So here it is. The long-awaited Washington Post "Date Lab" blind date recap in full, glorious detail. This is probably the longest post ever, but I wanted to make sure I got it all in. Feel free to skip over the Prep Time if you're not interested. Too much went down for me to not include it...
5:00 PM, Prep Time
It was one of those Murphy’s Law kinda days. I’d rushed out of the office a few minutes before five and hailed a cab. I made it home in a couple minutes and jumped in the shower. Once out I loaded up my hair with styling cream and pulled out the hair dryer. I had just worked my way through the first section when I heard a zap, hiss, and then silence. The hair dryer had shut off. As had the air conditioning, my computer speakers, and all the lights.
I blew a freaking fuse.
“No!” I shouted as I dropped the hair dryer and ran to the kitchen where the fuse box is. I found the flashlight and shined it into the box. Despite all my technical and DIY abilities (I recently impressed a fellow blogger with my freakish knowledge of toilet installation) the fuse box is the one thing that completely escapes me.
“Don’t be late,” one of my best guy friends warned me earlier that day. “Guys hate to wait…especially when they’re nervous.”
These words echoed in my head as I fumbled around the kitchen searching for the replacement fuses. I finally found them nestled next to my emergency Top Ramen stash. I replaced one at random and waited.
An uncomfortable, panicky feeling started creeping over me. I rewrapped my towel which had started to come loose and looked around for my cigarettes. I checked the time as I lit one and inhaled deeply.
It was only 5:30. “Ok, breathe. You have plenty of time,” I told myself as I walked back into the kitchen. The apartment was getting hot and fat beads of sweat had started dripping down the back of my neck. I tried another fuse with no luck.
The power was still on in the bathroom so for a minute I contemplated just finishing up in there, but when I walked in, the steam and lack of AC was just too much. I caught a glance of myself in the mirror and moaned. My cheeks were flushed and my wet curls hung limp around my shoulders. My eyes had a kind of crazy look to them.
“This is not good,” I muttered as I re-adjusted my towel and headed back into the kitchen. I decided to try one of the busses. The first one I touched was scalding. Money! I put on a pair of rubber kitchen gloves and removed the burnt fuse. The second I inserted the new one, my apartment lit up like Christmas tree. I ran into the living room to turn off the hair dryer and smiled to myself as “Crazy” blared out of the speakers.
“Oh. So. Appropriate,” I thought.
By this point it was too late to straighten my hair. It had started to frizz and I was burning up. I jumped back in the shower to wash off the sweat/styling gel/lotion mess, deciding that curly hair would be the easiest way to go. Since I’d neglected to pick out an outfit the night before, I hastily pulled on a black pencil skirt I found draped over my desk chair and chose one of my three dozen strategically low-cut tops. Black Manolo Blahnik stilettos and a red leather clutch completed the ensemble.
It was 6:25 and I had just enough time for a glass of wine and cigarette number two. I lit the cigarette first and held it in my mouth while I poured the wine. Suddenly, my psychotic cat leaped at me from an undetermined location knocking wine all over my shirt.
“What is wrong with you!?” I seethed at Anais. She glanced up at me disinterestedly and then strutted away towards her food bowl. “I am soooo getting rid of you,” I muttered as I pulled off the shirt and chose another.
7:00 PM, The Date
Once outside I caught a cab and gave the driver the address for the restaurant, Buck’s Fishing and Camping. When I’d first read the name of the place I was horrified.
“Oh man,” I thought. “This is going to be like one of those weird concept places where they make you catch and gut your own dinner before you can eat it.”
I got there a few minutes before 7 and was pleasantly surprised. The plain green and white exterior belies the eclectic, but unpretentious dining room. Bright red walls are offset by rich honey wood beams and white canvas drapes. Multicolored blown-glass lamps hang low throughout the room. A long rustic table fills the center of the room and is shared by multiple parties, divided by sheer curtains. Smaller wooden tables are scattered throughout the room and covered with simple paper placemats depicting vintage cocktail menus. I introduced myself to the hostess. She seemed strangely excited and encouraged me to have a drink at the bar while waiting for my date.
The only thing I knew about him was that his name was Alfredo. I'd spent most of the week calling him "Pesto" and occasionally "Marinara" in my head.
"Please don't tell him that," my friend pleaded when I shared this with him. "The date will end very quickly..."
I noticed out of the corner of my eye when he arrived (I could tell it was him because the hostess was buzzing around all manic-like.). I sipped my wine and studied the creepy gothic photographs that lined the walls while I waited for him to come over. He stood on my left and tapped me on my shoulder.
“Alejandra?” He asked pronouncing my name with a flawless Spanish accent.
“Alfredo,” I smiled as I shook his hand. He sat down next to me and ordered a glass of white wine. He must have been nervous because when the bartender asked him if he had a preference he said, “Pinot Noir.”
“That’s a red,” I thought to myself.
“You mean Pinot Grigio,” asked the bartender.
“Oh, right…right,” he nodded.
I looked him over. My first reaction was an unexpected one. He looked like a shorter version of my little brother.
