I have never minded dining alone. Strangely it is one of the things that most people ask about this trip, wondering how it is to eat alone each meal or how I manage it. At home, I eat lunch out a lot. It’s part of the social fabric that I most look forward to with friends. However, I am also just as likely to bring a good book and eat alone.
Doing it on the road is definitely a little bit different. At home, I know the places I’m going to and I know a lot of the people who own or work at those places. I don’t feel strange sitting with my book and ignoring people, or chatting with my favorite sushi chef, Steve. Some days, it suits me best.
On the road, every single dinner has been a crap shoot. Thanks to 2 boxes of Ritz crackers and a jar of Adams all natural peanut butter, I’ve eaten breakfast every day in my room or the woods. Strangely, I haven’t gotten tired of this yet. I’m not a big breakfast person anyway, so I don’t really miss it. Lunch has been out of my cooler every day. I brought some cheeses and salami and have managed to make do with that and nori sheet snacks every day. Haven’t bought a single lunch on the road yet either. Most days, I’ve stopped at a pretty pull out, rifled thru’ what’s left of my laundry basket full of snacks and made lunch a brief rest and quick dine thing. The days I’ve been writing, I try to do that before settling in, to avoid attracting any more bugs than necessary. This trip has definitely cost me more mosquito bites than I usually get in 3 summers at home! We don’t really have them near the water at home, one more reason I love living there!
Dinner is a whole different story. Each night I’ve pulled out my trusty Moon handbook to Yellowstone & Grand Teton guide book and looked for dining ideas. Some of my friends have traveled this area and I’ve gone to places they recommend as well. I’ve also found Rangers and other travelers to be helpful, but that’s often a crap shoot too, as you really don’t know what other people like. Along the same lines, I’ve never really understood asking a waitress what her favorite thing is where I’m dining, as she may love liver; I hate it. It works with people you know because you can gauge it by the other things you know about them. You wouldn’t ask your least adventurous friend where to find unusual dining experiences. So, every night, I’ve walked in to places pretty much not knowing just how it will go. Only one night, in W. Yellowstone did I miss the bus all together and end up at the only place open: Dairy Queen. My first fast food dining experiences in nearly 9 yrs and admittedly, at that point, it tasted great!
For the most part, I’ve eaten a hell of a lot of meat this trip. A home, I cook chicken, fish and pork a lot … with red meat about once a week, if that. I eat sushi much more than I should, and have some elevated mercury levels to show for it. (That by the way may explain why I felt so crazy in the first place, if Jeremy Piven is any example!) I could live on chicken and fish, and need some kind of salad or veggies with every dinner. That has not been the case these past 2 wks either. Some days, those nori snacks are my only source of greens. Admittedly, the meats been good. One ranger told me I “just had to have the prime rib at the Lake Lodge over at Yellowstone lake.” It was so good (and reasonable) that I went back twice! The old dining room also had perfect window seats where I could sit quietly with my book (I ended up reading The Space Between Us, by Thrity Umrigar… set in India and very good) and not be bothered with social niceties.
Except for the Lake Lodge, pretty much every other place has questioned why I’m on my own. The waiter, hostess or other diners just seem to hone in on the fact that I have a book and I’m not sitting with anyone else. There is also the other single males, who, depending on age and whatever, assume I might prefer to eat with someone… no matter who. Most staff are very nice and just curious as to why I’d be doing this… hell, lots of friends and my family are asking the same thing! I had a lovely young girl from Wyoming last night who chatted with me most of my meal, about how much she wants to travel and see other places. She “couldn’t imagine being all alone” and wondered if I’m scared something might happen. Not really. May be stupid on my part, but I feel pretty confident handling most things that come up.
Filling my tank yesterday was my biggest challenge so far. The station had an antiquated diesel nozzle that wouldn’t fit my car and I NEEDED gas. I am afraid of running out of it, in the middle of nowhere! (and bears, I remain afraid of bears) The car came with a special adapter for such situations, but I hadn’t used it yet. Surrounded by big Chevy and Ford Trucks, and only men pumping the gas, I wasn’t going to let this throw me. I set it up like a pro and forged on. However, the small warning that the stop valve doesn’t work with this adapter was for real and before I could guess how close to full I was, gasoline came pouring out the spout, all over my car and the ground. I was grateful that the 2 guys closest figured it was the pump’s fault and offered to help. No thank you, I said. I drove away smelling like a mechanic and my car wreaks! Not expecting to find a car wash any time soon, so hopefully it’s a bear deterrent.
