I truly don’t understand why it’s so difficult for so many people to navigate this quick little formality. It’s a transaction that, if done smartly and successfully, might take 10 seconds and a smile. As a door guy/bouncer at music venues and bars, a major component of my job is to check the ID of every arriving patron. We need to do this in accordance with the guidelines given to us by the OLCC (Oregon Liquor Control Commission). Depending on what venue I’m working at, I might check anywhere from 200-800 IDs per night. It’s not rocket science. And it shouldn’t take very long.
You walk up to the venue door to find me smiling and greeting you. I’ll ask to see your ID and you’ll hand it to me. I examine it quickly and hand it back to you, then usually give you a stamp of some kind as we make small talk. I might answer questions you have at that point, but basically our little interaction is over. Unless you become a problem later in the night and I need to exit you from the establishment, you probably won’t even see me again until the end of the show when you go home. That really doesn’t sound too difficult, does it?
Sadly, this ideal scenario is not how it usually goes.
I’ve given this whole thing some serious thought. Especially when I’m frustrated with how badly a recent interaction went down. I try my best to be direct and clear when asking questions or explaining rules. I speak slowly and enunciate clearly. Sometimes I have to dumb it down for someone due to a language barrier, or more often due to a stupidity barrier.
I’m interested and invested in helping all of you with this challenging situation. I really am. Let me talk you through some points that will help you succeed. I might make an instructional video of this that you can watch outside while you’re waiting in line.
And perhaps I should elaborate on exactly what I am looking for when I check IDs. Just so you don’t rush me or think that I’m taking too long. I’m not just looking for your birthdate. I’m first looking at the photo and comparing it to your actual face. Then I’m checking the birthdate and making sure that it happened before this date in 1997. Then I’m checking the expiration date, because an expired license or passport is a useless artifact. I’m also feeling the card for thickness or irregularities. Fake IDs often don’t get the card thickness or firmness right. Also lamination problems can mean a fake ID. Then I’m also flipping it over and looking at the back of it. Lots of fake IDs just make the front and the back is completely blank. So that’s 6 things I’m assessing in a few seconds of your valuable entertainment time. Just let me check them all without any hassle.
First off, don’t just try to blow past me and act like the rules don’t apply to you. It doesn’t matter how old you are. Unless you have a white beard, ride up on a horse named Shadowfax, and answer to the name Gandalf, I’m gonna need to see your I.D. When I enter a bar or music venue, I expect the staff to card me and give me some sort of stamp. Even if I don’t know how it works I am capable of reading the environmental cues around me. Like the 2-3 security staff standing around with radios checking IDs? That’s a pretty clear sign that you also need to do that. When I see a group or a line of people waiting to interface with the door staff holding their drivers licenses out, I can infer that this is an ID check. I don’t just try to walk around everybody and get inside. But you do, and then you get embarrassed because we have to stop you verbally or even physically and get you back in the line.
The most common statement offered as a justification for this behavior is, “Oh, I’m just going into the bar.” That’s right. The bar. Where they serve beer, wine, cider, and hard liquor. Exactly, you street-smart genius bar-hopping drunkard. You have literally answered the question of why I’m asking to see your ID. It’s like these people have never been out drinking in a bar before. Why are you somehow surprised that I want to see your ID? That’s literally how that works. To go into a bar where liquor is served, you need to have a valid ID and show it to the staff first. Because you have to be 21 to legally drink alcohol. I’m not just carding people for fun, or to go into a different part of the business. It’s one stop shopping. I card you as you come in, then you can go anywhere inside that you want. I’ve had to hook people in the crook of their arm to stop them after they’ve gotten past the first two security staff and say, “Hey, they need to get your ID first.”
“Oh, just to go to the bar?”
“Yeah, especially to go to the bar.”
Next, take your driver’s license out of your damned wallet. The leather edge of the ID holder almost always blocks out the expiration date on Oregon licenses. And besides that, I need to hold the ID in my hand and flip it over to look at the back. I’m checking to see if the ID is fake, and several other bits of info on the license. You see all the people in front of you who have their licenses out in their hand? Yeah, copy them.
Look I know it’s slightly weird to hand your ID to a complete stranger. I’ve tried to put myself in your shoes to see why so many people get awkward or even offended when I ask to see their ID. I suppose you don’t like handing me all of your personal information. I suppose it might be odd that I could read your ID and get your age, your weight, your full name, and your full address. I suppose that could be weird. Except that I honestly have no reason to ever look at your weight or your name or your address. I don’t care. I’m looking for your birthday and the expiration date. I’m not memorizing your personal data and then planning to stop by your house with flowers tomorrow. I might examine 300 driver’s licenses and passports tonight. I’m certainly not memorizing any details about anything. The most I’ll ever do regarding something I see on your ID is wish you a happy birthday if your birthday is today. And most people like that. Sometimes if the ID is expiring in the next few weeks, I’ll inform them of that as I hand it back to them. Almost every time the person had no idea and thanks me profusely for helping them out.
