The Saturday started out for him the way most have in the past eight months... Deciding to not leave his bed, but reach over to the iMac to bump it out of its sleep. Overnight the new political gabfest podcast from slate.com had downloaded, which allowed him to spend his first half hour of consciousness lackadaisically attempting to keep current with the presidential race more than a year in the future. However, this was not a normal Saturday. He could not waste another hour listening to the new This American Life podcast. No, today was a day stuff had to get done - he had a schedule to carry out.
Finding the first pair of pants he found, black nylon Adidas warmups, he set out for the one errand that was necessary in the day's venture: getting cash. Soon after returning, post shower, he'd continue his pre-first date tradition of cutting himself shaving. It's been years since he stopped questioning himself, "Why must I find a way to bleed before every first date?" His life was, by all normal accounts, a good one - definitely not one that would allow such a karma correcting ritual with such cold consistency.
He had plenty of time before the Metra arrived at the Des Plaines station, but he still walked brisk-fully. He walked quick not due to any pre-first date nerves, but more to keep the walk on the beat of the most recently downloaded song on his iPod ("Stronger" by Kanye West). The train arrived about nine minutes after he arrived at the station (the time was approximated due to the next two songs by Daft Punk and Broken Social Scene concluding on his "Misc. Crap" playlist).
"$5 for a weekend Metra pass - best deal in the area." he thought once boarded. "If only dating made as much fiscal sense?" he cynically continued in his inner monologue. As Chicago approached on the horizon, he felt his nerves begin to awaken. For someone who thinks as much as he, such jitters were an certain eventuality. This was not a foreign situation, of course, and the antidote was ready. He found "Star Guitar" by Chemical Brothers and jacked up the volume. Quite possibly the greatest tune to ever provide a soundtrack for a ride on the rail.
They had agreed to meet at Citizen Bar on Erie, just west of Orleans. It was about a ten blocks away from the downtown Metra station, but also close to multiple eL lines to make it easy for her as well. Arriving more than a half hour early, he was able to insure that a nice outdoor table would open up before she arrived.
Nothing can describe when someone only seen in JPEGS and GIFS is first seen in fading sunlight and warming street lights. Somehow 10% of doubt tries to keep a too trusting mind in check. A mind that has already made the rationalization to meet a digital personality met over the Internet. After an awkward handshake, one that all but announces to the entire establishment in total that a FIRST DATE IS IN PROGRESS small talk ensues.
Sadly, he realizes that the first date has morphed into a relationship interview. Although able to field pointed questions with wit and antidotal humor it is clear that the woman on the other side of the table is an end goal dater. He's been in this situation before, actually finds it refreshing. She knows what she wants, and doesn't want to wait until too much time is invested before key concepts are discussed. However, these key concepts are not mutually held as key. He pays for the drinks. He hugs her goodnight. Assembles the remainder of his post first date dignity and heads back to the train station on Madison.
As the Chicago River first comes into his view, the track "Special" by Mew begins. It's a rather soulful song that usually leads to more inner monologue critiques on life when listened. But he is not in a mood to dissect the failed first date. The night is still young. It can still be saved. Besides, as "okay" as the date was - it was without a spark... More importantly, it was without a story. "This night can only be saved by a story." This is what prompts him to start walking east.
It only took him a half block to decide his destination. Has it really been over five years since last eating at the original "Billy Goat Tavern" on lower Wacker Drive? (just below the Wrigley Building) By the time he was walking down the steps, minutes before his Double Cheezeborger is ordered his mood has taken a significant turn for the better. This turn of mood was mainly due to "Young Folks" hitting its peak in his ears. It made him keep one earbud in his ear, allowing the song to continue, as his order was placed.
The Billy Goat was packed that night. He had to go to the bar to find an empty stool. And one that was next to a group of 3 or 5 girls. It was unclear where one group of girlfriends began and the other one ended.
The girl to his immediate left was very attractive. The friend to her immediate left was in the middle of a very large social argument. If he was eavesdropping, he'd know what the fight was about - but the scraps were loud enough to make him turn off his iPod. The argument might provide more entertainment that Peter, Bjorn and John. One particular comment was louder than the others. The comment was about how a certain actor on Grey's Anatomy had many many children with his wife, and this was troublesome to the debater. This comment made him smile, and made the girl to his immediate left turn away from her girlfriends. Her expression was a mix of embarrassment and pride. One of "can't believe they are this passionate about this topic" and "so happy they have opinions and express them."
And this is when he decided to do something he's wanted to do for months. Not being one to use pick-up lines - in fact being one who abhorred them - he was going to use a line on this woman next to him. This was after two things in his mind became clear. One, the ring on her finger had the heart pointed away from her (thus, she was single). And two, if he didn't say something to her right then and there he'd lose his best chance at a night saving story.
He decided to say the first line from the song that was the cause for his current good mood. For those not familiar with the first line from "Young Folks" by Peter, Bjorn & John it goes like this:
"If I told you things I did before, told you how I used to be, would you go along with someone like me?"
Her initial shock scared the shit out of him. He was about to abandoned the double cheezeborger he traversed the hot evening for until she cracked a small smile.
He decided to quickly save face nonetheless, "You see, I just walked away from a first date - and these two minutes sitting next to you and your friends - overhearing your fight - made me wish I was here the entire time... So pardon the pick up line."
The two had a brief post game wrap-up of the failed first date. She concluded that he thinks too much. Places weight on issues of no substance or consequence. Finally, she asks where he found such a person.
Her instant laugh clued into the fact that she knew the punch-line before the setup. Turns out she posted an ad not too long ago. She confessed that her unique hook was to ask for stories from her suitors on how they would first meet.
"Wait, you think I think too much? Isn't that subconsciously planning many dates that will never happen?" he said in his most polite tone. "The whole metaphysics behind it bar it from happening. If you know of something, it ceases to be spontaneous, isn't that what girls like you want anyways?"
"Girls like me?"
He stammers.... Well, that's my problem. I speak before I think. Too much of that honesty mumbo jumbo... "Do you think before you speak?" she questions. "Well, for as much as I think, one would suggest I do - but evidence proves the contrary.... I'm actually more put-together when I write... I enjoy writing... It's my calming hobby."
The two of them continued in discussions about philosophy and modern young adult life. He loved how far it felt from the kind of "relationship interview" he experienced earlier in the night. The talk continued well after his double cheezeborger was eaten. It also lasted longer than the (still not completely understood) debate with her friends had ended and they had noticed their friend had seemingly exited their conversation in favor of one with a stranger sitting with only himself and his iPod.
When the two of them discovered that the girlfriends had begun eavesdropping on the conversation that had now overtaken theirs in noteworthiness, he introduced himself to everyone. Everyone seemed cordial.
"Well, I better start walking back to my train. But I really liked talking with you... It's almost the top of the hour, did you want to continue talking and see the water canon go off by the NBC Tower? Kinda touristy, but still a nice backdrop for a conversation - care to join me?"