Two nights ago, when every place in Cody seemed to have an hour+ wait (who knew!), I settled on what looked like a popular Mexican restaurant. It looked full and the menu seemed good. I was seated in a fairly lousy location near the kitchen and directly across from a single gentleman. We were the only single diners in the place, our own lonely hearts club. Mr. single diner spent the entire meal smiling over and trying to make eye contact. I read two long chapters and tried to not look up. It was the worst Mexican food I’ve had in a long time and I felt sick all day yesterday. I ended up eating only bits of it, and was too disheartened by the whole thing to go to the rodeo as I’d planned. I came back on the early side, to what has also been my least favorite room (each time I walk in the weird, sweet smell assaults me and the yellowing bedding is a total bummer). It was not my best night, and had I not visited the museum yesterday (thank you, thank you E!!), I would have left Cody convinced it was a place to skip all together.
Last night, when I first arrived at The Proud Cut Saloon (thanks R!), looking to find Clay and say hi for a friend, they first tried to seat me at the bar. This happens a lot when you’re alone, out here. A single gentleman, seeing me weighing the decision, raised his glass and winked. “Are you sure you don’t have a table?” I asked. They sat me on the back porch, which was suppose to be a less desirable locations (“if you don’t mind” she said), but proved to be outside and pretty nice. It was a quiet table, with 3 animated waiters working the section (2 of whom hung out at my table most of my meal)and the chatty hostess, who only left to seat others. I read a little of an outdated People magazine, as they had lots of questions.
I decided to finally try Rocky Mountain Oysters. For those of you haven’t come across this Western delight, they are (and there is no way to say it nicely) bull testicles. I know, a far cry from sushi and don’t even start on all the ethical issues! No doubt, men probably find it even more distasteful. They are usually fried and the thin cut sections look pretty much like you know they should. I’m sure it’s all the beef in general that I’ve consumed that dulled my thresh hold, or maybe it was the way these folks look at me, or question my single dining status, but I was not going to be challenged by some balls. They were actually pretty good and tasted a surprisingly lot like fried clams, necks only. From a non-adventurous dining perspective, both would probably not be on the list… another reason you need to know who you’re asking.
The hostess was almost as amazed that I was eating the RMOs as the fact that I was traveling alone. She kept coming over cautiously to ask what I thought. She was so meek around them, that I couldn’t help but be surprised that she had worked in a restaurant that served them for so long. I told her that if she really wants to get out and see the world, maybe she needs to take a few risks at home. Eating something that seems challenging in one step away from driving off, in my book. She had “never looked at it that way” and agreed with the young waiter that maybe they would try them later, together (strength in numbers?) and plan a road trip East. She’s always wanted to see Boston (my home town) and the fact that I’d done all of the above made me a rock star in her book. She and her buddy bought me a drink and pumped me for travel stories. I didn’t tell them about leaving the country all together as East of Kentucky seemed to make for enough excitement.
After dinner, I stopped at my depressing little room to wash my gas smelling hands one more time and get an extra sweater for the rodeo. Dark clouds had moved in and the temperature had dropped a lot. I was wiped out from 8 hrs at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center (an amazing place, you could easily spend 2 days at!) and wanted to freshen up and get some warmer clothes. I arrived at the rodeo just before the pledge and prayers (less than Jackson, but boy they love Jesus in these parts!). Again, “ONE ticket only? Are you meetin’ some friends Miss?” (I liked the Miss, for a change). Nope, on my own. “Well… have fun.” Is this really THAT unusual people?? Entering the rodeo stands, there was a young cowboy– chaps, rope, hat and all, standing there with this big ass, mean looking bull. “Would you like to have your picture taken on the bull Mam?” he asked. “Nope,” I answered. “I ate his balls for dinner.”