When the University of Maryland police arrested a student formanufacturing and distributing false identification the other day, I breathed a sigh of relief that I am 21 years old and no longer need services like his.
The young entrepreneur could get a huge fine and even some time in jail. And his clients -- people under 21 caught possessing or using fake IDs -- could be fined, lose their driver's licenses (their real ones, that is) and carry a permanent police record.
Things were easier when I was interested in fake IDs. Like your first girlfriend or your first car, you never forget your first fake.
I was 17 when I found a Maryland driver's license that said I was 6 feet tall and 140 pounds. I was 5-7 and 150, but the hair was the same color. The license was also expired, which legally made it invalid. Of course, it wasn't me on the ID so it was legally invalid anyway.
Young, brave and bald-faced, I tried to use my new alias to buy some beer at a rural country store near my home. The man who worked behind the counter was about 300 years old, so I figured I could outrun him if push came to shove. I bought a case of Milwaukee's Best without incident, and became a regular at the store for six months.
I wasn't the most inconspicuous of fake-ID users, and the police were onto me before long. I was arrested, but bargained my freedom for testimony to revoke the country store's liquor license.
At the University of Maryland I found out fake IDs to be passports to social life. It seemed the only place to find any activity was in the bars on Route One, where lines outside sometimes stretched to the corner. I put out my feelers for a replacement identity.
The third week of school I got a quick fix -- a New York ID card courtesy of IBM Word Perfect. Not the best the market had to offer, but at College Park bars like The Cellar it would do quite nicely. I have seen Cellar doormen accept copies of birth certificates, altered University of Maryland IDs, under-21 licenses with a $5 bill and the excuse ''I left my ID in my car, I'm so sorry!''
Meanwhile, I kept looking. A friend said he could help. We drove in silence to meet Mr. X. I was expecting a seedy one-room shop in the pits of Washington. I found a high school student with his ''shop'' in the basement of his parents' suburban home. The operation was exquisitely simple. I stuck my head next to a large board that I guess you could call a ''life-size license,'' and a Polaroid later I was 22 year-old transfer student from Des Moines, Iowa.
I wasn't very impressed with the product, but it worked. I visited numerous bars in Georgetown, plus College Park favorites The 'Vous, Bentley's, and of course The Cellar. Santa Fe Cafe was the only local bar with a serious attitude toward fake IDs at the time, so I steered clear of that establishment.
Still in search of the perfect ID (I was still two years from the golden age), I finally persuaded a reluctant but over-21 friend to lend me his birth certificate. I took it to the Motor Vehicle Administration and put my face on his identity. I was declared 26 years old and 6 feet tall. This brilliant innovation worked everywhere I went until I finally turned 21 last year.
It was a great feeling, walking up to a liquor counter or into a ba without having to recall somebody else's name, address,
birthday and astrological sign. Of course, it was a little difficult to explain why a three-year patron of the bars was suddenly celebrating his 21st birthday.
Well, those were the good old days. Today, police are hunting down fake-ID users, and now and then they're catching a few. But take heart, youngsters, it's still painfully easy to find a fake ID -- lots of them.
The trend seems to be toward punishing individuals who make and use fake IDs. It seems to me that penalizing kids instead of the establishments that accept fake IDs is not the right idea. Now I know bouncers aren't hired for their intellectual ability, but you don't need to be a Rhodes scholar to know that $5 under a 17-year-old's ID doesn't add up to 21. And when's the last time any state has used a non-laminated, dot-matrix printed driver's license without a picture?
Bar owners are not really concerned about the fake-ID ''problem.'' They knowingly cater to an 18-and-over -- not 21-and-over -- crowd, satisfying hooligans like me and creating a business opportunity for some young entrepreneur to provide a steady supply of bogus identification.
I suggest the police just leave us all alone and watch the free-market enterprise system work its wonders. Let the Securities and Exchange Commission keep an eye on it.
Dan Taylor writes from Fallston.