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My first first date was a disaster.

I was a sophomore in high school and wasn’t old enough to drive, so Mark and Julie (my upperclassmen friends) agreed to a double-date. It was going to be great. Mark had an ancient, rusty, squeak-shocked Austin-Healey sedan. He and Julie would get me and then Lori (my date), and drive the four of us to Sausalito for dinner at the Alta Mira. From there, we’d go into the City where we had tickets to see an off-Broadway production of a play. We’d be home late, but not too late.

I was terribly nervous. I should note at the outset that Lori and I were barely friends. Beyond saying “hey” in the halls, pretty much the first conversation we’d had was my stuttering invitation, asking her out. The fact that she had agreed was, in itself, a victory (in my book, anyway), so my nervousness had a large helping of anticipation added to the basic impression of doom. But I wanted it to be a special night, so Mark and Julie and I planned the itinerary well in advance. What could go wrong?

Not being able to find Lori’s house was the first thing to go wrong. She lived on a narrow hillside side street, and the house was set back from the road, up a juniper-covered slope, accessible only by a twisting, shadowed stairway lit by a dim lamp up at the house. We must have driven past it five times before we noticed it.

Despite being late for our reservation, dinner wasn’t bad. The Alta Mira was a legend where I grew up. A grand old hotel tucked up in the fog-blanketed hills above Sausalito, it had a fancy restaurant and it was famously difficult to find (locals had had T-shirts printed up that said “No, I can’t tell you how to get to the Alta Mira.”). Driving up to this fancy-schmancy place in Mark’s rust-bucket drew sniggers from the valets, but we shrugged it off. We were having dinner at the Alta Mira!

We then drove across the Golden Gate and into the City, down to a tiny theater situated in an ill-lit corner of the Mission District. I wasn’t much of a theater-buff, so I knew nothing about the play we were going to see: Norman . . . Is That You? It was a relatively new play—this was 1973 and it had only premiered in ’70 (to middling reviews)—so I was going in blind. The play, we quickly learned, dealt with a young man coming out to his parents. As I said, this was ’73, so the general attitude toward LGBTQ+ folks was decidedly unfriendly, and it was definitely not a given that everyone was comfortable with the topic of homosexuality. Suffice it to say that my date did not seem comfortable with the topic.

Leaving the theater, our conversation was three-sided, with Lori maintaining a sentinel-like silence as we walked back to the car.

Which wasn’t where we had parked it.

Stolen? Couldn’t be. Who would steal a rust-laced, barely-functional junker like that? Then we saw the sign: No Parking 11PM–5AM, All Vehicles Will Be Towed.

It was 11:10 PM.

At the bottom of the sign, a phone number for the impound lot was printed, so the next task was walking to find a phone booth (remember, kids, mobile phones weren’t even a twinkle in Steve Jobs’ eye at this point). We found one a few blocks away, via which we learned that the impound lot was a fair distance, too far to walk, especially in the heels Lori had chosen. Mark and Julie and I pooled our cash; we probably had enough to get the car out of impound, but we weren’t sure, so paying for a cab was out of the question; even the streetcar was an iffy proposition. We decided our best way to get at all close to the lot was to do a hop-on/hop-off run on cable car. In the late hours, they weren’t so strict about payment if you were just on for a few blocks.

Eventually, we made it to the lot, had enough for the fine, and sprung Mark’s car from the hoosegow. By this time, Lori’s silence had become so intense that it had a gravitational field. When we finally rattled our way up her street and Mark stopped in front of the long, dark stairway, Lori was out of the car before I could round the vehicle to open her door. She was halfway up the flight by the time I reached the foot of the stairs. She never looked back.

Frankly, I do not blame her one tiny little bit.

We never went out again. We never actually spoke again. It was a long time before my next first date.

My last first date, on the other hand, was better. I’d learned a lot in the intervening years. Still, though, I did manage to break the First Rule of First Dates as, over our lunch of enchiladas and tamales, I told her we were going to get married and have a great time growing old together. (I’d known her all of two weeks, and to be honest, it had taken a lot of discipline not to tell her that when we first met.)

Despite this obvious faux pas, on Monday (Valentine’s Day 2022) we celebrated the fortieth anniversary of that last first date, and had our forty-first Valentine’s Day meal of Mexican food to commemorate it.

So, yeah, the last one went a bit better.

k

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