Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What's Your Story?

Last night I had the luxury of doing something after work that I rarely get a chance to do, have dinner out by myself. When I was young (and stupid) I used to think “Only losers go out to eat alone”. The older I have gotten, the more I realize “Only winners go out to eat alone.” The hubs and kids were gone for the evening and I didn’t have a sporting event to rush to, so I had the whole evening to myself. While I seriously fought the urge to make a beeline home to get in my PJs, fold laundry, and catch up on DVR, I decided I wanted to feel like a winner instead. I was even considering going a bit buck wild and catching a movie solo.

“One, please” to the hostess, who looked around me to make sure I wasn’t kidding and there was not someone else with me. “Would you like to sit at the bar?” she asked. I thought to myself “Does a bear sh*t in the woods?” but instead said out loud, “Yes, thank you.”I scoped out possible seating options. There was a group of ladies having a drink after work who seemed to be having a great time. And there were other random people sitting solo, grabbing a bite after a hard day of whatever it is they do from 8 to 5. I found my spot just on the corner, close enough to the ladies so I could eavesdrop and laugh too, far enough away from the single men who were probably harmless, but I was there for Kung Pao Chicken, not a man.

The bartender politely asked me if I wanted a water or sweet tea. I smiled and gently declined countering with a vodka tonic, extra lime. “Wellllll, it’s been one of those days, huh?” he said, jokingly. Unbeknownst to him, if I had an after work cocktail after every stressful day, I probably wouldn’t be gainfully employed and I’d be in rehab somewhere. I smiled with no response as it wasn’t even worth the breath to explain my situation which was nothing more than just “I felt like a having drink”. I placed my dinner order and found myself immediately enthralled in a rerun of Monday Night Football on the bar television. A gentleman came up and grabbed a seat next to me, there to pick up his take out order. “I’ll have a Mai Tai, too please”. His order was ready, yet he sat sipping his drink diligently, his food getting cold in the bag, staring at his iPhone like it was about to reveal the answer to end world peace. I was curious.

The hubby and I have this game we play when we travel together. It’s called “What’s their story?” Basically we people watch, mostly in airports, and come up with stories about the travelers around us. It’s actually pretty entertaining as we’re probably making their lives so much more exciting than they really are or we’re not giving them enough credit and they are international spies. Either way, it’s always fun to wonder “What’s their story?” I mean, I could’ve simply asked the gentleman sitting beside me, but he was intent on his phone, kind of like that person at the gym who puts in their earbuds as you jump on the treadmill right next to them. That’s the international sign for “Don’t bother me”. So I didn’t bug the guy. Instead I just started working on his story in my mind. Then it hit me, wonder what people think when they see me? I am sitting at a bar solo in capris, a blouse, and flats with my hair in a ponytail. I am fairly certain, by my attire, they would never guess I work in construction.  I am equally as certain that most would guess I am a mom due to the fact that a sucked down my cocktail in less than a minute. That, plus if they were stalking me in the parking lot, I pulled up in a minivan.

The gentleman next to me finished his Mai Tai, grabbed his cold take out, and hit the road. The group of ladies next to me disassembled, each going their own way except for one who decided to order dinner to go at the bar. She was chatty with the bartenders, dressed to the nines, not a hair out of place, manicured nails, and heels that made my feet hurt just looking at them. She was very put together, in her late 40’s/early 50’s, friendly and well spoken. I conjured up the story that she was in marketing, frequented this restaurant often (as they knew her by name), and has grown children. I had no grounds for the “children” assumption. I was merely hoping she was a mom and there was hope for me that I could be that put together and well-spoken in another decade. Let’s face it, I’m not even that put together and well-spoken at 41, but whatever. I came to a few conclusions after playing “What’s their story?” Bartenders have the best vantage point for this game. It is more fun paying attention to your surroundings than your smartphone. And people are amazing, in a good way. We all need to pay more attention.

I sat at the bar for an hour, taking it all in. I had nothing but all the time in the world to sit back and forget about my own piddly life, chatting it up with the bartenders, exchanging friendly banter with the patrons sitting nearby. It was nice not to have to be anywhere. It was nice having a night out by myself. Without urgency (a rarity), I paid my bill and headed home to an empty and quiet house, opting out of the movie, because I wasn’t quite in the mood for taking my wild night to the next level.

In the hour and a half I was away from home, I could’ve easily finished my laundry, emptied the dishwasher, or paid some bills in peace and quiet. I could have been so productive at home, but, for once, I chose not to. And I chose wisely. I can’t say that anything spectacular happened last night while I sat at the bar. No one handed me a winning lottery ticket. I didn’t run into a long lost childhood best friend, nor did I meet a huge celebrity. What did happen was I took a much-needed night for me. I didn’t realize how much I needed it until I began to decompress and take a look around. We all rush through life so caught up in ourselves we forget to stop and appreciate the simplicity of life’s perspectives. Many people may still think eating alone is for losers. I consider it a mini-vacation; an hour long hiatus from chaos, from demands, from work, from stress, from kids, from spouses, from reality. It isn’t something I would ever care to do on a regular basis because I much prefer the company of my family and friends. Not to mention, I would lose the appreciation I have for it being such a rare treat. Once in a blue moon is refreshing and a reminder that people are amazing with their own stories, real and make believe. As boring as mine is to type out loud, I cherish it, because it’s mine. And for those strangers who happened to see me out last night, I really hope you did me proud in your own game of “What’s her story?” Because what a serious let down if you knew I was just a tired working mama, who wanted a drink and some Kung Pao Chicken.