While I often take pleasure in cooking and eating at home, I just as equally fancy dining out. Often I am alone, and therefore I belong to a certain club. The i’ll-just-have-a-seat-at-the-bar club. Not only is there a certain sense of empowerment from bypassing the wait (if there is one) or reign of the host, but it also feels there is a certain collective understanding between fellow bar bandits and lounge loiterers. I like to believe we are all there for the same reasons.
In my mind, those reasons include allowing our minds to wander and get lost in all the conversations around us without actually having to put forth the effort of input if there is no desire to do so. We can let the day’s labor fall behind and just be our person. Sure, it may sound lonely to eat solo at a restaurant full of families, couples, and friends, but for me it is one of the most relaxing ways to end a draining work day. Plus, you get drinks the fastest and especially if you are charming enough to chum up the bartender. Then you are really in, and there is nothing wrong with that.
I actually enjoy just listening, observing and often laughing silently to myself over the various exchanges I witness. On the other side, when the mood strikes, you can almost always find an interesting character to chat with. My problem as of late is that the vibe of this club and its participants seems to come off as: we are all here because we want to forget about the work day and have a nice meal, but we have nothing else to talk about but the work we want to forget. Basically, my fellow club members have been leaving me with a sour taste in mouth. And no, they weren’t buying me margaritas.
Just the other night I encountered a perfect example of this. There was a man in his late fifties from New York visiting Louisiana for what he elusively called “some training” and a woman I’d place in her mid-thirties sporting a mouth full of braces and decorative scrubs. I sat there for a solid two hours merely a few bar stools away listening (like I had any other choice). In the first five minutes, these two exchanged your typical where-ya-froms and what-do-ya-dos. The next hour and fifty-five minutes consisted of nothing other than exhausting work chatter.
She very obviously worked at some sort of doctors office or hospital and was carrying a practically unfitting and ridiculously tiny sequined purse, I assumed to distract from the shine of her braces. She insisted on talking about the problems of people living pay-check to pay-check and issues with employer promises that are left unfulfilled. This, in turn, left the conversation open for the man to repeatedly and vaguely reference how he recently made a “life change”. Eventually, she gave in and took the bait.
He then proceeded to unravel the details behind his “life change” which was really only an occupational change. He had left an unnamed company that he had been with for something like twenty years to help his friend with a big business venture. Wait for it. She pressed further to get answers from him all the while unaware that he was orchestrating her responses and puppeteering her curiosity. Finally, he made his big reveal. His big life change would be opening a new Pop-a-Lock branch.
Now, I am by no means anti Pop-a-Lock. Hell, had it not been for the friends I made working at the campus police station while in undergrad, I probably would have been one of their most cherished customers. I’ll admit I was pretty disappointed in the anticlimactic end to his hyped up story. However, I was more unsettled, almost saddened, that the two couldn’t talk about one single topic other than work.
But it is not just strangers. Every conversation I have purposely over-heard in the past few weeks has revolved around work. Some of them were neutral chats about a particular industry, but more often than not, I witnessed heated rants by jaded employees who just couldn’t seem to stop spewing about the exhausting topic. It is natural to use venting as a coping mechanism, and believe me I have practiced my fair share of it, but where is the line drawn? Can’t we all just order a really big chocolate dessert, another drink, and talk about the fascinating concept of hula hoops or something?
- Defining Moments (studiolightblue.com)