I sit cross-legged atop a bar stool looking out across the street. Dog Story Theater advertises “Comedy Mondays: Barefoot in the Park.” A church steeple towers over the small row of shops and restaurants nestled on Jefferson Street in downtown Grand Rapids’ southeast side.
I’m at Bartertown for lunch – a Vegan-only place that serves water in Mason jars and proudly displays a list of ten rules upon entry. The last rule says, “Sit Down, Have Fun, Eat Positive!” Number 4 is my favorite though: “You will not be served if you are on your phone.” Go figure.
A tattooed, young woman in thick, wire-rimmed glasses greets me. Although the menu is difficult to read (bad font choice), I ask her a few questions and then settle on sautéed kale, black beans, and an oatcake with fresh strawberry topping. While I wait, I take in the décor- small cacti plants in little ceramic pots line the window sill in front me. A large fist grasping two stalks of asparagus is painted on the far wall – Bartertown’s logo. An ironic poster hangs at the back. It reads, “Only jerks support Bartertown!”
As people walk in, they are usually greeted by name. The clientele is mostly people under forty, wearing flip-flops and tank tops who either walked here or have bikes chained up out front. Cash plays from the speaker overhead.
My food arrives and it’s as good as I hoped it would be. Nothing I couldn’t make at home, but still good. I eat slowly, savoring each bite and also reluctant to return to reality. I love to be anonymous in new places. There’s a solitude to it even though I’m surrounded by strangers. I finish the last of my water and walk back out into the world feeling satisfied with my meal and a couple hours to myself.