In late September, 2011, I met my now ex, TWD, at Cuba Libre in Old City. It was our first date. It was not, however, my first time meeting a man at Cuba Libre. That honor goes to Date #1, who I met through Match.com during the early days of my (m)anthropologicial experiment.
So I’m standing at the bus stop, seven minutes ahead of schedule when the #57 pulls up. But there’s something strange about this particular #57. In fact, there’s no door. The driver pulls the bus to a stop, so I know I’m in the right place, but when she lets her foot off the break, it finally hits me. She’s only stopped because there’s a red light and the door is…
“Wait!” I cry to the driver, “Miss, is the door—do I get on the bus on the other side?”
“Girl, you’d better hurry!” she calls through the open window. “The light’s about to change!” So I dart in front of the bus, dash around the side (and just in case you’re wondering, these boots were not made for walking) and lo and behold, there’s the door.
I like to think it’s because I’m something of a Londoner at heart (“Of course I’m standing on the wrong side of the street, Miss. I used to live in England!”). But as I ask the already perturbed driver whether or not I can use quarters to purchase a transfer, she just shakes her head in pity. Perhaps my navigational prowess is not what it used to be.
Unfortunately the Vango Lounge and Sky Bar, where I’m meeting my wingwoman for pre-date drinks, is all the way at 18th and Sansom and 18th and Sansom is a Two Bus Operation. Generally speaking, I avoid Two Bus Operations at all costs because they double your chances of arriving late (or getting yelled at for standing on the wrong side of the street, as it were). I’m so flustered that I jump off the bus two stops early and find myself not at Spruce, where I’m supposed to catch the #42, but at Pine (because “P-i-n-e” looks exactly like “S-p-r-u-c-e” and I haven’t already traversed each of these a thousand times in the past six months). It takes only 90 seconds to walk from Pine to Spruce but those 90 seconds might as well be 90 minutes when you’re walking parallel to the bus route, the bus is stuck in traffic and the driver spends the whole just shaking her head at your stunning display of intelligence.
Fortunately the driver of the #42 is much nicer. He tells me I look sharp as a whistle and asks, “Where are you off to looking so fine?”
“A first date,” I reply. “With someone I haven’t even met!”
He shakes his head as we turn onto Walnut. “Don’t tell me it’s one of those online things…”
“It is! But he sounds really nice.”
The driver doesn’t look convinced.
“I’m bringing a friend,” I add hopefully.
Now he smiles. “Well then, I hope you have a nice time. And whoever he is, he better be a gentleman! He’d better hold the door open for you, buy you drinks, pull your chair out for you— the whole bit.”
“Don’t worry,” I reply. “My momma raised me right!”
As I head for the door (only one block early this time), the driver wishes me good luck. I hand him my card and tell him I’ll be “filing a report” first thing in the morning.
So here goes:
7:00pm Happy Hour at Vango Lounge comes to a close. My wingwoman and I catch the bus to Old City.
7:15 We arrive way ahead of schedule (I’m not meeting Date #1 till 8:00) so we go for ice cream at a bizarre Egyptian-esque café on Front and 2nd where, according to the new proprietor, a mannequin dressed as a belly dancer counts as quality interior design.
7:50 We head to Amada to scope out the bar. It’s packed so we decide to wait outside because although I’ve seen pictures of Date #1, I’m not sure I’ll be able to spot him through the crowd. I’ll text him to let him know we’re just across the street and he texts back to say he’s in a cab and on his way.
7:58 A taxi pulls up to the curb. A man wearing a faded green T-Shirt glances in our direction, reaches for his wallet and steps onto the sidewalk. His ripped jeans don’t quite meet his T-shirt and the space where they should intersect is not pretty. My heart sinks. Oh God. This isn’t him, is it? Thankfully, it’s not. T-shirt man wanders across the street to a hotel just as my phone rings. It’s Date #1 and he’s headed our way.
8:10 We head to Cuba Libre, after doing the whole double-cheek-kiss-thing, which sends my poor wingwoman into a bit of a tizzy. Here’s where my being an overanalyzing, anthropologically inclined lunatic comes in handy: I’d already been obsessing over possible greetings all afternoon so I was prepared for the hug, the handshake and the European-style double kiss. When he dodged left, I knew to follow but unfortunately, my wingwoman did not.
8:15 We order sangria.
8:20 I realize there’s an entire pear floating in my sangria. Actually, it’s only half a pear but it’s marinated in red wine, for crying in loud! How am I supposed to resist a half pear marinated in red wine? And yet resist it I do because something tells me that a lady on a first date does not pluck fruit from her drink with her bare hands.
8:25 Date #1 realizes there’s something floating in his sangria too.
8:26 He stirs his glass and muses aloud, “I wonder what this is?”
8:26 (and 15 seconds) “It’s a pear!” I practically shout. “It’s a pear!” Of course it’s a pear. And. I. Want. That. Pear.
8:27 “I hope this isn’t rude of me,” Date #1 replies, inspecting his glass. “But this pear looks really good so if you don’t mind, I’m gonna go for it.”
8:27 (and 3 seconds) “Be my guest,” I laugh. I confess that I’ve been eying the pear since we’ve sat down and conventional wisdom would suggest that if my super smart, super well-travelled date can eat a wine-soaked pear straight from the glass, then so can I.
8:45 My wingwoman lets the bartender take her empty glass without first eating her pear. I manage somehow to contain myself.
9:00 We head to Brasil’s. For the next two and a half hours, I tot around attempting to salsa but really I’m just kicking poor guys in the shin, elbowing my shorter partners in the head and avoiding the advances of sketchy men who think that hip-bumping is an acceptable way to ask a girl to dance.
In my defense, I totally nailed the lesson. Front stops? No problem. Toe touch? Got it! Advanced Toe Touch? Piece of cake. I can handle the mambo, the Suzi Q and whatever fancy footwork the instructor throws at us, but take me away from the mirror, put me in front of a man and expect me to follow his lead? My decades of dance training go straight out the window.
Two hours later, feeling about as graceful as an elephant (albeit a well dressed elephant with matching accessories), I decide to call it quits. As I say goodnight to Date#1, it occurs to me that we’re not going to be winning the salsa world championships any time soon but I had a great time and—whoddathunkit?—he exhibited not one axe murderer tendency. Au contraire. He was quite the pear-eating gentleman.
But stay tuned. I’m meeting Date #2 for dinner this evening.