When the lights flickered inside the Cheyenne Club, the last call sounded for 19- and 20-year-olds enjoying their last night of legal drinking in Wyoming until they turn 21.
The flickering marked midnight, the witching hour for those working to make the most of the time before the state joined the rest of the nation in making 21 the minimum legal drinking age at 12:01 a.m. Friday."I think everybody has one last chance and they are taking advantage of it," said 20-year-old Michelle Wileman, of Cheyenne. "I kind of have to, because I can't go back in and drink for the next 10 months."
The clock on Wyoming's alcohol drinking age began ticking in March, when Gov. Mike Sullivan and legislators reluctantly agreed they could no longer hold out against "federal blackmail" - the withholding of federal highway funds because the state had not raised its drinking age.
After singing along to The Beastie Boys' "You Gotta Fight For Your Right To Party," the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd moved toward the doors, waving to a network television crew and carrying a young woman on their shoulders.
Some went home; others waited outside for the bar to reopen and serve non-alcoholic drinks to those under 21. Those affected by the law were almost unanimously against it.
"My husband is 21, so I like to go to the bar with him," said 19-year-old Hope Green, of Laramie. "For a year, we've been coming to this bar together. All of a sudden, they say to me `He's responsible, but you're not any more.' You can't do that."
Under the law passed by Congress in 1984, states had to raise the drinking age to 21 or lose a percentage of their federal highway funds. The law went into effect in 1986, and Wyoming sacrificed $11.8 million in two years.
Wyoming stood to lose another $8.2 million in federal funds if the drinking age increase was not in place by today. Wyoming officials said the state could have lost $41.3 million in highway funds during the next four years.
The reasoning behind the move made little difference to many of those out Thursday night, such as Dianna Estes, who celebrated her 19th birthday in Laramie with a few last drinks.
"I don't live with my parents," she said. "I make my own decisions. If I can do all of that, I can drink responsibly."