It was all Marlys’ fault. The idea was hers; a double date, Marlys and her husband Peter, and my date, Bennett, and me at The Comedy Club. A young friend of hers had just gotten her first acting job as a member of the troupe. A Sunday evening of improvisational comedy and beer sounded like fun.
Then Marlys and Peter cancelled at the last minute. Bennett and I went anyway, only to find out that Sunday wasn’t just improv night. It was also trivia quiz night. Almost everyone was in teams of four to eight, except for the two of us.
The improvised skits are clever and Bennett and I laugh heartedly. That is, until the topic for the quiz segment is announced: Movies and Television, topics about which we know little. When the questions are read, we know few answers.
The same four women have gathered together to celebrate their birthdays for 30 years: Alexandra, Brenda, Cassie and me. We’ve never missed one.
Imagine the lives we’ve shared in our birthday dinner chatter, our tales of businesses started and prospering, wedding plans, divorce proceedings, death, travel to exotic places, new careers and retirement adventures.
We’ve celebrated with casual backyard barbecues, catered dinners at home served on heirloom lace, silver and porcelain. A chef gave us lessons on preparing Indian cuisine in one of our kitchens. We went to the Cirque de Soleil. We skinny dipped in a neighbor’s pool.
For my birthday, for the first time in these 30 years we gathered around a table far from home. The place was the Culinary Institute of America, outside of Calistoga, California. Alexandra and Brenda ordered from the menu, but Cassie and I surrendered ourselves into the hands of the student chefs by ordering from the four course, prix fixe menu with wine pairings. Every mouthful of food and every sip of wine aroused my nostrils and titillated every taste bud as it all rolled over my tongue and down my throat.
This is me, about to dig into the fourth course at the Culinary Institute of America
We were predators, Alexandra and I, leaning on the copper bar, me sipping my fresh lime margarita, she sipping her Anchor Steam beer. Our eyes hungrily scanned the room, taking in the group of men standing to my right, the group of men standing to her left and the people seated at tables around us.
“Ah, the Vixen Divorcee is out to get picked up,” you’re thinking as you read this. While this might be a natural assumption, you would be wrong to think it. I’ve never picked up anyone in a bar and am not about to start now.
No, Alexandra and I were actually hungry. We were specifically hungry for the roasted, organic, free-range chicken salad served at the Zuni Cafe on Market Street in San Francisco. I should qualify that by adding its famously served at Zuni Cafe on Market Street in San Francisco.
The year was 1973. The tale started in New Orleans and ended in Key West. The main players were four college seniors on an adventure.
One of them was a pre-med student. Another was pre-law. One was a history major and the last one wanted to be an artist. They’d convinced their academic advisors that the best use of their January term was to cross the southern part of the United States reading literature of the region as they went.
Picture them setting off on their journey of discovery at a time when no one rode bicycles. In six weeks, they encountered only one other person on a bike; a teenager in Alabama who pedaled ten miles with them before shouting out that he had to get home for supper and that he wished them well.
Their bikes were packed with tents, sleeping bags and books. For clothes, each carried two pairs of jeans, three changes of underwear, two tie-died t-shirts, one cotton shirt and one jacket. Their whole life for six weeks was compressed into what could fit onto the back of a bike.
Picture them, the college boys from way up north riding with their shoulder-length hair blowing out behind them and their beards growing thicker with each day, passing through the bayous of Louisiana and the small towns of Mississippi and Alabama.
Bennett was one of them. (You met him in Adventures Happen.) He enchanted me on our second date with his tale. The spell cast by the four adventurers led to date three. And four.
One freezing, snowy Friday night 15 years ago I headed out to the airport to pick up Alan, who was still my husband and the object of my fantasies, and who had been gone on business for the last two weeks. I was insulated from the elements by thick leather boots, a heavy wool coat and a long wool scarf.