It’s Thursday night at The Lift, around 11pm, kinda busy, I’d say about 30ish people in the house. Seems like a younger crowd for Pint Night. I’m checking ID’s, serving drinks, taking money, making tips. Yes I mentioned I’m checking ID’s. Kind of random I threw it in there, but it will be important to the story.
Petite girl comes up, asks for a Blue Moon. I card her, she looks young. I look, she just turned 21. Nice, good for her. Special time.
It’s getting busy, everything running smoothly, girl comes up, orders a Vodka Sprite. I don’t know where my mind was at. I’ve been working three jobs, non-stop. Using a lot of brain energy. I go, make her the drink, give it to her, she gives me a five, I give her a dollar back, she takes it, walks away, I go help another customer.
Two minutes later, a customer comes up, says, I think there’s a guy at the end of the bar, wants to talk to you. I look, there is a guy, leaning in. Must want a drink, and is impatient. I go up to him, and it’s like slow-motion. He grabs for inside his shirt, at a necklace maybe, he brings something out.
Oh for shit’s sake.
I know exactly what happened, I know exactly why he’s here, and showing me his badge.
I just fell prey to the dreaded sting, and I served an underage girl.
Yes, sir, I say. He says, all apologetic, I’m really sorry about this, but you just served an underage girl a drink and didn’t card her.
I go silent, my face burns. Anger is the only emotion I feel. Anger at myself, and this undercover cop standing before me, holding his undercover badge.
I say, who was it? Because I’m not quite sure. He says, pointing towards the taps, she was over there. Ordered a Vodka Sprite I believe.
I shake my head. In the 13 years of bartending, I never fell prey to “the sting.” I passed the test two times. In both instances, they had ordered a Bud Light, so I’ve always been extra on alert when a younger looking person orders a Bud Light. Unfortunately, tonight, she ordered a Vodka Sprite. My luck ran out.
What’s annoying is he’s so apologetic about it, and that pisses me off even more. I’m so sorry about this, I hate to do it. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I say. You don’t care. You’re just doing your job. Usually I have the utmost respect for cops. But this was a shitty deal.
He says, I have you down for your court date on December 3rd. You can pick 9am, or 1pm. I say, do you think it would be possible to do it the next day? I’m taking a real estate class from the 1st till the 3rd. He says, no problem. I say, I’ll take the 1pm slot. He says, ok, marks it down, rips it off the stack, and hands it to me.
I just walk away.
I get back to bartending, but I’m furious with myself. WHY DIDN’T I CARD HER?!?! I try to be so conscientious about it. But little miss Vodka Sprite fell through the cracks.
I think about it all night. You know what? She made it very difficult on me. Instead of coming right up to me face-to-face, she was in the corner behind the pole of the Lift we have above the taps. (Hence the name of the bar). She ordered the drink quickly, then she stepped back into the darkness. I swear, if I could’ve gotten a good look at her, I would’ve ID’d her. But alas. I didn’t.
What’s so ironic about all this is I’m TWO WEEKS until I’m done at the Lift. It’s like when you’re driving in your neighborhood home, you let your guard down a mile from your house, and that’s when you get in an accident.
I finish the night barely. Go home, and try to sleep.
I talk to a couple customers before I go in for my court date who have fallen prey to the sting before. One guy got a $500 fine. Another guy plead not-guilty, got a lawyer, ended up “getting off” but with a thousand dollar charge for lawyer and court fees. That’s a lot of money to me.
I think about what I’m going to say. It’s going to be a lot of Your Honors. I’ll tell the judge my side of the story, how difficult it was to see her. If she had just come up to the bar, and faced me head on, there would’ve been a good chance I would’ve carded her. But I’ll admit straight up. I’ve probably served a lot of underage kids unwittingly over the course of my bartending career. When it’s busy, when you’ve got twenty people waiting for drinks, it’s so hard to stop, and say, ID, please, and go through the whole rigamarole of them getting out their wallet, trying to get the ID out of the seemingly too small pocket. It’s always hard to get it out of there, isn’t it? It’s almost as if the wallet makers are in cahoots with each other, they all got together for one big board meeting with the agenda being, how can we mess with people on a grand scale? Let’s make the transparent ID place too small for the ID so it’s a bitch to get out. Anyway.
