Think you can't find love in a (dive) bar? - think again
If you’ve been hanging out with me here for a while you know how hubby Ryan and I got engaged. It involved writing … of course.
Today, let’s go back to the beginning.
When I was trying very hard to be wild and crazy.
This is a long one friends. Grab a latte, or pour yourself a big glass of champagne and settle in.
I was 22, which is pretty much too old to go on family vacations. My parents asked me to go, along with my younger (not as cool as me), sister. And well, it was free. I said yes.
Usually at dinner my dad and I would split a bottle of wine, leaving my mom to drive us back to our beach hotel. Once back at the hotel, occasionally my mom and sister would come with us for a drink, especially if there was a live band playing.
You could count on them to duck out early though and leave my dad and I to close the place.
It was after midnight, and my dad and I were wrapping up with our Corona’s at Ricky T’s beach bar and thought we’d check out the bar next door; The VIP Lounge, a Mexican restaurant and dive-ish bar (though its much nicer today).
While we were at Ricky T’s I noticed a group of guys about my age walk into the VIP Lounge. This was a tourist spot so there were lots of people around.
I kinda, sorta noticed the guy with the tattoos. Soft gray t-shirt, jeans, flip-flops, dark rimmed glasses. Strong, handsome. He didn’t look like my usual “type”. I never paid any attention to dudes under 6-feet tall?
My dad suggested I go into the VIP and grab a seat while he signed the bill and went pee.
I walked into the VIP – smoky (this is when you could smoke in bars), brass, people doing shots, neon lights, and behind the bar was lined with photos of what looked to be the VIP’s favorite customers.
I sat next to the dude with the dark rimmed glasses and tattoos. I may have muttered, “Hi” – I really don’t remember. And exchanged names.
He didn't look like a Ryan. I hope I can remember this name.
We didn’t strike up a conversation right away, but he was smoking Marlboro menthols – my favorite at the time. What’s a girl to do? I poked poking fun at him for smoking menthols and asked him for one.
Tattoo-dude, told me he was from New York, and he worked at this place called Bloomberg. I didn’t admit it to him at the time but I didn’t know what Bloomberg was. I was a recent marketing grad and working for a major Canadian retailer.
My mind turned to fantasy, and I imagined him walking the streets of New York in a 3-piece suit, tie, his signature dark rimmed glasses and looking oh-so-suave.
Thinking about the dark rimmed glasses and crisp, dark suit covering the tattoos and smoking was pretty hot.
We chatted about work, what we love about it, he thought it was cool that I was Canadian. He thought Canadian was ethnic. Hilarious.
My dad joined us and sat to my right; Ryan to my left. My dad and I would exchange comments here and there but weren’t overly engaged in any kind of exhilarating conversation.
Now that we’re married, Ry later tells me that he thought I was a hooker (a HOOKER, you guys!), and my dad, was a customer. I wish I was kidding.
Now, remember I was on a family vacation. I was wearing a knee length jean skirt and white V-neck tank top. Hardly inappropriate. Because he noticed my dad and I at the other bar, saw me alone in the VIP, then this old man rejoined me at the VIP and we barely spoke, he thought this old man was an unwelcome guest.
He tells me after we’ve been dating that he was about to tell my dad to piss off and leave me alone when I stopped mid-conversation, realizing I hadn’t introduced them, and said, “Oh, Ryan, meet my dad – Tony.”
They shook hands and proceeded to converse more than tattooed glasses guy and I were. I was drunk a little tipsy at the time, and so was my dad. I definitely wasn’t looking at this situation as, “I’m trying to pick this guy up.”
The three of us enjoyed lively conversation until the bar closed.
I learned tattoo guy was entertaining some of his mothers’ friends’ kids, and kind of took them out as a favor. He was sober as he was their designated driver for the night. His mom lived in Florida and he was visiting her for Mother’s day. How sweet!
When we were ready to part ways I told him there was a good bar around the corner that has live music and I’d be there tomorrow night, I suggested he join us.
We stood up to leave. Holy shit, he’s shorter than me. I had flip flops on that had a smidge of a platform.
Well, I guess we’re done.
At that time, I had a thing about shorter guys. My McDreamy was tall, dark and handsome. NOT short, thick and needs SPF 90.
I’d never been to NY, and he offered to show me around if I ever decided to visit. He gave me a business card, and I wrote my number drunkenly with lipstick on the back of it while my dad sat drunk on the curb outside the bar and waited for us to make our exchange.
The next day
I really did drink too much the night before, I was sick most of the morning. Oh to be 22!
Early in the afternoon though, I got a phone call from him. He said he was at the beach with his mom and he was looking at a hotel that was a few doors down from where we were staying.
“Oh cool” I said. Not clicking that he was there to SEE ME. DUH. Stupid, stupid, stupid! I was feeling super crappy and hungover so I didn’t even entertain the idea of going to the beach.
I thought he was calling to chat about meeting at the bar later to listen to the band. I told him roughly when I’d be there and I’d see him later. He said he’d try to make it. I was leaving to go home the next day.
My mom, dad, sister and me were at the bar listening to the live music. My mom wanted to see this tattooed glasses short dude. I kept watching the door for a sign of him, but didn’t see him. He was a no show.
Oh well – he was too short for me anyway.
Eventually we left, packed up, and headed home the next day not giving the whole event much thought.
Two weeks later
Sitting at work one day, feeling a little bored and listless - I felt the urge to send him an email. I jokingly gave him crap for not coming out to the bar to meet me that night.
He told me he fell asleep at his mom’s around 10 pm that night, having the intention to meet me, and woke up the next morning when it was too late. He also admitted the awkwardness of coming out alone to join me and my whole family at a bar. Doesn’t he know that Canadians are super friendly?
