First impressions don’t always matter, but sometimes they do

“How are you?” I asked the man in the rumpled brown leather jacket, who had just sat down.

It’s not an idle question, it’s a question meant to ascertain where we are, what we are doing, and where we want to go.

How I am doing is less important, at least at that moment. Because I am there to do a job. Nobody likes the service person who insists that their feelings have just as much weight (if not more weight) than the customer at that particular moment of intersection.

“I’m great!” he said.

He didn’t ask how I was doing, and you know what? I didn’t care. He’s not obligated to do so, and I certainly wasn’t going to insist that he did. Granted, in his shoes I might have, but not everybody is me, or at the same place that I am, nor at the same time. And you know what? That’s all OK.

His greatness didn’t last long.

“Well actually, I’m pretty good,” he added. “You know, all things considered.”

I counted to three in my head. 1, 2, 3…

“You know, really, I’m doing just OK. It’s been a hard last couple of months, well, you know.”

I do. I also know that the first words out of someone’s mouth the first time you meet them are not always indicative of who they are. Or where they are at.

You only get one chance to make a first impression is one of the worst statements ever conceived. It implies that first impressions are what matter most. If that were the case many friendships would never get formed, many businesses would never open, and many romances would never blossom. Take it from a guy who sees many first meetings, they don’t always go well.

Five minutes, and one old fashioned later, I was standing in front of another customer.

“How are you?” I asked the woman decked out in tennis attire: visor, shoes and skirt.

“I’m super single,” she said.

Which of course was not really an answer to the question that I had asked. But I suspected the answer wasn’t really for me, judging both by its enthusiasm, and its volume.

The man in the leather jacket took note and moved one seat closer.

“Hey,” he said after I had placed her white wine in front of her.

“Hey,” she replied.

“How are you?” he asked.

I didn’t hear her reply, but the next time I looked he had moved another seat closer.

20 minutes later, I was standing in front of her again.

“Really I am sort of single,” she said in response to another question that I hadn’t asked.

Bars have regulars, customers who come in regularly. They are the very backbone of the bar business. No matter where, what or how, every bar, without exception has regulars. But bars also have irregulars. And while regulars make up the bulk of the bar business, it is the irregulars that make up the bulk of the stories about the bar business. Nobody wants to hear about the guy who ordered a beer, watched the game, tipped well, and left. That’s akin to Mark Twain writing just about how Tom Sawyer painted his fence. Or Ian Fleming writing about a civil servant ordering tap water. Life might not be mostly drama, but it is the drama that drives life forward.

“Sort of seeing someone, but not someone special.”

I noticed the leather jacketed man was now sitting right next to her.

“Living together,” was the next thing I heard her say. And now the man was back in his original seat.

Another man entered the bar and sat down two seats away from her. He was taller, more rugged, yet better dressed.

“How are you?” I asked.

“I’m super single,” the woman volunteered to the question that I had actually asked him.

“That’s funny, so am I,” replied the man, not to me, but rather, to her.

Twenty minutes of conversation later, I heard him say: “I’m kinda seeing someone.”

Twenty minutes after that it was definite.

And twenty minutes after that the guy in the leather jacket was walking her to her car.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

–First impressions might not always be the best basis for lasting commitments, but they certainly are great for temporary liaisons.

-An entire conversation can begin with a one word sentence.

-Not everybody is on the same page, as you, nor at the same time. That doesn’t mean that their story isn’t as compelling as yours. It just means that it’s different.

-Great customer service is still about taking care of the customer, regardless of the service person’s feelings about it. It always has been, and it always will be.

 -How am I? Who’s asking?