GLENN ZARING: Dining alone could be a good experience

By GLENN ZARING
News Advocate Columnist

Have you ever considered being alone? Not having someone, anyone to talk to. Nobody to discuss the weather, politics, how your dog is doing or any of the little things that can be talked about with somebody … anybody.

It was a normal weekday at lunchtime and I decided to have one of the best bacon cheeseburgers in town (at Blue Waters Cafe). When I arrived, I took a seat at one of the tables. A few minutes later, an elderly gentleman came in and sat down at a seat near me. Then a few minutes after that, an elderly lady came in and sat down at yet another table close by.

GLENN ZARING

We sat there quietly placing our orders and waiting for our food to be delivered. There really wasn’t conversation going on in the restaurant and it was pretty quiet.

As I sat there, I could not help but be aware of the solitude … and the sadness of it. We were all there together, but by ourselves, dining alone.

When you look around your neighborhood, how many folks do you see living by themselves? As you look, you will be amazed at the number. Not only the elderly, but the many people who just don’t have anyone to talk to. It is truly mind-blowing … and sad.

Sometimes, I will admit, it is nice to just sit by yourself and escape the forced company of others but as human beings, we are naturally communal creatures. We need to have interaction with people that we can be comfortable around.

One group (OK, basically old guys) that I know, meet for breakfast a number of times during the week. They will sit there and discuss “stuff.” Not necessarily important issues, but just stuff they enjoy. It can be reminiscing about folks they knew when they worked, or vets retelling the same old stories as if they were new. It can be about a hobby or the latest local scandal.

Whatever, they enthusiastically kick the subject around and have a good time. I have noticed some of the guys don’t really say too much but they are still part of the conversation and the group, and that gives them some pleasure in what is usually an inactive, lonely lifestyle. It is good.

What is also unfortunate is the number of folks you will see sitting down to a meal and the first thing they do is to take out their cell phones and start handling messages, looking through news reports, checking the weather and all that stuff that modern electronics have made possible.

They will be sitting at the table with others who might be family members or acquaintances, and they are all doing the same thing. They are sitting there with the opportunity to talk to people but what are they doing is hitting the cell phone. This is the new interaction.

From what I’ve seen and heard, this is the same scenario that plays out in their homes. People, their children and anyone else in the home is mesmerized by the little screen in their hand. It is not healthy.

Here’s one idea to help combat this unfortunate and unnatural seclusion. What if our restaurants started a new trend and set up a “Common Table.” Just one table, say at lunchtime where if you were alone you could sit down and talk to other folks who are alone? The restaurants could make it known that they were going to start this and invite folks to join in. No pressure, just a loosely-organized opportunity to sit down, make new friends, renew old acquaintances and rejoin the camaraderie of being human.

Or like Goodies’ downtown, and have designated “no computer” zones for people to sit, talk and watch our beautiful world go by on River Street.

These are just two alternatives to dining alone and rejoining the human race. They also could help us to start really talking again, and that is something we desperately need.

 

Glenn Zaring’s columns will appear on Fridays in the News Advocate. He may be reached at publicaffairsadvisor@gmail.com.

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