I’m in New Mexico (!) which is probably my favorite place besides LA and Tucson. The National Association of College and University Chaplains (NACUC) Board meets once a year to plan for the upcoming school term, and this year we chose Albuquerque. I was elated. The desert is definitely my home spiritually. I took advantage of my downtime and drove in a day early to stay overnight in Santa Fe. The city is small but full of absolutely stunning colors and art everywhere you turn. In my experience, people quickly warm to you, offer hospitality and just generally want to know your story. I’ve been meeting folks from Texas, Arizona, and even Ohio.
As a foodie, of course I did my research. Santa Fe boasts some of the best chefs in the world who specialize in Southwestern fare, which involves lots of corn and spices. My favorite dish is called Chile Rellenos, which is stuffed poblano peppers and fried in an egg batter. In New Mexico, it’s essential that you choose a side on the sauce front: red or green? Of course, if you really can’t decided, you can order “Christmas”, which means half of each. I certainly love both, but tend toward team green. I had been waiting for years to try a restaurant called Sazon, a romantic Mexican cafe with several moles. And since I came by myself, I made a reservation for one- just me.
To be truthful, I googled what dining alone is like. As an introvert, being by myself is energizing. However, the self-consciousness surfaced when I considered bringing a book or just my phone. In airports it seems quite normative to eat by yourself, but this restaurant is a popular date night spot. Several bloggers offered great advice- most importantly, do it! Don’t worry about what other people think. I worked up my courage and arrived right on time.
Despite the slight awkwardness of people watching while they gabbed with their dinner dates, dining alone was a learning experience and surprisingly, a communal one. Both servers and diners were more willing to talk to me. The couple to my left had come from North East Texas to take a short vacation after their daughter graduated from college. This was their first time at Sazon. The couple to my right, two women, wanted drinks stat. They drove in from Arizona for a bachelorette party. The server, Miguel, came from Mexico City to work at Sazon because of the chef’s renown. He demanded I try the special dessert, because it was that good.
Of course, without distraction from a dining partner, I noticed more around me. Servers watched their tables like hawks so they could whisk dishes on and off the table to quickly move courses. The diners at the tables next to me talked to me at length- though on both sides, they began the conversation with “I’m sorry, this is so rude but…what did you order?” What surprised me the most was the silence at most tables for long lengths of time. A relaxed silence, the kind you know isn’t stemming from not having anything to say. It comes from feeling so comfortable with someone you don’t need to speak for hours at a time.
I’m grateful for the experience. Spending time alone in a public place made me aware of an important contrast we often don’t consider, the loneliness some feel even in large groups. Yet there is an importance to experiencing things without anyone else because we receive no influence to judge except our own thoughts. And for the record: that dessert was more than worth it. You’d never guess the ingredients.