Thai food cart in Portland

Thai food cart (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every now and then I go on a date.  However, there are no “first date” restaurants in Wheatland. It is okay to stay here for a second date, say, for a pizza and beer. On a third date, the local diner will do, especially on Mexican Monday. It is the selection of a first date restaurant that is problematic, and the solution requires a drive of at least 70 miles. Still, if I am asked what I would like to eat, the answer, delivered as I bat my eyelashes, is always, “Thai Food”. If I follow up with my big smile, the datee will not balk at driving to either Laramie (1 hr 20 mins through a winding canyon) or Fort Collins (2 hours).

The next problem, is the long drive home after a first date meal. What shall we talk about? I have developed a set of questions over the years that will keep the conversation flowing while drowning out my stomach rumbling and/or any embarrassing body noises that are difficult to contain at my age.  At dinner we most likely talked about jobs, kids, where we grew up–all the  when and where stuff. But if we make it through a meal and I am intrigued by this person,  I want to know deeper things, like what makes them smile or cry. What brings joy? Do they care about anything besides themselves? Do they believe in something bigger than themselves? Do they donate to a charity? However, I never bring up faith on a first date, because that causes the poor guy to squirm….it is hard enough for a minister to get  a date and I don’t want to end it too soon.

So, the safe, neutral, and revealing long-drive-home questions will be some variation of the following:

  •  What is the most beautiful place you have ever been?
  •  What is the ugliest place you have seen?
  • What is your dream trip?
  •  If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
  • What is your favorite music?
  • What is the most disturbing sound you ever heard?
  • What concerts did you attend as a youth (this assumes the date is over 25)?
  • If we didn’t talk about food favorites over dinner, I will ask about them while driving home.

Those questions cover 3 of the 5 senses: seeing, hearing, and tasting,  never touch and smell. I suppose those matters are more intimate. For example, neither “What is the nicest thing you ever touched” nor “What is the ugliest smell you ever detected” are first date questions. No, they are better around the 10th date, when the datee has enough knowledge to wisely reply, “You are the nicest thing I ever touched.”

On the long ride-home from a first date, we never get through the whole list. After one or two questions, the flow of talk and laughter begins. My favorite is always, “What is your dream trip”, which  leads to a long discussion about trips past and future, getting stuck in the mud, 4-wheeling, or airline delays. If things have gone swimmingly on the first date and we are talking about a trip, one or the other of us might say, “Maybe we can go there someday”–a nice way of saying I hope to see you again.

Inevitably, after the “maybe we can go there” comment, the lights on the off ramp into Wheatland jar us back to reality after the long dark drive. All that talk makes for a quick trip home.

Unfortunately, in my world, first dates eventually take us to a last date. Unlike the first, when we talk about dream trips and the music of our youth, the subject is usually what we didn’t talk about: “Oh, you are a kleptomaniac, or “Gee, you have been married 8 times, ” or,  “Wow, you have a baby with a 28 year old woman?” or, “Really, you are a Russian spy?” or “Why don’t we ever go for Thai food anymore?” The joy and laughter of the first date turn into disappointment and sadness by the last date, which sometimes occurs weeks later, sometimes months later. Most of the time it is clear that our get together is going to be a last date. It is not that the eventuality is written on the walls, you just know this little hike has come to an end, especially when you get blamed for everything that ever happened in this man’s life.

However, sometimes the last date comes without warning. Just over a year ago I met a wonderful man. We did not follow the usual progression of first date/last date. My first date with this rancher was to a cattle auction. Shortly after, I was riding on a 4-wheeler, helping him round up cattle. Then I cooked him Eggplant Parmesan. Then he taught my son how to hunt. Then he hauled two loads of manure to my garden.  In fact, we did not go to Fort Collins for Thai Food until weeks after our first argument. He loved the food and his bald head sweated from the Thai heat. On the way back, we talked about dream trips and little outings that we could fit into our schedule.

Our first little outing, to a cabin in the mountains, though,  turned into our last date. We were driving around, exploring a little town and talking about our next getaway, maybe after Christmas, to a snowy cabin. We smiled and squeezed hands. He pulled up to a stop sign and slumped over, gone in that instant from a heart attack.  No time for goodbyes, he just left, right between sentences and dreams.

Perhaps it is no surprise that I do not want or expect too many more first dates. The whole courtship routine seems meaningless at my age, besides I don’t have first date clothes anymore (not that it mattered to the rancher). Should one materialize out of thin air, I would tell a suitor, “Bring your camping gear and we can drink hot chocolate around a campfire.” Or, ‘come and help me pull weeds out in the garden, and make pickles.  Or, let me help you clean your garage this weekend, or rake the leaves with you. All the proper pretense, the restaurants, the chatter are not what matter. It is only the fleeting time we have sharing everyday joys that matters.  Besides, I have learned to make Thai food now, so there is always my place too. 

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