Thoughts from an Early Morning

I went on an adventure this morning. And by adventure, I mean to say that I took myself, my reusable grocery bag, and my camera to some food-filled corner of Berkeley just after sunrise.

After spending three and a half years in this city, I’ve come to the conclusion that there will never be an hour where the streets are completely empty. In some ways, it’s nice. You’re reassured that you’ll never be alone, trapped with whatever version of madness you have inside your head, because there will always be that one other person who will at least look at you when you squat on the side of the sidewalk to take a photo of grass, or in the middle Durant Avenue to take a photo of the still street as the crosswalk buzzer reminds you that it’s not going to wait forever for you — or your slow camera.

Forgive me, buzzer. It was cold. I think my camera wasn’t handling well, either.

Photo by Courtney Cheng

Sometimes the constant presence of others causes fear. And other times, we fail to realize that our first impressions of a stranger are too unkind. Because “Most people are [real nice]…when you finally see them.”

And then there are the moments when this constant, company of people you haven’t chosen for yourself causes you to feel worse about yourself.

I went on an adventure this morning. That is to say: I went grocery shopping at Safeway, window shopped at Andronico’s, and bought breakfast at Cheese Board Bakery (after almost a year and half of telling myself that I would do so).

It was a hugely pleasant morning. Every single grocery store employee greeted me with a smile, and a “hello” or a “good morning.” And this introvert loved it. She greeted them all with equal gusto — even if it was only a smile exchanged while dodging a loud aisle sweeper.

The cashier at Cheese Board and I made a joke about our equally cold hands not working well as I paid for my pastries, and even though noisy road work was taking place right in front of Cheese Board, I was still perfectly content to sit with my coffee and breakfast in the early morning sun.

Berry Muffin | Photo by Courtney Cheng

It was only a couple minutes later — not even when, mind you, I spent at least a minute obsessively taking photos of my food and moving napkins out of the frame — that I started feeling strange for being alone.

There was a man a couple feet to my right who’d started side-eying me, my food, and my grocery bag every once in a while. I didn’t feel unsafe — there was a line out the door of families, friends, and all types of customers waiting to enter Cheese Board just eight feet away. But I suddenly felt self-conscious.

Did he think I was weird for eating by myself? (He wasn’t with anyone either.) Was he judging me for eating pastries for breakfast? (But he was also at Cheese Board himself, at this hour of the morning.) Did he just not like me?

I chose to ignore him. Because when you’re eating Cheese Board’s Cheesy [English] Muffin and their Corn Cherry Scone, it is so hard to be discontent about anything. Neither item was too dense, too rich, too bland, or too dry. The muffin was surprisingly chewy (in a good way), and you could taste cheese in every bite. The scone — if you’re a fan of cornbread, this is a must have.

Corn Cherry Scone | Photo by Courtney Cheng

Back in reality — The man eventually left with a female companion who had been shopping in Cheese Board, and I was left alone with my thoughts…and everyone else who was enjoying their morning pastries with the company of at least one other person.

After several hours of retrospect, I feel more disdainful than discomfited. I still don’t quite understand what the issue was, and I refuse to think that Berkeley is so unsafe (even with added police car patrol) that you can’t even get breakfast alone at 8 in the morning without feeling the need to carry around pepper spray.

But the fact of the matter is: if he thought I was weird for grocery shopping by myself, or for getting breakfast by myself, then that’s not my problem. Because I do a lot of things alone — But That Doesn’t Mean That I’m Lonely.

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