When a traveler returns home

March 10, 2011

I left work grumpy on Wednesday, annoyed about something I wouldn’t remember the next morning. I’d signed up for a techie event that night, so I rode the bus from Georgetown to 14th Street, trying to shake my mood.

Rush-hour traffic clogged the roads, and I pulled a book from my bag to pass the time: Mira Bartok’s The Memory Palace. It’s a riveting read, but I’ll save that for another post. Immersed in her story of growing up with her schizophrenic mother, I nearly missed my stop.

Then I was on 14th, walking toward my meet-up, hurrying because I was late. And on this busy city street, I saw a crepe shop. I didn’t think about whether I was hungry or whether I could spare the extra time. I just walked in.

It was a quiet place, with small round tables set closely together, like you’d find in a restaurant in Paris. A woman sat in a corner reading a book, a pair of ladies hovered over a laptop, an older gentleman sipped a coffee, his nose, too, deep in a paperback.

I ordered what I would’ve had I actually been in Paris, where street vendors whip up your choice of savory or sweet: a banana crepe with brown sugar and cinnamon, tufts of whipped cream decorating the plate. And when I sat to enjoy it, opening my book to where I’d left off, a familiar feeling came over me, the calm of traveling alone.

It was the crepes that triggered it, yes. And reading a book while eating, one of my favorite parts of traveling solo. But it was also the spontaneity of finding myself somewhere I didn’t expect, of not having known that this day would bring me crepes. Of following my nose where it took me, having no schedule, no place to be.

Of course, I did have a place to be, and I left the cafe half an hour later, back on track, following the planned footsteps of my new life in this new city. And it wasn’t until then that I realized that I’d reverted, if only for minutes, into the mindset of long-haul travel, when all that matters is the next little pleasure, when my schedule is determined by no one but me.

That’s when I’m happiest, I thought. When I’m alone, in a quiet cafe, reading my book and licking cinnamon from a fork.

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