The night before my court date, I have a bartending shift at the Lift, and guess what I did? Yep, you got it. Carded EVERY SINGLE PERSON THAT CAME INTO THE BAR. And it was time-consuming, and probably annoying for the ones with grey hair. And you know what? I experienced something PROFOUND. I don’t ID enough. Part of the bartender’s job is to ID, and it’s a pain in the ass. It’s almost as if, right off the bat, you’re telling someone that you don’t trust them. I don’t think you’re 21 even though you’re coming in acting like you do, YOU LIAR!!! No. Might make some older people feel good, but I can tell some people get put off.
BUT IT’S MY JOB. I realize right then and there that I’m 100% guilty, and that come 1 o’clock, I’m going to stand in front of the judge, man up, and take responsibility.
It’s Friday, 11:30am, I shower, shave, put on a suit, tie, the works. I even polish my shoes, if you can believe that. I’m going to make a good impression on the judge, and show him the kind of upstanding and respectful citizen I am.
I get to the court house half-hour early. I’d driven by the court house downtown a thousand times, but I’d never actually been in it. To be honest, I feel EXHILARATED. I’m actually excited about this experience. I’ve never really been in trouble with the law before. Ok, maybe once a long time ago, but it was a small thing. This is BIG. I SERVED AN UNDERAGE GIRL A DRINK. You should be AGHAST at my crime. I know I am.
I walk up to the help counter, the woman sits in this big enclosed cube. She looks like she’s living in her own prison cell in there. I tell her why I’m here, I hand her the ticket, she tells me to sit down, the doors to the courtroom will be opened at 1pm.
I sit down. I could get on the phone, waste some time, but I’m not. I’m going to sit here and observe. In front of me is a younger couple, and what looks like one of their dad’s. Beside me are about 12 people, all different shapes and sizes. All of them are dressed DOWN. I am THE ONLY ONE who has dressed up. I’m talking, everyone looks like they just got off the construction site, no collared shirt in sight. I am way overdressed, but I feel OK with it. I gotta play my game and my rules, know what I’m saying?
I look to my left, a ways away, I see two young people in orange jump suits, handcuffs, and chains around their ankles. Their lawyers are beside them, whispering in their ear the game plan.
At about 1:05pm, a woman opens the door, tells us we can come in. We all go in, I sit off to the side on a long pew. We’re all sitting in pews, about five rows of them. My only thought at this moment is, I KNOW I’m going to be the last one called. I always am, for some reason, and it can be ANNOYING. But, you know what? It’ll give me time to watch the proceedings.
One by one they go up to the judge. I watch, and study them carefully. I have the desire to do the absolute opposite of what they’re all doing. That’s just my style, I guess. They shuffle up, with their head down, looking embarrassed. Most of them mumble to the judge, their guilty’s, and their not-guilty’s. All the charges are pretty tame, for the most part. Driving while license is suspended is a big one. Two people get busted for tinted windows. That’s so DUMB. One guy says he got his car from Texas, and didn’t know it was illegal in Iowa. I actually believe him. I knew it was illegal, it seems to be common sense, but there’s no one there standing around telling you it’s illegal.
Yep, the group is dwindling, my name is not called. I observe more. Nobody seems to be OWNING THEIR CRIME. Going up there, standing proud, head held high. Why the hell not? THAT’s what I’m gonna do.
I haven’t mentioned this yet, but the judge is a woman, and seems to be pretty young for the position. And she actually seems really cool! She’s being pretty lenient, letting some people go. I’m going for paying the fine, hoping it doesn’t get on my record.
My name is called by her assistant. CLINT CURTIS. I stride up, head held high. I noticed no one said “Your Honor” to her, so I say,
Hello, your honor. She’s looking at her computer screen in front of her. She says, what day is it? Is it Thursday or Friday, I can’t remember. I say, I believe it’s Friday, Your Honor. She says, yeah. That sounds about right. She reads off the computer. Let’s see… Not ID’ing an underage person, serving them alcohol. I stand before her, chin up, as if I was accepting an award at the White House. She says, how do you plead?
I say, as clear and confident as I can, with a bit of smile on my face,
Guilty, Your Honor.
She looks at me for a moment. I just look back at her, a smile playing on my lips. I am OWNING THIS ALL. There is NO RUNNING AWAY FROM THIS. I served an underage person, let’s go, I’m guilty, I assure you, I will never do it again.
She says, a moment after my guilty plea, you know what? I’ve never done this before, but I’m going to charge you for a City Ordinance Fine, instead of a State Fine. If I charged you for a State Fine, it would be $500.
Your ticket will be $65. Plus $60 court fee.