anything alcoholic: not in stores, not at bars, not anywhere. No beer, no wine, and certainly not my favorite drink, which is bourbon. In almost every area of life, I'm expected to be an adult. In this one area, I'm not allowed to behave like an adult.

I only want what anyone else wants, which is to hang out with friends at bars and be a normal person

I've had the luxury of owning a fake ID since my junior year in high school. I'm working on getting a new fake because my last one was confiscated after only two weeks in Pittsburgh. But it's not easy. They are expensive, and this market is filled with scammers.

Yes, I get by. But I hate it. It's oppressive. And debilitating. An underage drinker is made to feel like some kind of deviant, maybe a secret alcoholic. Certainly a criminal.

I'm not. I only want what anyone else wants, which is to hang out with friends at bars and be a normal person. Maybe pour up a cocktail when I get home from work. Why can't I do this? I don't abuse the stuff. I just want to be a human being who can sidle up to a bar and order a drink without the fear of being ridiculed or considered a criminal.

My first fake ID

I remember the day I got my first fake. It happened in third-period history within the first few weeks of school. A classmate of mine showed me his newly acquired fake ID. He'd had it made for him by a friend in Atlanta. He paid $100 for two identical IDs with his name and face on it. This kid looks remarkably like me plus 80 pounds or so. Right there in the middle of class I offered him the $70 I had in my wallet for one of the two. He agreed, and I immediately began planning my story about how I lost so much weight.

I didn't really believe the fake would work but thought, hey, it's worth a shot. Turns out I had just two instances in my last two years of high school when my ID was challenged. The first time I was extremely nervous and did not play it off well at all. I ended up reaching over the counter, snagging my ID out of his hands, and booking it out the door. Not suspicious at all.

The second time it happened, I had been the owner of this ID for a year and a half. I had truly forgotten I was underage. I had no reservations toward ordering wine with dinner or going into any gas station for a six-pack. It was total freedom. I felt like an adult, like I was living a real life.

When I was challenged the second time, the guy at the liquor store was holding my ID, telling me he wasn't giving it back, that he was going to call the cops. I shot back with, "Call the damn cops, you're the one doing something illegal."

Again, at this point, I had almost completely forgotten it wasn't my ID. I had become the person on the plastic card. But with that, he seemed to believe it was my real ID, let me buy my bottle of cabernet, and I was on my way.

I believe this ID was so successful for a couple of reasons. First off, it was a very good fake, nearly indistinguishable from the real thing. Also, it was an Illinois ID, which I doubt bouncers and liquor store employees have much experience with in Auburn, Alabama.

Finally, the day came when I was found out. The bouncer at the bar knew it was a fake. He could tell by the way the plastic peeled from the card when he scratched it. He was right, of course. There was nothing I could do to change the situation. My protests fell on deaf ears.

Finally, after a couple minutes of me trying to convince him it was my ID, he threatened to call the cops if I didn't leave immediately. Whether he was serious or not, I figured my fake wasn't worth finding out. I walked away dejected. I had been reverted from adulthood back to the child the government thinks I am. It was like an identity crisis.

And yet I can't get over how arbitrary this law feels. Thirty years ago in this country, I could have already been legal. My dad tells me the stories. You turned 18, and you could drink. Then suddenly something happened. A bunch of politicians decided they would change human nature by changing the law.

They invited every person age 18 to 21 to become an outlaw. The result has been an outlaw culture. This culture has matured into a full-blown way of life. It is anything but adult. People in my age group behave like children when it comes to drinking because the law treats us this way.

19-year-olds can't just go to the bar and get a drink with friends. Why? (Adam Berry/Getty Images)

The lifestyle of a young drinker

Before I bailed on the idea of college, I had a taste of what it's really like for underage drinkers. Parents have no idea. The stereotype of binge drinking is a very real thing. Without a solid fake, it's difficult to obtain alcohol. You have to bug older people, dress up in hopes of not being carded, or find someone with parents who won't notice what's missing.

It's an ordeal, and it's not worth it if the only result is to have a glass of wine with dinner during the week. Instead, when Friday comes around, kids spend the entire day making arrangements for how to get their 30-pack of Natural Light or, far worse, Four Loko.

This lifestyle encourages mistakes. I was raised in a household where civilized drinking was introduced at a young age. It's because of this that I am a responsible drinker. By comparison, my peers from families that considered the legal age of 21 to be gospel had no idea what they were getting into.

I've seen some truly disgusting things when it comes to underage drinking. I've participated in them, as much as I'd like to say I haven't. It's very common for an underage drinker to think, Since I can't order drinks at this game, bar, or concert, I need to get absolutely trashed before.

At the very time when kids are supposed to be growing up, they become ever more infantilized, due to the absence of legal drinking options

It's called pregaming, but it's not really a game. If your goal is to get very drunk, you have to go far past that to get through the evening. I've been there.

One particularly bad night comes to mind. My friends all decided to go to the local bars one Saturday night. Because a lot of them didn't have fakes, there was no guarantee they could drink. So of course that meant the night had to start with pregaming at a friend's apartment.

Shotgunning Natty after Natty, taking pulls from handles of whiskey, slapping wine bags, and so on — everyone was pretty much at their limit before we headed out. Or at least, I know I was.

The rest of the night was a blur. I don't remember much of it other than after we all left I saw an old friend and stopped to talk to him. After we had finished the conversation I looked up, and the people I was with were nowhere to be seen.

At this point, I lived not even two blocks from all the bars. But in my beyond-drunk state, I decided the best decision would be to walk 10 times as far to my friend's house and crash there. I remember giving up halfway through and deciding to go back to my place. I got in, collapsed on my couch, and immediately passed out.

The next morning I was stunned to discover it was not my apartment at all but a different friend's house a good mile and a half from where I lived. I still have no idea how this happened, but the point is, I didn't even drink much at the bar. I simply couldn't.

The state I was in was entirely the result of the ridiculous need to pump my body with as much booze as possible because I might not have the chance to enjoy a drink later.

Maybe this sounds disgusting and irresponsible to you. It is. But keep in mind that it comes about in part because of legal restrictions. My age group is not permitted to drink in a normal way. During Prohibition in the 1920s, drinking was known to cause poisonings, abuse, criminality, and degeneracy in general. All of this survives today, in a particularly immature way, among my peers. And this is because Prohibition still applies to us.

The ongoing drama creates a fashion out of a boozy breaking bad. At the very time when kids are supposed to be growing up, they become ever more infantilized, due to the absence of legal options.

Now here I am living an actual adult life, in a big city, working and doing what I always dreamed I would do. Except that according to the law, I'm still a child. I'm a drag on my friends' lives because I can't join them for their evening's activities.

Why? This is ridiculous. So, no, I will not put up with it. I will get another fake. I will persist, no matter what the legislators 30 years ago said. No man can take my adulthood from me.

Why am I writing? Because too many are silent — and no one over 21 even cares. They are free. I am not. Consider this article a public service. And if you are in Pittsburgh and want to hang out, can you swing by the liquor store?

Nick Tucker is a 19-year-old Praxis participant originally from Auburn, Alabama. He moved four months ago to begin his work in Pittsburgh, where he is developing skills in sales and marketing. He is passionate about freedom and the spread of progressive ideas that will benefit all of society. Email him at nick.b.tucker@gmail.com.



First Person is Vox's home for compelling, provocative narrative essays. Do you have a story to share? Read our submission guidelines, and pitch us at firstperson@vox.com.

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