Travel Writer Tip 152 – “How to eat dinner alone in a restaurant, while sitting front-and-center to an audience of 20 people standing in the rain waiting for tables and not look like a total jackhole”
I got some quick on-the-job-training in this arena on my final night in Florence.
To start, eating alone is almost never sexy, unless the Polish waitress is blatantly hitting on you, then it’s better than eating with your best friend, your mom and a drunken, absentminded lottery winner all at the same time.
Eating alone once or twice a week is doable, but when you get to five times or more in a week, you start to feel like a radioactive leper, no matter how many Lonely Planet groupies read your blog (unless those groupies picked up a copy of Europe on a Shoestring 5, featuring an infuriatingly inconvenient typo in my bio, in which case they’ll be Googling one “Leif Petterson” and wondering why they can’t find any pictures of my spectacular booty).
The only time you’re truly free of the Eating Alone Wretched Self-Consciousness is when you’re half-blind and brain dead from spending the entire day in front of your laptop and stacks of books, maps and notes, designing your LP Tuscan research itinerary, then sitting there and having to do nothing but stare into space is actually quite pleasant.
Apart from the self-consciousness, the main problem is that the people standing in the rain, while you try to enjoy yourself (or wait for the very, very slow check to arrive), have no idea that you’re a famous travel writer, with literally tens of rabid fans, who is just hours away from departing on a research trip to update the Tuscany and Italy guidebooks that many of them have in their bags at that very moment. No sir, they’ve got loads of time on their hands, which they use productively, developing all kinds of mean-spirited explanations about why you’re alone; the psychotic loser, with bad breath and ingrown toenails, taking up a table-for-four out of spite for people with friends, probably because he has Lazy Sphincter Syndrome, and maybe he chews with his mouth open, while they, popular and deserving, stand hungry, soaking wet and (I like to think) secretly pissed off that they’re not famous travel writers.
So, for you travel writers out there who suffer similarly, here’s a few things you can do to broadcast the fact that you’re not eating alone because you’re friendless and can’t find a girl to accompany you because you smell like tuna, coffee and wet dog all at once (or you’re a Las Vegas food critic):
1. Make it look like you’re reviewing the restaurant. Take copious notes on your Palm Pilot (read: play solitaire) during the meal. Make pronounced faces and medium-loud noises while you eat the food, indicating that you really like or dislike whatever it is then pretend to furiously type more notes (read: check email with your WiFi connection). Don’t forget to make giant bug-eyes and nod approvingly when something is good or frown and shake your head gravely when something is terrible. If you think you’re losing your audience, enliven the Bad Food Moments by faking a dry heave. Gets ’em every time. Finally, to cover for drinking four glasses of wine, do all that stuff you learned about wine tasting from watching “Sideways” five times.
2. Take several pretend cell phone calls. If you have the means, switch languages every other call. At least one call should be from your agent when you rave that you’ll pull the plug on your bio-pic if they try to cast Tom Cruise in the leading role.
3. If you happen to be the author who wrote the last edition of the local guidebook, initiate a “spontaneous” celebrity sighting for those waiting by taking out the guidebook, making a big show of annotating the text, then turning to your author bio page, propping it open on the table, (maybe circle your bio with a fat magic marker for the slow people) and then shining a spotlight or candle or whatever’s available on the page. Then it’s just a matter of waiting for the autograph seekers to fall all over you.
4. Wear something preposterously weird like a derby or a fly-fishing vest, complete with tackle and bait, or a feather boa. Everyone knows that only writers (and NBA players) are eccentric enough to pull that kinda thing off.
That’s all for this week. If you’re wondering how Tuscany is going, for now I’ll tell you that the weather is good, the food is great and that in Italy “No Parking” actually means “Well, OK, you can park here, but only for 10 hours, and only if you leave your car a little askew, so that it’s difficult, but not impossible to drive by, otherwise we’re gonna… Heyyyy beautiful, where are you going? Wanna go for a ride in my cruiser?.”