More tips on how to behave during the ID check. Don’t make small talk or ask me questions. This is often a distraction technique when people know that something is wrong with their ID. In fact, the more you make jokes or ask questions or flirt with me, the more closely I’m going to look at your ID because I’m wise to your schemes. I’ve actually had to ask a woman to please get her breasts off of me so I can do my job. She thought she was cute and could flirt her way around an expired license. In general, just let the door guy lead the conversation. If I don’t ask you any questions, just wait for me to look at the ID and return it to you. If I do ask you questions, it may be to assess your current level of intoxication. I’m not flirting with you, I’m asking you questions so I can hear your speech patterns. I’m listening for slurred words and incoherent drunken answers.
Don’t be talking on your phone while you come in. Hang up the phone and be an active participant in this interaction. You can call the person back. I probably need to ask you some questions anyway. Actually, I’m going to go around you and check IDs of all the other people in the entryway or the line. I’ll wait for you to hang up your phone before I even start this process with you. Basic respect and common sense, but apparently it needs to be said.
Don’t purposely cover your photo with your finger and hold it up to me like you’re a detective flashing me his badge. That’s not going to work. You’re not cute. That’s not helpful at all, and it will make our time together longer than either of us want. If you make me say out loud, “I need to actually see the photo” this isn’t going to go well for you. Don’t cover your photo. Hand me the card, don’t make me take it out of your hand.
Conversely, I actually love it when people hand me the McLovin ID from the movie Superbad. This always makes me laugh heartily, and then they immediately hand me their actual ID. I know some door guys don’t like this, but I think it’s hilarious. It breaks the tension. Hell, people might look at the bouncers as they come in and decide to use the funny fake ID just in an attempt to make us laugh because we look grumpy.
Bring it on.
Oh and don’t say something like, “You need to see my ID? Really? I’m old as dirt.”
Then when I look at your ID you are actually much younger than me. So you just inadvertently insulted me without knowing it. People actually say to me, “See? I’m old, right?” And I never agree with them. I always say age is just a number, or age is how you feel. Or I’ve even said, “I know better than to ever agree or disagree with a person’s assessment of how old or young they are. I’ve had training.” That usually gets a laugh. Most commonly I just smile and answer, “No, not at all.”
One guy was surprised I was carding him and he said, “I’m old enough to be your Dad.” I looked at his birthday and whispered, “Not unless you had me when you were 5 years old.”
One particularly grumpy man was offended that I was even asking for his ID. He blustered loudly about how he was here for his daughter’s wedding and he is obviously over 21 and his passport is buried in his suitcases. I checked his ID slowly and returned it saying, “Most people your age are flattered when I ask for their ID. You should try that.”
Look at me. Do I really need to say this? Don’t have your face turned all the way to the side talking to your fiends, or turn around to talk to your friends behind you. Don’t keep your face covered by scarves or a hoodie or a balaclava. Part of what I’m doing is comparing the photo on your ID to your actual face. Of course we have to account for minor changes over time. Hair length, style, and color can change. Skin tone can change. Glasses might be on or off, or beards or mustaches have come and gone. Hell, my ID looks nothing like me because it was issued to me 8 years ago. I didn’t have dreads or a beard or the most recent 25 pounds on me in the photo. So then we’re looking at facial structure and basic features that don’t change. People often try to pass off an ID of their older sibling or even friend who looks similar to them.
These concerns are certainly not your problem. You haven’t chosen to be a bouncer at a bar like I have. But this is my job. I take pride in it. Most of the time I actually think it’s fun. But if somebody gets in here with a fake ID or is underage, there are repercussions. Not only could I get reprimanded and lose my job, but the establishment itself will get heavy fines. I’ve seen some of the checks written out to pay these fines, and they aren’t small numbers. It’s the cost of doing business I imagine, but too many of those fines can easily bankrupt an establishment. Worst case scenario is that the bar or venue actually loses their liquor license due to numerous violations of this kind. And any bar or venue that can’t sell liquor is going to fail. So just play along and show us your ID, please.
One of the most common reasons that I deny people entry to a venue is not that they are already too drunk. You would think that, but no. It’s that their ID or passport is expired. That makes it invalid. If people hand me an ID that expired a few days ago, or even a few weeks ago, I can somewhat understand. You still can’t come in, but I empathize. Life gets away from you, you hate the DMV, you procrastinate. I hear ya. But people hand me passports or IDs that expired 6 years ago. I usually make a point to say, “Your ID is expired. Like REALLY expired. 6 years ago expired.”
What in the hell have you been doing for the last 6 years?!
