Soaks and the single girl

The Harmony Suite with Japanese soaking tub; $39 an hour, including tea and bath salts. The Way Within, 1722 J Street, (916) 446-4443,

Every day this winter, I’ve walked up J Street, dodging the puddles that soak my canvas tennis shoes and pausing to stare at the photograph in the window of the Way Within day spa. A woman with a tropical flower in her hair smiles over the edge of the spa’s Japanese soaking tub at a man in a towel, who holds her hand. “You can’t afford to winter on a tropical island,” the photo seems to say, “but for $39, you can rent this room and say goodbye to your worries—and your cold toes—for a whole hour.”

Outdoors, with chilly fingers gripping my umbrella handle, the offer seemed irresistible. Indoors, frugality reigned. “I’ve got a tub at home,” I’d tell myself. “Granted, the water heater quits before it’s half-full, but at least it’s free.”

But as cold, wet winter became cold, wet spring, the lure of a bath with unlimited hot water proved too powerful to ignore. When I finally called to book the tub room, the receptionist sounded confused. “By yourself?” she said, with the surprised tone she might have used had I said I was bringing my cat. She explained that the room is usually reserved for couples packages on weekends, but she’d squeeze me in at 10 a.m.

I arrived the next morning feeling like I was dateless at the prom. What did it say about me that I wasn’t part of a couples package?

The receptionist graciously welcomed me and showed me to the candlelit room, which is painted in soothing earth tones, with the tub sunk into a raised wooden platform. A tray next to the tub held a pot of green tea, a pitcher of water, a mug, a washcloth, a bottle of bath gel and a coconut shell heaped with bath salts.

The receptionist turned on the water, explained how to operate the drain and showed me a tiny clock to track the time. After my tub, she said, I was free to use the spa’s steam room as long as I liked. Then she left me to my bath.

With the minutes of my $39 hour ticking away, I was anxious to start soaking, but the water was only a few inches deep. I took a few deep breaths and tried to enjoy the serene environment. The spa’s tinkly new-age music helped. A sign on the wall read, “In this room, we know only this moment. We release the past and revel in relaxation.” I exhaled deeply. Yes, I was relaxed. I was ready to soak and—dang! The water was only an inch higher. Why was it taking so long?

I dumped in the bath salts and read another sign, which turned out to be an eye-contact exercise for couples. I felt my insecurity return. I looked at the clock: 10:15! A quarter of my time gone, and I wasn’t in the tub yet.

Wait a minute! Was the drain even closed? I plunged my hand in and felt the bottom of the tub. Sure enough, the drain was partially open. I’d just assumed the receptionist had closed it when she’d turned on the tap. Gah! Minutes and bath salts down the drain!

Once sealed, the tub filled quickly, and by 10:20 I was soaking like the lady in the poster (sans flower, sans partner). Submerged in warm water up to my chin, I finally relaxed. It was so lovely to sit in a deep bath, drinking tea, knowing I was out of reach of any interruptions—at least for the next 40 minutes.

They passed quickly, as I sampled the coconut bath gel and watched the candlelight reflect off my teacup. In the stillness, I had time to wonder why I don’t plan more quiet time for myself. For that matter, why don’t more Sacramentans visit the Japanese tub room alone? If in that room I knew only that moment, then I have to admit it was a damn fine one.