A friend of mine just got back from Chicago, and when I asked her where she ate, she said that she ordered room service and just stayed in the hotel. The reason was that she didn’t like to eat by herself.
I’m like many people in that I can feel uncomfortable when I eat at a restaurant by myself — particularly when I do it in my home of Raleigh. When I’m on the road, however, I’ve long gotten over the insecurities of solo dining. I explore new places. I take the time to get to know a restaurant, chatting with the waitstaff or bartenders.
Here in Raleigh, however, I’m much less likely to go out by myself. Part of that is that I usually can find someone to go with me, whether it’s a family member, a co-worker, or a friend. Another part is that I’m insecure enough that I don’t really want to be “caught” eating alone by someone I know. It does sort of look pathetic, but again, that’s my own insecurities shining through. If I don’t have a lunch date, I usually go home, as I have the luxury of living 4 minutes from my office.
Every once in awhile, I want to go out to eat, and just like Greta Garbo, I want to be left alone. I’m seeking solitude. When I do this, I have a routine, a routine of guilty pleasures. First, I pick up a USA Today at the convenience store. I know that USA Today is hardly a journalistic masterpiece — it’s mostly fluff, and that’s what I want. I then continue to my restaurant of choice, the decidedly un-foodie Neo-China on Glenwood Avenue. I order the same thing every time: Sha Cha Chicken, medium spicy, steamed brown rice, no eggroll and two hot and sour soups. Water, please. I spread out my paper and start into my soup. I crumble the full allotment of crunchy noodles in my soups, and I don’t care how unhealthy it is. I’m in my own world, where I forget about the office, the soccer games, and contemporary gastronomic concerns. I don’t worry about whether the food I’m eating is hip or exciting. This is all about me and my comfort. And as awful as it sounds, my only concern is that someone I know will show up and ask if they can join me. I love company, and my favorite thing in the world is dining with others, but sometimes, rarely, I just want my own space, my own food, my paper, and no rules. Selfish? Guilty as charged, but that’s all right with me.