THE How-to Booklet of Solo Dining Tips & Strategies is now available.
Author/driver Alyce Cornyn-Selby drove from one side of the United States to the other
— AND, of course, she ate out alone!
In April 2002 author/driver, Alyce Cornyn-Selby got into an "open cockpit," very topless roadster
and drove from one side of the United States to the other.
Subsequently, Cornyn-Selby contacted SoloDining.com: "I am not a restaurant critic by ANY stretch but I
found some places that made me feel wonderful and I'd be happy to share them with your visitors."
We were THRILLED to hear from the celebrated author of several books, including, One Thing Worse Than Being
Alone — Wishing You Were: Craving Solitude and Getting It.
While driving an open cockpit vintage roadster SOLO coast to coast, she experienced first hand the surprise
of finding wonderful people and restaurants on her nerve-racking and hilarious three-month trek.
This is the first excerpt from a "Drive-of-a-Lifetime" adventure by Alyce Cornyn-Selby which originally
appeared in SoloDining.com, the newsletter.
The following excerpts appeared in past issues of SoloDining.com, the newsletter.
DINNER IN THE DINER
So I was unfolding the map of Chattanooga and getting a serious look when I saw the words, "CHOO CHOO,"
in the downtown area.
I sort of snorted to myself, wondering what that was. Maybe a children's park or something. Well, it wasn't
very far off the freeway. I could probably afford the time. Coming west out of Chattanooga, I could easily find
a campground or a motel. I felt I had enough energy to handle it.
Seno (the car) and I climbed on to I-75 and joined the crowd headed into the city. I made the important switch
to I-24 without any trouble and I waited for the 180A Exit. I found Market Street; made the left.
All I could see were the backs of industrial buildings. I had the street names memorized so I wouldn't overshoot
or get lost. I thought, I've got one more block. This isn't looking good.
I arrived at the intersection of where something called "Choo Choo" was supposed to be and I didn't see
much. Then I looked up and saw a huge sign on top of a building. The shape of a train was outlined in neon; the
words "Choo Choo" were spelled out. Oh, I thought, It's all about THE SIGN! They put up it
up because of the famous song.
In 1941, the "King of Swing," Glenn Miller, released a song composed for the film "Sun Valley
Serenade." The song reached #1 on the Hit Parade and sold more than a million copies as a single. Miller was
awarded the record industry's first gold record for the "Chattanooga Choo Choo."
Then I looked down a bit and I thought, That looks dangerously like a train station.
I decided to investigate further. There was a line up of vintage train cars. I parked and ambled into one of
the greatest nights of the trip.
Holiday Inn — kitschy green and yellow guys with creamed corn and Rotary meetings — those unlikely folk had purchased
the old Chattanooga train station and made it into a fabulous resort complex, large enough to accommodate conventions.
It took time to grasp all this.
After I parked, checked out the little shops and wandered through the lighted lattice and trellis dining room,
I was pretty much gob smacked in the lobby. Built in 1909, it was the old train lobby with a freestanding 85-foot
dome overlooking an area spacious enough to play NBA basketball.
The only thing that told me that this was no longer a real train lobby was: (a) it was a bit too elegant and
(b) there were no loudspeaker announcements. I was truly stunned. I must have acted like I had just wandered in
off the farm. I casually picked up a brochure and tried to understand this amazing place.
The brochure read: "Ever slept in a sleeper? Four-dozen restored passenger cars decorated Victorian-style."
Oh, I thought. This is going to hurt. I turned to the desk clerk behind the registration desk. You
have train cars? To stay in? He looked at me, like, well, duh, of course. And then — How much?
OK, so it did hurt. So it cost 9.4 times more than last night's lodging. Slack-jawed, I walked back through the
white garden dining area and back to the platform. To the right was the Chattanooga Choo Choo, the actual engine
parked there on Track 29. It was painted up like a kids storybook train. Just around the corner was a little neon
sign: DINNER IN THE DINER. The large old-fashioned train clock above my head, said, CHOO CHOO TIME, in a lovely
script right across the face.
At that moment, I was as close to being in love as I had been in ten years. It was like when I saw my 1940 Ford
for the first time. I felt like I had stopped breathing for several minutes.
I walked back into the stunning lobby, looked at the desk clerk who wryly eyed my travel ensemble. I asked, Vacancy?
