Just got back from attending my first concert in years…I have multiple reasons for rarely indulging in live music, but in those extremely rare situations when bands I actually, truly like (or liked at one time) come to town, this old man has been known to grant exceptions.
For the record, as with many of my past concert experiences, I attended alone. My wife and I share many important qualities and beliefs, but we differ on some of the unimportant stuff, including but not limited to musical preferences. That’s hardly a recipe for disaster, but if I want to catch one of my favorite musicians live, it means I’m on my own. The only acquaintances who share my musical tastes all live in different states. When I was younger, it was a bit more soul-crushing to find myself alone in a crowd full of happy couples and cliques. The older I get, the less it damages me.
When I have the opportunity to check out something interesting beyond our four walls, it’s not an automatic assumption that someone must be there to hold my hand. My wife and I find plenty of opportunities for quality time, but sometimes I’ll heed the call of a potentially rewarding solo adventure. How do I keep my spirits up without whining about loneliness or making sad puppy-dog eyes at other people and wishing really hard that they were my BFFs? What follows is a partial list of some of the personal guidelines that served me well on this particular jaunt.
1. Treat yourself.
Dinner companions can be entertaining, but not a single state in the Union has outlawed eating by yourself in a restaurant. If you need to save money, sure, you could stuff a stale, homemade PBJ sammich down your gullet before the show, but getting out of the house will do you a world of good, especially when countless new experiences are at your disposal.
My own example: a Cuban sub shop called Taste of Havana just opened two months ago in Broad Ripple. After bypassing both a Subway and a Jimmy Johns, I discovered this father/daughter joint by walkabout happenstance and was bowled over by the results. A sub sandwich with ham, turkey, bacon, and chorizo sausage won me over easily. For dessert, I tried the guava-‘n’-cream-cheese pastelito despite the owner’s warning about the sweetness. I can now confirm that guava is officially not bad and, yes, ridiculously sweet. Before and between courses, the family/staff was charming and the other customers largely gregarious.
2. Bring something to pass the time during the lulls.
Boredom will turn my thoughts to self-indulgent sadness in no time flat. In past outings, I would bring a book to read. A small mass-market paperback can fit nicely into the side pocket on a pair of cargo pants, as long as you don’t opt for a thousand-page Tom Clancy novel. With the invention of the smartphone, many Americans carry a portable babysitter at their fingertips for any boring occasion.
Example: the doors at the Vogue opened at 7 p.m. I don’t drink, I’m terrible at mingling, and watching roadies at work doesn’t hold my attention for long. The hour before the 8 p.m. start would have to be used up somehow. Luckily for me, Twitter is a good listener.
…because when you’re in a position to paint the town red while your spouse is elsewhere, one of the easiest, most surefire ways to preserve your marriage is to engage publicly in your single uncoolest pastime.
3. If conversation occurs, act naturally.
I try to be prepared for this remote possibility. The folks at Taste of Havana were pleasant enough, but a nightclub is a very different animal. The first time I saw a concert at the Vogue some years back, I had grabbed a table up front and found myself joined by an easygoing stranger who faked his way through the music-preference part of our conversation and eventually revealed himself as a bootlegger who needed the table space to set up shop. Not the best first impression. I’ve sworn off nightclub tables ever since. True story, actual vow.
At the FOW/SA/ED show, other than the bouncer and the ticket-takers, only one dialogue exchange occurred. While I was scribbling in a notepad during Soul Asylum’s set, one of two pretty young ladies walked up to me with a bottle of beer as guitars raged in the background:
Her: WHAT DO YOU KEEP WRITING?
Me: SONG TITLES!
…and with that, she backed away slowly and retreated to her friend. Great talk. For me, par for the course.
4. Stick to people-watching, not people-stalking.
The crowd was typical for Hoosiers — lots of standing around, listening intently to the music, maybe bobbing their heads a little, very few movements that could be described as a dance. Exactly two (2) guys knocked themselves out with incessant pogo-ing during Soul Asylum’s set. Another woman in her late 50s began wafting through the crowd during “Valley Winter Song” and attempted to inspire others to dance with her, with mixed results. Meanwhile, the two ladies pointed and discussed with each other whenever they thought someone else was acting funny according to their standards. This distraction ended when a guy who I shall simply describe as their complete polar opposite attempted to flirt with one of them, at which point they fled the venue. (Imagine, if you will, a crossover between Sex and the City and Sons of Anarchy. Hurts, don’t it?)
The other patrons can become like little TV shows if you get carried away. Observing them is one thing; staring them down into self-conscious awkwardness is severely another. Mind your manners and try not to write multiple paragraphs about them in your head. That’s just bizarre.
5. When goals go awry, take it in stride.
If something that sounded like a cool thing to do turns out horribly, try to postpone the self-pity party. With no one around to talk you out of it, your mood will only darken and you’re likely to focus on the one thing that failed and ignore all the little personal victories you’d scored up to that point.
Example: once I realized that security didn’t care if anyone took photos or not, I decided to give it a whirl. This is what my camera thinks Evan Dando looks like in terrible nightclub lighting from twenty feet away:
Frustrating? You bet. The right time to Google “camera photo pitch black indoor setting adjustments”? Maybe not. Just cause for declaring the entire evening a failure? Absolutely not. Great excuse for self-flagellation over meager photography skills? I say thee NAY.
Chin up. Head held high. Muscles un-tensed. Something closer to a smile. And remember why you’re there.
6. If people make a difference in your evening, be thankful where appropriate.
Special thanks are owed to:
* The great bands who came to Indy in the first place. Literally hundreds of musical acts don’t consider Indianapolis a mandatory stop. Either they assume we love driving to Chicago or Cincinnati weekly, or they just don’t care about our money.
* Everyone who made Taste of Havana possible.
* My wife, because wonderfulness.
* The hotdog vendor who was still on duty at 11:45 and sold a bottled water to a parched fuddy-duddy who can’t stand alcohol, didn’t feel like spending $3.50 for an eight-ounce glass of Diet Coke, and was dying of dehydration by the time Fountains of Wayne left the stage.
* The gracious older couple who caught up with me in the parking garage because I’d dropped my souvenir T-shirt in the street without realizing it.
In many ways, even when you’re alone, you’re not necessarily alone alone.