Location: Asheville, North Carolina
Being on the road as much as I am means eating a lot of meals alone. I really don’t mind that fact because it turns out I rarely eat a meal in solitary silence, even if I entered the restaurant asking for a table for one. I am sure this will not come as a surprise to anyone who knows me. And I don’t mind those meals where I truly am alone because I enjoy peoplewatching and shamelessly eavesdropping on the tables around me. (I once sat next to two women who were having the most fascinating conversation about their favorite works of literature and art. When I left, I thanked them for elevating the discourse of my eavesdropping. They laughed and told me I should have chimed in and I replied that it took every ounce of willpower not to do so, especially when they were discussing Pride and Prejudice, my all-time favorite book!)
Another reason I make friends on the road when dining alone is the advent of the commuter table and kitchen bar seating. (I am not one for sitting at a traditional bar, mainly because I don’t drink and I suspect my diet coke refills would distress the bartender.) Chatting with your seatmates at a communal table or bar is part of the charm of sitting there and I love meeting people and hearing their stories. For the course of a meal, you are able to strike up an immediate friendship that reinforces the simple joy of human connection.
On my way through Asheville to give some talks in Western Carolina and Tennessee and Georgia, I again popped into Curate. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I could probably have done the drive in a straight shoot the following day, but I knew breaking it up would mean another opportunity to dine at Curate and indulge in octopus again!) I sat at the kitchen bar, where conversation with one’s fellow patrons is not even needed because the culinary preparations going on in front of you are entertaining enough. But I happened to be sitting next to Kim, who was celebrating the end of a drawn-out divorce with a weekend getaway, and Beverly, who recently moved to Tennessee from Pennsylvania. We chatted, offered each other tastes of our dishes, and had that immediate camaraderie that a shared experience of good food inspires.
Friendships come in so many different shapes and sizes. I have a small circle of truly close friends, some of whom I have known for decades. I have friends whom I rarely get to see but we can span the time and miles that separate us with ease. And then there are the friends whom I meet on a plane or in a restaurant, who offered companionship and kindness for the brief time we overlapped. We may or may not keep in touch, but I am always open to meeting new people, hearing their stories and sharing mine. That, to me, is what keeps life so very interesting and my travels so enjoyable.