The luxury of travelling solo is profound and one that I am extremely privileged to enjoy. In fact the pleasure begins with the first google search (wearing carefully aged pajamas). I love sitting and planning a detailed itinerary designed to fit my likes with the great comfort of knowing that I could toss the plan to the wind and wing it depending on my mood at a particular time and place.
But there is one aspect of solo travel that discomfits me: Dining solo. Don’t get me wrong, give me a screen or a book and I’m perfectly happy burying my face so I don’t have to handle awkward eye-contact. But what happens when you accidentally end up sans phone or sans reading material?
That’s how I found myself one fine afternoon in New York. My phone and portable charger had unceremoniously died and in a serious error of judgement I’d left my book behind. So, tired and hungry, I was trudging down Fifth Avenue, unable to use the interwebs to find a good lunch option near me when I noticed a line forming in front of a discrete looking restaurant front. I’ve always been a fan of following the locals and that’s how I found Katsu-Hama. Skipping the line for pick-up, I walked into the restaurant hoping that the dim lighting might obscure my disheveled state.
A friendly server walked me in and while there was a crowd at the window, the restaurant itself was nearly empty with only two other diners. I apologetically handed over my phone to the server asking if he could place it at a charging station, and poured over the menu (great food at great prices). Order placed, menu whisked away, temporarily separated from my phone, I looked up and realized I didn’t know what to do with myself. I hate to labour the point, but no phone, no book, no window to people watch from…
The only person I could watch was a lady sitting across the room from me. In complete contrast to my minor millennial meltdown, she looked perfectly comfortable with her own company. She sat with her back straight, yet her demeanor was relaxed. She worked her way through her meal unhurriedly, made discrete small-talk with the serving staff in a manner that suggested she might have been a regular, and ordered herself some jasmine tea to top off her meal. As I watched her, my own twitchy-ness drained out. I slumped comfortably onto the padded screen of my booth, pulled out a mud-stained copy of Central Park that a helpful gardener had given me and began to jot down the skeleton of this blog post on the edges. I doubt I’ll ever be as present in the moment with my fellow diner, if my phone’s near me I cannot promise I won’t reach for it, I can’t guarantee that if I catch someone’s eye while spooning a wonky piece of fish into my mouth I won’t feel awkward, but I’m glad that for two hours that afternoon, I worked my way through my meal at a leisurely pace, looking for shapes in the wallpaper.