It had been a couple years since my mother was confined to a nursing home due to a stroke.
I was visiting her, as I had been off and on. With her in San Diego and me in Maryland, the visits had to be planned and scheduled based on when I could get time off and when I could get decent air fare.
After a long day of being with Mom, I was ready for some time to myself. I decided to have dinner at the relatively new farm-to-table restaurant in La Mesa. Mom had taken me there just before her stroke, so I knew she would have approved.
It was an easy walk from my two-star hotel up La Mesa Boulevard to the restaurant. The place was busy, so I opted to eat at the bar. The bar there has both indoor and outdoor seating, and the outdoor stools were less crowded. This being the San Diego area, the dry air was brisk but not unpleasantly cold. I didn’t mind.
It was just me for dinner. I had been working all day to keep Mom engaged and to understand her way of communicating post-stroke, which isn’t easy. I was ready for just letting myself enjoy the moment.
I ordered a margarita for starters, something I usually order in California but hadn’t yet this trip. The bartender was competent but, to be frank, inattentive. She seemed preoccupied by something — perhaps just focusing on her job. But her customers seemed to be an afterthought.
The inattentive barkeep eventually took my dinner order — the vegetable risotto that I’d had when I ate there with Mom. It’s very good and one of the least expensive options on the menu.
I also ordered a glass of red wine to go with it. The margarita was doing it’s thing, but I really thought the wine would be a nice addition to the meal.
When the meal arrived, I enjoyed it while listening to the local news program on the bar TV and observing the bartender and the two women chatting across from me. The risotto steamed in the cool evening air. It was just what I needed.
Except that I could have used a bit more. I could have used some companionable conversation from the bartender, or a fellow diner. It is unsettling to be a paying patron at a restaurant, eating alone, without anyone really taking notice.
I mean really noticing. I can understand a fellow patron not being all that interested in engaging. But the bartender’s job is to tend the bar, yes? Tend to the customers who have arrived at the end of God knows what kind of day for a drink and a meal. Some consideration would be appreciated. Maybe I just didn’t look like the type. Who knows?
Everyone is dealing with something. Bartenders are no different, it seems.
I finished my meal more drunk than I had intended. But the twilight walk back to the motel was pleasant and uneventful. Past the local social services office, past the mini-mall with the Mexican joint and the nail salon. Back to the barely adequate hotel that nonetheless feels safe and peaceful at night.
I got a good night’s sleep.