I stalled on writing because I started missing the point. Losing the purpose. Focusing on the wrong end-goal. It took me reading another DF Wallace novel and buying a digital camera to put the pieces together.
Let me explain.
Content. I'm hung up on content. Look back at my last 112 posts (I may need to re-count, as some of them were never published). I always found a topic, theme, to center around. This was easy to build on and blend in/camouflage in the beginning because very new experiences were flooding my life: racing bicycles in Spain, traveling the US in my Volkswagen bus, aspiring to be a pro, failing to be a pro, grad school, love, career, house, marriage, kiddo... ironically I think the transition to more stability, time-consuming stability, shaped my writing style by strong-arming what I thought I had to write about.
Let me explain some more. And bear with me.
Let's take a new angle here before coming back to the "what I had to write about" bit. I recently bought a shiny new high-end camera from a co-worker. Two weeks into ownership of this shiny new electronic marvel I'd clicked the shutter closed thirteen times. Thirteen times. The first nine were snapshots around the kitchen - macro images of fork tines and salt piles, ceramic reflections and wood grains. Two were pictures of Emma and Lauren. The final picture a portrait of me taken by Emma, basically a closeup of one nostril. Fun pictures, but simply monkeying around with a new purchase and gearing up for snapping pictures that matter.
Well finding pictures that matter caused me to stall. There it is, that word. Stall. A new 18-megapixel SLR camera should not be used to capture the ordinary and arbitrary, right? Evening after evening I'd come home from work, glance up at the camera sitting on the mantel, a tinge of guilt spurring mental gears into motion to consider what would be acceptable to photograph that evening. The light was never quite right in the back yard. The setting sun's hue never quite pinched enough, not enough yellow. The flowers not at the right stage of blossom. The garden's offerings well shy of awe-inspiring. Well, shit.
Now about that David Foster Wallace (and don't think I'm losing track here because I know damn well what I've left hanging a few P's back). It took me a few months, but I finally wrapped up his last (and posthumously published) novel The Pale King. In the same manner as his first novel, Infinite Jest, Wallace blew my mind by describing the trivial, day-to-day lackluster monotony of life in candid, brutal honesty; the clarity and perspective pulling you out of a hole you don't realize you're in, assuming (but perhaps not comprehending the assumption) that no one really "gets" what you feel or how you navigate the world around you. Wallace got it. Wallace had the ability to truly observe not only his surroundings but also the emotions they provoked within himself and others, somehow slowing things down and analyzing reactions and feelings in extreme granularity. It would be like an android peeling open his own cranium hull just to peer in a mirror at all the blinking lights, PCBs and processors inside, grinning uncontrollably and fervently scribbling notes to document the causes and effects of everything occurring. He (Wallace) goes through this process and tells you about the "other side", in effect teaching you about yourself at his own expense.
Wallace didn't worry about content. The story, the meat, lived in the total lack of content. The tedium. Life. Much of his writing doesn't have a clear direction from the get-go, which causes some readers to abandon Infinite Jest in the first 50-pages. Granted, the guy was genius and I suspect he knew exactly how to structure his writing to subtly guide the reader to his point; but the way his writing unfolds makes you feel like he, the author, is also stumbling and groping through this gray, fuzzy, mass of confusion, trying to make sense of how and why life is pummeling you (or his characters) instead of getting to the point already. In the end, you feel this immense satisfaction and gratification by merely observing life. No big story - no ghosts, no crime solving, no delta force recon mission. Just living, dude.
So I'm sitting on my couch (not now, this is a few nights back), and I've just watched the "This is Water" commencement speech by Wallace, and I'm speechless mouth agape and reflecting on the genius and immensity of what he's laid out there clear as day yet it was in front of me the whole time and I'm feeling this giddiness bubble up because I realize I've felt everything he just described and I now feel somehow ready, equipped to face the future... I started looking around. I see the camera. I think of writing. I see a Modern Art book up on the shelf, and I think about the great artists and their ability to paint a bowl of fruit, a goddamn bowl of fruit, and change the way you see the world. A bowl of fruit is not content. It's life, and there's more there than you realize.
Coming full circle, "what I had to write about" was, in my mind, something great. I felt like I had to first describe all the back story that'd occurred since my last post, then be sure to cover all the wonderful aspects of marriage and fatherhood, then talk about a few other "satisfying" things... all before I could feel justified to bitch a little. Then in the end that didn't feel like a worthy topic, it certainly wasn't "something great", so I'd scrap the whole thing and nothing got published anyways.
Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. This is life, man. And this is me growing in my life. There are ups and downs and I, we all, experience these undulations to the fullest. I plan to write about them, loosely, which may make for entertaining reading or it may not. I don't care. Here we go. Oh and I better start using that camera...
I've no shirt on. Who cares, I am male right? Well, I'm modest to the extent that I don't usually sleep with less than a T-shirt and boxers on, so you know it's got to be warm for me to bare it in broad daylight. Of course, the crisp-clean tanlines I sport on my arms gives the illusion of a white tee; my lack of chest hair amplifies the illusion.
Life is challenging right now. Five days ago, in the midst of terrible dissapointment and frustration at the Cascade Cycling Classic in Bend, Oregon, life was the proverbial bitch. A fitting paraphrase: went expecting the best form of my life, immediately experienced the worst form of my life, quit the race early and drove home contemplating my wacked out season, training, and ambitions. Thursday afternoon, now.
Lauren I and celebrated three years together this week (THREE!). I figure I might ask her to marry me in another three, perhaps four years. Just kidding. Such an event is emminent and, without letting the cat out of the bag, my heart is racing just typing it out. The night of our anniversary was booked with other activities, but on Tuesday evening we strutted down to Mortimers and treated ourselves to the finest (THE finest) experience I've ever, well, experienced. Seven course meal, each one better than the next and some tasty wine to wash it down with.
Life is good. You can always find things to pick apart (and if you read this much you know that I am the KING of picking things apart) but all is truly wonderful. Lauren is an awesome mom, more incredibly nurturing, generous, loving, selfless, and creative than I could have imagined. I like to think I'm a pretty good dad myself; surprisingly being an engaged father takes zero effort, it's simply something I can't wait to do every day. As I've mentioned before it kills me to have to work and be gone so much during the day, but it distills the time with Emma into high octane (say 180-proof) quality dad-n-daughter time. Makes you appreciate it.
Lauren is awesome, did I mention that? On numerous levels. Example: she has chosen to pursue a post-graduate degree, once again driving towards her dream of teaching. This may mean big changes for us, more importantly this represents a big moment in our relationship. Lauren made some huge sacrifices in supporting this move to California, and it's nice (and validating for her) to let her grab the wheel, hit the gas, and drive this shuttle to our next adventure. Plans and details are still preliminary, but it's in the works.
Gotta run. Emma has yet to fall asleep for her afternoon nap and is starting to wig out. More to follow.
1) My job is going to rock. Yessir, despite being mired in the corporation's Human Resources (HR) Hell, I've gotten to play engineer just enough to get a taste for what's to come. And it is looking awesome. Que sobrosa!
2) I am lost without my wife. Life is empty without her, and although we chat on the phone for over an hour each day I still hate coming home alone to my humble, rented, spartan room and knowing I won't get to see her again for a few weeks. This will be hard.
I don't have too much time to expound, but here is a breakdown of my journey to date:
- Friday (February 26): Left Boise 5AM in newly purchased Saab. Saab drives great, but (surprise!) leaks gas when filled to full capacity. Still averaged over 33 mpg on the trip. Swung through Lake Tahoe, tried to meet up with old girlfriend to no avail, continued over Donner Summit. Note to self: Avoid Donner Summit at all costs for future trips. I'm 0/2 in terms of stress (snow/ice) - free journeys across that wretched area. Landed in Santa Rosa, met up with one and only friend here (to date), slept in his spare room on an inflatable mattress.
- Saturday: Room shopping. Of the five rooms I had lined up, I only viewed two. The other tenants either weren't around (so very professional), or I decided to drive on by after seeing the area. By 3PM I decided to rent a room from a single mom with a teenage daughter and early-20s son that live there part time. Comfortable, but most importantly uber-cheap. Went back to friend's house for the night.
- Sunday: Moved in to room. Spent the day monkeying around with habitation setup and unpacking my crap. Made it out for a two-hour bike ride in this friggin' awesome area. Beautiful. All the locals are complaining about the "terrible winter". It was 64-degrees and sunny on my ride.
