22 years. That’s how long my husband and I have had a Chinese food Valentine’s Day tradition. How’d the tradition begin? You’ll love this story! But, shhhhh, please don’t tell our parents. We don’t wanna get grounded.
It was February 1998. A Friday. I was living in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago and my then-boyfriend (now-husband) was living in Kenosha, Wisconsin. I took a half-day from the condominium development I was working for. I was to meet my beau at my apartment where he’d be waiting with surprise Valentine’s Day plans for me. I was pretty psyched. We’d had several recent conversations about how I needed more spontaneity in our relationship. So my guess was that he was going to whisk me away to downtown Chicago for the big day! And what I really wanted to do was to go do some outreach evangelism. (That’s Christianese for ‘blessing random strangers with no expectations for anything in return.’) I wanted to hand out something to fans outside the Bulls game like chocolate hearts or water bottles or something of the sort.
But none of that happened.
Instead, upon his arrival, he handed me a large manila envelope. (You know the ones with the metal clasps that always break off?) He’d written something on it saying that he’s making an attempt at being more spontaneous. Inside, it was stuffed full of info for New York City. Brochures. Maps. Research he’d printed off for things to do. (‘Member this was the pre-smart phone era.) I filed through it quickly in confusion when he asked “Wanna go?” One raise of my eyebrows to confirm his sincerity and we were off! He had gassed up the car and packed us a cooler full of snacks. In a New York minute, we were headed to the greatest city in the world!
Crazy, no? 2 kids from the midwest heading off to the Big Apple like that! Well, at 19 and 20 we were definitely grown ups. [Wink.] Our maturity was obvious, because the used coupe that we were road-tripping in was not a complete beater and our credit cards weren’t totally maxed out just yet.
We were doing it! We were just two dreamers headed to the big city a la Harry and Sally! Our first stop was none other than the Empire State Building. We took some freezing cold pictures on the iconic 86th floor before running back inside to warmth. A quick potty break at the Golden Arches next door and then we were off to find some dinner. We weren’t as experienced at finding decent dining like we are now. (Read: We had no cell phones and a dinner budget of about 5 bucks.) So we just stopped at the first place we could find. It happened to be, you guessed it, a Chinese restaurant. A hole-in-the-wall kinda place with uncomfortable ambiance and questionable shrimp. And yet, it was terribly memorable. So much so, that for the past 2 decades we’ve continued the Chinese food tradition every V-day. Sure, we’ve bent the rules a smidge when we’ve gotten Thai instead. Or if we’ve dined at a place where the decorative fishtanks have been cleaned in the last decade. But close enough to still be considered tradition, right?
Seeing as we were being spontaneous and all, we had to get back to work/school on Monday. So pretty much we just left town after our receiving our fortune cookies. Nope, not kidding. We drove from the Chicago ‘burbs to NYC, went to the Empire State Building, ate egg rolls, took the wrong bridge over to Queens or some crap, dropped $7 on one toll (each way!) to get back to where we needed to be, got pissy with each other while trying to navigate a car in New York friggin’ City, decided that it was insane, and started heading back home. It was really romantic!
Lesson #1: Only travel to NYC with trusted tour guides. Or cell phones.
Lesson #2: Don’t go on cross country road trips in a piece of junk car. Sorry, 1991 Pontiac Sunbird, but you weren’t trustworthy.
Lesson #3: Don’t travel solely with (almost) maxed out credit cards.
Lesson #4: They’re serious when they say you have to be 21 to get a hotel room.
Lesson #5: Girl Scouts can get pretty aggressive with their cookie sales.
Lesson #6: Jeff really really loves me.
So when he took me back to the Big Apple 20 years later to celebrate my 40th birthday, we did things up right and saw the Empire State Building from the same spot where Annie saw it light up with a heart in Sleepless in Seattle. I heart New York! And V-day! And the love of my life!