Monday, July 27, 2009

Harassed, Accused by Centrum Café

[Updated 7:05 PM, July 28: Added results of a virus scan of the laptop.]

Centrum Café in Springfield was winding down. It was 8:35 P.M. on Sunday, July 26. A young woman dressed in black swept up crumbs in the café, while two other women made final preparations in the kitchen.

It was about 15 minutes since she said “thank you for coming” to the last customer, and it didn’t appear any others would come before closing time at 9. Before that, the place was dense with screech of children and the exchanges of the middle-aged and elderly. I briefly considered sending a Tweet about the children running wild, but resisted, deciding not to be a curmudgeon. “Frozen custard on Sunday,” I thought, and shook the idea off.

My laptop glowed in the dim cafe with the text of E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops.” Next to it was the remains of an Italian soda and a picked-at brownie. The brownie was a mixture of chocolate, nuts and coconut. It wasn’t very healthy, and wasn’t very tasty, but I chipped it away as not to be wasteful. I wasn’t going to finish it - I was near ready to leave and let the employees finish cleaning in peace.

A man with salt-and-peppered hair and moustache approached me. I recognized him from before; he sometimes wore what appeared to be a chef’s uniform when he was in the kitchen.

“Are you Matthew?”

I was surprised, but it felt like the good kind of surprise. Maybe he knew my writing. Maybe I had a fan. I didn’t know how he knew me, but became cheery in an instant.

“Yeah, that’s me! Matthew [last name].”

“I’ve seen your computer on our system. You’ve been downloading music and stealing financial records.”


“I have sensors all over this café, and they’ve been showing that you’ve been hacking into our computers and stealing financial records.”

“I… I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’ve just been reading here.”

He wasn’t an instrument of the law, and he didn’t have a search warrant, but I felt compelled to show this man who accused me of very serious things that what I was doing in his restaurant. I turned my laptop in his direction to show him the E.M. Forster story. It wasn’t the smartest thing to do. Perhaps it made him feel he had the right to look. Whatever the case, it only made him more curious.

“Were you on 90?”

“Was I on what?”

“Were you on 90?”

“I don’t know what that is. I’m using ‘Centrum Café.’ I just opened my laptop and it works.”

“Show me your network connections.”

My nerves were beginning to cave. I dabbed the pad on the black IBM Lenovo laptop, and my finger began to shake. My face was turning red. Was this guy about to call the police over something I didn’t do? Would they seize my laptop and scour through my personal data to conjure up some imaginary motive for a crime I didn’t commit? What did this guy want from me?

Fumbling through a few Windows Vista screens, I found the networks he was talking about. He asked me to connect to one of them, and I tried. The computer thought for a moment before giving up. I clicked on another one, and it prompted a security code, which for obvious reasons, I didn’t have. I shrugged as the screen asked for the code, and cancelled out. He didn’t back off.

“What are your hours?”

“Hours? Just… whenever?”

“What do you do?”

“What do I do? I’m… I’m unemployed. I’m a writer… I just come in here to read and write. That’s all.”

I grabbed the copy of Raymond Carver’s “Will You Please Be Quiet, Please,” and Hunter S. Thompson’s “The Rum Diaries,” in an effort to convince him that I was the reading and writing type, not the hacking and stealing type. I half expected him to want to look at my books, too, but he turned and began walking to the kitchen.

“Do it again, and I’ll bar you from the café,” he said over his shoulder.

“I’m just here to read,” I said, stuffing Carver, Thompson and my laptop into my bag.

I headed for the door, concerned that my haste might give the wrong impression. But I didn’t feel safe there any longer, so I didn’t hang around.

“Thank you for coming!” the girl said as the door shut behind me.