He was about 5’10” and had a shaved head, thick eyebrows, dark eyes, and a tiny goatee. He was wearing a fitted white button down and tight jeans. He seemed like one of those small athletic guys, or as my coworker Andy puts it: “It’s like he’s got enough for 6’3” but he packs it all into 5’8””
Physically, he was definitely not my type. I tend to prefer taller, less-compact guys. And I like boys with hair. One of my favorite things in the world is to run my hand through my guy’s hair just after he’s gotten it cut and it’s all soft. This guy had no hair.
Our eager hostess showed us over to our table and brought out our digital cameras. The Post provided us each with a disposable digital camera so that we could document the evening. We both spent quite a bit of time fiddling with them until our waiter brought out the menus.
Almost instantly, Alfredo quite cheekily decided that we weren't going to order an appetizer. “The portions here are huge. We won’t be able to finish them,” he insisted as he browsed the rest of the options.
"Um...OK..." I was a little bit taken aback as I really wanted an appetizer, but he’d gone on and on about how “Americans eat too much” and “what’s the point of all these courses,” so I decided to just let it go. The waiter described the specials and he chose the sirloin, which he’d read “amazing” things about. I ordered wood-grilled shrimp served with grilled corn on a bed of grits.
I also asked for another glass of wine. Alfredo ordered a Blue Hawaii, which he selected from the cocktail "suggestions" on his paper placemat. I burst out laughing and then saw that he was serious. The waiter informed him that there was no Blue Curacao at the bar (perhaps because we weren’t in the Bahamas) and so he ordered a margarita on the rocks.
While we waited for the meal, we went through the usual first date small talk. He seemed guarded and evasive, and he kept checking text messages under the table. I didn’t want him to think he was getting away with it, so I pointed to the electric blue LED glow coming from his lap and said, “You know you’re glowing?” He didn’t seem to hear me…
When I told him I was a web editor he noted that we were both journalists, but refused to say where he worked. I mentioned that I’d grown up in New Jersey and asked him where he was from. “Here,” he answered. The one-word answers were starting to get old. I asked him why he signed up and he basically shrugged and implied that he did it out of boredom. I pressed for details about his answers, curious to find out why the Date Lab editors had thought us a match, but he seemed reluctant to answer and said he needed to use the bathroom. On the way there he pulled out his cell and answered it.
When he got back he started complaining about the prices, marveling that we were allowed to spend up to $125. “Do people really spend that much on sit-down dates? How can two people spend that much on dinner?” He wondered out loud.
“My God,” I thought. “I’m on a date with Rachel Ray…”
I remembered how just a couple hours earlier I’d noted to a friend that “$125 is not really that much.” I thought about the two and three hundred dollar dinners and brunches that BFF Matt had taken me to just before he left. The champagne and moules brunches that Looney and I partake of on an unhealthily regular basis. I ran through a quick calculation: a bottle of wine, two salads, two entrees, dessert, coffee, tip. “It’s very easy,” I explained. He shrugged, but didn’t seem convinced.
We talked a little bit about the J5 show we’d both recently seen and compared other concerts. He’d traveled quite a bit and perked up for a moment when I told him that I’d lived in Italy and attended culinary school there. He seemed impressed with my knowledge of Italian soccer.
Finally the food arrived. He was horrified. “Who can eat this much?! Good thing we didn’t get appetizers!” He shouted as he took a sip of his margarita.
I looked down at his completely normal-sized steak. Then over to the four shrimp on my plate. Literally. There were four shrimp on my plate. This kid must have grown up in Ethiopia.
We’d agreed to split so I reluctantly handed over two of my puny shrimp in exchange for half of his steak. The food tasted incredible though. My shrimp were infused with the smokiness of the wood. The grits were sweet and complemented them perfectly. The steak just about melted in my mouth. For a few minutes there I was lost in my own little sensual world of epicurean delight. Then he broke in:
“I can’t eat anymore!” He pushed his plate away. It still contained a fourth of his steak. “I’m going to go empty out again,” he said as he stood up and headed for the restrooms. I saw his hand reaching for his phone again.
Now it was my turn to text. “Ugh,” I messaged a friend. I zipped it away before he got back to the table. (Unlike some people...)
“Dessert?” Asked the waiter as he cleared our plates.
“Yes,” I replied before Mr. Anorexic could wave him away. The waiter listed the desserts and I chose an apple cake drizzled with caramel syrup.
“We’ll share,” said my date companion.
“It’s not like it’s even his money!” I thought.
When the dessert arrived, we dug right it. It was topped with fresh whipped cream and still warm from the oven. The apples were firm and just a little bit tart. It was perfect.
After dessert, the hostess came to our table to collect the cameras and to inform us that our meal had been covered by The Washington Post. We were free to go.
But I had one last thing I needed.
"Wait," I said as he started to get up. "I need to take your picture to show my friends."
"Um...OK." I pulled out my cellphone and snapped his picture. [I'm not posting it because that wouldn't be right, but if you click that "e-mail me" link over on the left and I'll send it to you as a reward for having read this far...]
We collected our things and walked outside. I said that I was going to catch a cab and he said that he was going to head over to Safeway, “even though it was ridiculously expensive.” He hailed me a cab, gave me a quick hug, and I jumped in. Neither one of us made any attempt to get the other’s contact info.
As my cab pulled away, I turned around and saw that he was already on his phone.
8:45 PM, Post-date Bitch Session
I pulled out my own cell and checked it. 8 new text messages. I dialed my friend's number.
“How’d it go?” he asked.
“Oh man…” I started.