I treated myself, last Sunday, by eating Indian food. No doubt, for those of you living in places with rich culinary scenes (or India) this doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but there aren’t a great many options near my home, especially on a Sunday night, when I’m unwilling to drive anywhere. The local Indian restaurant is called Roti Grill, which is a bit pricey considering the food is only pretty-okay. Again, lack of options. Still, any Indian food is better than Indian food that’s twenty minutes away. And honestly, I like the place. It’s a good for a late dinner on a Sunday night, when you’re eating alone.
Eating alone is underrated. I checked my Yahoo news feed earlier that afternoon and read somebody’s guide to eating alone. It contained what I’m sure is somebody’s idea of useful suggestions: bring a book, pretend you’re a critic, be confident. Anyone who needs a guide to teach them how to enjoy eating by his or herself doesn’t deserve the pleasure of doing so. Anyone who writes such a guide should be strung up and humiliated for perpetuating an ignorant and stubborn expectation about an activity that too few people ever contemplate as they experience it.
I walked into Roti Grill a bit after nine, and ordered bhajia (onion fritters served with turmeric sauce), deliberating over what to order as an entrée. What is it that makes people think that they should make conversation with me when I’m alone in a restaurant? The young man taking my order inquired about my weekend, about my day, where I had come from, if I was working tomorrow. Shut up, kid, I’m trying to decide what I want to eat. I ordered a lamb curry -- simple, yes, but undoubtedly good and hard to screw up. The waiter tells me I made a good choice. Thank you and whatever.
Five minutes later I’m eating my bhajia, looking out the window at the moon. It looks small, and maybe, a bit sickly yellow hanging just over Whataburger’s steeple top. I’m not in a contemplative mood, but I don’t need to be. The fritters are delicious.
The waiter is coming with my curry. The dish looks deeper than it is, and accompanied by a generous portion of rice and naan, Indian flatbread. I’m not watching my carbs. I thank him before he can ask me about my parents or my girlfriend or whatever other small-talk he feels compelled to bring up.
CNN blares on the television overhead. It’s an old CRT; the sound is tinny, but it lends a certain something of interest to the talking heads of a news broadcast. I installed TVs in restaurants a couple of summers ago. It was miserable work, since it had to be done early in the morning, before the dining rooms opened. I spent weeks mounting televisions to walls and ceilings in restaurants where nobody would watch them, where they would collect dust and eventually go bad from neglect (if you have a plasma screen, dust it often). The money I made provided for that semester’s tuition and text books and everything except personal satisfaction.
That TV was wonderful. If it had been playing old Bollywood movies instead of CNN, it would’ve been better. I like flat LCD, DLP and plasma screens, but God knows that they have all the personality of a Kindle or a Nook. The picture is clearer and the sound better and digital broadcast offers more viewing options and somehow these new TVs still can't compete with that buzzing, chirping distraction found even in the pockets of elementary schoolers.
In the background I hear Tejano music. Even the Indian food is cooked by Mexicans in this city.
In the window-view a gaggle of teenagers are coming out of the bubble tea shop next door. High school students. They’re all texting and tweeting or whatever, running around the parking lot staring at those phones that are more technically complicated than the computer I’m typing this at right now (seriously, I’m using notepad on a Windows 3.1 OS). Seven of them, drinking iced tea in the cold, surrounded by each other. None of them were focused on the people right in front of them, preoccupied as they were with sending high-tech smoke signals into the digital ether. Remember when that shit was nerdy?
More people should eat by themselves, and learn to enjoy something as simple as a lamb curry eaten in a restaurant with high windows, old TVs, and a highly inquisitive waiter.