The restaurant names in this story are fictional; I cannot remember the real names. The year was around 1984, and I was about forty years old. I felt like a kid, though. Newly divorced, I eagerly sought a soul mate.
I’ll call the guy Vin. Although we had only talked on the phone, he wanted to take me to dinner on our first date. I saw it as a good sign; the man was willing to pay for a meal. As a gentleman should, he asked, “Where would you like to eat?” He added, “We’ll go wherever you want.”
“Little China,” I suggested. “I like Chinese food.”
“How about The Portico?” he said.
“I’ve never been to The Portico,” I said. I hesitated before I admitted, “I’ve heard it’s a place only old people go.”
“I’ve been there once or twice. It’s pretty good.”
“Okay, if you recommend it, let’s go there,” I said. When I hung up, I pondered what had taken place. He said we would go anywhere I wanted, but he chose the restaurant. I shrugged. I wasn’t adamant about Chinese food, and I didn’t mind trying places new to me.
On the evening of our date I drove twenty minutes into town to meet him. When I was a mile from the restaurant, two cars sped past me, one on each side of me on a six-lane road. The drivers looked at each other when they passed, laughed, and sped even faster down the busy street. I slowed down and let the crazy drivers get farther ahead. I’m glad I did. To the right a car pulled out of Bob Jones University and drove directly into the path of the speeders. Both speeders slammed on their brakes. One driver veered left into oncoming traffic, and cars swerved in crazy ways to avoid hitting him. The car on my right spun his steering wheel and smacked into a fire hydrant. His head almost crashed into the windshield, and the end of his car shot into the air before the vehicle settled to a stop. Water burst out of the hydrant, blasted dozens of feet into the air, and showered the road and the passing cars. The driver who had pulled out of the university exit drove off as if he had nothing to do with the accident, but the speeding drivers were equally as guilty.
I did not know if the driver that hit the hydrant was okay. I’m not a medic, though, so I would have only been in the way if I had stopped. Worse, I could have caused another accident by trying to stop from the middle lane. I drove on, but my hands shook and I could barely catch my breath. When I got out of my car at the restaurant, my knees quivered, but I managed to walk in and meet the man waiting for me in the lobby.
He greeted me with a handshake. I would have preferred a comforting hug. I could feel my insides still quaking from the shock of what I had witnessed.
“I’m Vin,” he said, as if I couldn’t have guessed. “Let’s get seated.”
The hostess beamed when we walked up to her together. “Hi, Vin,” she said. “Good to see you again.”
My insides lurched. Was he a liar? I turned to him. “I thought you said you’d been here only one or two times.”
“Yeah, well, anyway . . . ” he said, not finishing his sentence.
“Your usual spot?” the hostess asked.
“Uh, yeah, that’s good,” Vin mumbled.
We walked into a quiet restaurant filled with gray-headed people eating silently, confirming the rumors I had heard about the age of the patrons. I needed to vent, so when we sat down, I blurted, “I can’t believe what happened on my way here.”
I must have been visibly shaken, but Vin either didn’t notice or didn’t care. Instead he asked, “What do you like to eat?”
“On the way here—” I began, still needing to unload.
“Let’s order first. We can talk later,” Vin suggested.
I tried to look at the menu. It was a blur. Even with blurred vision, though, I noticed he wore his watch pushed uncomfortably high on his arm, about halfway between his wrist and elbow. Odd.
The server came by and said, “Vin, the usual? Pork chops and applesauce?”
“Uh, sure,” he answered. He looked at me. “What do you want?”
I don’t recall what I ordered. I don’t remember much more about that evening except that we too ate silently. The man had no interest in taking me to the restaurant of my choice or listening to me when I needed to talk. In addition, at about age forty-two, he was already an old man, self-involved and set in his ways.
By the time I drove home, my nerves had settled. I chalked up the evening to another failed attempt to find a decent man, but at least I tried.
We did not have cell phones at that time, so when I got home I called the police department to report that I was a witness to the accident, if the police or highway departments were looking for witnesses.
The officer gave me interesting news. “The drivers are fine. They probably lost their jobs, though.”
“You weren’t the only witness, and we’ve learned that the drivers who were racing down Pleasantburg Drive worked together and were in company cars. They both got ticketed for speeding and reckless driving, plus the car that hit the hydrant was totaled. The owner of the company almost lost two cars out of his fleet. He was lucky only one of them wrecked. Anyway, he’s going to fire both men.”
The police officer and I laughed together, and at last I felt some of the tension leaving my body.
Hm. Maybe I should have asked the police officer for a date.