Twenty-five or so years ago, I took my first grown-up trip with gal pals. And by grown-up trip I mean one that didn’t involve anyone I was related to, didn’t involve sharing a motel room with my nana, one that didn’t involve me sitting in the back seat of the car, surrounded by plants purchased from nurseries in either Georgia or North Carolina because my mother was convinced that she could get a dogwood to grow and bloom in Florida and didn’t involve one single visit to anything related to the Civil War (my pops was – still is – a big fan of anything related to the War of Northern Aggression. I had pictures taken aside cannons and forts at every major battle site below the Mason-Dixon line. Yeah. I know.)
I was 24, considered myself a full-fledged adult and was anxious to take on the world. One adventure at a time. Which in this case involved New York City. The trip was my Christmas present from the ‘rents, which also included a new piece of luggage. It was very nice, but as I recall, having wheels on suitcases was not yet a “thing” and well, I do not travel lightly. Never have, never will. Because you just don’t know when you might need an outfit for an unexpected occasion.
With my fabulous new chapeau – a black felt cowboy-style hat – ankle boots and black gaucho pants, I was dressed for success. (Hush. Such an ensemble was the height of fashion in 1988. For me and Dorothy Zbornak. You probably had a pair, or at least something similar… ahem.) I was ready. For it. What it was specifically, I do not remember. I’m not sure I even knew at the time. I was just ready for something. Not just boys, either. Even though they were important. But that is another story for another time
What I do recall is that we girls spent all our time together – walking around the city; getting takeout pizza (my stars, I thought I was all that, doing the carry-out urban food thing); Christmas shopping at Bloomingdales; seeing 42nd Street the week before it closed (no comment); eating at Tavern on the Green (R.I.P.); taking the NBC studio tour; stalking Letterman (OK, that may have been my idea); and having brunch at the Helmsley, in the days when Leona was riding high and hadn’t yet shown the world she’d lost her misanthropic mind. I had both calamari and octopus for the first time at that buffet. Perhaps that was the day I became a foodie, now that I think about it. Hmmm. I remember ordering calamari on a lunch date several months later and impressing my companion – not enough to make it to a relationship, but that’s neither here nor there and yes, another story for another time.
When I took my annual solo jaunt to NYC this past spring, I was struck by memories of that long-ago trip. When we young ladies-about-town crawled out of our cab at LaGuardia, we barely had enough cash to pay the cab fare – and there certainly wasn’t enough amongst our collective wallets for a tip. Not even change. The cabbie stood before his opened-trunk vehicle, yelling at us in his native tongue and hurling what were certainly insults about our morals and our mothers as we ran like hell into the terminal, dragging (for there were no wheels) our bags behind. Good times.
Maybe it’s because I just know better, being older, wiser and more well travelled, or perhaps it’s because I place a very high value on good customer service, but I make sure that anyone who serves/does something for me is well compensated for his/her efforts. My 24-year-old self was a little clueless in the ways of travel – I chalk that up to age, naïveté, budgetary restrictions and that single, self-serving attitude she had which is often a hallmark of youth. And she NEVER would have been brave or self-secure enough to travel alone. To the city or anywhere else.
Solo travel is a catharsis for me, especially at this point in my life. When I am out and about alone, I have no responsibilities to anyone but myself. No kiddo. No spouse. No pals (save for the ones I visit along the way.) Just me, myself, I. I can do what I want when I want.
If I want to spend the afternoon reading and drinking Prosecco, then dammit, I will.
If I want to stop by a tacky tourist trap or interesting shop, then dammit, I will.
If I want to listen to a non-stop stream of Broadway show tunes (original cast recordings, thank you – none of those covers or sub-par movie soundtracks for this diva) while I drive over 700 miles from mountains to shore, then dammit I will. And I will sing along as LOUDLY as I like. Hrumph.
If I want to sleep in, skip breakfast and then eat dessert with lunch, plus a glass of wine, then dammit I will.
What traveling alone has shown me is that no matter what negative residue lingers in my psyche or how my insecurities chart on the measurement scale, I am pretty good company. Even to myself. Guess what? It’s not scary to be alone, contrary to what my younger self thought. It’s healthy even, and dare I say, fun. As women, we shoulder a lot of responsibility – we’re wired to be the caregivers, the organizers, the nurturers. And we’re told that we need to make time to take care of ourselves. Sometimes that means scheduling a massage, a mani-pedi, a pamper. Or sometimes that means simply going and doing something alone. Just you, yourself and you. Taking part in an activity that YOU want to do. No compromise needed. No worrying about what anyone else in your life entourage wants to do.
You get to be a little selfish. Imagine that.
Go to a movie in the middle of the day? Do it.
Take an afternoon to go crawling through thrift stores and used book establishments looking for bargains? Do it.
Forgo a to-do list and watch a whole season’s worth of a television show when no one else is at home? Do it.
I’ve discovered that taking time for yourself is beneficial for the soul – not only is the indulgence (yes, sadly, it is an indulgence) of actually doing something you want to do a good thing, but doing it alone takes it up a level. You’re not, in that moment, responsible for anyone else’s happiness. And you are in control of… wait for it… you. Does that make sense?
My favorite example of a woman of a certain age taking “alone” time for herself belongs to my mother. Mama prides herself on keeping up with pop culture (right now, she is all about Duck Dynasty), even though there is a bit of a disconnect. Years ago, I was watching the MTV Video Music Awards one night. The phone rang – it was my mother, calling to ask if the Red Hot Chili Peppers always wore socks over their penises. Yes, she used the word “penis.” So it was no surprise when she decided to see what the hubbub was about and watch Wayne’s World, even though my father refused to go with her. Off she went one Friday afternoon, (after getting her hair done) to catch a matinee. Unbeknownst to her, it was a public school in-service day. The theatre was filled with middle school boys. And one middle-aged woman. She braved it out, actually liked the movie and then proceeded to use the word “schwing” whenever she could for the next month. To this day, I’m still proud of her for taking time to do something she wanted to do – something very unexpected for her, I might add. Schwing.
I’m home now from a week-long road trip (you can read all about those hijinks here) with young William. I had some solo time at the end of the jaunt, as the mister and Will flew home (we met the mister where he’s currently working) and I drove home, so I was able to recharge a bit even as I roared down the interstate. School starts next Monday (can I get a HOT DAMN!) and routine will be resumed as a result. Alarms will be set, structure will be restored, tans will be fading.
However, I want to try and maintain that holiday feeling of relaxation and “doing” for myself, whether it be taking in a matinee before getting into car line or finding a place with good coffee where I can write. I think such things make me perform better in all the roles of my life. My insecure 24-year-old-posse-loving-self would not have been comfortable with this concept. WHAT WOULD PEOPLE THINK?!?!
But I’m older, wiser, hipper (believe it or not) and I tip a hell of a lot better. And most of the time, I’m at home in my well-moisturized skin. And yes, I’m different from what I was at 24. I’m discovering that people I’ve known for a long time aren’t comfortable with that (as evidenced by the number of them defriending me on Facebook. Bothers me for a millisecond, but then I move on. If you don’t want to be my friend as I am now, then I know I don’t want to be your friend either. So suck it.)
If you see me dining alone, don’t say, “bless her heart.” Eat your own heart out, since I can guarantee I’m enjoying myself and the company I’m keeping. But if you can, sit down and enjoy a glass of wine with me. For there is time and place for everything.
Riddle Me This:
If you could take an afternoon for just yourself,
what would you do with the time?