Not Just In the Movies

I’ve never been a fan of “meet cute” situations. I may have written one in the still unfinished Turkey Clubs I Have Known, but the contortions required to pull off an only-in-the-movies crossing of paths seem … well, to belong only in the movies where it’s already an overused, unbelievable cliché. That is, until it happens in real life. And not to a friend of a friend, but to me.

Last September I spent Labor Day weekend alone in Charleston, mainly to complete a US Airways promotion to earn silver status. My flight connected through Charlotte as many US Airways flights will. I was tired and wanted to read. I settled in to the window seat and hoped the middle seat would remain empty for the flight.

No such luck. At the end of boarding, someone settled in. The plane took off. I napped a little. I read a little. It’s a short flight.

When I started to read, middle seat guy turned on the overhead light for me. Nice. About 20 minutes from Charleston, middle seat and I started to chat. Turns out he was from the city so he gave me some restaurant recommendations. He had come from Newark where he was consulting for something for the Navy. He was an Annapolis grad who moved into the private sector. He knew people in Skippack, had two kids and did I have a ride to my hotel because if not he could drop me there providing I had dinner with him first at Taco Boy.

What?

As mentioned above, I don’t like movie meetups because they don’t seem real, and yet, there I was. On a plane. Saying yes to having dinner with a perfect stranger. After we agreed on dinner, we introduced ourselves. My mind briefly considered the ways my body might be disposed of, but quickly settled on “nothing bad will happen – that only happens in the movies, after all.” Very few people have accused me of being smart.

Trey collected his suitcase from baggage claim and we set off for Taco Boy. The restaurant is under an overpass with parking behind a chain link fence because, as Trey explained, it’s not a great part of town. That said, if you’re ever in Charleston, go there. The tacos were good and inexpensive. The salsa trio was amazing. The beer flowed freely. It looked like a fun place to spend many hours.

And we did. If I were shooting the conversation for a movie, it’d be one of those montages where tables around us empty, fill, empty and fill again and the principals laugh and talk with animation. Because that happened. Our conversation covered what makes us happy in our jobs, what doesn’t, our dream jobs and lives, his divorce, the dissolution of my engagement, Ayn Rand, the virtues of being selfish, the importance of family, the ethics of eating meat (Trey’s dad owns a cattle ranch in Texas), grief, SCUBA diving, making up stories about people at the bar, literary criticism, religious iconography … you get the idea.

After dinner, Trey drove me to the hotel. We exchanged numbers, shook hands and went our separate ways.

Really.

In the movies, the dinner scene would be followed by a soft dissolve to waves crashing or a montage of the two of us visiting the sites of Charleston set to some top 40 song. Didn’t happen. I called him the next day to see if he wanted to grab dinner or drinks, but he had plans. And that was the end of my movie moment.

What lessons did I learn? Maybe to talk to the good-looking guy in the middle seat. Maybe to coast on the huge boost to self-esteem that comes from being asked to eat at Taco Boy. To at least consider shooting a text to someone I know before accepting a ride from a stranger. Or not. To live more in the moment like I always say I want to. And not to scoff quite so much at the next Drew Barrymore movie.

By the way, I had a great time in Charleston.

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