This is a story about finding love just when you’d sworn off looking for it.
In early September, Audrey and I co-presented at a conference in Monterey, California. Monterey just also happens to be the place where we’d first met almost exactly 15 years before, where our joint approach to life on the road got its start.
The driveway where it all began, 15 years later.
In the driveway, the exact spot where our lives together began, we got to thinking how best to answer another oft-asked question: “So how did you guys meet?”
This is the story, roughly and in brief, like we might tell it at a bar. His and hers, back and forth, crumpled unlined notepad paper, speckled with red wine. History, revision, and an occasional differing point of view.
Dan: As I walked down the street vaguely wine-addled, I witnessed two young women emptying a small car of a large pile of worldly collegiate possessions. One of the women looked up. She took a long gaze at me, then dropped her bags, her breath apparently taken away. Her name was Audrey.
For her, this was love at first sight.
Audrey: Imagine that scratching sound where the record-player needle gets pulled across the record. Let’s reintroduce ourselves to the truth.
Dan: You want the whole truth? OK. So much for keeping this short.
It was August 1997. I had been living in San Francisco in a jaggy one bedroom, 495 square foot apartment. To its miniature defense, the building had a hot tub on the roof and featured a full view of the Golden Gate Bridge and a sliver view of the Bay Bridge.
I shared this abundant abode with my friend Tony. I drove a VW Cabriolet. I was told nickel-for-a-rich-man-so-many-times that my hair made me look like Flock of Seagulls. So basically, I rolled with a circa mid-1980s look. But I could cook, sort of. I drank wine, and not just white zinfandel. I wore double-breasted suits with suspenders to meetings with clients and somehow thought that was appropriate.
I was dating. Women. A few of them. I was a management consultant and spent a lot of time on the road. (This makes me sound like I think I was a player. I was not. I was simply confused.) Anyhow, by mid-August of that year I had sworn off dating for an indefinite spell, if only to clear my head. No more dating, at least not for a while.
Then something happened.
I got a phone call from a friend. (Or was it an email?)
“You want to come down and meet me in Monterey? I’m headed back for a couple of weeks.” An elementary school friend then stationed in the U.S. Army in Korea had planned a visit back to Monterey, California to see his girlfriend.
Monterey. Friends. Weekend. A free place to crash. Tony and I could take a drive down the coast, tool around the area, and hit the Monterey Wine Festival.
Sure. Why not?
It was an unusual Monterey weekend. While a bit of fog graced the peninsula that morning, it burned off early. And with the Monterey Wine Festival underway — something that Tony and I would take advantage of from about the time doors opened around noon — a perfect day was served.
After a few oysters, tapas and a dose of mid-afternoon wine tasting-qua-guzzling, we opted to head back to the apartment for a recovery nap.
I cut my way down the street, probably feeling cool, but looking much less, haphazardish. There were two young women, a little sun beat, emptying crates and bags from a scrappy, well-worn gray Volkswagen Golf GTI.
As Tony and I approached, he suggested that we might help the young women unpack their car. Their destination: the same house where we’d slept the night before. Points to Tony for chivalry in time.
Hmmm. This could get interesting. Who needs to swear off women for a while, anyway?
Audrey: I had just driven across the United States, a 3,000 mile road trip from Virginia with a close friend, in my 10-year old VW GTI. “California, here I come!” I felt. Living in California, graduate school, Peace Corps. Three life goals coming together within a year.
Me and my GTI, the final leg cross-country, up the Big Sur coast.
Boys would play no part in it. Nope. This was going to be my year.
So I laughed when my housemate’s boyfriend, Tom, half jokingly warned me of his friends visiting from San Francisco: “They’re trawling for women.”
As I began unloading my life from the car, I heard offers of help ring from the foot of the driveway. Two guys, a little worse for wear from the sun and fun, introduced themselves and quickly joined in to help carry my stuff.
Dan’s memory of my being struck by love? Perhaps a misread of my amusement: How eager these two guys were to help. A little too eager I’d say.
The rest of the afternoon and evening was a bit of a haze. There was interest, some jockeying. We went to a local pub en group, returned home, and continued to chat. Audrey put away, rather impressively, a few Boddington Ales.
As everyone else peeled off to sleep, Audrey and I stayed up. I don’t recall all that we talked about, but it was apparently a lot because we were up almost the whole night. Travel was certainly part of it. I was mesmerized by Audrey’s international background — from a family of diplomats and missionaries, of a life overseas. I felt like the local boy trying to figure out the world, even as I prepared for my first trip abroad to India and Indonesia that winter.
We talked economic theory, too, recovering Econ majors bound in shared nerd-dom. We even discussed the Coase theorem.
Who on earth opens a relationship by talking about the Coase theorem?!
In no way did the scene sing romance. This was not a bar out of the Frank Sinatra song, It Happened in Monterey.
Audrey: I’m good with this version of events. It was fun. Goofy, really. I didn’t think much about it. I was leaving in nine months and there was no point in meeting anyone, Economics majors or otherwise. Easy come, easy go.
Or perhaps because I was leaving in nine months I was more open to taking chances.
Dan: On my way out the door back to San Francisco, I gave Audrey my details: “Here’s our address, my cell phone.” Audrey’s friend, Sarah, was scheduled to fly out of San Francisco late the following afternoon. Their plan: to visit San Francisco and stay with Audrey’s brother. (Maybe I pulled off being cool, but I’m sure I double-checked the number at least ten times before I handed it over.)
“Just in case things don’t work out with your brother and you need a place to stay.”
Come late Monday afternoon, I got the call. Rather conveniently, things hadn’t worked out with Audrey’s brother, and there were Audrey and Sarah, planless and no place to stay but chez Dan and Tony.
It was also Audrey’s birthday. With Tony’s counsel, we collected provisions from an Italian deli or two in North Beach and headed out to a cliffside spot in the Presidio with a sunset view of the Golden Gate.
Birthday picnic at the Presidio.
No impromptu birthday picnic could beat this. I’d stolen Audrey’s heart, though in reality it was pretty much Tony’s idea, so maybe he was the one doing the stealing for me. Thank goodness someone in the story used good judgment. We get by with a little help from our friends. Sing it with me.
Everything was left open-ended. No commitment to continue that either of us can remember.
But alas. The following day when Audrey took off back to Monterey, she also conveniently left behind a pair of shoes. “Easy come, easy go, eh?”
Eventually, she got the shoes.
And I got the girl.
During the weekends that followed, we jumped out of an airplane at over 15,000 feet, hiked together in Yosemite, and earned our scuba diving certifications in the uncomfortably cold waters of Monterey Bay.
A couple months later, I left for my first trip outside of North America to India and Australia (hence, the scuba diving classes). Audrey left several months later for the Peace Corps, which would take her away to Estonia for 27 months.
Time was short. When we think back, we feel like we squeezed every ounce of experience out of those first few months together.
This was how we — and our approach to life — came together in those early days.
Nowadays, we spend 24×7 with each other. For the behind the scenes on that story, you’ll just have to wait for another post.
How about another 15 years?
Disclosure: A special thanks goes to our transportation sponsor airberlin for carrying us from Berlin to San Francisco so we could attend the Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference (ESTC) in Monterey and coincidentally, revisit the site of where we first met.