But at least they had something on them and attempted to pass it off to me. What really confounds me are the people who come up and tell me that they don’t have any ID at all. They ask if a Visa card works. For identification. How in the hell do you not have any ID on you at all? Did you drive here? Because if so you just broke the law. I hope you get pulled over and a cop makes you feel like an unprepared child. Maybe you always ride your bike or Uber around. Sure, but don’t you purchase things and the clerks ask to see your ID to verify the debit card purchase? Do you never go to any establishment that severe liquor? Or have you just been going to the same neighborhood bar for years and they know you and yell out “NORM!” whenever you walk in?
Then they inevitably say things like, “Well I’m clearly over 21. Look at me! I’m 34 years old!” I often say, “Well, you legally need ID to prove that.” Or I might say, “It’s not that I don’t think that you’re 21, but you must have a valid form of ID on you just to be in here.” If I’m feeling particularly confrontational I might say, “How do you get along in your daily life with no ID?” I got my drivers’ license at age 16, so I’ve been managing and renewing it for decades now. And I can’t recall one time that I didn’t have that driver’s license in my wallet in my back pocket. I’ve never lost it, never misplaced it, never had it stolen, and never not had it on me. I’m always ready. But damn, some of these people haven’t had a valid ID for 6 years and act like I’m the jerk for being surprised and not letting them in.
Then there’s the people who try to distract me because they know that their ID isn’t valid. They’ll start asking me all kinds of questions about the bands playing tonight, or which stamp means what on which hand. Some people try to flirt with me. Or the one I get the most is, “How long have you been growing your dreads?” Like I said earlier, this makes me focus more on the ID. Sure enough, the person isn’t 21 or the ID expired already. Then they feign shock when I inform them that they can’t come in.
This is my favorite anecdote of this sort:
A male handed me his passport and was all bubbly and talkative. He tried to distract me by being condescending. Apparently he thought I was looking at his passport too long, so he points at it and says, “Oh, the birth date is printed right up here.” He tapped the passport with his finger on the birth date. Like I can’t find it. Like this isn’t my job and I haven’t been trained to examine IDs. Like I’m incompetent and stupid. Like I don’t do this ALL NIGHT LONG. I was looking at it longer than normal because I did notice something wrong with it. I wanted to be sure, and make him sweat a little. My response was, “Yeah. The birth date is right there. But the part that tells me that this expired 3 years ago is right HERE.” I tapped the passport on the expiration date he was hoping I wouldn’t notice. I handed it back to him and said, “You can’t come in here with an expired passport. Bye.”
And if you don’t have your ID or passport, do not try to show me a photo of it on your phone. That asinine bullshit doesn’t even make sense. My 10-year-old kid could Photoshop their photo onto a template faster than it would take you to drive home and get your damned ID. There is no establishment anywhere that will accept a photo of a passport or driver’s license. Think a minute. Can I pay for my dinner with a photo of a 20 dollar bill? The actual state-issued driver’s license or government-issued passport needs to exist in our hands to be examined. Good lord.
Here’s the last observation. There are grown adults out there that don’t know their left from their right. Many of them. Legion. Once we approve your ID we give you a stamp on a particular wrist. If you pay for the show then we may give you a different stamp on your other wrist. I always make sure to say this clearly and slowly, while looking at your eyes and even pointing at the particular wrist. “I need to stamp your LEFT WRIST.” Without fail, 75 percent of the time the person juts out the wrong wrist. Don’t we usually learn our left and right in kindergarten? Dumfounded and saddened at the state of humanity’s declining intelligence, I usually say, “That’s your RIGHT wrist, I need your LEFT wrist. THAT one.” They get embarrassed, I shake my head.
What I want to say comes from the Stanley Kubrick film Full Metal Jacket.
“I know you are dumb, Private Pyle, but do you expect me to believe that you do not know your left from your right?!”
“Sir, no sir!”
“Then you did that on purpose. You want to be different.”
“Sir, no sir!”
I punch you hard in the face.
“What side was that, private Pyle?”
But that’s just a movie.
I’m actually a pretty friendly bouncer. Some people have called me the friendliest door guy they’ve ever met. But I know that is the exception. And even I get flustered sometimes. A lot of bouncers and door guys are gruff at best, and downright unpleasant at worst. But you have to understand why. Any problem that occurs gets passed to us. We deal with every problem, from mildly irritating to hostile and dangerous. As with many customer service jobs, you deal with stupidity and assholery on the regular. Add alcohol to that recipe and you have our job. People are dumb enough as it is, but add too much alcohol and it becomes the proverbial shit-show. And entitlement, insecurity, and testosterone don’t help either. So night after night, we deal with the stupid. And the belligerent drunks. And you simply can’t reason with drunk people. Sometimes you just have to physically remove them from the premises. So yeah, door guys are often grumpy. Our patience has already been tried for hours before your arrival. We have to have a high tolerance for idiocy. Please give us a break and try to be compliant and friendly when you deal with us. I want to help you have a good evening. Just let me do that. Just let me check your ID.
I’ll end this with this classic joke told to me by another bouncer:
What’s the difference between a bouncer and a toilet?
A toilet only has to deal with one asshole at a time.