Dispatch is a series of first-person stories from the road. Readers can share their experiences, from the sublime to the strange.
The welcome I receive in a hotel lounge or restaurant goes a long way to ameliorating my single woman travel angst.
On one of my recent trips to San Francisco, every evening I would walk up the steep streets to my hotel on Nob Hill, my umbrella inverting in the winds off the bay, and then happily ensconce myself in the hotel lounge. Eschewing the common ploy of staring at my cellphone, I would contentedly look around the busy restaurant. The waiters and bus people welcomed me by name each evening and genuinely seemed pleased to see me. After a week of this routine, I thought that maybe I was starting to look too desperate for the crumbs of companionship on offer from the wait staff and decided to try a popular local fine-dining restaurant.
It was late and I was really hungry, and I'd heard the Top of the Mark was renowned for its city views. So I stopped in. The greeting staff were a bit hesitant when I said I was by myself, and seated me in a far off, empty, windowless corner. After 20 minutes of wistfully witnessing the camaraderie at the bar across the room, the waitress finally showed up. I asked to move because I felt isolated and I wanted a view. The startled host returned and led me to the opposite corner with vista views of city lights going on forever.
Galvanized by my success in demanding better treatment, I decided to check out a small, intriguing restaurant I had spotted the day before. Reservations were only accepted online but when I typed in "table for one" every slot was booked for months into the future. Then I typed in "table for 2." The availability was astounding. I booked a spot for the next night.
When I arrived, I told the host that my companion was not coming, that it was just me. He searched around the restaurant frantically, and when I saw we were heading to a far-off, dark corner with no other patrons I asked to sit at the bar. You'd think I'd asked for the moon. He had to check with the bartender if it was okay, even though there were several spots open.
The whole business of being a social pariah was starting to wear thin. I wondered if the restaurants viewed me as a liability – just the sight of me eating and drinking alone was offensive to other patrons, and I should be hidden away.
My next stop was Seattle. I spotted a place for lunch with wicker chairs and lots of windows. Looking in, many diners seemed to be enjoying themselves and it made me determined to get in.
Once the hosting staff discerned that I was alone, they took me on labyrinth tour that ended in a dark, windowless, empty lounge.
Teary with self-pity and low blood sugar, I sat in my isolation and tried to find the nerve to face the hosting staff again. Luckily the owner walked by, when I explained my dissatisfaction he swept me away to a lovely window seat where a neighbouring table of women happily started to chat with me.
That night at a new restaurant, upon seeing that I was dining solo; the host ushered me past a lively main-floor bar and placed me at an upstairs bar without any patrons, no bartender and facing a brick wall. When a waiter finally appeared, I said, "I can't sit here."
What were they thinking? That I was too embarrassed to be seen?
When I got home I phoned a friend with my sad tales. After a contemplative pause she wondered, "Do you think they thought you were a prostitute?"
After my recent trips I had a tiny bit of trepidation as I walked into the crowded hotel lounge for dinner in my hometown of Nelson, B.C. It was filled with visiting skiers. I know how much tourists mean to our economy, so when I saw the long wait line, I said to the bartender: "Don't worry I'm happy to wait or eat at the bar." She motioned to the prime table in front of the fireplace. "Take that table."
I hesitated. She stopped, and looked at me: "No take it, it's yours. You deserve it."
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