It’s amazing how the same story can be described by some people as romantic, and by others as cliched. So with that warning in mind, as New York freezes in the snow (lucky New Yorkers! how I love snow!), let me tell you a tale that may warm the bosoms of your heart. Or send you heaving into the nearest bar.
It’s October 2005 in New York. It’s a special day for Miss R, so I’m pulling out all the stops. I’ve even changed my underpants.
We step out of our hotel, in the finest clothes that my taste will allow. A seminal moment happens – one that can never happen again.
I snap my finger, and a yellow cab screeches to a halt in front of us. Just. like. that. Duly impressed, I start to think the evening might actually work according to my plan. Ha. Fool me.
The taxi takes us to the harbour, from which the dinner boat should depart on a charming, romantic, moonlit cruise around New York with the finest food and wines known to man. This of course, is a slight lie.
The harbour, far from being an organised bustling place full of people ready to help two slightly befuddled and jetlagged tourists uncomfortably walking in their finery, is in fact a multi-storey carpark next to a seedy leisure centre, with a portakabin that serves as the tour office. Not, as I mistakenly thought, the grand-looking party at the end of the road that turns out to be a celebration harbour-side party for The View.
There, the problems begin. They swear blind that they never received my booking or credit card number for a “romantic dinner cruise for two”. (the romantic element being a rose, and the privilege of sitting together as opposed to across a table) Eventually, when I lean over the counter to use their Internet terminal and find my email receipt, they begrudgingly find us a table on the dinner cruise, although not the romantic version.
The dinner cruise itself is fantastic views-wise (“alright for looking at I s’pose if you like that sort of thing”, which my youthful persona said once many years ago), and there’s many a moment of us just gazing outside at the Brooklyn Bridge and such like – but the same can’t be said about the food. The waiter served us lukewarm steak and cold coffee – and then asked why we didn’t give him a fulsome tip.
Our fellow passengers were interesting in themselves. There was an American man/Japanese woman couple, both aged in their mid-50s, who were all over each other like a rash. Honestly, get a room. There was also a table of Asian businessmen who co-opted the lounge singer into some karaoke.
We eventually stumble out of the harbour, where a similarly-well-dressed stranger strikes up a conversation with us, attempting to figure out where we’re from. However, as soon as I mention who I work for, interest evaporates – since we’re not part of the American media and The View, we’re of absolutely no interest. so much for the worldy creative organisation I work for then.
Once the networking hussy leaves us, I realise that we have no real idea where we are, let alone how to get to a point where we do know where we are – or indeed, how to get to the Empire State Building. Plus it’s 10.30pm and last doors are at 11.15pm.
My usual back-up plan is to find a taxi to get us to where we need to be – but lady luck strikes again, and despite walking up and across a few major roads, we can’t hail a cab for love or money. So we end up on a slightly dodgy New York subway train at 10.30pm at night, dressed in our finery. (which happens to be a black velvet smoking jacket I got for £10 at Camden market one time, in case you must know. Always wanted to find a chance to use it!)
We emerge from the subway station at 11.10pm – less than five minutes to get to the Empire State Building. So apparently, for the first time in Miss R’s existence, she sees me run. And believe it or not, when I need to run, I can sprint. I just can’t do it for long. So I sprint ahead in my black jacket, while Miss R gamely tries to catch up in her not-so-sensible shoes.
But we eventually make it to the Empire State Building, get our tickets, and come to the security scanning area. Miss R goes ahead, and all is fine. Unfortunately, I seem to trigger the alarms. As I run out of things to show to the security guard, I come to the one item that I don’t want to show to the security guard in front of Miss R – at least, not just yet. So I tell Miss R that I’ll catch her up, and I think she goes on ahead without me. Which is good because as soon as I reveal the object that was the cause of all the alarms, for a brief second I’m an American. Which is to say, they all give me five and a general if loud choruses of “good luck”, “it’ll be the best thing you ever did” etc. Which was actually very heart-warming.
My brief moment of confidence and hubris comes to an abrupt end at the elevator though, where we must have the most singularly depressed elevator operator with us. For 90-odd floors, he tells the two couples in the lift about his recent divorce, how married life was a huge terrible mistake and the worst thing he ever did.
Eventually, we make it to the top of the Empire State Building, and New York at night. it’s a beautiful spot to be in. We run round once (with me taking pictures of the New York skyline – I figure I won’t get a chance afterwards!), then I hold her tight to keep her warm. Then I somehow manage to slip the ring-sized box into her hand, and ask her to marry me.
Fortunately, she says Yes. 🙂
On the way down, past all the tacky souvenir hawkers selling their tawdry wares, we end up sharing an elevator ride with a Texan couple. And the man just. won’t. stop. talking. Even though he presumably knows we want nothing better than to talk to each other. The couple follows us out of the Empire State Building, up Seventh Avenue and he continues to keep talking to us until we finally have to hail a cab to get out of his immediate area. He wasn’t a bad man – they were just a tad nervous and bewildered to find themselves in the big bad city – but even so, would you keep nattering to a couple of strangers who’d only just gotten engaged?
Finally, on the taxi ride back, we relax. We’re alone – unless you count the taxi driver. And Miss R has a smile on her face. A huge wide beaming smile, the size of Kirsten Dunst’s smiles. And it’s all been worth it.