- Monday: New Employee Orientation (NEO) at work. Or should I say: Intruduction to Acronym Mayhem (I-AM). Lasted all day, never met my teammates there, but managed to rendezvous for a mighty-fine dinner with my boss downtown. The fed me a 22-oz. Lagunitas Imperial Stout and a massive bowl of curried Saigon noodles. I survived, and even smiled and relaxed a bit.
- Tuesday-Thursday: Training. Paperwork. Very little practical engineering. Did I mention paperwork?
Little wonder I have a cold. I have averaged maybe 6.5 hours of sleep for the last, eh, five months. It's not Emma, or work stress even, just staying up too damn late then getting up early to catch up on life (gym time, Boise rental, all sorts of crap). Chronic lack of sleep fed perfectly (in a sinister sense) into a weekend blast back to Boise to host an open house and attempt to find new tenants for our home. The open house was a bust, and being back in a community of comfort flooded me with more emotional energy than my weakened immune system could handle. So, here we are. Sick.
Back in Santa Rosa now. Playing hooky from work today, sort of. There was a huge R and D function at work, where the company rented three greyhound-style buses to cart the department down to an Oakland Athletics baseball game. Sounds fun enough, but even last night, before the cold hit full-force, I was considering bowing out. Something about drinking all day, gorging on corn-dogs hot-dogs fill-in-the-blank-dogs and (above all) being surrounded by workmates for nine hours, returning home at 6PM already drunk then sober then hung over and bloated... eh, pass. Still though, awesome gesture by the company management. Pretty sure my absence will go unnoticed among the hundreds of engineers present. Hopefully...
Gotta tell you that I am confused about life, which I guess isn't much deviation from the norm for me. As last reported, things are working out well here in California but Lauren and I definitely feel the pangs of missing family and community in Boise. My mom drove up from Elko for the weekend in Boise, and I got some solid time in with Greg, G and T. I think sitting on G and T's back porch, sipping decaf and absorbing the sounds/smells/temperature of a typical late-summer Boise evening, G and I settling right back in to the genuine connection we've shared for the last five years... Even the morning of the (failed) open house was too much to handle. Ironic that a typical Idaho morning, 55-degrees of dry summer air, large cup of Joe from Dawson's downtown, maple-bar donut from DK's, and a dozen hot air balloons in the crisp blue sky can make you bummed out!
Still, though, there's a lot to enjoy down here, hence my total confusion and discomfort. Ambivalence, true binary this-side-that-side-of-the-fence ambivalence, is torture for me. If nothing else is gained from this period I life I think I'll be forced to let go of the obsession to have things 100% mapped out and secure. Such structure is impossible, and longing for it now is pointless.
Well here we are. Rather, here I am, speaking to myself in some weirded-out form of the plural to sound more erudite. I'm a bit of a mess today and would like to journal down some thoughts and feelings. Life is good overall, however I am battling a combination of fatigue, loneliness, and perhaps chemical withdrawal. Good time to write.
My thoughts are running crazy. I find random memories hitting me, evoking an image of icicles sporadically detaching from late-winter thawing gutters at unexpected moments and smashing (some rather significantly, some not so much) to the ground below. Never knowing when or from what cause each stalactite chose to take flight. Some thoughts, in real-time:
Trampolines in summertime. Laying on my back, dressed in an aqua-blue ribbed tank top and board shorts of poor taste, feeling/smelling/damn-near-tasting the heat reflecting the hard Nevada sun off the black nylon surface and drilling into/onto my senses. I am somewhere around twelve years old, sporting a flattop with a six-inch rattail in the back and also sporting a sizable gap in my top teeth. I am mastering the front flip, front flip with full twist, back flip, then the back flip with a half twist... then trying the double back and nearly killing myself and deciding to call it good. I can see the linear, sweeping pattern the sprinkler makes, passing back and forth underneath the canvas; and I can see the instantaneous layer of precipitation formed a few inches above this canvas given a hard, quick jump to displace it downward – an immediate layer of atomized water, like catching a rainstorm in freeze frame. I see myself doing this over and over again. I see the emerald green clumps and strands of crested wheat underneath the trampoline, growing tall enough to brush the underside thanks to the partial shade and copious (otherwise unseasonal) amounts of water. I feel them touch my feet when the trampoline displaces downward.