He also told me he was about to send me an email but got mine first. Was he lying? Maybe, I’ll never know. It doesn’t matter.
We quickly fell into a habit of having day long email communications, back and forth all day long while we sat at our respective offices in NY and Toronto.
I’d get home from work and head straight to MSN messenger and chat until bed time. We’d text during our respective train commutes into our respective cities. We spent the better portion of our day communicating electronically. I loved when I’d see a new email pop up from him. Sometimes we’d have multiple email threads going on - my favorite!
One night he asked, “Would a phone call be out of the question?”
ACK! This is real now, he actually wants to talk to me? On the phone! What are we going to talk about? Oh, this is going to be totally awkward.
He called me, our landline (remember those?) made that special ring when it was coming from a long distance number. Flutters.
We’re chatting. We’re flirting.
A few days later, after spending the night at a friend’s house.
Ry and I were chatting on MSN messenger while the rest of the girls were lounging and nursing hangovers from $1 drinks. I had forgotten what he looked like, I met him once, only for a few hours, in a dark bar, and did I mention I was tipsy?
He sent me this black and white photo. Wow.
I showed my girlfriends – what do you think? The general consensus was positive – he was a winner.
Then, he asks, “My family has a cabin in the Adirondacks – I think it’s halfway in between us, maybe we could meet there?”
I turned to the girls, “Guys! He wants to meet at his cabin in NY! Should I go?”
They freaked, “You’re nuts”, “You don’t know him”, “What if he’s a crazy psycho killer?”
Then someone said, “Do it.”
“I’m doing it.” I say as I quickly type back to him, “Sure!” It felt so very Meg Ryan you have mail-ish.
I couldn’t get the trip out of my mind for the rest of the day – or the next week.
Before the trip, I later told my dad, “Remember that guy we met in the bar in Florida? Well I’m going to his cabin in NY.”
I don’t recall my dad giving me any shit. If that was Talia I’d be like OH THE HELL YOU ARE MISS THANG! The trip that changed everything
For the next few weeks he told me all the things we’d do there – totally clean people. We’d go to the beach, hiking, boating, eat ice cream by the lake, enjoy the cottage town, then get drunk on apple martinis by the campfire. Appletini’s were totally our signature drink back then – they went so well with the Marlboro menthols in those early days of our relationship.
I packed up my blue 2001 Honda prelude with some cottage gear, stopped at Old Navy for some flip flops that didn’t have a platform, left work early and hit the road towards the Buffalo border.
“Where are you going?” The US border patrol guard asked me.
“Old Forge.” I respond.
“Where’s that?” He probes on.
“I have no idea.” My honest answer.
We texted along the way, coordinating our arrival times. This was before the days of google maps – so I had a printout of the MapQuest directions on the passenger seat. The plan was to meet in an Old Navy parking lot off of the I-90 at exit 31, Utica, NY.
You might be wondering if I was freaking out.
In a word, yes!
The whole ride there. As I munched gummy bears and sipped diet coke, I totally freaked out.
This is nuts, what if he’s a psycho?
What if he’s ugly?
What if he thinks I’m ugly?
What if we have nothing to talk about?
What if he’s boring?
What if he’s going to bring me out to the woods to kill me?
Second First Impressions
As planned, we met in the Old Navy parking lot – he arrived first.
Shit – do I hug him? I mean we’ve flirted for like a month and spent 100 hours on MSN messenger typing out more smiley faces than a 12-year old girl.
We hugged, and after being the car for so long, we both had to use the bathroom so we ran into Old Navy.
Holy awkward batman.
We were IN THE FLESH. No more MSN Messenger, texting, emails. Person-to-person. I can’t hide now.
We still had another hour to go to get to the cabin. He had directions, I was to follow him.
I drove behind him, continuing my freak out and running all kinds of scenarios through my head.
So Canadian of me
We arrived at the cabin, it was cute – very rustic, not the kind of cabin I was used to – but I didn’t quite know what to expect anyway.
He had to hook something up outside to get water or gas or something, I have no fucking clue. I just stood there watching. I might have held the flashlight for him.
Then I saw it.
He bent over and a hand gun peeked out from the waistband of his jeans.
The first thought popping into my head – RUN! Get in the car, don’t say a word, and drive like hell.
See, Canadians don’t have guns. Canadian border patrol agents only started carrying them in 2007. I was 22, naïve, and totally ignorant about gun culture.
Finally, I mustered, “What is that?” Obviously knowing what it was, but I wanted to make sure he knew I saw it.
Ryan says, “A pistol – I’m in the woods.” As if it’s a totally normal explanation.
“Oh, ok.” I answer sarcastically. “Can you leave that thing in the car until we leave?” I ask.
“What good will it do in the car?” He argues.
“Just do it.”
He obliges, we go out to dinner, and drink way too many appletinis that night.
The next morning, I emerge from the room to see something I only thought I existed in my dreams. I dream about this stuff you guys.
There’s a deer with its front hooves in the cabin. In one hand, Ryan is feeding him our gummy bears and appletinis. In the other, a pistol to the deer’s head.
“What are you doing?!” I yell.
“In case he bucks.” He calmly responds.
This ladies, is marriage material.
I knew there was something about this guy, something different. And not just the tattoos or the glasses, or the way he commands a pistol at a wild animal’s head (sarcasm.)
That first weekend was amazing. I didn’t want it to end. I didn’t want to leave.
As the weekend drew to a close, we headed south towards Utica and took our turns to go our separate ways.
Ryan – eastbound, towards Albany.
Me – westbound, towards Buffalo.
By the time I returned home we had plans for our next meeting, and the meeting after that, and another one a few weeks out – just in case.
Until that one trip to Toronto that involved three very special love notes and changed everything.
Happy Valentine’s day friends.
Happy 12th anniversary Ryan.
I love you.