On Wednesday morning I took a cab from my cousin's house to Salt Lake City, dropped my bag off with the concierge at The Grand America, ordered a cup of coffee in the lobby, and sat down by the fireplace with a book. It was amazing.
It had been a really long time since I felt completely alone somewhere--my hotel roommates hadn't arrived yet, and I was super early to any conference happenings. So I just sat there, not knowing anyone, casually observing the people around me, sipping my coffee out of a fancy little cup, and reading page after page of Rainn Wilson's lovely new book (and wondering how one begins to convert to the Bahá'í faith).
After about a half hour, I checked into my room and ventured out to find the salon where I had booked a blowout with a soon-to-be new friend who was also going to Alt Summit. She was also getting makeup done so I was finished quite a bit before she was, and I used the extra time to get something to eat. Eating out alone is something I've spent an unusually large amount of time thinking about, because I don't do it. I love going out for coffee on my own, but I have to have a book or my laptop or at least be scrolling through my phone while I sip my latte. But a meal alone always feels kind of off-limits to me, so when it was lunch time in Salt Lake City and I was out and about on my own, I thought for sure I would get some takeout and bring it back to the salon while my new friend finished up her appointment.
I surprised myself by walking into a Japanese restaurant and sitting down at the bar (I guess graduating to a table of one's own requires baby steps). I ordered some miso soup and a couple of sushi rolls and had a really good time by myself. I checked my phone a few times, but for the most part I enjoyed my food, smiled at the chefs, and made small talk with the server whenever she came by to refill my water.
Alt Summit is a wonderful conference and I always enjoy going because I leave full of inspiration and with a few new friends (this time I met some women who made me laugh so hard I cried--our ongoing group text is probably the most valuable thing I brought home from Utah); but I realized as I sat by the fireplace with my coffee and again at the sushi bar that the thing I love most about this trip I take every January is that it forces me to travel on my own. I am either completely alone in my activities, or I'm pushed out of my comfort zone to spend time with strangers.
I really love almost every single thing about my life, but the truth is that I haven't spent very much time alone. I lived with roommates in college, and after graduation I had my own apartment but hated it so much that I think I spent just as much time sleeping at my parents' house as I did at my place. And then Rob graduated from college and moved in with me. Building a home with him has been one of the most important and fulfilling parts of my life.
But there is something magical about being alone in a city you don't know very well. To have coffee in fancy hotels with real fireplaces. To order room service or get on the train in search of a restaurant you've never been to before. To drink too much wine and talk about work and life and cancer and childbirth and God with four women you didn't even know three days ago, and leave feeling like you've known them for ten years.
Sure, it's a just a work trip with a little vacation mixed in. But we stretch and grow a little bit with every place we go. And then we go back home, where comfort reigns over luxury or adventure, and we remember what matters.
I touched down in Charlotte late last night and Rob picked me up with Ender in the car. We got home and I took off my makeup and jewelry, throwing my hair up into a loose bun and falling into my own bed at last--Rob's warm body next to mine and our pup curled up at our feet.
It's good to be back.