Austin, Texas and Alone with Walls in Lone Star

Jennifer Allison

On the fourth of July I spent the day in Austin, Texas.  Having had most of the day free from work and after a quick rest in my hotel room, I headed out in the sweltering heat, water in hand, to explore south Austin.  I expected to see cowboy boots, star-shaped belt buckles, men with big trucks and BBQ joints as I made my way down Capital Street.  Instead I found sun dresses and wedge heels on the women, flip-flops and trendy silk screened retro tee-shirts on the men, straw fedora hats on both and a fair share of Mini Coopers and BMWs whizzing by on the expansive four lane road which housed the “boutiques.”  It appeared that I had been, unbeknownst to me, teleported to southern California without my knowing.  The crowds were beginning to amass, readying for the fireworks that would be set off hours later and the heat wasn’t letting up.  It would be a few more hours until the sun would set and the cooler night air would let us breath again.  I scanned the storefronts for a good place to eat and rest a bit from the sun, however found most places were closed for the holiday.  Since I had no real plans, the fireworks were literally right in front of my hotel, therefore guaranteeing me a “good spot” and my belly was growling, I continued to walk anyway.  I figured that sooner or later I’d find somewhere that was not only open, but had a good menu as well.

Walking down Capital Way I found an entire grass parking lot filled with converted Airstreams and caravans offering any food choice you could think of.  Food trucks have been making a go of it all over the country and Austin is no different. They are not your typical hot-dog-on-a-stick fair quality food wagons either.  Many of the ones I’ve visited during my travels carry local fresh and organic menus and are really quite good.  I settled on Nomad Dosa; an old converted Airstream serving vegan and wheat free southern Indian food made with fresh produce provided by the locals.  I paid for my jasmine rice topped with Kerala Kokonut and took a seat at one of the many small umbrella covered picnic tables sprinkled throughout the grass.  It seemed odd to me – to be eating traditional southern Indian food on a picnic table in Austin, Texas on the 4th of July.  I felt like I should’ve been eating a rack of pork ribs or something of the carnivorous nature while washing it down with a cold Budweiser.  Instead I sat eating alone at my little red picnic table, munching on my vegan Indian delights, sipping a cold water and observed the people go by.

As I sat there, people watching, I became acutely aware that I was the only one eating alone.  In fact, as I looked past the other trailer eaters chatting amongst one another: I saw that I was literally the only person doing anything alone that day.  Couples, families and friends filled the sidewalks, picnic tables and streets.  It was, after all, a holiday.  I travel for work and have vacationed plenty on my own and have never been bothered by the fact that I was generally by myself.  Usually I’m never the only person eating alone, walking alone and shopping alone.  There have always seemed to be other “loners” out there going about their business just like me.  Though on the 4th of July, in Austin, Texas, the only woman doing anything alone that day was me.  Or, at least that’s the way I felt at the time.  Maybe in the past my loner-ness didn’t bother me so much as I had a long-term/long distance partner I could always call, so I never felt quite so alone even when….well, alone.  Having him to call made the difference of being alone and being lonely.  I considered calling my girlfriend whom I had lunch plans with the next day and inviting myself to her house but I knew she was busy with a new baby and didn’t want to be intrusive.  I wished I had brought a book or something to avert my wistful eyes from the couples and my thoughts from myself – and my pangs of loneliness.

Being alone and sitting with my Self had been a choice I had made many months ago.  After a long relationship that ended on an extremely hurtful note, I quickly began dating someone else; thinking it would help my broken heart and make me feel desirable again.  It lasted only a few weeks before I realized that I was doing an awful thing to another human being.  I was dating a man so as not to be lonely, instead of dating a man because I wanted to be with him – which I thought was entirely selfish and childlike of me.  He was a nice, handsome and generally interesting man and I wished I could have wanted to be with him.  But I didn’t.  So I got out before it went very far and have been alone ever since.  I’m rarely bothered by my being alone and general feelings of loneliness have lessened with the months.  Having a great group of friends and family keeps me busy, as does my art, and I know one day, I won’t be alone any longer.  However, surrounded by all those lovers, families and friends in Austin, Texas on the 4th of July, while eating southern Indian food at a little red picnic table and listening to the cicada bugs sing – I was bothered.

I finished my meal and continued on the road, window shopping and people watching.  After a few minutes I decided to head back to my hotel room, sip a martini and read before the fireworks.  Nothing was open anyway and the heat was only tolerable if under an umbrella or tree.  I dug my iPod out of my bag and began fiddling with it; thinking music would busy my mind as it tends to do.  As I looked up from my iPod I found myself standing directly in front of a wall spray-painted with the words, “I love you so much” on it.  I smiled to myself at the irony of it all; my wistfulness followed by another’s words of love spray-painted on a wall and just like that, I wasn’t so lonely anymore.  While the words should have bothered me, standing there alone on the street, still listing to the sounds of the cicadas singing in the trees near me, feeling melancholic, they, for some odd reason, gave me comfort.  The moss-green wall and red letters sprayed on it became my partner that evening and I no longer felt alone in the lone star state….