When I was a kid, America was a whiter place than it is today. The county I grew up in, Westchester, though it abutted the Bronx, was doing its best to distance itself from New York City and the urban woes that seemed to all but have destroyed the city. This was the era of municipal bankruptcy, of 2,000 murders per annum (that's about six per day if you're counting) when people had real and desperate fear of going out at night, of being mugged.
I grew up about nine miles from the city line. But I went to a school that was more than 90%
white--a school quite distant from the problems of the day.
In those days in New York and a handful of other states, the drinking age was 18. Which meant that most of us started going to bars and buying beer at around the age of 15 or 16. Even though I had my brother's draft card as I.D., it was still more than a little nerve-wracking to go into a liquor store and by beer, wine or something harder. You had to muster up some courage because it would be embarrassing to be turned away.
In any event, my best-friend then as now was called Fred and he was one of the few black kids around. Fred didn't grow up like the rest of us with fathers in big jobs in the city. Fred's dad (also Fred) was a New York City cop. As such, Fred grew up more streetwise than the rest of us combined.
One night we needed beer so we could get drunk. We urged Fred to go into the liquor store to buy for all of us. We ponied up our money and pushed Fred out of my 1964 Mercury Park Lane.
It seemed like he was gone an hour, but then we saw Fred walking out of the store with a case or two of Schlitz or Carling's Black Label. Fred was laughing.
He threw the case in the trunk and joined us in the car.
"The guy asked me for I.D.," Fred said.
"I said to him, 'no one asked for no I.D. in Vietnam.'"
That sealed it.
We now all knew how to buy booze.