Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Getting scammed in Vegas

Or, "how I managed to (almost) lose money in the casino without so much as playing the slot machines."

I'm in Las Vegas this week covering a software conference. Vegas is, under the best of circumstances, not one of my favourite places, and for an assortment of reasons, this week is far from The Best of Circumstances. Feeling nauseous and mildly flu-like this morning, I decided to briefly escape the conference to hunt down some soup and hide with my book.

A minute or so after I sat down at The Noodle Shop (it sounded like a promising place for finding soup), another solo diner was seated at a table behind mine. Thirty seconds later, she was descending on mine.

"I don't want to eat alone!" she announced loudly. "Girls shouldn't eat alone! Can I sit with you?" she asked, as she sat down.

Well, ug. It had been a yucky morning. I was feeling sick. My brain was screaming "I'm an introvert in a cranky mood! No! Go away!"

But I am a polite introvert. So I sighed, forced a smile and said ok.

She proceeded to generally be loud, demanding and talkative. I said as little as I could get away with, trying to will the food to arrive fast so I could eat and escape, as she rattled on in a spacey way and I tried to melt into the carpet.

Here's where I should have twigged sooner something was up: She kept trying to involve me in her scene. Touching my arm. Trying to foist an appetizer on me, despite my strained insistence that no, really, I was feeling ill. Overall, creating the impression that we were actually dining together as a party.

And then, after the dishes arrived and she'd munched through most of hers, she stood up, announced she had an appointment, and walked out.

With me sitting there with a check.

Arugh. I was at that point so worn out and startled that it took me a full minute to realise what she'd engineered.

And then the feeling of stupidity set in. I live in New York. I have heard variants of almost every possible scam tried out on street corners and subways. I don't fall for them. But I'd managed to fall for this one.


My first inclination was to just pay the damn bill and be done with it. I'm traveling for work, most of my costs are being expensed, I could either find a way to write it off or just eat the $20.

But the principle of the thing annoyed me. I decided to see what would happen if I asked the waiter for a separate check. I think the restaurant staff saw what the woman had pulled, and the waiter brought me a check for just my side of the bill, quietly cleared away her side, and ignored it. I left a very nice tip.

So, in the end, the restaurant ate the loss, not me. But still. Just the kicker I needed for my Annoying Frustrating No Good Very Bad Day. And now I have learned the unpleasant way: If someone plants themselves at your table in a restaurant (especially in a place like Vegas), ask for separate checks straight off -- or fight down the polite impulses and tell them you intend to eat alone.