“Why am I all by myself at 9:30pm on a Saturday night in New York City?!” I thought to myself, as I wandered slowly down the sidewalk. The movie was great, (more than great, romantic-comedies are my FAVORITE and this one was particularly romantic AND comedic) but too short, and if I went back to my apartment now, my middle-aged roommates would think I had no social life. How is it that Jo, the 65-year-old musical theatre actress, had more of a social life than me? I’m 27. I’m in the prime of life. I live in New York City! Most nights, I’m in bed watching Netflix by 10:30pm. Being that it was Saturday, I had decided to go out to the movies. (I know, I know, WILD night). Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE seeing movies by myself. But after awhile, you start to wonder if you’re weird. Being alone so much. Not having more friends. More plans. Maybe I just push people away? Maybe I’ve turned down too many social opportunities in the past and people have given up inviting me. Maybe I’m afraid of people getting too close.
This Saturday night, New York City was particularly dreamy. It was early fall and that nostalgic, poetic gusty wind was blowing through the trees as I made my way uptown along Central Park West. I love walking to the movie theatre on the Upper West Side, about twenty blocks from my apartment. Oh, about that. My roommates: Both in their 60s, both nosy, and both apparently have more friends and more of a social life than me. The musical theatre actress roommate stayed out most nights until midnight, doing plays, and going to dinner with friends afterwards. She was part of the reason I didn’t want to return home at 9:30pm on a Saturday night. I couldn’t deal with the questions tonight. “You’re home early! What did you do tonight? Oh, saw a movie? By yourself?”
“Ok. That’s it. You’re not going home yet, Stella,” I said to myself. What else can I do? Go get ice cream? No. I had that last night. I crossed the street and decided to wander towards Columbus Circle. I stopped on the sidewalk and tried to come up with a plan, when I realized I was by one of New York City’s oldest diners: “Good Eats: 24/7.” It was on 65th and Columbus Avenue. I walk by it all the time and love looking through the windows. It’s one of those diners that have probably been there forever. You know, nothing special on the outside, but regulars go there every day. I always see people reading papers through the windows, older couples laughing and talking, eating soup. One time, I saw a group of friends, probably around my age, eating pie and drinking coffee and laughing so hard, I thought I had never witnessed a cozier, happier sight. I’m constantly creating stories in my head about what people are talking about inside the diner, whenever I walk by.
I took a deep breath and decided to be adventurous and pretend I’m starring in my own movie tonight. A rom-com of course, set in NYC. “I’ll go into the diner, ask for a table for 1, and order some decaf coffee and a slice of pie. And maybe I’ll meet my own personal John Cusack and talk for hours and fall madly in love,” I said to myself.
It’s always nerve-wracking walking in someplace alone, especially a new place. I am not a “shy” person, but there’s something about entering a place alone that makes you feel so on the spot. It feels like you have to pretend you have a purpose for being there, that you’re completely confident, and not new to it at all.
As I opened the diner door, a gust of wind blew in with me, making the door heavy to close behind me. I took a deep breath as I looked around the cozy diner, glancing around the room and pretending to have a reason for being there while trying to take in the other customers. A middle-aged waiter approached me with a menu in his hand.
“Hi, table for 1?” I said, feeling shy and embarrassed. Not at all like the confident, modern woman in the movies who has no problem strutting into a diner and catching the eye of the perfect, mysterious stranger.
“Right this way, miss,” he responded in a European accent.
I was seated near the window. Perfect. I love being able to people-watch outside and look around the restaurant. Now that I was siting down, I could look more closely at the other people in the diner. There was an elderly couple eating soup and talking loudly, a true “Upper West Side” looking- woman, with a poodle on her lap (this must be her routine; she’s probably at this spot every night), and to my astonishment, in the back corner of the restaurant there was a guy. A handsome guy. A mysterious AND handsome guy. Alone. My heart skipped a beat as I accidentally stared. What happened next made me think that perhaps I AM in a movie: this mysterious and handsome stranger was staring back at me from across the room and oh my god he just smiled at me. WHAT IS HAPPENING?
The waiter returned and I ordered my coffee (decaf) and a slice of cherry pie. I had to look back at “the guy” to see if I had imagined him sitting there, looking at me. Nope, not imagined. He was there. Now he was reading a book. He looked up right as I was about to look away and he smiled at me. AGAIN. His smile spoke of charm, humor, intellect, and depth. Maybe I was just in a romantic mood from the movie I had just seen, but here I was, alone, eating pie & drinking coffee, at a cozy diner in uptown Manhattan, and there was a cute stranger wearing a pea coat with dark locks and a gorgeous smile. I smiled back but pretended to be busy waiting for someone and looked out the window. Then checked my phone.
The waiter brought my coffee and pie a few moments later, and suddenly I felt so cool and artistic. I AM a woman of the world. Confident. Sitting alone at this diner, thinking deep thoughts, not afraid to be by myself. Ah, New York City can be so magical. It can be lonely, yes, but there’s something romantic about being alone on a night like tonight. The possibilities feel endless. The air carries a feeing of romance. Speaking of romance, I decided to sneak another glance at the corner of the room where Mystery Man was sitting. He seemed deeply entrenched in his book. His face was so handsome, in a thoughtful, introspective way. Think: John Cusack. His book was vintage-looking, probably one of the Classics. Right then, he looked up at me. I was caught. I couldn’t look away, it would be too obvious. So I tried to offer up a nonchalant, friendly smile that wasn’t too flirty. Suddenly, to my astonishment, he slid out of his booth and started to make his way across the room. He was still looking at me. Now he was walking towards me. Never in a million years did I think there would be a beautiful man sitting alone reading a book in a diner on a Saturday night. Guess I’m not the only loner in this city. I felt a twinge of both excitement and comfort as he walked towards me. He ran his hand through his perfect, tussled hair. He was midway through the diner on his way to my table and nearing the front door when suddenly, horrifyingly, he was intercepted by a beautiful brunette (wearing chunky fall boots and an adorable leather jacket—how do some women have such great style?).
“Babe! Sorry I’m late!” she said as she pulled him in for a kiss.
He kissed her back, wrapped his arm around her waist, and they started to make their way back towards his booth. He slowly glanced over his shoulder at me one last time and gave me a look that I will always remember.
New York City. You are the perfect setting for beautiful, romantic movies. For movies about love, movies about heartbreak. And tonight you taught me a powerful lesson: beware of the things you imagine when you are sitting alone in a diner after seeing a romantic-comedy at the movie theatre, on a whimsical Saturday night.