The long goodbye, bar version

On this particular night we weren’t that busy. Perhaps because of late summer vacations, or hot weather, or general ennui — who knew? Sometimes we question, and sometimes we just accept. I had already accepted and forgone a second cup of coffee being reasonably sure that the extra burst of energy was not going to be necessary.

The two seated in front of me were holdovers from a late lunch and clearly were in no hurry, running shoes and jogging attire notwithstanding. I have noticed over the years that the more well-appointed an athlete is, the less athletic he or she usually is. The most equipment-festooned bicyclist usually only bikes once in a while and the golfer with the most clubs usually plays the least. Go figure.

All I know is that on a slow night my bar was full, and that makes me happy, second cup of coffee or not.

“Can we get the check?” asked the one with the headband, sweatbands and special water bottle. “Because we are in a hurry.”

Funny how someone can sit for hours and then all of a sudden be in a hurry.

In the service business there are two times when people are less disposed to wait. One is when they order their first drink and the other is when they ask for the check. Make them wait at these times and your tip suffers proportionally, trust me. Meanwhile two people scouted out the periphery, trying to judge the coming availability of seats. They weren’t pushy or rude; in fact quite the opposite could be said. People have a right to be curious after all.

They, too, heard the comment because they moved closer but not too close. In fact to say that they were close at all would be a grave overstatement.

One of the seated athletes gathered his abundance of equipment and left expeditiously, because when you vigorously rehydrate and then don’t sweat, you have to rid yourself of the extra liquid somehow.

The remaining bar-athlete, the one who had been in such a hurry to leave had demanded the check, now noticed the twosome waiting. Suddenly she was not in such a hurry. Standing up, she decided to drain the last drops of water in her glass, even taking time to chew each last ice cube slowly, as if ice posed a mortal danger if not chewed at least 30 times.

Standing with her left hand on the bar, she struggled to put on her workout jacket. Replacing her left arm with her right, she gathered up her belongings, one by one, looking closely at each, as if seeing it for the very first time. A protracted placing of her sunglasses on her head followed, with that one hand still on the bar, because we all know that exact placement of sunglasses on the top of one’s head is extremely important, especially when one is going to put them over his or her eyes in 15 seconds.

Over the years several studies have shown that people often take longer when they perceive someone else is waiting; whether it was for phone booths in the 1990s or for parking spaces in the new century. People in these instances become more territorial, even when such behavior is contrary to their goal of leaving. If someone knows you are waiting for something he or she has, you are going to wait longer.

Here are three simple rules I have found help when waiting for bar seats:

• Whatever you do don’t let the people sitting know you are waiting. Nothing good ever comes from this.

• Don’t strike up a conversation with them. Nothing prevents people from leaving like conversation, good or bad.

• Enlist the bartender’s help. That is what we are there for, to help. But don’t look at us like we are jerks when we point out that four or five others are already waiting. Politeness is for everybody, not just for you.

Meanwhile the malingerer still lingered, deciding that one more long sip of her empty water glass was necessary. She then smiled insincerely at the couple and left.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

• Just because you are polite doesn’t mean people are going to be polite back.

• Philip Marlowe is not the only one guilty of long goodbyes.