A few nights ago I was in the square in Santa Fe, killing time before my dinner reservation. I overestimated my shopping time and had 45 minutes to kill before my reservation. I’ve spent many a morning or afternoon finding my way through the countless shops and galleries in Santa Fe and have always enjoyed the thrill of the hunt, but on this latest visit, it seemed that every shop had a whole lot of what I already owned, so after wandering through a few galleries and getting dreamy eyed about the antique rugs or paintings with price tags that had too many digits, the shopping didn’t hold my attention, I went inside the courtyard where the outdoor tables for Casa Sena were and saw three people seated at the bar. Bars are always a good spot to land because bartenders are usually more than happy to chat or lend an ear. I set my things down and took a stool in the center of the bar and ordered a club soda. When the woman seated at the end of the bar, three stools down, heard my order, she turned in my direction and said in a loud and bossy voice,
“Froze! (as in frozen rose)… you have to get one of these. Not a club soda, Carla, get her a froze!”
I noticed the almost empty glass of frozen rose in front of her and two empty glasses lined up next to it. Maybe the bartender hadn’t removed them as she was using them to keep count. She later told me that three drinks were the limit without food and five with food. I wasn’t sure if that was their restaurant rules or Santa Fe rules, but it looked like they were being enforced.
“No, I’m good. It’s too hot out right now for alcohol. Club soda’s fine.”
She readjusted herself on her barstool so she was facing me and told me her name, which I immediately forgot and told me the couple’s names of who were at the other end of the bar, along with Carla, the bartender. I followed with my quick introduction, as I didn’t really want to get involved in conversation with her. Some situations are easy to sniff out and you instinctively know to stay clear. I was perfectly content chatting with the bartender or just keeping to myself, but the anchor at the end of the bar had other ideas.
“Carla, get her a frose.”
“Maria,” the bartender said. “My name’s Maria! I don’t know why you keep calling me Carla.”
The lady whose name I immediately forgot ignored Maria and leaned towards me and said,
“I bet you’re a writer. You look like a writer.”
OK, annoying as she was, now she had my attention, even though I still wasn’t interested in engaging in a conversation with her.
“I am,” I answered, “and that’s interesting you’d say that.”
i already knew I had said too much when she started leaning towards me even more. She said something about the couple at the other end of the bar, who just gave a nod and I could tell they were also trying to keep their distance and were likely grateful that I had moved into the spot closer to the getting drunk on frozen rose woman.
She asked questions and I gave one word answers, trying my best to subtly let her know I wasn’t interested in engaging in conversation. She didn’t take the hint.
“Where are you from? I’m supposed to be meeting a man here but he didn’t show up. I’m 60, he’s 45. Do you think that’s strange? Good or bad? Carla! I think Laurie needs a froze! Are you staying here? I’m not from here. I live outside of Denver, but I’ve lived everywhere. My husband was in the military.”
“It’s MARIA, not Carla,” Maria the bartender said, then glanced over to me and shook her head.
The one sided conversation continued with me answering only when I had to. She became more and more persistent and given that I didn’t want to be rude, I gave short answers and no eye contact, but it didn’t seem to be slowing her down. After I finished my drink, I went over to the hostess stand and asked if I could be seated. She told me they had staffing issues and wouldn’t be able to seat me until my reservation time – in 15 minutes.
“You don’t have to do anything.. just give me a glass of water and I’ll wait at the table.”
She looked confused.
I continued, “I’m trying to get away from the woman at the end of the bar.”
“Oh… of course. Maria told me she had to cut her off and she didn’t seem very happy about it. She told me not to worry, they’d find me a table and she then led me to a table that was as far away from the bar as possible. As soon as I was seated, the woman , who in my mind I’m now calling “Flo,” approached my table, seeming much more drunk to me now that she was upright.
“How come you’re sitting here all by yourself? Are you waiting for someone?”
“No, I’m by myself.” This was all information I had told her earlier.
She nodded with a string look of concern on her face then asked,
“Do you want me to join you? It seems so sad that you’re going to be eating alone. I’m an extrovert. I would never eat alone.”
“No, I don’t. I’m fine. Actually, I like eating alone. And I’m also an extrovert.”
I picked up the menu and started scanning my options while trying to give her the message to leave me alone, which clearly wasn’t working.
“Are you sure? You’re just sitting her all alone… and….well it seems….
I interrupted her, “Yes. I want to eat alone. I like eating alone. Have a nice evening.” And I went back to my menu reading, watching her out of the corner of my eye. She stood next to the empty chair at my table for at least a minute, rocking back from one foot to the other, then left. My waitress showed up right behind her.
