Smile, you are on camera

The older man approached me while I was in the middle of doing something else. When I say “older” I know full well that “older” is relative. But he reminded me of my grandfather. To you, it might have been a father, a brother or even a son. But as a reminder of my “Baba,” I was unprepared for what happened next.

“Can I get change for a $100 bill?” the man asked, halfway through his old fashioned.

“Sure, just give me a second,” I replied.

Bartenders get interrupted all the time, it’s part of the job. In fact, it might be most of the job, but I have yet to do a scientific breakdown of that. Customer interaction has a lot to do with other things besides taking or delivering orders. It is customer service after all.

I finished the old fashioned, garnishing it our way, with an orange peel and a kirsch-soaked cherry. Wiping my hands on my apron towel, I took the money and turned towards the cash register.

Trust is a key component behind the bar. You need to trust your co-workers to support you, you need management to back you up and you need trusted regulars to witness if those other two things fail. But trust only goes so far, and I looked at the bill in my hand before I opened the register.

It was not a $100 bill. It was a $10 bill.

I turned around and held it out to the man who looked like my Baba.

“This is $10,” I said.

“I gave you $100,” he replied.

“No, you didn’t. This is the bill,” I said, holding it out.

“I definitely gave you $100,” he said firmly.

Suddenly he looked a lot less like my Baba.

“This is the bill you gave me,” I said to anti-Baba.

“No, it isn’t.”

In days gone by, things would have been different. I would have had to get a manager, a long argument would have ensued, a cash drawer would have been pulled and counted, and quite possibly they might have given that man 90 extra dollars. Also, I might have been written up, or possibly just had my reputation besmirched, because doubt is never a good thing, especially in an employer/employee relationship. But it isn’t days gone by. It is today.

“We’ll have to look at the cameras then,” I said, pointing up at the little glowing red light above.

“Oh, wait,” said anti-Baba without even checking his pockets or his wallet. “It was $10.”

Cameras have definitely changed the equation. It is often no longer a he said/she said situation. Now we can go right to the video evidence.

On my most recent Barfly Podcast, our guest, a hospitality lawyer, relayed a story about valet parkers going around cars and raising their hands in the air. Asked what he was doing, the valet responded, “We raise our hands when we see damage, so that it is on video.” The valet further explained that since putting cameras in, damage claims had virtually stopped.

During the pandemic, cameras were installed inside our bar and one of the larger tables was seated with giant stuffed teddy bears. It was a whimsical way to apply social distancing standards — until someone stole one of the teddy bears. It was easy enough to check the cameras, cross-reference the table number, get the reservation name and call them up. Two days later, we had our teddy bear back.

Anti-Baba shrugged his shoulders and wandered off, as if nothing had happened. But it bothered me all the way home. It bothered me as I got out of my car. It bothered me as I walked up the walkway to my house. It even bothered me when I passed the little patch of bare lawn next to that walkway — a patch of lawn that I have never been able to get grass to grow on. No amount of reseeding, fencing, watering, sodding or expense has ever worked. Nothing in the 20 years I have lived there has ever made that semi-circle go away. As I walked past it, staring at my feet in despair over the state of humankind, I noticed that, for the first time ever, new grass had grown there. I then looked up and right into the new camera/doorbell combination my daughter had given me for Christmas.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

• There is a saying, “you are who you really are when you think no one is watching,” to which I might now add that you are the best person you can be, when you know that someone is.

• I know that dog urine kills grass. I didn’t know that doorbell cameras caused it to grow.

• Consciousness of guilt is when you stop doing something only if you think you are going to get caught.

• Want to know who people really are? Put up a camera.