Trying to look juvenile in my “Top Gun” T-shirt, frayed jeans, flip flops and hoop earrings, I was interested in alcohol – along with the crowd of high school kids who frequent the Sparks Hometowne Farmer’s Market.
A stone-cold-sober Mormon since the age of … well … birth, I never did fit in well with the underage drinking scene. Now, as something of an adult, I find myself participating in plenty of stogy gripes about “those darn drunk kids” — especially when it comes to the Sparks Farmer’s Market. The whole affair seems to be a fun fest for barely post-pubescent boozers. So, as the inquisitive reporter that I am, I decided to take a closer look. That night I wanted to pay careful attention to who was drinking, where the police were and who the vendors were willing to sell to.
It’s no secret that Nevada’s drinking laws are among the most relaxed in the nation. Even the Sparks Police say as much. You want to get your drink on? Great! As long as you are 21-years-old, and can prove it, you are home free.
But what about special events? As I wandered along Victorian Square with my 19-year-old college freshman brother, I saw more than a few little hands tip back their Budweisers. Some had the blaring green wristbands and blue hand stamps that “proved” their age. Other wrists and hands sported plastic cups as their only accessory.
But how was I to know how old they were? A smudge of blue eyeliner and glitter on the cheeks can do wonders for a woman’s age.
As we wandered through the booths, one asked if we planned on drinking yet. My brother knew me too well to misinterpret the mischievous glint in my eye.
“Sure,” I said with a smile.
My stone-cold-sober, Mormon brother was going to kill me.
Call me curious, I really just wanted to know what would happen next.
The bartender whipped out a sheet of green wrist bands and asked for my brother’s date of birth. What came out of his mouth was an embarrassed stammering of his birthday that sounded more like a question than fact. The poor kid couldn’t lie to save his life. Yeah, he was definitely not 21.
The man with the bands rolled his eyes with a friendly smile. “What about you?” he asked me.
I silently pulled out my ID and with a flick of the wrist, I was banded and stamped along with my brother.
“Now you are responsible for him,” the man said.
A confused look from my brother posed the question, “Is it really that easy?”
One quick call to Sparks Police Department later gave me a better handle on the topic.
“We do monitor underage drinking at special events through aggressive enforcement,” Commander Steve Asher of the Sparks PD patrol division said.
He didn’t necessarily want the details published in the newspaper, probably for good reason.
A slew of city municipal codes and Nevada Revised Statues are the living proof that problems with underage drinking are out there.
Laying down the law, section 9.51.020 of the city’s municipal code tells us that being a minor in possession is just a little wrong.
“It is unlawful for any person, other than a parent, guardian or physician, to knowingly sell, deliver, give away or otherwise furnish any alcoholic beverage to any person under the age of 21 years, or to leave or deposit any such alcoholic beverage in any place with the intent that the same shall be procured by any person under the age of 21 years.”
Also, “It is unlawful for any parent, guardian or other person having legal care, custody and control of any person under the age of 21 years to allow any such minor person to have in his possession in any public place any alcoholic beverage.”
My concern with the farmer’s market is much more than an idle gripe. Painful things happen when teens drink. A swirling concoction of hormones and ethanol can endanger not only the drinking teen, but those on the streets and roads around them. And the last time I checked, control was not a hallmark of the high school drinking crowd.
Nevada law slaps some heavy penalties on underage drinkers. Some possibilities for a minor in possession include suspension of your driver’s license for 90 days to two years or delay in obtaining a driver’s license for 90 days to two years, assignment to a work crew for 16 to 32 hours, mandatory substance abuse assessment or even six months in jail.
You would think those kids at the farmer’s market would be a little less glib.
We walked the streets for a little while longer as still-sober Mormons, every so often exchanging confused looks and the unspoken expression, “Did that really just happen?” As we drove home, the only liquid that had passed our lips was Gatorade, despite the fact that we had both been granted free tickets to get tanked.
My night of observation had just confirmed what others have been observing all summer.
After talking to Commander Asher, I really lay very little blame on Sparks PD. They were certainly out in force at the farmer’s market and they do have programs in place to curb underage drinking at special events. In an ironic twist, a pair of cops were even standing across the street as we were branded with the drinking stamps.
But really, how were they supposed to know? My stylistic ode to the early ‘80s was a little bit of a giveaway for me. Then again, anyone can make themselves seem older. My experience left me with this plea to servers: Please ask for ID, no matter what, and don’t let the farmer’s market become a haven for underage drinking.
Sarah Cooper is a reporter for the Sparks Tribune. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.