For me it was the moment I crossed the metaphorically wide expanse of the lobby of the O'Charley's on Morse Road in Gahanna alone, walked into the restaurant, ordered a meal and ate it.
And how was it eating alone in a crowded restaurant on a Saturday night?
It was the best time. Truly. Because, though I walked in alone, before the evening was out I'd connected with a group of nice people, young and old, who proved that the art of social discourse is still alive and well and living in Gahanna, Ohio.
And to think I almost didn't go in.
When I first arrived at O'Charley's the place was crowded, with probably a dozen people milling around outside and in the lobby waiting for a table. But I noticed there was room at the bar so I told the waitress that I was by myself and asked if I could sit at the bar and eat.
"Why, sure," she said with an empathetic smile, "you go right on over."
"Sure, you go on over and the bartender will be right there to take your order," added the other hostess in the heartening tone of a nurse reassuring a nervous patient.
In truth I was feeling a little nervous. But reassured by the nice hostesses that it was all right, I went right on over and took a seat at the corner of the bar.
The bartender, a sociable young guy, handed me a menu and my drink - a club soda with a slice of lemon - but before I'd even decided what to order a waitress whisking by with a basket of rolls stopped short and set the rolls down in front of me.
"Here, Hon, I'll just give these to you," she said.
I believe that was the first time I've ever felt touched by a basket of restaurant rolls.
After the bartender took my order I felt more at ease and pulled out my laptop to do some writing. As usual, I found it easier to concentrate being out than at home. At home there's always something calling to me - the laundry, the vacuuming, the piano, the refrigerator - and it's just too easy to get up and find something else to do besides writing.
But there at the bar at O'Charley's it was pleasant, the lighting soft but sufficient, the background of not-too loud music and people just right. So even being by myself I had the feeling of being part of humanity. I was beginning to understand why a person might go to a bar alone.
The waitress brought my food - a French dip roast beef sandwich (why is this item called a "French dip"? There's absolutely nothing French about it. The hyper-correct French would never dip their sandwich into a bowl of meat juice! Geez!) and a pile of French fries (which in fact are typically French fair, known as "pommes frites", or fried potatoes, in the native language, so it's okay, I guess, that we call them French fries, though in truth, every country I've ever been in eats fries by the bushel, so I guess they rightly should be called "international fries") - and after she set down my food she asked me, with a soulful, caring gaze, how I was doing, was everything good, was I all right. I assured her that all was well with me and tried my best to look like someone who was all right, which I must not have been doing up to that point.
Then the bar started filling up. An elderly gentleman came in and sat a few chairs down from me . The staff immediately took notice, calling to him, greeting him, asking him how he was doing. Without asking him what he wanted the bartender said, "Gotcha," and fixed for him what I assume was his usual drink. Waitresses stopped to chat and tease, some gave him a hug.
I thought of a jovial favorite grandpa in the bosom of his family.
After I'd finished eating I got into a conversation with the bartender.
You know how movie and TV bartenders are always wiping down the bar and chatting with the customers? It was just like that.
I learned that the bartender was the father of three (though he didn't look 30 years old to me), his youngest daughter born just last Monday. That information brought comment and congratulations from the the rest of the bar patrons (the old gent already knew about the new baby), and soon the old gent, a young couple sitting next to the gent, the bartender (between customers), and myself were engaged in conversation.
What did we talk about? Oh, I don't know. People's work - the young couple were a bicycle builder and a nurse manager, the older guy a retired building codes administrator for the City of Columbus; the places we'd lived; how it is for young people now a days compared to how it was for us oldsters back in the day. And how it feels to eat in a restaurant alone.
The nurse, it turned out, had worked in New York City for a while and, at times finding it hard to coordinate her work schedule with that of her her friends, sometimes ate in a restaurant alone. Seems her experience parallelled mine. She said that for her it was always hard to walk into a restaurant alone, but once she got there she always made friends.
Which reminded me of being on the Camino, where almost everyone was traveling on their own, but where we were all came together to eat joined in companionship and community.
Most interesting was the older gentleman's story. He was 80 years old, a widower for 15 years, lived with his son, and came to O'Charley's every day, either before of after dinner, for his evening drink and for a bit of socializing and conversation.
I thought this was wonderful, and I told the man so; I told him that I wanted to be like him when I was his age, still engaged and enjoying life, which he assured us that he still was.
My companions and I chatted for about an hour, and so enjoyable was our conversation that could I have stayed longer, but by then it was getting close to 11:00pm (in truth I wanted to get home in time for "Saturday Night Live) so I left while the others stayed.
Now, I have no idea whether my experience was fairly typical of what to expect at any suburban restaurant bar on a Saturday night, or whether this particular O'Charley's is an auspicious anomaly; or whether it was that this particular night was an auspicious anomaly even for this particular O'Charley's.
But the next time I find myself in a singleton situation on a weekend I'll have no problem walking right into a restaurant by myself, bellying up to the bar, ordering my club soda and sandwich with a flair of confidence, and being open to the possiblity of some pleasant human companionship.
I recommend to my fellow situational singletons who've never done it before to try it sometime. Who knows? You might discover a new world.