Update on 7:05 PM, July 28

Some readers, rightly so, have wondered about the security of the laptop that was used in the cafe. It is not out of possibility that a virus could, without the operator's knowledge, infiltrate a network and cause all sorts of issues. I consider myself a fairly safe user, reasonably aware of the symptoms of these viruses and the ways in which a computer can become infected. For one, I always use a firewall, and this Lenovo did come with a copy of Norton, which I used periodically. But to resolve this question with more certainty, I purchased from Best Buy a new, 2009 copy of Norton Internet Security, updated it after installing, restarted, and ran a full system scan. This is the result:

The Norton scan concluded that no viruses were found, with the only possible issues being some 48 tracking cookies.

Given this result, it being the first virus scan since the incident, I'm fairly confident that there were no viruses on this computer, and it presented no security threats to Centrum Cafe, or anyone else on that network.


Andy Einstein said...

Sensors all over the cafe? What does that mean? Was that guy the manager or owner? Sounds like a nutjob to me.

Matthew Ryan said...

I have no idea what he's referring to with the "sensors" comment. I wondered if I should have ask him to show me these sensors and what they're telling him, since he felt the need to snoop on my stuff. How do I know he wasn't intruding on my info? He already knew my name.

Not sure what his position was. Could be owner/manager. I just know he was extremely rude to a repeat, paying customer, who went on to write a story about the experience that anyone, anywhere can read.

Marie said...

Matthew, I'd sure love to know how he knew your name. Does your computer have a name? I never changed my computer's name from the time I got it, so it's something like 0a422201013678. Which makes me wonder if the guy would come up to me and say, "are you 0a422201013678?" Just thinking out loud.

In any event, I'm sorry this happened to you. I can just imagine how you felt when he first approached you and you had no idea what was to come.

Jordan Ronat said...

Matt, there is no such thing as a sensor that can detect what you are doing on the net. He may have packet sniffing software installed on a PC on the network. In that case he's seeing the data of every customer in the joint, and without some sort of waiver or ToS agreement, that is probably illegal. This guy doesn't really sound like the kind of guy who can utilize that software and know what you're doing in the time it takes someone to come in, enjoy themselves, and leave though. You should call BS on him and talk to the real owner, if he isn't it.

Matthew Ryan said...

Marie - when I set up the computer, I chose it to have my name as the administrator, and that's the way it appears to anyone taking a look at who's on a network. That information generally isn't hard to find, anyone with a wifi device in the same room could find the computer with my name. Probably yes, to the question.

Jordan - That business with "sensors" made it seem like he didn't know what he was talking about. There was no ToS to my knowledge. I was worried about packing sniffing or something illegal on his end, but like you say, if he's talking "sensors," he probably isn't capable.

Khürt said...

Mathew, since you are running your login account with full admin rights (a major security no no) is it possible your computer has some sort of malicious software? That man may have been correct in his accusation. Your computer could be running software that scanned his systems.

Anonymous said...

Since he is running Vista, UAC prevents an admin account from normally running with elevated permissions. Not that it is recommended, but it is safer than it was under XP. It makes it so you have to acknowledge something is going to be installed and prevents drive-by download/install threats.

Also, they could have wireless routers with monitoring/logging capabilities. But, he probably knows little about how to interpret what he thinks was happening.

Anonymous said...

What terrible customer service! I've never been to Centrum Cafe and after reading this don't think I'll bother checking it out.

Andy Einstein said...

People that use words like "sensors" and "system" usually want to sound tech savvy, but really don't have a clue. He probably also buys full screen DVDs.

bluefox864 said...

I agree with Jordan. As a techie (with a BS in Computer Science from UIS) I recommend calling that man's bluff. I assume that your computer login has your name and that is how your computer's name appeared on Centrum's network (which is how he knew your name), but I don't believe that guy knew exactly what he was talking about when he was accusing you. There could be a number of reasons why he felt he needed to personally attack you, but regardless, you should demand to speak with a general manager or owner about the situation. You did well to blog about it and share your story, but to truly rectify the matter take it up personally with someone with real power. This bogus act is just uncalled for.

Iggy said...

Interest how after I directly asked this business for comment through their Twitter account they still haven't bothered to share their side of the story. If they don't wish to have an open dialogue and address the issue I won't be doing business with them anymore. Why? Because that makes me think they have something to hide.

Jessica said...

