by Greg Schwem
The art of face-to-face communication took a huge hit due to the pandemic, and it has sadly also affected my favorite solo traveling game.
I’ve titled the game, “Walk Into a Bar and Get One Person Off Their Phone.”
I often find myself alone in strange cities and, rather than ordering room service and bemoaning the fact that the hotel TV package doesn’t include Netflix, I choose to explore my surroundings; trips that culminate in solo dining at restaurant bars. Brewpubs are my favorites, but I recently eliminated gluten from my diet and now must endure strange looks from brewmasters when I belly up to their establishments and order an apple-infused seltzer.
I choose a seat immediately next to, or if the bar is empty, one stool away from another patron. I prefer solo customers like myself, as they are usually scrolling their phones. I’ll say this about the cellphone: It eliminated the scarlet letter that often comes with dining or drinking solo. Instead of projecting a sad, “I have no friends,” vibe, you can pass yourself off as an important business person, albeit one with no friends and whose “business” is watching funny cat videos.
From there, it’s “GAME ON!” As an ice breaker, I might ask my intended targets what they are drinking or seek their reviews on whatever culinary dish has been placed before them. If they respond, I might make a comment about what is on the TV, although I have my limitations. Before I enter an establishment, I look at the screen and ensure the answer is “no” to the following questions:
1. Is “Wheel of Fortune” on?
2. Are the patrons actively watching it?
Recently I dined at a Chicago-area tavern known, among locals, for having some of the best barebcue ribs in the city. I will not name the establishment, for the bar only contains 10 stools and my chances to snag one diminish if I reveal the identity. Seated next to me were two bros in their late 20s, alternating between scrolling their phones and glancing at the Buffalo Bills/Cincinnati Bengals playoff game. I pounced.
“Which one of you has a dog in this fight?” I said, gesturing at the TV.
“He does,’” said Jordan, gesturing to his friend Paul, who stopped scrolling.
“Are you from Buffalo or Cincinnati?” I asked.
“Neither,” Paul said. “Just a die-hard Bills fan.”
From there, the floodgates opened. I learned Jordan was cajoling Paul to move to Chicago; Jordan had just gotten married; Paul liked the idea of marriage but was content (like all Gen Z types) with his dog.
It was such a pleasant encounter, particularly because my last three attempts at this type of interaction resulted in the following:
1. A woman in the Houston airport thought her Instagram account was, apparently, more interesting than anything I had to say.
2. A guy in a Grand Cayman tiki bar falsely accused me of “hitting” on his male friend. His UGLY friend, I might add.
3. A 50-ish woman in Miami suddenly became a huge TikTok fan after my opening line was, “Since this is the Miami airport, let me ask you…how many days have you been delayed?”
I thought it was funny.
I so long for the days when most of society was friendly, inquisitive and curious. Now we hide behind our social media accounts and within our AirPods. We can always find somebody more intriguing on our phone than the person sitting next to us. It is both infuriating and depressing.
My favorite writer, David Sedaris, once wrote that teenage boys would never want to be seen talking to an old man. I agree with that. But teenage boys do not sit at bars. Full grown adults do; and, if you are reading this, rest assured that I want to hear your stories.
I can look at my phone whenever I want, but this will most likely be my only encounter with you and it will only last until my check arrives. So please indulge me, or other strangers who strike up conversations in public establishments. If the conversation turns uncomfortable or creepy, just put in your AirPods or FaceTime a relative. But you may begin a friendship, strike up a business deal or discover you grew up in the same town if you make a little eye contact and then take it one step further.
Hell, you may even learn where to find the best barbecue in Chicago.
(Greg Schwem is a corporate stand-up comedian and author of two books: “Text Me If You’re Breathing: Observations, Frustrations and Life Lessons From a Low-Tech Dad” and the recently released “The Road To Success Goes Through the Salad Bar: A Pile of BS From a Corporate Comedian,” available at Amazon.com. Visit Greg on the web at www.gregschwem.com.
You’ve enjoyed reading, and laughing at, Greg Schwem’s monthly humor columns in Senior Living News. But did you know Greg is also a nationally touring stand-up comedian? And he loves to make audiences laugh about the joys, and frustrations, of growing older. Watch the clip and, if you’d like Greg to perform at your senior center or senior event, contact him through his website at www.gregschwem.com)