On Wednesday, a terrific three-hour midday outing revived my spirits. I needed to go downtown to my doctor's for some blood work. Fortunately, the office is just across the street from one of the busiest Whole Foods stores in DC.
The bloodletting took only half an hour. Afterward, I walked to Whole Foods for lunch and some grocery shopping. I filled a cardboard container with healthy selections from the many buffet choices, grabbed a bottle of water, and headed for the checkout.
I found a great table -- all to myself -- in the back of the dining area. I spent the next two hours engaging in my favorite sport -- people watching. I'd also brought along some health-related reading material, so I enjoyed two hours of good food, fun people watching, and productive work.
Reflections on Past Spells of Loneliness
Though not these days, loneliness has been an issue for me in the past. My childhood was fairly lonely, and attending college as a day student wasn't the typical fun- and friend-filled experience.
But BNA, the publishing company where I worked for 40 years, provided me a wealth of friends... and not all of them disappeared when I retired. Finally coming to terms with my sexuality and alcoholism also gave me many good friends from AA and the gay world.
My travel addiction created two "homes away from home" for me -- first in London, later in Nepal. Now, I have treasured friends from both places.
But my preference for independent travel also resulted in spells of loneliness. My wife died in 1978, and my children left home the same year. For the next five years, my annual vacation involved buying a 15-day Eurail pass and bouncing around Europe on my own. I tried to stay within Frommer's "Europe on $25 a day" budget, so I often ended up staying in some depressing accommodations.
Loneliness often came over me in waves, particularly towards the end of the two weeks. Fortunately, I had the good sense to stay with good friends in my London "home" at the beginning and the end of my adventures on the continent.
I now realize I dealt with loneliness then much as I dealt with cabin fever on Wednesday. After London, my most frequent stop in Europe was Paris. There, I avoided loneliness by taking a book to the Luxembourg Gardens, where I'd spent many hours sitting on a bench, reading and people watching.
During this century's first decade, my travel focus shifted from Europe to Southeast Asia. I established another home away from home -- this time with my "adopted" family in Pokhara, Nepal. Though they soon became like a real family for me, their English was about as good as my Nepali. The language issue created some lonely times. When it did, I'd put my now-familiar strategy into effect.
Virtually every day in Pokhara started with a half-hour walk to the lakefront, where I had breakfast at Mike's Restaurant. Mike was an American who came to Nepal as a Peace Corps volunteer, fell in love with the country, and started two restaurants -- one in Kathmandu and the other in Pokhara. Both became popular hangouts for ex-pats and tourists. Mike also built his own Pokhara home near ours.
Mike usually joined me for a breakfast. We became good friends, eating American food and relishing our fun conversations in English. But it was what happened after breakfast that became my fondest recollections from all my decades on the road.
Mike's restaurant and hotel are built around a lovely patio that looks out on beautiful Fewa Lake, which always reminded me of Cayuga Lake in my Ithaca, NY hometown. One major difference -- Cayuga is surrounded by hills while Fewa is surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
After breakfast, I'd pull a chair up to the low stone wall that surrounds the terrace, prop my feet up on the wall, and get my book out of the backpack. I'd spend most mornings there, reading and watching the school kids from the other side of the lake arrive in rowboats to attend school in town. Then came the water buffalo from the opposite direction. They'd parade along the town's main street, turn into the lane that led to Mike's, and amble down to the lake for their morning bath.
It was an unmatched combination: reading and watching people -- or water buffalo -- in one of the world's most idyllic settings. I'd sit there by myself for hours and never feel lonely. I read more books during my many weeks in Pokhara than I did at any other time or place during my travels.
Guidelines for the Future
Thinking about yesterday's Whole Foods lunch -- and reminiscing here about the past -- have sparked some new ideas about enhancing the quality of my life. Once this Siberian Express departs, I'll start planning some similar quick local trips.
One of the first mini-expeditions will involve a visit to the National Art Gallery with Joey, my on-call driver. I've always enjoyed having lunch in the cafeteria there at a table near the waterfall. After lunch, I'll probably visit my favorite Vermeers and then go to either the East or West Garden Court. Both offer comfy chairs for reading or napping.
The National Portrait Gallery provides similar eating, viewing, reading, and people-watching possibilities.
Then there's the Pavilion Cafe at the beautiful Sculpture Garden. And at the National Museum of the American Indian, the Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe serves up what many describe as the best food on the Mall.
These destinations may not be as spectacular as Mike's on Lake Fewa, but they're a lot closer.