The evening began with a conversation – long distance, back when that mattered, between Ginger and me. She was in Birmingham visiting her family; I was in Fort Worth. We had been dating about eight months and both knew we were on a crash course for each other. Somewhere in our words we decided to get married and I said, “OK, but I still want to surprise you with the ring.”
I had about a week and a half to plan the evening before she returned. My friend, Billy and I spent a couple of days visiting the places that were to be the stages for the romantic extravaganza. I was out to create an indelible memory. Ginger dreamed of owning a black Jeep Wrangler, so I borrowed the one David White, one of the kids in my youth group, had gotten for his birthday and drove it up into her front yard. She came out in an amazing read dress. I was wearing a red shirt and a black blazer (with the sleeves rolled up – it was 1989, after all). I put the specially crafted mix tape into the cassette player and we drove across the Turnpike to Dallas. Billy and Patty, our other co-conspirator, were ahead of us making sure the wheels of romance were well greased.
The first stop was the Hard Rock Café, which was still pretty new and incredibly popular. Billy and I had learned earlier in the week that they wouldn’t take a reservation, but the manager said if Billy and Patty would come early and hold the table he would get them out and get us in without Ginger knowing. We walked past a line of people that literally went around the block and I said to the host, “I’m Milton.” He turned and stealthily signaled and I saw them whisk Billy and Patty out through the kitchen, reset the table, and put a bottle of champagne down before we could get there. She had no idea what had happened.
One of the biggest challenges of the evening was I didn’t want to have to drive and hunt for parking all night and, dating a woman whose sense of social justice is in her marrow, I knew extravagance had some limits. I found a company that rented – wait for it – Honda Accord stretch limos and that was a happy compromise. We came out of the restaurant to our waiting chariot. I handed the driver the mix tape so the soundtrack could continue. Our next stop was the West End, Dallas’ newest hangout, where we went first to the fudge maker who had been primed to pick Ginger out of the crowd to be a special helper. When she was done, they awarded her with a big sack of chocolate-peanut butter fudge.
We walked outside for a bit to find a couple singing along the sidewalk (Billy and Patty in borrowed wigs and well disguised, except for Billy’s luggage tag, which Ginger didn’t see). We stopped to listen and Ginger said, “They’re good, but they’re not Boston.” I still get a good laugh thinking about that moment.
From there, we went into the dance club where once again I said, “I’m Milton” and the host signaled the deejay to play my requests, which began with “Straight Up” by Paula Abdul and also included some Anita Baker and Van Morrison. When the third song played, she stopped dancing and looked at me.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
I smiled and stayed silent. While we danced, Billy and Patty hid the ring in a designated spot in the car and left a box with a dozen peach roses (flowers I had sent to Ginger after we decided to get married) and two bottles of Clos du Bois Chardonnay, which we had shared at dinner at the York Harbor Inn when we had been in New England a few months earlier. One was to open that night; the other was to save for our anniversary. We came out of the club and got in the car. The driver cued the music perfectly, and as we began to move, Stephen Bishop began to sing.
time I’ve been passing time watching trains go by
all of my life lying on the sand watching sea birds fly
wishing there would be someone waiting home for me
something’s telling me it might be you
something’s telling me it might be you all of my life . . .
I reached down and offered her the little black box, followed by the roses. I leaned up to the window and told the driver just to drive around for awhile, closed the little door and opened the wine. We ended back at the Hard Rock, where we picked up the Jeep and drove back to Fort Worth and the rest of our lives together.
Life holds only so many moments that actually become what you dreamed they might be. That night was one for me. It was, as my friend Gordon has noted, a ridiculously romantic evening. Then again, I’m a pretty ridiculous romantic myself. Twenty-two years later, I’m still starry-eyed. Tonight comes after she has just returned from being gone for two weeks, much like it was that fair summer evening, now long ago.
My song hasn’t changed: Gigi, it’s still you I’ve been waiting for all of my life.