Twenty-five or so years ago, I took my first grown-up trip with gal pals. And by grown-up trip I mean one that didn't involve anyone I was related to, didn't involve sharing a motel room with my nana, and didn’t involve one single visit to anything related to the Civil War (my daddy was - still is - a big fan of the War of Northern Aggression. I saw every major battle site below the Mason Dixon line before I was 14. Yeah. I know.)
I was 24, considered myself a full-fledged adult and was ready to see on the world. Which in this case started with New York City. The trip was my Christmas present from the parents which also included a new piece of luggage. With my fabulous new chapeau, boots and black gaucho pants (Hush. They were the height of fashion in 1988. You know you had a pair or at least something similar...) I was ready to hit it. For what specifically, I do not remember. I was just ready for something. Not just boys, either.
I do recall that we girls spent all our time together, walking around; getting takeout pizza (my stars, I thought I was all that, doing the carry-out urban thing); Christmas shopping at Bloomingdales; seeing 42nd Street the week before it closed; eating at Tavern on the Green (RIP); taking the NBC tour; stalking David Letterman (OK, that was my idea); and having brunch at the Helmsley, in the days before Leona lost her misanthropic mind. We wrung every bit of excitement out of those four days as only chicks in their eager 20s can.
I was struck my memories of that long-ago trip as I took a car this afternoon from my Hell's Kitchen hotel to the airport after another grown-up journey to the city, this time a week-long solo jaunt. When we young ladies about town crawled out of our cab at the airport, we barely had enough cash to pay the cab fare - and there sure wasn't anything left amongst our collective wallets for a tip. Unless you count change – but that would have been tacky. The cabbie stood beside his opened- trunk vehicle, yelling at us in his native tongue and hurling what were certainly profane insults at us as we ran like hell into the terminal dragging our bags with us. Good times.
Maybe it's because I budget better for trip expenses these days or perhaps I now know and appreciate the value of quality customer service, but I made certain that my driver today was compensated for his efforts. The lovely man took my bags to the terminal sidewalk, for goodness sake! (If you could have seen and lifted my luggage, you'd understand what a great thing this was. Or if you've travelled with me before - my motto is " don't leave home without it, just in case." - you know what a scene my bags and I can cause.)
My 24- year-old-self was a little clueless in the ways of travel - I chalk that up to age, naïveté, budgetary restrictions and that single, self-serving attitude she had which is often a hallmark of youth. And she never would have been brave or self-secure enough to travel to the city alone.
Solo travel is a catharsis for me, especially at this point in my life. I have no responsibilities to anyone but myself when I travel alone. No kiddo. No spouse. Just moi. That's right. I can do what i want when i want. If I want to spend the afternoon reading and drinking Prosecco, then dammit, I will. If I want to rent an "Adults Only" video in the room because I'm curious to know what all the fuss is about, then I will. PS: it was sooooooooo boring. The same things over and over and over. Pose. Growl. Different pose. Sigh. Writhe. Pose. Plus it is not equal opportunity. So many girl bits (which I do appreciate, although not really my thing.) and not nearly enough boy bits. Then there is all that moaning. No one makes that much noise for that long, unless you've pulled something, have a Charlie horse or need to catch your breath. And do not get me started about the acting or lack of plot...
What traveling alone has shown me is that no matter what negative residue lingers in my psyche or how I my insecurities chart on the measurement scale, I am pretty good company. Even to myself. Guess what? It is not scary to be alone, contrary to what my younger self thought. It's healthy even, and dare I say, fun. As women, we bear a lot of responsibility – we’re wired to be the caregivers, the organizers, the nurturers. And we’re told that we need to make time to take care of ourselves. Sometimes that means just going and doing something alone. Just you, yourself and you. Taking part in an activity that you want to do. Without worry or concern about what anyone else in your life entourage wants to do. Can you imagine?
Go to a movie in the middle of the day? Do it.
Take a day to go crawling through thrift stores looking for bargains? Do it.
Spend hours reading a book and doing nothing else? Do it.
I’ve discovered that taking time for yourself by yourself is beneficial for the soul – not only is the indulgence (yes, sadly it is an indulgence) of actually doing something you want to do a good thing, but doing it alone takes it up a level. In such moments you are only responsible for your personal well-being. You’re not responsible for anyone else’s happiness. And you are in control of you. Does that make sense?
My favorite example of a woman of a certain age taking alone time for herself belongs to my mother. Mama prides herself on trying to keep up with pop culture, even though there’s a bit of a disconnect. Years ago, I was watching the MTV Video Music Award one evening. The phone rang – it was my mother, calling to ask if the Red Hot Chili Peppers always wore socks over their penises. Yes, she used the word penis. So it was no surprise when she decided she wanted to go see the movie Wayne’s World, even though my father refused to go with her. So off she went one Friday afternoon (after getting her hair done) to catch a matinee. Unbeknownst to her, it was a public school in-service day and so the theatre was filled with middle school boys and one middle-aged woman. She braved it out, found she liked the movie and then used the word “schwing” whenever she could for the next month. Still so proud of her for taking time to do something she wanted to do. By herself. Schwing.
I’m home now from my week-long solo adventure; the cares of the day have marched back into my head and I’m settling back into regular routine. But I’m going to try to maintain that holiday feeling, taking time to do for me. I think it makes me perform better in all the roles of my life. My 24-year-old-posse-loving-self might not be comfortable with this concept. What would people think? But I’m older, wiser and tip a hell of a lot better these days. And most of the time, I’m at home in my well-moisturized skin. So if you see me dining alone, don’t say “bless her heart.” Be jealous, since I’m enjoying myself and the company I’m keeping.
love, auntie janey
Riddle Me This: If you could take an afternoon for just yourself, what would you do with the time?