Illegal drinks require a shot of intelligence (Bill Savage column)

Talking about how to be a responsible underage drinker seems like an inherent contradiction. It’s illegal to drink before you’re 21, so how can you do it responsibly?

Well, it’s also illegal to jaywalk by The Arch, but thousands of Northwestern students do that every day too. Pointing out that it’s illegal to cross against the light doesn’t mean we can’t also talk about how to do so without getting killed. (Be sure to look both ways. Get off your damn cell phone and pay attention. Don’t blindly follow the people walking in front of you. Here endeth the jaywalking lesson.)

So some things to consider if you choose to drink before the stroke of midnight on your 21st birthday magically makes you able to handle liquor:

Remember that you are breaking the law. That means you’re wrong. Always. Any argument you get into with a bartender, a bouncer, a cop, a neighbor: You’re wrong and you cannot win, and a run-in with the law actually does go on your permanent record.

So shut the hell up. Like other law-breakers, you should be sneaky, as unobtrusive as humanly possible. Do not brag in public about your exploits in places you have no legal right to be. Do not discuss your freshman seminar with the bartender.

Do not trust bartenders or bar owners. Bars are businesses, all about making money — but part of what they sell is camaraderie, fun, togetherness. As an underage — or of age — drinker, that’s part of the appeal of going to bars rather than sitting at home with a bottle or a six-pack.

Bar owners — who know perfectly well that they have underage drinkers in the room — risk their liquor licenses not because they like you, but because they want your money.

If you think that the bartender or server is your friend because they’re friendly, remember: Seeming friendly is part of their job. When the fake IDs hit the fan, they will let you hang to save their own skin.

So don’t get drunk. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s the best strategy for going out to bars or being at a party. Get some food in your stomach, lose the car keys, and pace yourself.

If you’re the one who’s had a few but not too many, you’re able to spot the cops before your blind drunk friends and make the exit before the bar gets busted. You’re the one who turns the music down when the Evanston cops come, so you don’t get a nuisance property citation. You’re the one who walks the over-served home unmugged from the bar or party, and sees they get to bed safely, maybe even with some Gatorade and aspirin in their system.

You’re the one who is in control, and as much fun as a good buzz is, being in control can be fun too.

Bill Savage is a lecturer in English and a Weinberg College Adviser. He can be reached at [email protected]