“We’re so sorry… the bartender cut her off but she doesn’t seem to want to leave,” the waitress told me apologetically.
“No worries,” I said, then placed my order and enjoyed a lovely dinner but the drunk frozen rose, Flo, said something that I would subconsciously tuck away. That subconscious thought would resurface the next night when I decided to dine at the lodge. As usual, I arrived for my reservation 20 minutes early so went to the bar and ordered an aperol spritz because it seems like the thing to do these days. During my 15 minutes of sitting, I was asked by the bartender, two waiters and the hostess if I was waiting for someone. The hostess, who I had said earlier that I wanted a table for one, said she was ready to seat me but had the other person in my party arrived? When I said no, there wasn’t another half to my party and it was just me, Flo’s words entered my mind…”it just seems kinda sad…”. Everyone but me seemed to be concerned about the missing person at my table for one. I regretted that I added the “just” before “me.” It sounded apologetic and I wasn’t. As I was being led to my table, I couldn’t help but scan every visible table in the room and a few on the patio for a head count. I confirmed what I was already pretty sure of — I was the only table for one. Even at the bar everyone was paired off. I sat at my table, suddenly aware of an awkwardness I was feeling that hadn’t been an issue when I sat at almost the same table two nights ago. But it was drunk Flo that put these ideas of “aren’t you sad, don’t you want someone to eat with you?” into my head.
I’ve done a lot of things that I now look back on as a scary and by myself — hiking to the top of 5 14’er mountains in Colorado, flying to Guana to volunteer on my own when my friend who was supposed to go with me ended up sick in Atlanta and driving from Boulder to western Massachusetts to see my sister during Covid. I could go on, but now, I wonder if dining alone should be added to my list? I didn’t feel sad, much to Flo’s dismay, I’m sure, to be led to a table for only me, but have to admit, watching the hostess scoop up the extra place setting, almost like she was trying to do it so fast that I won’t notice, gave the dinner for one an awkwardness that I hadn’t thought of before. Flo had me overthinking the whole “dining solo” concept, or doing anything alone, which also concerned Flo, but it was exactly what she was doing given that her date had stood her up.
As I was leaving the restaurant, there was a man, probably about my age setting up scaffolding for an art show next to the pool. It was going to be projected onto the water and although he explained what he was doing, I had no idea what he was talking about. We had a nice chat though and he invited me to the show but I told him I was leaving the next day.
“No. Driving. With some stops along the way, not exactly sure but probably Taos and eventually Boulder.”
“Oh, kind of like a Jack Kerouac, on the road, trip?”
“Well not really but I appreciate the comparison.”
“Are you by yourself?”
I didn’t think so, but I had dined alone and that act was starting to sound brave to me, but I decided not to share that with him.
“Have a good trip, ‘on the road,’ and be careful.”
I smiled, wondering how I’d live up to the ‘on the road’ name as well as the brave comment. Brave? Hardly. I have a cell phone, AAA road insurance and a car that’s in good shape. Brave is when you have none of those and are in a country whose language you do not speak and you don’t know where you’ll be sleeping after dinner, which now has you concerned having downed all the water that has been poured for you as well as eaten the lettuce garnish. That’s brave. Maybe dining alone is also brave, but I’m still thinking about that one as it seems too easy. I guess we all have our own version of bravery.
I used to think it was brave to bring three kids under the age of four into a restaurant, which I did many times solo, and is also probably where I developed the bad habit of eating so quickly. But a road trip with a few stops, hardly. So along with the notion of dining alone being sad according to Flo, now I had artist Jack’s words about bravery to contemplate (my made up name, short for Jack Kerouac of course). His words hold more weight than Flo’s and they were delivered to me sober.
At breakfast the next morning, I asked for a table for one, eliminating the “just,” but breakfast isn’t the same as dinner. I wasn’t alone with my table for one. In fact, I’d say the majority in the lodge coffee shop were tables set for one, with lap tops as their dates. I couldn’t help but think about Flo’s words “but you look so sad.” No one looked sad. They all looked happy to be left alone.
Flo’s words returned to me while dining alone, again, in Taos the next day, now comfortable with dropping the apologetic “just” at the hostess stand. Flo was wrong. Flo was also drunk. It doesn’t feel sad or lonely or conspicuous to me to be solo in restaurants. In fact, it makes me feel brave and brave makes me sit up a little straighter in my chair and ask the waiter what their top shelf gin is. Not that I’m a gin drinker, but it sounds confident — like something a brave person eating alone would ask.