Sending her flowers without a reason is usually a safe bet but showing up at her door unexpectedly could be a disaster. Don’t get me wrong. I love spontaneity. One of my favorite memories was the time a buddy and I spontaneously drove two hundred miles just to find a good place to smoke a cigar. But spontaneity isn’t always good. Like the time I dropped in on my girlfriend unannounced only to find her deep cleaning her toilet. She was not amused.
My favorite spontaneous date took place on a Sunday. I’d been communicating regularly with a woman named Joy (not her real name) who lived in New York City (yes, her real home.) We’d met by chance a month earlier at a New York café on a cold February night. We talked and flirted through dinner while a soft snow blanketed the city. After a wonderful meal Joy loaned me an umbrella to get back to Penn Station and my train to Baltimore. The memory of her smile kept me warm all the way home. Soon we were communicating daily through phone calls, texts and emails. As our long-distance romance blossomed the one thing we strongly had in common was a desire to see the first day of spring.
Spring finally arrived a month after we’d met on an unusually warm Sunday. I was busy all morning so it wasn’t until three in the afternoon that I telephoned Joy to herald its arrival. I asked her what she planned to do to celebrate.
“Tonight I’m staying in, getting sushi and watching a classic movie called ‘An Affair to Remember.'”
“Want some company?” I asked.
“Sure,” she replied sarcastically.
“No, really. If I leave now I can be there by dinner.” I was sincere but I could tell she was skeptical. She laughed.
“You’re not coming,” she said.
“I’m on my way.” Before she could protest I hung up. Ten minutes later I was in my car speeding up Interstate 95 toward New York.
By the time I reached the New Jersey Turnpike the recollection of my old girlfriend and the toilet came to mind. Not wanting to blindside Joy I phoned again to make sure she knew I was serious about my visit. To convince her I held the phone to the car radio so she could hear the New Jersey radio station I’d picked up but the Elton John song they were playing gave no weight to my story.
“Right,” she scoffed, unconvinced.
“I hope you believe me,” I said as I hung up. I wasn’t sure she did.
It was dark by the time I arrived at Joy’s apartment building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. I must have looked like a young man in love because her doorman let me in with little more than a wink and a nod. I quickly found her apartment and knocked on the door. I heard a mad scramble inside, lots of shuffling and thumps, then silence. I knocked again. More shuffling. There was clearly something going on inside but no one answered the door. I pulled out my cell phone and called the apartment number. I could hear the phone ringing on the other side of the door but no one picked up. Undaunted I called Joy’s cell number. After three rings she picked up, short of breath.
“I’m here!” I announced.
To prove my point I looked around.
“Your doormat has laurel branches with little black olives on it,” I said.
“Are you in there?”
“No…” she said. “I’m actually downtown… at my office. I got called in for an international deal. But I can meet you in an hour at a bar down the street from my apartment.”
I left and slowly strolled the six blocks south and one block west to the bar where I ordered a drink and settled in to wait. About an hour later Joy arrived. She was happy to see me. In fact her face was beaming. She told me she’d just raced uptown from her office and that she assumed my spontaneous visit was just a joke. We chatted like awkward strangers but soon fell into a familiar groove as we’d been talking and texting every day for a month. When her drink finally arrived she took a long sip, sat it down and looked me straight in the eye.
“I have a confession to make. I wasn’t at work tonight. I was in the apartment when you arrived. I never thought you’d actually come – that was so sweet – but I was right in the middle of a chemical face peel.” We both froze for a minute then doubled over with laughter. She went on to tell me she’d spent the better part of the last hour cleaning up and applying make-up. I told he she looked wonderful. No wonder I thought her face was beaming. I asked her if she was still up for sushi and a movie.
“Really? You came all the way to New York, the city that never sleeps, just to stay inside with me?”
“Sounds romantic. You still up for it?”
Joy and I finished our drinks and soon we were walking north up Columbus Avenue then turning right toward the park and her apartment. The inside of Joy’s apartment was beautifully decorated with a blend of classic and new urban chic but I noticed an unusually large empty space in front of the TV in the middle of her living room.
“My sofa is being reupholstered. I guess we’ll have to play camp.”
Joy went to the kitchen while I stared out her window and onto the wide dark expanse of Central Park. She returned with a bottle of wine and two glasses.
“The sushi is on its way. It’s a great place – and it delivers.” We sat on the floor and toasted in the middle of her living room.
That night Joy and I had an indoor picnic upon a makeshift bed of soft pillows and fluffy blankets, eating sushi, drinking her Spanish wine, lying beside one another, watching ‘An Affair to Remember’ and creating a special evening to remember all on our own. That spontaneous trip to New York turned out to be one of the most romantic evenings of my life. Ah, but the romance was short-lived, mostly due to distance and demands. But ever since I remember Joy each year on the first day of spring. Tonight, with a smile and my thoughts to myself, I’ll silently raise a glass to her memory, and the memory of that very special night.
Jeff Dugan is a documentary television producer and the author of The Final Days of Jimi, Janis and Brian. Read more here.