I travel a lot of for work — not as much as some people (like my dad did), but often enough. usually I like it — I like the quiet time in my head, the time to read, getting to see other places and far-flung friends in other cities, taking in as much as I can.
But there are downsides, too. It’s hard on you — different time zones, jet-lag, travels aches and woes, discombobulation, adrenalin from meetings and presentations that dissolves into exhaustion, and especially loneliness. I always miss my husband when I’m gone, wishing he were with me and can see these places. It’s an odd feeling knowing some of these spots so well because I’m here so often, yet my husband has never seen them and some things are so banal that I wouldn’t even think to tell him — like the golden building on Briley Parkway in Nashville or the old Birmingham Apothecary across the street from my hotel in Alabama. He’s never seen them, yet they are wholly familiar to me. It’s strange.
And one of my biggest challenges on these trips is dinner — rather, going to dinner alone. I have no problem with lunch, but dinner somehow seems tougher. It’s not so much that I mind eating alone — I enjoy sitting with a book, and cell phones do keep you distracted now. And I don’t really have qualms about anyone thinking I’m a loser — I don’t care about sitting alone. (I’m hardly the “lonely lady at the bar” type.) I do admit that when I eat alone I feel a little self-conscious — there’s no conversational padding, and time goes by much more slowly. It’s a little conspicuous, a middle-aged lady eating by herself, but one of the joys of middle-age is being able to say, “F** that.”
But that’s not the problem — the problem is talking myself into getting out of my hotel room and finding somewhere to eat. It’s the motivation of getting out and going somewhere alone for dinner is tough. I procrastinate a bit, and have to figure out where to go and how to get there — it’s not perfectly natural like it is at home. (Even then it can be tough.) I don’t ever choose anything overly hip or expensive or fancy — I like just going somewhere plain, where a solo diner can blend in. And then I have to make myself get up and get out. Which is the hardest part of all, because I psych myself out AND I’m lazy.
Yet nearly every time I do (which is pretty much every trip — I gotta eat, after all), I wind up having a great time and a lovely experience. Waiters and waitresses are so much kinder when you’re alone, and you wind up drinking in so much more of your surroundings when you’re not talking to a dinner companion. People watching is great, and it may be rude, but I’ve been reading and eating since I was little, and it is truly one of my great pleasures in life.
Tonight was no exception. I was hungry, but wasn’t in the mood to go anywhere. Normally in Nashville I see friends, but this time I didn’t make any plans, content to burrow a bit with some books after the recent stressful month or so, and the faster pace of New York. But 6 o’clock rolled around and I was hungry and tired and as much as Room Service sounded good in theory, it NEVER is. And I couldn’t help but want to get out a bit — I’d regret not doing anything later — and why deprive myself of one of my favorite restaurants, The Loveless Cafe? So I decided to just go all by myself.
I’ve been there many times now (thanks to my friend Heather who met me there years ago, and I’m forever grateful), with friends and having breakfast alone. I wasn’t so sure about dinner — it can get crowded — but by the time I got there I was so pleased with myself for making myself go that I didn’t care if I had to wait. And I didn’t — they gave me a nice table right away, and the waiter was super sweet and friendly and gave me extra biscuits and a lemon for my water because we agreed that I should be “fancy.”
And I ate a fried chicken salad and hash brown casserole (which I could every single day, ohmigawd) and read my book (and even cried in one part) and texted my friend (with whom I ate there last) and checked in on Facebook and had an absolutely wonderful time. Biscuits, book and bliss. Sigh. I even got a picture of the sign at night!
And then driving back on Natchez Trace the radio station was playing a live concert of Jeff Beck playing rockabilly, which when they announced it I thought it would be terrible, but it was actually terrific and fun and perfect for that drive.
So after having a crappy day yesterday, just getting up and getting out made all the difference. I’m glad I did… And I hope I remember this for next time, and I won’t have to psych myself out so much!
Also, if you’re ever in Nashville, do NOT miss The Loveless Cafe. It is a treasure! Check it out here.
Man, I miss that place! I wish I could still go there with you when you’re in town!
Love this little essay. It was like taking a trip myself. Ahh!