Scoring alcohol isn’t always easy when you’re only nineteen and you don’t live in Europe. (Nor is it a good idea, kiddos – say no to everything.) But there is one tried and true method that got us through some pretty hard times as teenagers. And, by hard times, I mean Friday night at the beach. Or, if you’re my mother, I mean at “Kristen’s house,” for that “sleepover.”
For the rest of you, I give you: the shoulder-tap.
Unfamiliar? What lucky parents you had. Shoulder tapping involves, surprise, tapping some guy on the shoulder and asking him to buy you beer with the fistful of allowance you’re handing over. It’s a tricky matter of finding a mark trustworthy enough not to just steal your money, but irresponsible enough to buy booze for minors without fake i.d.’s. You meet the most interesting people loitering outside of liquor stores.
Of course, this was a thing I did not do. I didn’t have to. I was adorable. I got to sit back and let the guys buy my liquor for me, risking life, limb, and personal freedom in the hallowed pursuit of beer & Jack Daniel’s.
You’d like an example? Happy to oblige: I was home from school on winter break when my friend and I decided to head to the mountains to do a little snowboarding. Just a quick overnight trip and then back to real life. We brought along a pretty musician boy (because we couldn’t find two on such short notice), and stayed somewhere cheap. I don’t remember the name of our hotel, but I remember we could see the Comstock hotel from our window, because we found the word Comstock hilarious. Comstock. *snicker*
One thing about Reno; Reno is not Vegas. It’s not even really trying to be Vegas, though it does acknowledge that Vegas is setting the standards it refuses to live up to. Vegas is the quarterback dating the cheerleader. Reno is the kid under the benches smoking.
We weren’t there to gamble or watch Cirque, though, so that’s not really pertinent to the story. Except that the only entertainment around us was gambling and underage gambling is a lot harder to do than underage drinking. This is why our first order of business upon pulling into town was to secure a little something to help us celebrate our escape from the valley. And because the girls outnumbered the boy, we decided a nice bottle of champagne was a better choice than a six of beer.
We walked to the first liquor store – not a far walk in Reno – and we gave Ben a gentle shove towards a guy squatting outside.
“Um…hey,” Ben opened,“would you mind buying us a bottle of Champagne. We seem to have…um, forgotten our i.d.’s. You can keep the change.”
The old guy jumped up like he’d been waiting for us all day. He had your basic Hollywood homeless look, flannel under an army coat, old jeans and a three day beard. It was the nineties, so if he was younger I would have just thought he was grunge. But he looked old enough to be my dad. Or Ben’s dad. Apparently, he thought so, too.
He flashed a big, checkerboard smile. “I know just what you need. Don’t you worry about a thing, son, everything’s clicking, now. You ladies stay out here, so it doesn’t look suspicious. Ted’s got a few tricks up his sleeve, make this operation run smooth as creamer.” He danced the twitchy dance of coming up or coming down, emphasizing each word with quick movements of his long fingers. “Call me pops,” he whispered with a wink.
Ben, who was every bit as pretty as either of us, shot us a look of rising panic. Kris and I took a big step back and gave him the thumbs up.
Pops held open the door, gesticulating impatience. “C’mon, son!” he shouted, “We don’t have all night!”
Ben reluctantly followed, dragging his Doc Marten’s across the glittering sidewalk. Pops threw his arm around Ben’s shoulder and helped him into the store. “I know just where they keep the sparkly stuff. We’ll get you laid tonight, son, just you wait!” He guffawed.
Kris and I watched through the store window, genuinely concerned about Ben’s well being…though not concerned enough to go inside. The guy dragged Ben down every aisle, jovially introducing him as his visiting son to anyone who would listen and improvising a story about making a man out of him, or something equally terrifying. It was Nevada, after all.
Kris and I, for the record, were not dressed like hookers. It was too cold.
They finally emerged with the bottle of champagne and a bag full of Slim-Jims for Ben’s new dad. Ben had the wide eyes and pale lips of a hostage.
Pops slid back down into his comfortable squat on the sidewalk outside the store. “Thanks for the snacks, Kids. You all be good now, you hear.”
When we were about half a block away, Ben was finally able to breathe again, albeit shakily. “He made me buy condoms,” he whispered.