Recently, Alyssa tweeted about how much she loves eating lunch out alone, “tucked away in quiet corner of noisy restaurant. I’m part of the world, but don’t have to talk to anyone.” There followed a brief conversation about eating (or drinking) alone in cafes or restaurants, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
I regularly spend pockets of time alone in cafes, for lunch or a quiet cup of tea or chai, with a book or my journal or simply my own thoughts for company. It feels less cloistered, less monastic, than eating lunch in my office with the door shut, and yet there’s a sheer curtain of privacy between me and the rest of the world. In bustling Boston, where I cram into the commuter train with hundreds of strangers and walk to work among dozens more, it feels deeply restorative to carve out an alcove of space for myself during the workday. I don’t like to isolate myself completely, but I do like a modicum of space to breathe, to write, to pause and enjoy.
Some days do call for total solitude, and as near silence as I can get. But on many others, I love feeling that tug, that connection to the beat of whatever city I happen to be in. I love observing what people wear, how they take their coffee (I used to be a barista, after all), what they do when they’re sitting alone waiting for their food, or how they interact with their friends. I love the diverse mix of people who come through cafes, all of them separate entities but vital ingredients in these massive tossed salads we call cities.
I take a lot of photos in cafes, mostly of my drink with a book or journal, trying to capture the quiet, restorative freedom of the moment. The writer-romantic in me also thrills at being part of a long tradition of cafe society, from the Lost Generation in Paris to the Beats with their coffeehouse poetry readings, to now, when many writers work in cafes with laptops or notebooks. Something about the background buzz, the rotating cast of characters, the smell of coffee and pastries, revs up the mind while (ideally) leaving it quiet enough to write or reflect.
Both Alyssa and I started going to cafes alone as college students, and we admitted to one another that it felt a little daring. An hour alone, with no one to answer to, feels secret, almost illicit in a delightful way. Alyssa added, “I used to get the same feeling riding my bike all over Boise when I was growing up. No one waiting for me anywhere.” That comment reminded me of one of my favorite, most visceral memories of my year in Oxford: riding my bike through town, the wind in my hair, bag slung over my shoulder, often heading toward something or someone, but completely free and independent for the moment. In these hours alone, we are still interacting with the world, and yet we belong to nobody but ourselves.
Do you spend time in cafes (or other public places) alone? Do you love it for these reasons, or for others?