I see hunting trips, particularly the last time I hunted with my father and his father; the three of us tracking deer and bunking in a fifth-wheel trailer that, ironically, my father would later call home the final few months of his unraveling marriage with my mother. It had faded letters across the front and sides denoting the model, something along the lines of Golden Eagle. I smell the stale and strangely comforting blend of particle wood, polyurethane foam cushions, and dust-covered packages of dated sandwich cookies; but also the sickening, gravy-thick offense of cigarettes; my bed positioned me about fifteen inches from the ceiling and my father and grandfather chain-smoked without regard to this fact. I remember not wanting to say anything, trying to be one of the dudes and not ruin the moment. This trip was also the first time I had a New York steak; my dad must have made a comment at the store regarding it being a great steak to grill, 'specially for the money; for years I thought (hell I still think, I guess) this to be true. I remember shooting my first deer, actually blowing the right rear leg off as the buck sprinted up and away on the hillside across from us. Rear leg flapping and finally detaching in full three-legged sprint. I remember my dad learning that, for some reason, I had chosen not to wear my contact lenses that day. I remember feeling bad when we tracked, killed, and gutted the deer; staring into his eyes and whispering an apology in my mind. I did not want to say anything out loud about this, either.
I remember the first “epic” mountain bike ride I went on, tagging along with cohort Mark Murphy on a six-hour ride through the valley and up into the Ruby Mountain range. We overestimated our abilities and underestimated the distance. We drank from streams for the final three hours of the ride and should have gotten sick, but we didn't. We cut through ranchers' property and in our fatigue ended up with some barbwire lacerations. At the midway point I remember Mark pulled out the lunch he had packed for both of us – sardines, anchovies, some form of crackers, and some jelly beans. We sat on a huge rock overlooking a brook and ate our lunch, noting that everything around us was radically skewed to the right in the wheel of primary colors; all yellow, oranges, reds, no blues or purples. Mark told me about the different tastes of the various flavors of Powerbait (fishing bait), and how the glitter sticks between your teeth. I miss Mark.
I see myself squatting in a fort Jason D. and I fashioned from sage brush, oak and aspen limbs, located in a grove of trees between holes One and Eighteen of the Spring Creek Golf Course. I remember feeling so tucked away and unnoticed, comfortable, making plans and dragging provisions there one backpack load at a time in preparation to stay a night or week if so desired. I remember squatting in the 'main room' of this fort and hearing the rain fall, smelling the pungent stab of wet sage, and wondering whether it was time to pedal my Invader BMX bike back to my real home.
Yeah, so... where are all these coming from? If my brain where a laptop, I would ALT+CTRL+DELETE and check out the task manager, killing all of the idling processes that seem to run automatically on system start-up... always running, always running, taking up any slack in processing capabilities. Such slack is nonexistent right now, so these memories feel viral and malignant. I am tired, and also detoxing from anti-depressants. Both facts are interrelated.
I left Santa Rosa at 5:30 a.m. Monday, driving two hours to Fremont, California to begin a four-day training seminar in Abaqus FEA software. In a nutshell, the training is necessary for my job (heck, I even volunteered for it) but four-days away from Lauren and Emma is a substantial challenge. L and I are doing exceptionally well in our relationship, mostly due to a break-through conversation (after several, several frustrating/paralyzing/dead-end marathon conversations) the week prior. Nice change. I feel like we are finally able to enjoy this California experience for what it is... an adventure. So not such a great time to leave, right when L and I are really clicking. On top of that Emma has been out of sorts for nearly two weeks' time; her last round of immunizations coincided not-so-suspiciously with a serious fever and general crankiness... throw in the fact that she's cutting two molars and one incisor and you have a pretty volatile fifteen-month-old girl.
Knowing Emma is a handful right now adds to my personal pressure, being away from home for the full week. Fremont is just far enough away that I opted to rent a hotel room. What a miserable place to have to squat for an extended period.... it is marginally better than San Jose or Santa Clara, but shares the same infinite soulless strings of industrial parks, strip malls, and freeways. On day two, I realized that I'd forgotten my Zoloft back in Santa Rosa.
