I land in Los Angele an hour late, the sky already streaking pink and gold when our wheels hit the tarmac. It’s really showing off, this sky, and I whisper Please let it be this gorgeous when I get off the plane. But the sky has already gone that dusky blue-gray when I climb onto the rental car shuttle, gone black by the time I spin out of the lot.
It’s the middle of rush hour and the map shows an ugly grid of red lines from here to Pasadena. I weigh my options and make the happiest choice. Swing left toward the beach, toward my old home.
I pass places where I walked when I was pregnant with my daughter, and where I walked again after she was born. She would fall asleep in the stroller and my husband and I would move our bodies forward and talk.
I pull into my favorite Italian restaurant and take a table, starched white cloth and miniature salt and pepper shakers placed just so. The waiter lights a candle and I smile to myself. A candlelit dinner for one. Yes.
It’s easy when you’re traveling alone to let media distract you. Pull out a book or a phone and wham, suddenly not so alone. But alone isn’t bad. Tonight it’s the perfect way to savor things. Tonight I want to pay attention.
So I watch. My table faces the kitchen and I show up and notice the details. The green patina of the walls, the dim lighting in the dining room, the slice of light falling from the kitchen window. The sizzle of food followed by a burst of steam.
The waitress puts her hair up and then down. The LA woman at the table across from me sits with her husband and her uncle. It’s both of their birthdays. She gives them shirts two sizes too big.
And the food, of course. This is my real true comfort food. Italian is my love language. Give me all the sauce and all the carbs. Fresh foccacio, pillowy and soft, topped with vegetables and dragged through olive oil and vinegar. Penne alla vodka with capers and fresh grated cheese. The way new steam wafts with every forkful. Yes, yes. I am here. I am hungry. I am full.