So, a nationally ranked connect four champion walks into a bar…
January is notoriously slow for restaurants. The holidays are over, most of us have settled into the idea of a new year, and the solitude of winter simply does not inspire the energy to go out. Although this month isn’t the most lucrative, the slow months make it possible to go into deeper conversations with people you already speak to on a regular basis. Having slow days where you get to just chat with folks on the other side of the table/bar is refreshing because it helps make future conversations feel less transactional. Every interaction will differ in its own way, but they will most certainly involve conversations about the other person’s wellbeing, and several questions about the limited selection of food or drinks on the menu.
I’ve been in the service industry for over a decade, so making sure that everyone around me is content and satisfied has become second nature. So much that when a guest responds to my “hey how are ya?” with an “I’m fine, how are you doing?” it feels like my brain short-circuits for a hot second. When a guest writes a little thank you note, or even a silly looking heart (that sometimes looks more like a weird, upside-down onion) on the bottom of their receipt, it makes my shift. Ask your server/bartender/customer service rep how they’re doing, these little acts of kindness are deeply appreciated.
I’m sure that many of the next 26 posts will involve encounters with folks at work. I started a collection of little moments called “serendipitous seedlings,” it’s become the newest addition to the chaos of my notes app. There were a few new additions yesterday, and all but one occurred while clocked in at work. I’ve been teetering on the edge of burning out from the emotional labor of serving, but honestly, I don’t know if I’d be able to work in an environment where friendly banter with folks from all walks of life was out of the ordinary. We used to have a game of connect four nestled into the corner of the bar. It wasn’t played often, most people opted for the deck of cards or the outdated version trivial pursuit. I think board games are always a fantastic addition to any bar, especially those spaces that tend to get a lot of first dates. First dates happen often at my job — instantly recognizing the first date energy is a learned skill that almost everyone in the service industry develops.
The Miracle of Science must have some magical first date energy to it because I’ve never worked somewhere that had so many people come back to celebrate anniversaries. We had a couple come in a few weeks ago to celebrate their 11th wedding anniversary in the same exact spot they had their first date. I often put way too much thought into seemingly trivial things, but knowing that a single space is capable of hosting an endless amount of core memories can get a little overwhelming. Maybe I’m just overly sentimental, but I often associate restaurants with nostalgic experiences rather than the food they provide. This isn’t even exclusive to restaurants though, I could easily make a map of Boston using the locations of awkward first dates, post-break up ‘gansetts with friends, or semi-regular moments of existential crisis as points of interest. I wrote about this last year, but if anyone ever wants to go on a sentimental walking tour, the offer still stands. I will gladly follow your map.
Anyway, yesterday’s shift was really slow most of our energy was focused on socializing. I had a few friendly tables, but I was most content about having the extra time to catch up with friends and regulars. Earlier in the shift, there was a person who came in by themself looking for a quick bite. They looked familiar, but we couldn’t figure out why. This happens often, so we didn’t worry too much about it. Sometimes I’ll have to see a person several times before finally recognizing them, sometimes all I need is one quirky interaction and your existence will forever have a space in my memory. Around 11, two people walked in an sat down at the bar. Once again, I had that moment where one of them just look so familiar but I just couldn’t place it.
Then suddenly, I remembered working a shift last winter where the entire bar turned into an impromptu connect four championship. It all started after this one person noticed the game of connect four in the corner and started losing his marbles over it. He started telling everyone how he was “nationally ranked” as a connect four champion. People often come to bars to boast about themselves, I’ve experienced it on either side of the bar so I kinda just laughed it off… Until he started systematically beating every single person who tried to claim the title. I never really put much thought into the skill it takes to play connect four, but whatever it was, this guy definitely had it. They’re wasn’t a single moment where he even came close to losing. Every time he won, he would shout “Let’s goooooooooooooooo!” which only brought more attention to him. I spent the entire shift from behind the bar watching in amazement as this “national ranked” connect four player took down every opponent, one chip at a time.
At one point, I took a photo of him beating my roommate. He was shouting with his hands up in the air as Talia was forced to begrudgingly accept defeat for the nth time. I showed the photo to Christine after telling her the story and we both agreed they *kinda* looked alike. How do you casually bring up connect four to a stranger? We made a quick list of possible ways to wiggle connect four into a casual conversation.
- So, do you like to play games?
- When was the last time you really connected with something?
- Do you ever just think about how life is like a game of connect four?
- Sometimes you just gotta go for it, one chip at a time.
We decided against all of those, obviously. Eventually I went up to him and complimented his coffee thermos as an conversation starter.
“This is going to be one of the weirdest questions I’ve ever asked a stranger, but you wouldn’t happen to be a nationally ranked connect four champion by any chance, right?”
His name is Chris, and yes, it was him.
I often think about seemingly inconsequential interactions with people in my everyday life. I may not be nationally ranked in anything, but I do a lot of weird things because sometimes I have no idea how to be a normal person. As a server/bartender who also happens to say really strange things as a way to fill awkward silences, I’ve also been recognized for my weird antics by folks I’ve met only once before. I recently went to a warehouse party near market basket and had someone recognize my pomegranate tattoo because one time, I went on an unsolicited rant about Persephone and Hades in an attempt to get them to buy a pomegranate sour. A few years ago, I went to an Of Montreal concert with 7 vials of glitter stuffed into my bra. I randomly walked up to strangers checking to see if they needed more glitter in their life. Three weeks later, someone at a coffee shop recognized me as the “glitter fairy” and laughed about how they’re still finding glitter from that night.
One time, I was taking the bus to class when I saw a person sitting alone with a tray of homemade muffins. We had a brief conversation about them, he wasn’t sure how they turned out but mentioned that it was for a potluck so no one had to know they were his. Someone gave me a scallop shell wrapped in styrofoam at a hostel in Cambodia and it’s still hanging in my bedroom. A stranger once turned a dollar into an origami shirt and left it as part of their tip at work, I still have that hanging on my wall. I’ve had many different walls since acquiring the shell & shirt, so I’ve gone through a lot to make sure those two little treasures go where ever I go. I don’t know anything about these people. If they sat down at the bar and ordered a beer from me, we wouldn’t even recognize each other but I still think about them all the time.
Anyway, whether it’s being national ranked in connect four, sprinkling an entire concert venue with boob glitter, or through any other serendipitous encounter with a stranger, isn’t it kinda cool to think about how a seemingly inconsequential moment might end up occupying an indefinite space within the memory of a total stranger?
Go out, be weird, and plant some serendipitous seedlings.