I had finished a couple of beers and an appetizer with a friend at a local pub. Nice neighborhood. Quiet part of town.
While he had to leave, the night was still young, and I decided to mosey on over to the bar and have another round before I hit the trail.
I generally like meeting new people at the bar, and I’ve met some fine ones and had wonderful conversations. Trading stories. Slices of life. Different paths in different timelines converge for a bit.
A smiling between souls.
The bar area, like many such bars, was small in comparison to the rest of the pub. Tables, booths, large screen TVs, pool tables, and a microbrewery filled the rest of the space.
There are only a dozen, high-backed, bar stools, and as I walked towards them the unconscious choice begins as to where to sit. Which empty stool to take?
There is an unspoken etiquette to this.
At the far right of the bar, on the very end, sit two empty stools. Followed by two women, obviously together, one young, one older, heavily engaged in conversation.
To the immediate left of the second woman is an empty stool. Still working left, the next one down has a backpack hanging over the backrest, it’s owner must be in the bathroom, soon to return.
That leaves six bar stools on the left-hand side. Again, the far end two stools are empty. The barmaid’s station is at the end though, and she’s passing off orders to the bartender. Occupying that space.
Moving towards the center, to the right, next to those two stools, a gentleman in his 30s. Three empty stools between him and that backpack.
It’s impolite to crowd. Especially with strangers, and even the open stools on the end are awkward. To take either of those shifts the balance dramatically and makes one wonder, why did this guy come all the way over here when all these other seats are open.
Images of perverts will dance in their heads.
The etiquette shifts when the bar is fully crowded. Then any open stool is fair game. No judgment. But it’s not that way tonight.
You will usually try to put at least one empty stool between you and a stranger unless a conversation develops and you are offered to sit closer. Two is better for everyone’s comfort if they are open.
Where to sit?
The obvious is to leave the women appropriate space. And as noted, no one likes sitting on the far ends of the bar. It’s awkward when there’s a barmaid’s station and, in this case, would crowd the others on either end. So, you end up placing one empty stool between you and the marked one – the one with the backpack on it. This leaves you an empty stool between you and the absent person, presumably to return, and two between you and the gentleman on the left. Plenty of space for the two women already there on the right.
No one is offended. Everyone happy. I order a beer. But in case you missed it, the trap has already been sprung.
Subtle manipulation at its finest.
It won’t be until later, much later, that you discover that the backpack belongs to the man. There is no one else returning to the bar. No mysterious stranger that required a little extra space for comfort. He, the conman, placed it there strategically to funnel you closer to his locus of control. He’ll reclaim it later. And once you sit down, like clockwork, the con strikes up a conversation.
The talk seems friendly enough, and he’s talking about himself. His family. His daughter. Jobs. His experiences. Life’s tribulations.
His voice is melodic. Occasional pauses await your confirmation. An acknowledgement. That you had a similar experience. When you have, a fist bump ensues. Or a pat on the arm or on the shoulder. Space closes.
The goal is to make you comfortable because what he’s really seeking is information. Information that he can exploit in some fashion later.
Identity theft is pretty easy nowadays. Name, birthday, and address is all you need. Maybe less because you can find a lot on-line these days.
And his prying questions are interlaced with other dialog. A little out-of-place, but not bending the boundaries so far that you wouldn’t join in the conversation. After all, this is dialog. An exchange.
Where do you live? “Why, that’s crazy, up there!” “You’re retired, huh? So that makes you early sixties – 64, I bet?” “Kids? How old?”
And on it goes.
There might even be an exchange of pictures. Proud dads showing off their kids. The bartender is drawn into the discussion. He and his wife have just had a new baby. The conman knows the bartender. He’s a regular here. Which seems to vouch for him. Give him more credibility. He’s ok if the bartender likes him, right?
He buys you a shot. Your guard drops further.
This guy is polished. He can talk generally about any subject. He just probes a little to find out what might interest you. Steers to the proper on-ramp.
But I pull up stakes early. Ask for a soft drink. Signal I’ll be leaning. It forces his hand early and blows his build up. He has to jump script or let me go.
Seeing me putting my jacket back on, he asks to directly see my ID. Offers to show me his in return. Like a game. Fair trade, right? No, it’s not. He’ll try to memorize all the details on that card, then open a credit card in your name, or something else.
I flash my card, but steer it away quickly. When he asks, I give him the wrong spelling of my name. I see the switch in his eyes. He knows I’m lying and I know his game. He knows I know his game. Suddenly his interest in being friends evaporates, like an ice cube in Death Valley.
We part company.
Now this may all sound a bit like a big head game. My imagination running a bit unbridled. But it is a head game, the conman’s, and not one you’ll like to play.
At another bar, at another time, the people next to me struck up a conversation and wanted to play games like I’d seen on the Net. “Put the name of your first dog together with the name of the first street you lived on – that will be your hooker’s name – LOL.” But it’s not funny. That type of information is what people frequently use for passwords on their accounts. An email address or phone number can complete the profile they need. So guess what, after few drinks the strangers want to take a group pic, and email or text it to you.
Easy con. Especially when we are trusting.
There are so many versions. So many techniques. All designed to lure you into their trap. We tend to trust too much. Reveal too much. But there are many predators afoot. And theft of money could be minor compared to some type of physical assault.
You can prepare yourself for these situations. A little practice. Give a nickname instead of a real name. Have a fake ID if a con asks to see one – that “Oh, I can’t believe you’re that old” trick. Don’t share pics. Don’t give out phone numbers or email addresses.
We live in the age of the narcissist. Self interest is the name of the game. And if you’re empathic, compassionate, open and trusting, well you just might be a victim.
I long for the days when you could actually trust people more. But it’s a wild world out there and you never know just what you’ll encounter.
I still have a ritual as I travel round. I do go to the bars. I do join conversations and get to meet new people. And I’ve met many nice ones. Gotten great tips on where to hike or other businesses to check out. It’s truly fun.
But the short of this post is don’t drop your guard, ever. 😊
Especially if you are alone.
Photo: Not the bar I was in the other night. This one is a friendly one out southwest. And I played with the pic a bit with the editor. I like playing with lighting and structure.
There are many a story to be heard in social places like this. I was even kicked out of a bar once for telling stories. Odd. People starting buying me beers to hear my travel tales, but the bartender got mad. Accused me of harassing his customers and kicked me out. Even at the protest of those buying the beers. And I wasn’t conning anyone. People? 🙂