I started taking 50 mg of Zoloft per day sometime back in December of last year. Things had reached a point where my anxiety and nerves were wrecking my life and marriage. I began seeing a psychiatrist once a week and, for the most part, have maintained this 1x per week routine for the past nine months. The therapy has been incredible, and the uber-low dosage of Zoloft has been enough to take the edge off, helping me slow down auto-destruct anxiety loops that can wreck my days. I have no desire to stop taking it yet, especially not cold-turkey. Even at the low-dosage I felt nauseous and spacey for a few days back in December when I started. Lauren was going to come visit me in Fremont on Wednesday, but considering my class was running from 8:00 to 5:45 each day, Emma's sleep/eat schedule and the soulless nature of the Bay Area, we decided this was not a good idea. Hence Lauren was not able to bring down the meds. Wasn't a big deal for the first few days.
Things have gotten progressively worse. By Thursday morning I was feeling extremely nauseous and floaty, digestion out of wack and in general just a freaking mess. I looked terrible, eyes all sunken in and lids heavy. Friday was worse and now, Saturday, I have come to expect an ever-present feeling of low-blood-sugar. That is the best way I can describe it. Being feint, floating. “But wait”, you ask, “I thought training was only through Thursday!?” Ah, that is correct, but my boss needed me to attend a critical design freeze/review meeting in Minneapolis on Friday. I left training early on Thursday, hopped an evening flight to Minneapolis, cabbed it to my hotel then ate some lobby food and fell into bed around 1:30a.m. Woke up the next day, cabbed it to the office, then attended (and presented part of) a 6-hour meeting. All the while feeling like my face was floating off my skull.
The unfortunate news is that, when I make it back home, I probably get to re-tox from this de-tox and feel poopy for another few days before my head comes back down from the clouds. As I said, I have no desire to stop taking Zoloft yet. I hate feeling dependent on something but it's not about that; it's about quality of life and stopping myself from sabotaging myself. Yesterday and today especially I can feel my brain latching on to anxiety points just like the old days and it scares me. So that's where I stand.
I am on a plane. Actually, it is worth mentioning that I (for the first time in my life) am riding up in first class with the big kids. I can tell you, it's nice but it's not twice-the-price-nice; I just happened to luck out and get bumped up do to frequent flier status and seat availability. If it makes you feel any better, the coffee is still shitty, whether you're in the front or the back of the bus. This very moment we are flying over Yosemite, the canyon sporting El Capitan is extremely discernible from this altitude. That also means we're only a few minutes from beginning the descent so I'll cut this off. To end it, then, here are a few more random sputterings from my junkie brain:
I am wearing my Doc Marten boots, the very same pair I bought back in 1996 while on vacation in Texas. Averaging what I calculate as three wearings per week for the last fifteen years, I have officially spent more time in contact with them than any other thing or person in my life. Lauren gives me flack about this, yet she should feel comforted to see me take such ridiculous anal-retentive care of the things I value.
Crap, nevermind, descending now... literally and figuratively.
I got up about 7AM, had 2 very good cups of java and watched the morning news. The news was lame-o, but the rate of my awakening was perfect and by about 8:30 I was ready to begin the day in earnest. I drove around downtown for a while before deciding to head to Trader Joe's for a brunch of sorts. I bought a foot-long turkey/bacon/avocado wrap, devoured it immediately along with an uber-tasty Fuji apple, and hit the 101 South towards Novato.
I drove to the house of a coworker/friend who lives in Novato, hopped in his car, and continued on to the city. (Note: For all you non-Bay-Area folk, the city always means San Francisco. Always.). Don and I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge and hung a left soon thereafter, skirting along Lombard until hitting Van Ness. We jogged a few times and ended up parking on O'Farrell street, then hoofing it directly toward Chinatown.
Chinatown = China. Seriously. Don, despite being Asian, has never visited China. But I have been there 1/2 a dozen times now and let me tell you that the San Francisco Chinatown is about 98% the real thing. Gimmicky stores? Check. Crazy storefronts vending textiles and odd building materials? Check. Lots of Asians squatting and smoking? Yessir. The 2% un-authenticity is a good thing, as the real China doesn't feel so tourist-safe. This safety, in San Fran, is nice.
We found a hole-in-the-wall Dim Sum restaurant and gorged ourselves silly, imbibing a 12-oz Tsingtsao each because hey why not it's Sunday and sure it's only 11Am but let's live it live it! The Dim Sum was unreal. If you've never had it: do. Basically the Asian version of tapas. But with MSG instead of capers.
