TERRE HAUTE —
The most high-pressure job in America used to be the “I-Can-Guess-Your-Age” guy at the county fair.
Talk about a lose-lose proposition. Guess correctly (or worse, too high) and a middle-aged customer might curse you, storm home in disgust and flush all those anti-aging vitamins down the toilet. If you flatter fragile egos by guessing too low, the carnival boss could get tired of doling out stuffed giraffes and shift you to mop-and-bucket duty on the Tilt-a-Whirl.
Soon, some Indiana store clerks may feel the same pressure as those prognosticating carnies.
That’s because an unusual state law will take effect July 1, replacing another unusual (yet ultimately positive) state law.
For the past 11 months, Hoosiers of any age have been required to show an ID to buy carry-out alcoholic beverages at retail stores. That 2010 law created bizarre scenarios with senior citizens — who hadn’t been carded since LBJ was president — having to whip out a driver’s license to prove they were, at least, 21 years old and legally allowed to purchase a bottle of merlot.
Initially, there were complaints. So this spring, with those early objections fresh in mind, state legislators voted to revise last year’s law. Instead of mandating that stores card anybody trying to buy alcohol, retailers are now required to see the photo IDs of only people who “reasonably appear to be less than 40 years old.”
Picture a twentysomething clerk with two fortysomething customers in his checkout line. The first — a guy wearing a camo hat with a six-pack of Bud Light in his cart — reminds the clerk of his younger cousin, so he asks, “Can I see your ID?” The guy chuckles, flashes his driver’s license, and goes on his way. The second customer — a woman in a sporty sweat suit with a cart full of fruits, vegetables and one bottle of her favorite chardonnay — resembles the clerk’s aunt, so he skips the ID request. She’s offended.
For millions of human adults, looking younger than their calendar age is a big deal. Hence, the popularity of the phrase “40 is the new 30.” Indeed, by 2013, annual worldwide sales of anti-aging products — fueled by Baby Boomers — will reach $274.5 billion, according to BCC Research, an industry forecasting service. The intent of the lotions and potions is to make middle-age people “reasonably appear less than 40.”
Strange as it is, Indiana’s current everybody-gets-carded law doesn’t burst mid-lifers’ bubbles.
More importantly, the 2010 law also appears to have curbed sales of alcohol to under-age minors. In the first six months of 2010, before the law took effect on July 1, Indiana State Excise Police issued 30 violations in Vigo County for sales of alcohol to minors. In the last six months of the year, only three violations were found in the county, said Excise Lt. Chris Bard.
A similar dramatic reduction was noted in St. Joseph County, the South Bend Tribune reported.
Despite the complaints by some irked Hoosiers, John Livengood — president of the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers — testified in January before the General Assembly in support of keeping the current law. Lawmakers changed it anyway. Still, many of association’s members plan to continue carding all customers even after the new, looser law takes effect, Livengood told the South Bend newspaper.
In Terre Haute, Mike’s Market proprietor Steve Nasser said his store’s customers quickly adapted to the blanket-ID law. “[Having to show an ID is] not that big of a deal, and people have it ready for you,” Nasser said. Also, the market’s cash registers are now programmed for all customers to be carded for alcohol purchases. By contrast, the revised law puts the responsibility for judging whether a buyer “reasonably appears less than 40” on a clerk. A clerk could be cited for a class-B misdemeanor for “recklessly, knowingly or intentionally” selling alcohol to someone who reasonably appears under 40, without asking to see an ID.
To avoid such problems, Mike’s will continue to card all customers wanting to buy alcoholic beverages.
“If [lawmakers] would’ve just left it alone, everything would’ve been fine,” Nasser said.
At Bower’s 7th & 70 Liquor, owner Wayne Bower wasn’t in favor of the current card-everybody law, but said it has helped reduce sales to minors and people who’ve had driver’s licenses revoked. He intends to continue asking to see IDs from most customers, with the exception of those he knows to be older than 40. The new law involves some guess work.
“What’s 21 [look like]? What’s 40? Sixty? I don’t know,” Bower said. “We don’t get a tattoo on our foreheads. Different people have different aging factors. So you just do the best you can.”
Likewise, Baesler’s Market will do the best it can under the new law, said owner Bob Baesler, by asking to see IDs from the under-40 crowd. “If that creates a problem,” he said, “we’ll just go back to carding everybody.”
In the meantime, Baesler said, “I guess there’s a possibility that if somebody is 50 and we card them, they’ll be flattered.”
Of course, the carnival guy might not be so generous.
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.