Saturday, August 27, 2005

Neighborhood Fun

While on a layover a couple of weeks ago, I found myself out exploring in one of our larger cities. Rather than just visit the tourist spots with a fellow crewmember, I decided to pick an area and spend some time getting to know a small quarter of the city.

I stopped in at a neighborhood coffee bar for a latte and read the paper. I walked the main streets, poking my head into the shops and galleries. I wandered up and down the side streets, doing some people watching and stopping to check out information on some residential vacancies. Although by myself, I felt neither fear, nor reluctance, in immersing myself in the tastes, smells, and feel of the place. I didn’t want to be a visitor to the neighborhood; I wanted to be a part of it.

After a couple hours I realized that I was hungry, and began looking for someplace for a late lunch. When it comes to travel, I’m fairly adventurous. I like going to new places, and having new experiences. I like discovering little out of the way places, hidden gems of restaurants and bars. When I do this, it doesn’t feel like I’m alone on a layover. It feels like I’m at home.

On this day, I discovered a little bistro with outdoor seating. (This is probably the only time when I’m clearly labeled a tourist, as I enjoy sitting outdoors, even in the sweltering heat of summer.) I asked for a corner table where I could be in the thick of things, while still being removed enough to watch the world go by. I sipped a beverage, perused the menu, and relaxed as I reminded myself “you are getting paid for being here.”

Before I had an opportunity to place my order, the waitress said that a gentleman at the table across the patio wanted to send me over a glass of wine and asked what I would like to have. Since I wasn’t drinking over lunch, I declined and asked her to let him know that I appreciated his gesture. A few minutes later, he strolled over to my table, introduced himself, and asked if he could join me for lunch.

What followed was a lively and animated discussion over a simple meal. Good company and good food is a powerful combination. There was plenty of good-natured flirting, but no sexual innuendo or banter, no concern that the conversation was taking a turn that it shouldn’t. Two people laughing and having fun. Time spent getting to know someone from a neighborhood that was becoming a home away from home.

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