After that we walked back to the parking garage and headed towards "The Pier", which I learned later meant particularly Pier 39 in Fisherman's Wharf, which is basically the North Coast of San Francisco, overlooking the bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Le Isle de Alcatraz. Although that area is beautiful it's a bit too theme-parky for my taste. We hung out there for maybe another hour, long enough to have a glass of wine down by the water and get a dose of people-watching. We jumped back in Don's car, drove along the beach there then crossed the GGB on the way back to Novato.
By the time I drove back to my current abode it was almost 3:45, and although feeling tired and dim-sum-heavy the weather was too nice to ignore so I went out for a bike ride. AMAZING. One of the best rides yet. I headed out River Road through the town of Guerneville and on to Monte Rio. From there I hung a left on the Bohemian Highway, heading south all the way through quaint little Occidental and into Freestone. That stretch of road, specifically from Monte Rio to Occidental, is a blast to pedal. Dense redwood forests and eclectic cabins stuffed deep into the forest.
I hooked east through Sebastopol, exploring a wrangling bike path that dumped me out on the outskirts of town facing Santa Rosa. Said and done I rode maybe three hours but averaged over 21 mph which, given the undulating topography I was quite pleased with.
Now it's late and I am happy. I had an extra-large bottle of Ace Pear Cider waiting chilled in the fridge upon my return and will finish that off before hopping in the shower then off to bed. I discovered that Ace is brewed in Sebastopol, a realization which (not surprisingly) augments the taste in this moment.
The trick is mental and physical exertion; exertion to exhaustion. The more I flog myself with work and exercise the quicker time passes, the less time I have to dwell on the remaining duration until this limbo situation is resolved. That quest for exertion, that need to remain busy 100% of the time, is serving me well at my new job. I am ramping up quickly and beginning to contribute in earnest. Now, if the weather would just remain decent, I'd feel as confident about my physical condition. I have no races or competitions of any sort coming up, but I hate letting myself soften. I know I'm neurotic, but there are much worse neuroses out there.
But oh boy, when the weather is nice here, it's the Garden of Eden. I hopped on my road bike this morning a smidge after 9AM and didn't get back home until 2:30PM, having logged just 80 miles in 5.5 hours. If you do the math, you realize that's a terrible average speed, but in those 5.5 hours the only flat land traversed was my driveway. Everything here is emerald green and lush, the grapevines are all in bloom and all manner of critters are out enjoying the weather. I can't count the number of turkeys I saw on my ride... There are innumerable single-lane roads that wind and undulate through the vineyards, allowing you to travel 50+ miles in any direction without pedaling on a major road.
I am beginning to get my arms around this city, Santa Rosa. The hardest thing to find was a coffee shop that isn't part of a chain/franchise. It took about three weeks, but here I am, blogging comfortably at a quaint (one-off) little cafe/roastery in the Old Railroad District near downtown. Now don't get me wrong, I do enjoy Starbucks coffee, or Peet's Coffee, I just hate the cookie-cutter decor and corporate rules enforced. Peet's at least offers free wifi, but just an hour's worth... turds.
Lauren and I swung into this very shop last weekend when she was in town. There was a live band playing, a trio of older gents rocking some decent blues-y tunes. Any time the bass player went off on a solo riff, little Emma (as we've chosen to call her) started kicking/rolling/punching inside L's belly. Lauren listens to music a lot, but I suspect that's the first time our little daughter-to-be has felt such bass reverberating through her cozy little world. I'd like to think Emma was rocking out, but for all we know she was beating on the "walls" in a plea for mercy. She just might hate jazz and love, say, Beyonce. Lord save us.
When you are alone in a new city, the largest inhibitor to integrating into the community is your pride and inhibitions. The best thing to do is throw yourself in head-first, wander around down town, sit alone at a bar and people-watch, go to shows and lectures, join new clubs. But lord no, we can't do that, that's too awkward. I'll look silly sitting alone at a bar. I'll look silly just showing up at a new group ride and sticking my hand out, introducing myself over and over again to total strangers that might or might not give a shit. But... that's how it's done, and that's the direction I need to head. Last night was a good start, as I finally dropped the cowardice and seated myself alone at the bar in a restaurant downtown, called Flavor. The people watching was great, and an older couple ended up sitting next to me and we completely hit it off. In fact, I'll likely be joining them for another meal sometime in the next week. You see? That's how it's done (he says, to himself, the quiet loner sitting in the corner... heh heh).