Somewhere in Missouri
One of my favorite stops so far happened yesterday on the way from St. Louis to Lake of the Ozarks. I was driving through a small town called Rosebud. It was getting to be about dinner time, and I saw a place called M.Clancy's Irish Pub and Grill. "Awesome!" I thought. "I can get a Guinness and some Irish food." Well, apparently in Rosebud, they're pretty liberal with the definition of Irish - they didn't have Guinness, and their special of the day was Catfish. I didn't check out the rest of the menu because catfish sounded pretty good, but I'm not sure how Irish they actually were.
I spent the first half of my meal just sitting and listening to the conversations around me... apparently one of the guys had just gotten back from someplace near China, or as his friend called it, "that commie country." "I wasn't actually in the commie country, just nearby."
As I was eating, I ended up talking to the bartender, and just chatted with her about where she lived, when she moved into town, what she did before she got that job. It ended up being pretty fun, and she opened up to me some too. She told me about her daughter working at Applebee's, and how she hopes it'll open her up some since she's pretty shy. She told me about losing her job, and how she got the job at the bar, and talked about how she likes bartending because she gets to talk to every body. She pointed out which ones were locals and which ones were from out of town, and which ones were the regulars who came in at the same time everyday. I really enjoyed talking with her, and it seemed like she enjoyed having someone to talk to as well.
When I was in Lake of the Ozarks earlier today, I stopped at Bandana's BBQ (on recommendation) for lunch. I ended up sitting at the bar again (because c'mon, who wants to sit at a table by themself?), and it wasn't very busy in there, so I chatted with the girl who was working there for a while. I asked her where she was from, when she moved there, stuff like that, and she talked some about her family and what brought her there and what she's doing in college. It ended up being a pretty fun conversation, and we chatted until her manager came over and had her start training a new person. (It didn't hurt that she was pretty darn cute too.)
I've found that I really like going to restaurants (that have bars) by myself, because you get to do that. As long as they're not too busy, you can meet a new person and learn a little about them. The only times I've gotten to talk to the waitress much when I'm with people I know is if we're regulars, and they know us really well. A few times at Old Chicago we've gotten the waitress to sit and talk to us for a while during our meal, but that's about it. But sit by yourself, and suddenly they're okay with talking to you anytime they don't have something else to do.
I'm hoping to get a little better at asking the kind of questions that open people up as time goes on. I think I'm better than I used to be, but there's definitely room to improve - I can see it in the pauses in conversation, or in certain responses I make that I later realize could have been better. And I'm looking forward to building connections that I wouldn't if I were doing the comfortable thing and eating with people I know.