I’ve been on a road trip this week to Fort Walton Beach, Florida. My son is playing in a baseball tournament. I’m flying solo. The rest of my clan stayed home in Kentucky. I haven’t seen a whole lot of my son down here, except for his games and when he needs some cash. In the name of team-building, the players stay together and ride a bus to and from their games. The result is that I’ve had a lot of “me” time, which suits me to a tee.
I’ve been eating my meals solo, too. Yeah, I’m that guy, the pathetic fellow dining alone. I know this conjurs up images of a serial killer sitting in his tool shed eating gruel from a human skull. It doesn’t? Okay, maybe I’m the only one who thinks about that, but that’s for another blog. I’m quite accustomed to dining out alone. I travel a fair amount for work, and it’s usually solo. This time, it’s different. I’m actually on vacation and eating out among the vacationers. They don’t eat alone. But, I do. Here are a few of my observations from this week.
Where to Sit
Would you like to sit at the bar? I’m always asked this, and I think I know why. If you sit at the bar, it’s not obvious to the rest of the diners that you’re alone. You won’t trouble them by looking like a disturbed loner. Also, if you eat alone, I suppose there’s a more than fair chance you have a drinking problem. Sitting you within arm’s length of gallons of alcohol is just good business.
I don’t sit at the bar. Why not? First, I don’t drink, so I don’t need access to the bar. Second, the few times I’ve eaten at a bar, I invariably will be seated next to a talkative drunk. Mind you now, even though I don’t drink, I have no problem with those that do. Unfortunately, I don’t like making conversation with strangers or listening to some slurred discourse on topics in which I have no interest. I know now why people avoided me when I drank.
The exception to sitting at a bar is Waffle House, the poor man’s Cracker Barrel. Okay, it’s not a bar. It’s a counter, but it’s the same basic set-up. You eat beside someone you don’t know and, being Waffle House, he may well be drunk. I’m okay with it, because it fits the ambiance of Waffle House. I can also watch them prepare my meal. It’s like sitting in someone’s kitchen. Now,the cooking utensils seem really nasty, but they’re not. Waffle Houses usually have good health department grades. Who cares if the cook’s flop sweat occasionally drips into your scrambled eggs? The food’s good and cheap. Down here in Florida, I’ve eaten breakfast at Waffle House every day. Bacon, egg and cheese wrap; side of grits; coffee; and water for $7.95. Good eats.
I should also note that I do not include fast food restaurants and Cracker Barrel as dining alone, because they are set up that. No one cares if you eat alone at a fast food restaurant. People are there to get something quick with the assurance that they know how it tastes. Cracker Barrel has really good food, and I’ve eaten alone at many of them. It’s no big deal. They cater to travelers, many of whom are by themselves. It’s not a big deal to go solo for a stack of pancakes at 2:00 in the afternoon.
This week has been different. I’ve been to several sit-down restaurants alone. I usually have a copy of USA Today and my reading glasses hanging from the front of my shirt. I prefer a booth. Why? I don’t know. It just seems a little more private, plus the tables usually give me more room to spread out my paper. It also seems like fewer people are looking at me. They DO look at me, you know. All of them.
Dining alone, I never seem to have a problem with service. It’s odd, because one would think that a large table of customers–and potential tippers–would merit the most attention. Not so. I get checked on all the time. I think it’s because I seem pitiful. Look at that poor man who has no friends. We should be nice to him. I like that. Coffee and water always topped off. I never have to wait long for my check. It’s like they opened the restaurant up just for me.
Who are these people?
Of course, I’m not the only one. There’s always someone else eating by himself. I say “himself,” because it’s almost always a man. Even though I am doing the same, I can’t help but think: What’s the deal with that guy? Does everyone hate him? Probably. Poor, pathetic bastard. Glad I’m not him.
My reaction is similar to the rare occasion when I encounter the Day People. You know them. They’re the folks out doing stuff like shopping and washing their cars during the day. I always wonder why they’re not at work. It’s none of my business, so I never ask. When I get to the age where I can say anything, I’ll ask: “What are you doing out during the day? Don’t you have a job, hippie?” Something like that. Again, I digress.
I’m sure these folks look at me the same way and ask the same questions. I’m just a guy eating dinner alone. I refuse to order room service or eating crappy fast food just because I’m alone. Now, leave me alone.
Where do I go?
I’m sure you’re curious about where I’ve eaten this week, so I’ll tell you.
Waffle House: See comments above. It’s Waffle House. It’s consistent. And I always like it.
BD Pizzeria: I just ate at this place because it was convenient. Pizza buffet for $6.99. Nothing special.
Bridge Street BBQ and Cafe: I just saw this place while out scouting around. Kinda of a dump, but it looked like my kind of place. I was surprised when I went inside. It was nice, clean and looked like someone’s home. My waitress was about 70, and I’m sure she must be one of the owners. She was extremely nice. I had BBQ pork, green beans and mashed potatoes. It was nothing special. The pork was inexplicable chopped into chunks but was pretty good nonetheless. The beans and potatoes were of the cafeteria variety. That said, I really liked the lady who waited on me. There were only a couple of other folks in there. One guy was clearly drunk and just wanted to use the phone to call a cab. Of course, they let him. The other guy is pictured below:
Anglers: This is a seafood restaurant overlooking the Gulf. I had bacon-wrapped shrimp stuffed with crab; garlic mashed potatoes; and green beans. It was all outstanding but a little too pricey for what I got.
Mary’s Kitchen: I picked this place because it had a smoker out back. I ordered the BBQ chicken/pulled pork dinner with black eyed peas and cheese grits. The pork and chicken were as good as it gets, and I’ve eaten a lot of BBQ. The grits were the only thing lacking. They tasted like they had melted Velveeta in them. Nevertheless, I’d recommend this place to anyone. Excellent.
Old Bay Steamer: I got the one-person steamer: Snow crab legs; mussels; clams; shrimp; oysters; corn on the cob; and new potatoes. This was a home run. Everything was great. Ronnie the Waiter (who bore a disquieting resemblance to rapper Paul Wall) practically hovered over my table. My water glass was topped off repeatedly. Good service and great food.
I’ve got a couple of nights left. I’m thinking about steak for tonight. I might go to Ruths Chris in Destin. I’m pretty sure Waffle House doesn’t have a steak, but it might. Wherever I go, it will just be me. And that’s okay.