I have to admit, I had a strange reaction to our story on restaurant “regulars.” I felt a Millennial-inspired moment of panic when I realized I’m not a regular to anyone, expect maybe the meter maids.
Am I not special enough for people to notice me? I thought, my mind racing. I felt pangs of jealousy toward the people who get dishes named after them, booths reserved for them, pitchers automatically poured.
It might be silly, but the story made me feel an overwhelming urge to belong somewhere to something. I want some sign that my affection for Columbia is returned. I don’t want to be a hopeless romantic chasing the love of an aloof, slightly hippie town.
Then I realized that even if I am not a regular somewhere in town, there are Columbia constants in my life, rituals I find comfort in. Football tailgates, for example, with the smell of barbequed meat on a tiny, transportable grill.
There’s also weirdly delicious late-night pickle beers at Shakes. Double Long Islands at the Berg happy hour. Crappy tequila shots at Piano. The cool blast of the beer refrigerators at No Gas mini mart.
When I’m homesick, I see an afternoon movie at Forum or Ragtag. When I’m sad, I drive east on Nifong until I hit country roads, and then I keep exploring. When I’m stressed, I go to that Hogwarts-looking room at Columbia Public Library. When I’m awake in time, I stroll up and down the Columbia Farmer’s Market and buy produce I don’t know how to cook.
So maybe I’m not necessarily a usual suspect anywhere in town. Maybe I’m anonymous to most people I pass on the street. But even if I don’t belong to any one place, I know Columbia belongs to me.