South of Rock Bottom

7 Mar

No wonder I hibernate in the winter

Last week I had to go to Raleigh, North Carolina for a work meeting, shuttling in and out for a little over 24 hours. These short trips, with a few exceptions, bring me to random cities that speckle our countries between the coasts and give me the opportunity for solo travel exploration. As a rule, I deal with people considerably older than me, so social activities beyond an early bird dinner are usually not an option. So I end up going out by myself quite a bit. What’s a young whippersnapper to do on a Saturday night in North Carolina? In New Orleans, one of my favorite places in the world, the wealth of music clubs easily solved this problem for me. But what the heck is there to do in Raleigh? I asked Yelp. But Yelp can’t find me a friend, and I felt like having a drink with another human being than night. After a brief and desperate stab at Plenty of Fish’s mobile app, I did the unthinkable…I loaded Craigslist Raleigh Personals…yeah.

Needless to say, POF aside, Craigslist is the rock bottom of online dating, the equivalent of a jewel thief stealing change from a street musician—it’s a desperate move, more cry for help than real attempt at human bonding. The only way I could justify it was by telling myself that I was in a different town where I didn’t know anyone. I tried my luck, figuring no one would even respond at 10:30 PM on a Saturday night. 31/M/out of town/show me Raleigh…something like that. And I made sure not to post it under Intimate Encounters, mostly to fool my conscience into thinking this was normal social behavior. Not 10 minutes later, I had 2 replies in my inbox. One was from someone whose email address masked her real name but identified her a girl who enjoys running. She was interested in chatting but not hanging out. Since I’m not a 12-year-old boy in an AOL chat room and this isn’t 1998, I asked a few polite questions about stuff to do and moved on.

The next message was more intriguing. It came with an actual name (albeit a colorful one). She referenced a bar very close to my hotel in Downtown Raleigh that Yelp had earlier recommended. One that served mead and moonshine, no less (South!). She was heading out there in a bit and asked if I wanted to meet. This was as perfect logistically as it would get, so I sent her my number and asked for hers. A few minutes later, she replied asking for my picture and telling me that she’d left her phone in her friend’s car but would be wearing jeans and a blue top. Right away, my mind broke down the possibilities based on this dubious development:

  • 60% this was a dirty prostitute or worse
  • 30% it was some unsavory specimen of lady I’d never want to meet
  • 10% this experience would be neutral or better

For the first two possibilities, my contingency was simple: the hotel is virtually across the street and I can make my escape at any time. I shrugged, emailed her my photo, and headed over to the place. After a 5-minute wait due to over-capacity (take that, NYC!), I was waved into a basement den full of college and post-collegiate types, with a few hipsters thrown in for good measure. I noted the lack of diversity (98% of the bar was white) but this was preppy downtown after all. I sidled over to the edge of the bar to check out the menu when an attractive Southern belle asked me if it was raining outside. As someone who doesn’t hit on girls at bars very often, I took this as a cue to mildly flirt with her.

“What’s good here?” She pointed at a couple of bourbon-based cocktails.

“Wow, moonshine, really?” I asked, expecting her to flip her hair coquettishly, smile, and launch into a conversation about regional differences. Didn’t even crack a smile.

“And what will you be having?” I asked in the least cheesy-sounding tone I could muster. This was met with crushing silence and I buried my face in the drinks menu, pretending I was talking to myself. Biatch! No matter, I already had a date for the evening, after all!

I grabbed a regional double IPA and tried to plant myself non-creepily between hordes of bros and couples on dates. A table opened up and I plopped down, realizing that without the twentysomething social pressure to mingle and strut, 30-year-olds can comfortably sit at a bar playing Scrabble and Words with Friends without harsh judgment. Soon a co-ed group of friends invaded the table, no doubt annoyed at my intrusive presence. I stood my ground and eavesdropped on their conversation and inside jokes. At this point, I was pretty indifferent to my mysterious Craigslist date. The whole no phone thing was pretty sketchy and I was having some pretty intense tile exchanges in WWF. I sipped my beer and people-watched. At one point, a larger blob of southern preppies showed up, clearly intent on coagulate with their other half at my table. Stubbornly, I dug in my heels and furiously shuffled my tiles trying to ignore the exchange of pleasantries (bar conversations sound so dumb when you’re neither drunk nor involved).

The girl never showed. This was something of a relief. When I woke up the next morning, my biggest regret was not trying one of the bar’s moonshine offerings, a cultural opportunity I should have grabbed. In my inbox was an email dispatched at 5 AM by my now missed connection. “You’re hot! Too bad I missed you,” she declared, which meant she’d not seen the picture before leaving the house. She claimed to have gone to the bar, waited for me with a drink, then gone upstairs and waited there. It was a small bar and our time there overlapped, so I didn’t know how we could have missed each other, since the crowd thinned out after midnight, but c’est la vie. I was slightly flattered at the superficial appraisal of my “profile photo” but not enough to do something completely insane, like asking her to hang out during the day. Another city, another one-man rage, another missed connection, but this one I could live with. Still, in the back of my mind, I was intrigued at the unsolved mystery of the girl in jeans and a blue top waiting for me at the bar with a glass of moonshine and no phone in her pocket.

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4 Responses to “South of Rock Bottom”

  1. customtripplanning March 7, 2012 at 9:13 am #

    Maybe a bar is not the best place to meet someone (gosh, I sound like my mother). Next time you are heading to a distant town check out the events calendar for that location…perhaps some concert or lecture or film festival or event at a restaurant (wine or beer tasting) will give you a better chance to meet someone with a similar interest.

  2. Datestable March 7, 2012 at 9:39 am #

    Thanks, Custom. You’re right on. I’m usually good with pre-planning but this was a 24-hour trip and a game-time decision to go out.

  3. femmme March 10, 2012 at 10:06 pm #

    I think in a pinch on a fast trip of for a litle chit chat a bar could be right. I love beer so I always figured if the “other” was lame I would pick a good pub. Your story is quite a valid story. Just remembering this sort of stuff is tough. Being in a major city I know a fair amount of people use CL for the personals, it isn’t AS Lame but still super sketch! I feel that people will use pretty much any medium as a jumping off point. Hey, wanna go out? hahaha! ***********kidding***

  4. Datestable March 11, 2012 at 10:08 am #

    Thanks, femme. Agreed–I’ve been using multiple “platforms” to meet people. Some have reservations but it really doesn’t much matter where you meet if it’s a click.

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