Something terrible happened to me the other day. I was sitting in a coffee shop and the waitress called me “dear.” “Here, you are, dear,” she said, putting my coffee in front of me.
Then it hit. Oh God. She thinks I’m old. She’s speaking to me in that voice reserved for the elderly and the mentally retarded. Well, I didn’t intend to become old for many more years. I don’t feel old. I don’t think I look old. But obviously in the eyes of the very young, I have gone over the hill.
I got hints of that on my book tour last year. A woman of a certain age, traveling alone, is invisible. When I entered the hotel restaurant I was either ignored or asked, “Are you waiting for someone?” as if a woman was not allowed to enter the place alone and would never consider sitting alone to eat. Once I tried the response, “You never know. I may get lucky tonight.” At which they blushed and looked shocked.
A similar thing happened at the car rental. I stood behind a gray haired man in line. He was served immediately but nobody served me, even though there appeared to be someone free at the counter. Not being the most patient of people I asked, “Isn’t anyone free to help me?”
“We thought you with this gentleman,” was the response.
“Do you always assume if you see two people in line that they’re together?” I asked.
So the message to the world is quite clear. Women once they pass a certain age are not supposed to travel alone. Actually, women before a certain age are viewed with suspicion too. I remember eating in posh hotel dining rooms when I was a young woman on a book tour. Then the men at surrounding tables eyed me to see if I was sitting there with the express intention of being picked up. In those days I always took a book with me. Or ordered room service.
One small trick I’ve learned to make sure I get proper attention (and feel free to use this, ladies) is never to accept the first, or even the second table offered. “I’d prefer to sit by the window, et.” Then immediately ask to see the wine list and order something esoteric. Ask how the chef prepares the salmon. Take out your iPhone and bark “I can’t discuss it now. I’m eating. My office, tomorrow morning.” You need to come across as a power broad. Someone not to be trifled with.
I was on a flight last year beside a young man who shouted into his Blackberry until we took off. As we came into Houston he asked, "So, are you coming visit family?"
"No," I replied. "Are you?"
He looked amused. "I'm here on business," he said.
"So am I," I replied.