I bought my first bottle of cheap wine in the fall of 1984 at a small convenience store near my apartment in Blacksburg, Virginia. By then I had graduated from Harding and moved on to Virginia Tech, so I didn’t run the risk of having two bullet-less Barney Fifes in a golf cart accosting me and frog-marching me to the Dean’s office for immediate expulsion.
I knew they often nabbed Harding students out celebrating their 21st birthdays at restaurants in Little Rock, but alumni in Blacksburg? Surely, purity had its mileage limits. The peace of mind and freedom were more intoxicating than the wine would ever be.
Still, I was nervous. I had spent my growing up and undergraduate years listening to stories about the “evils of alcohol” and how it melts your brain and sets your innards on fire on contact, which was nothing compared to the heat of the place where you go after you polish off the bottle. But I was a worldly and sophisticated grad student, for Pete’s sake. I had a moral obligation to test old presuppositions.
“Is that all?” the middle-age clerk with the frosted hair and cigarette dangling out of the corner of her mouth asked.
“”Yup,” I replied in my deepest, sailer-in-port, faux bass.
“I need to see your ID.”
Arrrgh! I thought. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t pull off the bad boy act. A bare 140 lbs with toothpicks for arms and legs and a forehead as smooth as a baby’s butt, I still barely looked eighteen, much less twenty-one.
I groaned, reached for my wallet, and slammed my driver’s license on the counter. The clerk glanced at it, then at me, and rolled her eyes. I got the impression she thought it was fake.
Over the years, this scene repeated itself at various times and places, through my twenties and even into my mid-thirties. But at some point, the questions stopped. And then sometime around 12-15 years ago, I actually began to look forward to being carded. I must be aging well, I would think. It made me glad, not mad. Whenever I would get carded, my face would light up and I’d chuckle to the clerk, “Well, you’ve really made my day!”
And then the clerk would tell me, “Sir, state regulations require that we card everybody–including Grandpa.” That would make me mad–and sad.
Today I turn fifty. I still enjoy a glass of wine (okay, sometimes two) with dinner, but fortunately I’m no alcoholic.
However, I can’t say the same about my McDonald’s Premium Roasted coffee addiction. Even after having my 3-4 shots of wake-up call caffeine in the early morning, I still hit the drive-thru at my favorite McDonald’s on the way to work and order a “small, black.” I place it in my cup holder, sit back, and breathe in the smooth, rich aroma. I picture Juan Valdez looking down on me (surely he and his burro have gone to that Great Coffee Plantation in the Sky by now) and smiling. I salivate like Pavlov’s dog.
That stuff is like liquid gold to me. A cup of it, heated in the microwave a couple of times over the course of the morning, helps me cut through tall mountains of bureaucratic red tape and leap a schedule full of whiny, difficult patients in a single bound.
But suddenly I face another ID dilemma. I am told by “certain people in-the-know” that at age fifty I may now order a cup of “Senior Coffee” at Huntsville-area Mickey Dees for a mere 64 cents, including tax, a significant savings off the usual $1.08. I haven’t added it up yet, but at the rate I hit the drive-thru, I’m pretty sure the savings would pay for at least one utility bill.
Others, however, tell me that you have to be fifty-five. Hence the dilemma: Do I wait a few more years, or do I start ordering a “Senior Coffee to go” and take a chance that I’ll get busted should some young whipper-snapper decide to card me?
As it turns out, I may not have cause to worry.
Last week, well before I turned fifty, I ordered my usual at my favorite McDonald’s across the street from my office. They even have a drive-thru intercom that translates orders clearly instead of mangling them like the garbled “wah-wah” of Charlie Brown’s fourth grade teacher.
When I reached the first window, the friendly young worker said, “That’ll be 64 cents, sir.”
Whaaa? “I’m sorry,” I said, “but did you say ’64 cents?'”
“Yes sir,” she replied.
By now, it was starting to sink in where this was going, but I was still in denial. “Are you running a special today, or something?” I asked.
“No sir, that’s the price of a Senior Coffee.”
“But I’m not a senior!” I protested–very mildly.
She laughed and said, “I accidentally hit the ‘Senior Coffee’ button when you ordered and just didn’t feel like changing it. If you like, I’ll change it and you can pay the $1.08 instead.”
“Oh noooo, that’s okay, I’ll take it!” I almost said “I’ll take it, honey!”, but I backed off just in the nick of time.
She smiled, a little too patronizingly looking back, and I took the coffee, flipped open the small plastic tab on the lid, and held it up to my right nostril like I was sniffing a line of coke. I can do this, I thought. I may not look fifty (or fifty-five), but apparently I sound like it.
“I hit the button accidentally.” Yeah, right. I bet she says that to all the geezers when it’s their time.