This is part of "Our Mobile Society," CNN's weeklong series examining how cell phones and other electronic devices have revolutionized the ways we work, play and communicate.
There is nothing more compelling than a woman eating lunch on her own.
My friend Stephen told me this some twenty years ago, and it's stuck with me. At the time, I was shell-shocked from a split with my first serious boyfriend and feeling hard pressed to find pleasure in anything - eating, going to classes, running a brush through my hair. My friends had been incredibly compassionate for the first few weeks (okay, months) but were increasingly eager for an end to my wallowing. Stephen, terminally uncoupled himself, was single-minded in his attempts to show me some tough love and self respect.
"You keep making noises about being an independent woman. Do it. It doesn't make you a loser; it makes you...mysterious." He walked me to the host stand of our local bookstore/cafe and handed me over to our regular waiter with, I could have sworn, a sly nod.
I was terrified and deeply thrilled at the prospect of dining solo in a restaurant for the first time at the ripe old age of 19. After the breakup, I'd lost all capacity to feed myself, half-gnawing at sad sandwiches in corners of the cafeteria after I was certain my ex (and his new girlfriend) were gone or cooking just enough unadorned ramen noodles to keep me from wasting away. Eating in a restaurant - especially one I'd rarely been without him - seemed almost perversely optimistic, as if food could be...joyful and my own company enough. That day, at long last, it was.
Since that day, dining solo has become one of my greatest pleasures, but through a strange twist of technology, company and expert advice is at the ready if I want it. While Twitter - the 140-character microblogging social networking service - has gotten a not entirely undeserved bad rap for its semi-comprehensible celebrity musings, Congressional sex scandals and endless cellphone shots of strangers' lunches, it's led me to some of the best eating experiences I've had in this decade.
With a career as a food editor and a personal life as someone with a voracious yen for new experiences, I travel a lot. Back home, I often comfort myself with safety blanket food - the same restaurants and recipes. On the road, divorced from the rut of my kitchen and regular haunts, I explore. Twitter has become utterly essential to that pursuit; all I have to do is ask for help.
"So, if you were staying at the Biltmore in Providence and had no car, you'd have solo dinner where?"
I've stood on restaurant-clustered corners on New Orleans, engulfed in options, wandered Austin in a migas-craving haze, woken up fever-drenched and ravenous in hotel rooms in strange cities and tapped out a plea: #twitterfeedme. Not once, not one single time has my Twitter community failed to find me exactly the meal I needed.
This may be unique to the 140-character food world, but solicitations for help from strangers brings out the best in people. Though a person can hide behind a Twitter handle if they choose, there is equity in excellent dialogue, and it's rewarded by an ever-escalating follower count. In a medium where your contribution is measured 140 characters at a time, there's value to every keystroke and the best Twitterers tend to make every one of them matter.
There's also tremendous currency in local expertise. A celebrity with a massive following may have a tremendous megaphone for their message, but when it comes down to it, the dude with 100 followers who's eaten at every taco truck in town is the one whose counsel I seek. Occasionally, that's even been in person.
No, I'm not hopping willy-nilly into cars with any random stranger who entices me with the prospect of an excellent chalupa. I have, though, met some excellent now in-real-life friends that way (after carefully researching them and making sure that I won't be served as the next day's special) taking up their generous offers to show off their cuisine of their city or help me with a cooking project.
I have plenty of people I love in my life, but they may or may not share my food obsessions. That's okay; I don't need them to. Twitter affords me an unprecedented opportunity, where a host of people with similar passions are sitting there, in my pocket, hungry to help and connect and feed a collective jones for the most delicious things on earth.
And sometimes Twitter feeds me in ways I didn't even know I needed. When I found myself sending up that flare in Providence a few weeks back, I wasn't on a pleasure jaunt, a culinary adventure or anything at all remotely pleasant. Rather, I was faced with the grim prospect of my uncle's funeral the next day, and staying in an unfamiliar city, figured I might as well distract myself.
The suggestions came flooding in - excellent ones, by all accounts - and in the end, I opted for one close to the hotel, recommended by people I trust. With a heavy heart and not much of an appetite, I sat down at New Rivers' twinkle-lit bar and stared at the menu. Someone had mentioned the charcuterie, another the raw bar, but I was just too sad to choose.
"It all looks good. I guess I'll have the three charcuterie sampler. Could you just ask the kitchen to pick?" The bartender quickly assessed my state and nodded. "Don't worry. We've got it."
I sipped my Pimms Cup and checked Twitter, and then the food came out. First a trio of cured meats and fish and then - a terrine of pork neck that I had not ordered. I peeked around at my fellow bar diners, but no one seemed to be trying to claim it. The bartender was smiling.
"The chef said to be on the lookout for you. He saw on Twitter that you were having a rough day and that you were in Providence, and he's really proud of this dish, sooooo..."
I ate every last morsel, tipped well, thanked everyone profusely - and perhaps a little tearily. And then I Tweeted.
Twitter feed me, indeed.
Follow Kat on Twitter @kittenwithawhip
When I eat alone, I just pull out the Kindle.
Great read Kat! I don't mind eating out alone either. Especially with having 3 kids. Eating alone can be a luxury.
Wonderful read, Kat and thank you! Loved the ending!
Everything ya say and do has to be attached to a tweet.
Eating alone? What's the big whoop? It's a great way to people watch, too.
Cherry picking parts of the article just to make snarky comments? You're mother must be so proud.
Dining out alone may not be a big deal to you, but this article wasn't about you.
What a great story. I don't have a Twitter acct, so it's heart-warming to read about giving & caring folks in that medium who were able to help you in your time of need. Sometimes we get so caught up in posting clever, snarky comments or in maintaining some kind of persona, we forget that sometimes media can be helpful. Seriously, keep up the good work.
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