Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Dining Solo

There have been times in my life that I've been called a loner. I don't think it's strictly true, mind you, but it's true here and there, in certain facets of who I am, and in particular chapters in my personal history. But it's not true in the main.

An event from my adolescence probably illustrates one of many origins of the 'loner' mystique. When I was growing up, my family liked to go to the local Bob's Big Boy, for the occasional meal on Sundays, after church. The five of us would be ushered into a booth, and we'd order under the watchful eye of our mother, who made sure we ordered what was nutritionally appropriate, given the menu choices. I loved Bob's Big Boy. But what I really wanted to do was have a meal there by myself. At the counter.

One day, sometime in the summer between the 7th and 8th grades, I asked permission to ride my bike to the restaurant to have lunch by myself. My mom checked to make sure that I had counted out enough of my allowance to buy a decent lunch, then made sure I understood that I needed to tip the waitress, and showed me how to calculate the tip.

And off I went. The restaurant was about a mile and a half from home, a fairly short ride on a bike. But even a short bike ride, in the summers of my hometown, can leave you red-faced and sweating -- which I was, when I arrived. I walked into the cool air of the restaurant, and felt almost chilled. The hostess looked a little uncertain about seating a 13 year-old kid all by herself, but stifled whatever misgivings she might have had, and asked me if I'd like to sit at a table or the counter. 'Oh, the counter,' I said, 'Please?' 

And there it was. A dream come true. I studied the menu, even though I already knew what I wanted, until the waitress arrived. I ordered a club sandwich, no mayo, with fries, and a glass of iced tea. The waitress took my order and whisked away my menu, and I pulled out my dog-eared copy of whichever Agatha Christie novel I was reading that week (I was obsessed with Agatha Christie murder mysteries at that age), found the page where I'd left off, and read my book until the food arrived. I'm sure the sandwich was no more special than before, but between the 'adult' experience of dining out alone, and my murder mystery, and cool, dark interior of the restaurant, it seemed like the best club sandwich ever made. 

35 years later, I still derive pleasure from dining alone. Don't get me wrong: I also love to connect with a friend over a meal. There's something lovely and intimate about having tête-à-tête over good food and a bottle of wine with a good friend, discussing the big questions of the universe or just the minutiae of your day. But sometimes, the best meals are solo, seated at the counter, or in a small banquette, allowing yourself to be fussed over slightly by the waitstaff, working your way through a few chapters of a good book, interspersed with discreet people-watching. I suppose, after all these years, my love of a good restaurant meal, sans companion, has bolstered the idea that I am somehow very solitary. It's still not true. I'm not that solitary. But it is true that I choose my companions wisely, even in breaking bread, and barring really good company, I'd prefer to dine solo. 


  1. I too enjoy eating alone and I too do not understand why most people assume we WANT company all the time and are FLABBERGASTED when they realize we CHOOSE to be alone. GREAT READ JEN!!!!


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