I never travel alone. maybe a lonely long car ride or flight here and there, but there was always someone waiting to greet me on the other side of that trip. Literally, always. I have never gone somewhere that I didnt know anyone there or was going to some kind of event where everyone is a stranger and you make friends by default, like a summer camp or something. You see the lonely businessman sitting a the bar at Chili's, the one chatting with the friendly barkeep as he wipes down the bar with a wet rag. Its charming to see, like youre watching a scene from a movie, but I dont want to be that guy. I became that guy.
My trip to San Fransisco went well, I learned a lot about identifying mold spores (super interesting, I know), and I also learned what happens when I am deprived of my usual social environment outside of work hours. I was temporarily working in a swanky office park, across from corporate offices for Walmart and YouTube, and at work it was great, good people, interesting to learn new things, but then when it came quitting time I was on my own. This means leaving work to walk to my hotel as the sun feebly tries to see 5 oclock, the winter solstice just around the corner urging it over the horizon. I call Kari, an hour ahead in Denver and undoubtedly already engaged in some fun activity with friends back home, leave her a message, and arrive at the hotel's front door at the same time as night's darkness. My plans to go for a run are extinguished with the sun. The prospect of braving the traffic to go wander the city alone doesnt seem appealing either. A couple episodes of Seinfeld later and I have arrived at the most exciting part of the evening. Whats for dinner? Apparently I am in an asian neighborhood because the only restaurants around are Thai take-out and sushi joints. And a Chili's. Maybe I will sit next to some other "that guy" eating at the bar and we can just be a couple normal guys. I take a seat at the Chili's bar, 3 college looking kids to my right getting way too excited about a basketball game, and a couple to my left, the wife yammering on about something as the husband pokes at the remaining broccoli on his plate. I am thinking about how to start a conversation with him when he lights up at the sign of the bill and hurries out of the place. They are soon replaced by a couple Bros about my age, I give them a "sup" nod as they take a seat, and I am gauging their suitability for potential temporary companionship when they call over the female bartender (ignoring the guy right in front of them) and order two shots of Jager, take them together, and then one orders another for himself, I guess because he enjoys it? I resist facepalming, thinking there could still be an interesting conversation in there somewhere, when Bro #2 starts telling a story "Dude I forgot to tell you. I took this stripper home the other night...". Facepalm. The bartender asks for my ID and I try to start up a conversation "Huh, I'm used to getting funny looks when I hand over a California ID" and as the friendly barkeep takes the bait and asks where I'm from wiping down the Chili's bar with a wet rag, I realize what I've become.
The rest of the trip went well enough, I sucessfully avoided Chili's for the next 2 weeks and found a couple spots that offered a little better dining experience. I made friends with the wise old Japanese itamae, Jimmy, at the sushi bar down the street, and even met a few other "that guy"s to have some normal social interaction with. The meals were the lonliest part of the day, and the early setting sun just made it that much harder to get out and be active after work. Next week I set off to do it all again, luckily Kari will be with me for the first week, and I feel much better prepared for week two, maybe I'll even summon up the courage to wander the streets alone this time, see what stories I can unearth there.