I worked part time there last year for several months and have many stories.

First of all Dan claims to have cameras and sensors all over the place and he does not. He actually accused me of stealing money from the register. I tried to point out to him that it was probablly an issue with his registers software. The place was not very well run.He would run out of cash/change almost daily and just randomly dump money from his wallet into the register. He has an underlying layer of paranoia and tends to accuse his best workers of bad behaviors.

He also made many statements that he really only wants an older well to do clientel and not college kids or younger people in there.

Iggy said...

If that last part if true. Then he really located his business is a very bad place. Since he his right down the street from 2 major colleges. While I have never attended. My observation has been college kids tend to love free Wi-Fi & coffee.

Gaby said...

I think the guy you're talking about IS the owner. He always comes over and talks about how great his coffee is (which sucks, BTW.) We walk around the area a lot from a nearby neighborhood and I don't think they appreciate how we look when we walk a couple of miles and stop in for lunch or a drink. I guess we don't look like the right "type" of people when we sweat. The wife of the owner (I guess she's an owner, too) seems rather nice...

Ethiopianmomma said...

Its a little past six on a Saturday morning. My first time out and about without my young children in a long time. This Saturday is an important one. Momma needed it. Googled the opening time for Centrum Cafe and found your post. My husband and I have had a few experiences their that left us wondering if we liked the place. Guess if you have to wonder then probably lean towards side of caution and stay clear when its your only Saturday morning to get out, sip a mug of java, and work. Much appreciate your post, writing, and thoughts.

Anonymous said...

You ALL have no idea how bad The Centrum Cafe is ran. The owner (Dan) is a huge lier. Tells everyone he has all kinds of degrees and masters degrees. He has lived everywhere.
He does not pay his bills, he harrasses his employees, thats why there are always new ones. His wife is a total bitch, who will cornor you and talk to you for hours no matter how hard you try to get away.
I worked there for several months last year, never got paid on time, mine and many others pay checks bounced more than once. No appologies, and got mad at ME for wanting them to pay the fees. Accused everyone of steeling, and if a black person came in, both the owners made us watch them, cause they just knew they were casing the place, or going to steel from them.
I cannot believe they are still in business. Someone has to be giving them money, cause they spend much more then they ever bring in. I would bet they are on the brink of bankruptcy by now.
As for the WIFI. He has no sensors, he just thinks anyone who is in there for a long time on their computer is either downloading illegal movies, music, or porn. I actually saw him once try to take a guys computer away, telling him that his (the owner) "sensors" told him the guy was down loading gay porn. The guy was a minister, and was NOT even connected to the WIFI. The man was very mad, now, none of the people from his church ever came back to the cafe.

Ericka said...

If you want awesome coffee, go to grab-a-java :)

Caitlyn said...

I am a college student at UIS, and come in every so often. I always feel unwelcome when he is there, even more so when my ex-boyfriend, who is African-American, came with.

I have said multiple times that his prejudices are costing him a great deal of business. He should really be advertising to the college campuses and welcoming students like me. If he made the place a little more youth-friendly, and stopped being such a curmudgeon, I think we would make him a great deal of money.

Anonymous said...

I too am a former employee who never knew if the paycheck I received would be on time or even clear. When I started another employee told me to go to the bank and cash it don't put it in my account.
He scheduled me to work 12 hour shifts or longer 6am to 11pm being the longest. I never got breaks though. I put up with it because I needed the money. He told me once to wear make up to work.... I didn't. No one should go there.

Anonymous said...

dan higgins is out of business now,and I wounder if he got his back taxes paid, when you treat people like that you will get yours back, Its called k

Anonymous said...

The Sj-r said that Centrum Cafe went out of business due to medical reasons. Ummm No, I don't think so. I had formed my own opinion about Dan Higgins before stumbling upon this Blog and the reviews I found online just by typing in the business name. WOW! Maybe if he kept his nose out of other people's locally owned business and worried about his own affairs then the outcome would be different. On second thought, no it wouldn't! Sorry Danny Boy...KARMA is A B----!