When I got the key to train car No. 732, I raced out to the car to get more than my usual assortment of gear. Where
was that orchid chiffon dress? A tall fellow dressed in a train conductor's uniform told me to move my roadster
next to the little guard building so that it could be watched over all night. (Ironically, his name was Ernest
In a delicate southern accent he told me how his mama had brought him to the train station when he was a chile
so that he could visit relatives in Alabama in the summer.
I struggled getting three bags from the car to my train car, because I couldn't wait for hotel help. I was far
It was quite a step up to board the train. I sort of threw the bags up there, hobo-style — even tripping and falling
as I got on. Reminding myself to calm down and breathe, I finally got the metal door open.
Wow! Unlike the caboose in Pennsylvania [discussed elsewhere in Hit The Road], I had an entire train
car to myself. A curving ceiling met painted metal luggage racks. A queen-sized bed was at one end, a mirrored
bureau at the other. The furnishings included a desk handsomely appointed with upscale hotel goodies, a settee
sort-of couch and a curvy chair. It looked like my house in Oregon!
The bathroom was a brilliant success especially given what they originally had to work with. What a challenge!
It was now a spacious area with a full-sized tub. (The little toilet was right where the toilet had been 100 years
ago!) Everything, and I do mean everything, was painted a warm cream color.
I pulled the tie out of my hair, flipped open my make up tray that hadn't seen the light of day for nearly two
weeks, applied eyebrows, blush, real lipstick (not Chap stick), a dab of "Passion and powder" to fill
in my gaping pores. When I found my gray locker bag, I pulled out a dress and shook it. Yes! No wrinkles!
It felt like prom night. I stepped back from the mirror surrounded in all that white light. Hey, it's a girl!
Even my hair was cooperating, enjoying its release to my shoulders.
Humming the famous song, I took my barest essentials. I mean, how could I go to dinner with a fanny pack? Argh!
(My prep time? About 13 minutes!)
Pardon me, boys, I sang out loud, stretching my sun burnt hand out in the most feminine gesture I'd seen
me do in weeks. I hopped down off my train car and checked my stride as I crossed the tracks to the dining car.
I swear my hips felt different. I ran into Ernest and he took a photograph of me with the Chattanooga Choo Choo.
That guy over there . . . Ernest said, axe me — That's not the same lady drivin' "that" car,
Thanks, Ernest. You just made my day!
Every table had a window seat in Dinner in the Diner, which I found out later was the "Number One Best
Place" to have dinner in Chattanooga. This is big, I thought. This is wonderful. I looked out
the train window, past fresh pink carnations on a white linen tablecloth, where a fountain splashed merrily in
a white wrought iron gazebo — all surrounded by early blooming pink roses.
Of course I ordered champagne. And shrimp scampi with a Caesar salad. I savored every bite and every sip. And
I smiled a great little smile to myself when I had the delicious thought that I didn't have to act interested in
someone's boring conversation because they were picking up the tab and — best of all — I could do anything else
I wanted with the rest of the evening. Spoiled brat! I told myself.
Power! Good grief, I felt so powerful. And after 42 days of praying myself across America, it was like getting
back in touch with a part of me that had been shelved due to prolonged fear. This was one of the most romantic
evenings in the history of the world, and sort of mystifying because I was perfectly alone. I'd have to redefine
"romantic" for myself.
The waiter acted like it was my birthday. Service was impeccable but not overdone — a blessing to the solo diner.
(I like men. I loved men. I wanted the same thing they did — time alone with Alyce.)
After dinner I had to stroll back over to that historic lobby and sit in a pillow-soft chair and gaze all 85 feet
up into the train station dome. I wondered about the memories the building held. Soldiers leaving and those left
behind. Kids, like Ernest, going off to grandma's home to spend the summer. Exhausted mothers with several squirrelly
kids not looking forward to a long ride.
Choo Choo was the Cincinnati to Chattanooga, first north-south connection in 1880. The song says, "Leave the
Pennsylvania Station at a quarter to four, read a magazine and then you're in Baltimore." That route and still
winding up in Tennessee never made sense to me.
I woke up twice that night just to sit up in bed in my very own train car and look around and groove to where I
was and then slip back into a blissful sleep under those ironed white sheets. I enjoyed myself so much that my
Internal Financial Director forgot to whimper.
Dinner in the Diner — (423) 266-5000; Chattanooga Choo Choo Holiday Inn; Chattanooga, Tennessee; www.choochoo.com
Cuisine: Upscale Fine Dining
Amazon.com readers/reviewers loved HIT THE ROAD: Across America in A Topless Car — ".
. . great insight into human motivation."
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