I was paying for my ginger and daikon radishes, lamenting the fact that Maria Nguyen didn’t sell any home-cooking at her Asian Seafood Market. “Where should I go for good Vietnamese?” I asked her. “You go to Chez Thuy!” she barked at me (read this for context). So, to Chez Thuy I went.
Wondering if it would even be open at 3:30 on a weekday, I was shocked at the many signs of life inside as I pushed through the front door. The girl who shuttled me to a booth must have been as surprised about the 3:30 rush as I was; she was also waitress, food runner and water glass-filler for the entire place. I was hungry in that “I want two appetizers and a iced coffee and an entree and dessert” way, and she was not in the mood to weigh options with me. Plus, this year is about mindfulness. So, deep breath, I ordered one thing: pho.
When you eat out alone (and leave the smartphone in the car), you notice things. The people sitting in the other booths appear in HD. You read the menu a bit more closely, pick up on sounds from the kitchen as your rusty antennae for that sort of thing slowly unfurl. You realize that no one cares that you are there alone. In fact, being alone makes you feel more a part of things.
The pho arrived quickly, steaming and fragrant. Accompanied by a plate of bean sprouts, jalepenos, sprigs of basil, and lime wedges, I took my time dressing it up, even drizzling some Sriracha (of which I am not one of the devout) and soy sauce (probably not cool). And then, I paid attention to eating it. I tried to use the chopsticks for the meat and noodles and the spoon for the broth. I dribbled. I eavesdropped on the couple sitting across from me (she: loud talker, rolling her eyes at grumpy hostess/waitress/jack-of-all-trades, and he: wishing they could eat their noodles in silence). I read my horoscope in the Boulder Weekly. I pulled pieces of beef apart using my fingers so they would fit more manageably in my mouth. I thought about stopping but I wanted to keep filling my belly with warmth to counteract the bleak mid-winter cold outside.
The waitress brought my check and fortune cookie without pressure to address them immediately. I relaxed into the faux-leather bench and glanced down at my abdomen. My belly was now the same shape as the porcelain bowl that sat empty in front of me. Heavy with food baby but light in spirit, I slid out of the booth filled with pho-gratitude. Eat alone sometime; you’ll be the only one watching.