I tell stories about people. Sitting on subways, in airports, or in cafes in new cities, I make up stories about people. I tell stories in part because I imagine others’ lives, but mostly because it helps give context to my own. At times, I take this a bit further, and imagine what it’s like, when I visit a new town, to leave behind where I am and, for a moment, suspend belief about the thing I’m doing. What would it be like to move here, to imagine the people in this place as my future friends and neighbors.
I look at the items on the wall as the topics of many future conversations; the items on the menu as the food of future enjoyable meals with future yet-identified people. John Dewey has said, “recognition is perception arrested before it has a chance to develop freely,” and this close study avoids arrest. So more stories.
With all my optimism for stories and travel, just the opposite is valuable to me: becoming comfortable with one place, so the micro act of becoming a regular has become something of a casual study. When is it that someone moves from the informal visitor to the recognized regular? And how does one maintain regular status?
It appears becoming a regular has some fundamental shared qualities:
Being a regular takes time. It’s not something one can pretend. And multiple personalities, schedules, and attention spans (theirs and yours) make it such that simply showing up isn’t enough. Showing up repeatedly, consistently, and memorably to a number of people in one place is crucial, and even then it’s at the intersection of time and value.
Don’t make the first move.
Prior to establishing regular status, you can’t let on you have interest in becoming a regular. Being needy is a turnoff. Likewise, acknowledging you’re approaching regular status—even if everyone is aware—is off limits. It’s key that the acknowledgment lie with the establishment, and all you can do is wait.
Be gracious, but not overly surprised.
Like a change of seasons, being called out as a regular is surprising. Even though you knew it was coming, the first day you’re served that double XX with the YY without asking or given the table with a Z, it’s shocking. Try to be unimpressed, yet enormously gracious.
Be firm in the training period.
There’s a critical period where you’re training them. Particularly if multiple people are working, you have multiple personalities and memories to deal with. Some will remember your preferences; some will not. Don’t be afraid to correct them, even though your inclination will be to accept whatever they remember in the interest of preserving your new regular status.
Know the rules.
By accepting the XX and YY, you walked into a pact that bound you to unspoken rules. It contains items such as not stepping over your boundaries (your friend, for example, cannot also have a Z). And you have to agree that, unless for good reason, you have to do your part, which is to simply show up and be consistent and memorable.
Now that I’m a regular, I just sit here and tell stories about the people passing by. And they’re, most likely, telling stories about me.