Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Our First Date

My wife and I enjoyed a very long, if complicated, courtship before getting married.   We were the classic high school sweethearts.   But more than that, we were friends long before we were a couple.  Other couples have great stories about how they met.   Being classmates, we really have no idea when we first saw each other, or when we first spoke to each ohter, or when we first got to like each other.   We just were just casual acquaintances who said hi to each other in the hall. Then we were casual friends who spoke to each other during breaks between classes.  Then we were really good friends who sought out each other's company at friends' parties.  Until finally, after a span of several years, we started to realize how attracted we were to each other.  In the Summer before our senior year, when our friends from the class above us were all having graduation parties, we found ourselves finding each other at every party and flirting.  When school started again, we found each other, for instance, in front of the campfire at senior camp together.   We found ourselves holding hands in the halls between classes.   We found ourselves calling each other on the phone.   Until finally, at my 17th birthday party, I found myself paying more attention to her than to any of my other friends, and I got the nerve to ask her if she wanted to be more than just friends.   A good 2 weeks later, she finally gave me an answer, one that I wasn't expecting.   She said yes.

It was such an interesting relationship to me.   Because in the past, whenever I wanted to call up a girl and ask her out, I was always overwhelmingly nervous.   I would need to rehearse everything I would say in my mind, and work up the nerve, before calling.  Yet with her, I felt different.   It felt, easier.   It was really exciting seeing our relationship grow, from friendship to something much more intimate.   But at the same time, it wasn't nerve racking the way it was with other girls, because we were friends first.   It was also, at the beginning, just an easy casual relationship.   We were together, we were attracted to each other, we were flirting all the time, but we really weren't posessive or obsessive.  We didn't hog up each other's time.  Whenever we had time to be together we would, and we would enjoy it thoroughly.  But when we had to do work (and I was studying really hard in my senior year, being in both the full International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement programs), we would give each other space without any strings.   It was because of this, that I found myself in the predicament of being in a relationship with someone, without having yet taken her out on a real date.   In fact, we were together one month, one week, and a day, before we actually went out on a date.

With all of this build up, I wanted to take her out somewhere really special.   I wanted to take her someplace really fancy.  Someplace elegant, and romantic, and kind of more "grown up".   I wanted to really sweep her off her feet.   I didn't just want to do the standard dinner and a movie.   I didn't want to take her to someplace like Zippy's or McDonald's.   I didn't want to take her on any high school type of date.   I wanted to take her on a real date.   The kind you see in the movies.   The kind that you hear music playing in the background the whole night through.  The kind that you never forget.   There was only one problem.   I was a poor little high school kid with no money, no car, and no real means to create this awesome extravaganza.   So what was I to do?

It was kind of serendipidous that it also happened to be Christmas time, and you just can't ask for more magical than Christmas.   So I decided, for our first ever date, that I would ask her to see the Christmas lights downtown.   It's kind of funny.  We live on a little island in the Pacific, where there isn't any chance of snow whatsoever.   It's chilly to us, but no one on the mainland would consider it cold.   It's nothing like the snow covered wintery scenes that you find on all the Christmas cards.  There are no snowmen.  There are no sleigh rides.  But our little city gets dressed up for Christmas like no other city I've ever seen.  I've even been to New York at Christmas, and seen the tree at the Rockafeller Center.   But the coordinated effort and decorations put up all around downtown Honolulu, as part of the Honolulu City Lights program, just seems to outshine all the other places.  Best of all, it was free.  So we walked.   We walked all over downtown.  Walking hand in hand under a starlight sky.  We snuggled against each other in the cool night breeze.   The Christmas lights glowed like the light of a million fairies, but they paled compared to the sparkle in her eyes.  It was magical.  It was romantic.  It was perfect.

But besides a leisurely walk around every block downtown, where was I going to take her to eat?   Well, when we were in high school, it just so happened that they had just finished a construction project that combined business offices, apartments, and restaurants, right near the Honolulu waterfront.  It was, of course, Restaurant Row, when it was shiny, exciting, and new.  So we walked around all of Restaurant Row, looking at the menus at each restaurant to find something that we both would like, something that didn't looke packed or reservations only, as well as something that I could afford on my meager high school budget.   We finally settled on a casual looking little Italian place, right in the middle, called Trattoria Manzo's.

Manzo's (or Mango's as my wife affectionately likes to call it), was small little place, kind of embedded in by the stairwell next to the parking garage.   It wasn't fancy looking.   In fact the seating was more like a little outdoor cafe, with tables in the open courtyard of Restaurant Row, a little thigh high wall separating them from the outside.  But it was still candlelit and intimate.   As an Italian restaurant, it was perfect, because ever since that iconic scene from Lady and the Tramp, no other cuisine evokes the same feeling of romance.   I can't say that I remember their menu precisely.   But I do remember talking her into having the lobster ravioli.  After all, how great, how impressive, how memorable would it be, to be able to say I took her for lobster on our very first date.  And their raviolis were really affordable too.  As for myself, I remember having the linguini with clam sauce.   Linguini with clams was always one of my dad's favorite dishes, at the finer Italian restaurants, like Andrew's.   So to me, it had a certain sense of sophistication to it, that I was really trying to convey and impress her with.  But besides that, I really do love the dish.  The sauce garlic butter sauce that it is traditionally made with, rivals the rich buter sauce that they use for escargot.  It is a buttery, yet not overpowering, perfect pasta.  The food and the ambiance were exactly what I was looking for.

Sadly, Trattoria Manzo's closed many, many years ago.   In the years since then, Restaurant Row has lost some of its glamour.  Going from a collection of the most exclusive restaurants, to housing a $1 second run movie theater (that was patronized by less savory, somewhat unwashed characters), to seeing that theater closed down and many of its other stalls lie vacant.   But while some places, like Ocean's, Ruth's Chris' Steakhouse, and Hiroshi's, continue to thrive there, Trattoria Manzo's was among the long lost bygones to its original glory.  Trattoria Manzo's was such a small little place to begin with, I wonder how few people even remember the place.  It was not a beloved Hawaii icon, the way that Andrew's was.  But,it was the perfect little place, on what was easily the most romantic night of my life.   No one else may even remember that it existed, but to my wife and I, it was someplace special that will never be forgotten.

My wife and I have now spent almost 2 decades together, and our life has been a wonderful rollercoaster of highs and lows, one that will hopefully continue for a lifetime more to come.   But every single year since that first one, it has been our tradition to visit the Honolulu City Lights at Christmas.   Of course, these days it has been transmuted from a night of romance for just us two, to a night of wonder with our two little boys in tow.  But every year we go to see the twinkling, colorful lights, what I really see is the sparkle in her eyes.

1 comment:

  1. don't knock McDonald's. That's where daddy took mommy on their first date. and i took raquel for cheap and good pho.