Shaun and I have a running joke that we just can’t do things the easy or normal way. We met in college and then dated long-distance for four years, first between Ohio and New York, and then between Texas and New York, while I finished up school. With inter-state travel being a necessity, we were bound to have a few travel-related mishaps along the way.
It also meant that “dating” was a bit of a misnomer when it came to describing our relationship. E-mailing, AIM-ing, phoning, skype-ing, even letter-writing, yes–but actual dates were a rare thing. In fact, we didn’t have our first real date until we had been “dating” for about a year and a half. I suppose we could have tried a candlelit dinner via Skype, but I doubt a glowing computer screen would have created the same ambiance.
When Shaun surprised me by visiting for Valentine’s Day weekend my sophomore year, we were eager to try out this long-heard-of-but-as-yet-untried relationship ritual. The college was set in a rural part of New York, and the campus and surrounding hamlet offered no appealing venue for such a momentous occasion–being not only our first date, but also the most romantic day of the year, at that. The nearest large town, which was half an hour away, boasted an Italian restaurant, and we decided that this would be very suitable.
Being winter in New York, it was getting dark by the time we set out along the winding county routes. We were excited and a little nervous and relieved that, finally, some part of our relationship would conform to the prescribed pattern. Lacking a car, I was also excited to get off campus and at least see some different trees than everyday.
Everything had been going smoothly by the time we arrived in town, and we were basking in the rosy romance of being together, on a date, on Valentine’s Day. At the first stoplight, Shaun got into the left-turn lane and waited for the light. The light glowed green–and the truck stalled.
He turned the truck off and back on, and nothing happened. He tried again. Meanwhile, the line of vehicles waiting to turn grew longer and longer. Giving up on getting the engine to come back to life, Shaun found the AAA card in the glove box and called the number. The cars behind us also gave up on waiting, and started using the center lane to turn left around us. After waiting through several “press one” thresholds, a recorded message politely informed us that the AAA offices were closed that night.
We looked at each other in dismay. There was no other service number to try, and we were blocking traffic. “I don’t know the local police number, but there’s always 911,” I suggested. Shaun apologetically explained our non-emergency situation to the 911 operator, who dispatched a police vehicle to assist us and told us to sit tight. We sat in the dark and watched as annoyed drivers navigated around us.
At last we saw flashing lights and an officer pulled up behind us. Shaun demonstrated the stalled engine to him. He had Shaun put the truck in neutral, and pushed the vehicle across the intersection and onto the shoulder. Then he offered us a lift to the police station, where we could try and figure out a way to get back to campus.
I sat in the passenger seat of the police car, while Shaun had the notable experience of riding in the back, on the hard plastic bench, behind a metal grate. When we arrived at the station, the officer said to me, “You can go ahead and get out, but then you’ll have to let him [Shaun] out, because the back doors don’t open from the inside.” So I ended up chivalrously holding the car door open for my boyfriend.
Inside the police station, we tried to figure out what to do next. The other officers offered us coffee, and a few jokes about our situation, and looks full of pity. At the time I did not have a cell phone, and had none of my friends’ numbers. In any case, few of them had cell phones, and even fewer had vehicles. Thankfully, Shaun’s phone still had numbers for some of his fellow ROTC cadets, from when he had attended the college the previous year. He started working his way down the list.
Not surprisingly, most everyone was out for Valentine’s Day. At long last, he reached someone who wasn’t out on a date, and thankfully, who had a car. Forty-five minutes later, our ride pulled up outside the police station door. We rode back to campus in awkward silence. So yeah, thanks for picking us up from our date at the police station–so glad you didn’t have a date yourself tonight….
Our rescuer accepted our profuse thanks and some money for gas, and dropped us off at the campus center. It was late, and we still had not eaten, so we made our way to the campus snack shop, where we ate wraps and curly fries at a booth, surrounded by students doing homework, goofing off, and ogling this poor couple who had to have a date at the snack shop.
The bright side of this situation was that Shaun had to stay over for an extra day, to wait for his truck to be repaired.
We never did get to that Italian restaurant.
But Shaun did propose two years later, so it must not have been such a bad first date, after all.