I really miss driving through Franconia Notch and stopping to look up in awe at the profile of the Old Man of the Mountain. The Old Man always seemed kind of regal to me, like a king perched high on his rock throne, overseeing his kingdom below.
Unfortunately, he also reminded me of one of the (many) bad dates I’ve had.
This particular date, from my bad-date archives, took place on a sunny Sunday in autumn, during the height of leaf-peeping season. I was a junior in high school at the time, and one of my friends (and I now use the term loosely) fixed me up on a blind date with a guy named Don, who invited me to go for a drive to the White Mountains.
Don didn’t have a car, so we double-dated with his friend Sam, who had a VW Beetle, and Sam’s girlfriend, Irene. When they arrived to pick me up, I instantly was disappointed. It wasn’t that Don was a bad-looking guy, he just wasn’t …well, very neat or clean in appearance. His hair was long and matted, and he was wearing a stained, wrinkled shirt and too-short black pants that displayed his white socks – which weren’t very white.
Riding in the back seat of a VW Beetle, with my knees under my chin all the way to the White Mountains, wasn’t exactly comfortable. And the fact that the traffic was backed up for about 20 miles, didn’t help ease my discomfort. I figured that by the time I finally got out of the car, I wouldn’t be able to walk because my legs would be numb from the thighs down, from lack of circulation.
“I’m hungry,” Don whined after we’d sat in traffic for about an hour.
So Sam pulled into the next restaurant we came to. The four of us ordered burgers, fries and milkshakes, filled our growling stomachs, and then got ready to hit the road again.
“Here’s my half of the bill,” Sam said, handing the bill and some money to Don. “Now let’s get going. We’re already way behind schedule.”
Don reached into his pocket and his face suddenly paled. “I left my wallet at home!”
I frantically searched through my handbag. “I have two dollars,” I said, immediately picturing myself having to spend the rest of the afternoon washing dishes at the restaurant.
Sam rolled his eyes and sighed. “Don’t worry, guys, I’ve got it.” He cast Don a glance that told me it might not have been the first time his buddy had “forgotten” his wallet.
After sitting in traffic for another 45 minutes, Sam finally reached his boiling point. “Hang on,” he said, pulling out of the line of traffic and onto the side of the road. “We’re going to take a shortcut.”
We rode along the side of the road all the rest of the way to the mountains.
“I hope a cop doesn’t catch us,” I said, sliding lower in my seat to hide from all of the cursing, hand-gesturing people in the line of cars as we passed them on the right.
“Don’t worry,” Sam said. “Unless the cop is on a motorcycle or in a VW himself, he won’t be able to fit over here to chase us.”
When we finally reached our destination, I got out of the car, inhaled the fresh mountain air (which I desperately needed by then) and gazed up at the great stone profile of the Old Man. At that moment, I knew that all of the torture had been worth it.
|THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN|
“Ready to go hiking?” Sam asked.
I just stared at him.
“This mountain right here behind us,” he said, pointing over his shoulder. “If we climb the trail, we can get an even better view of the Old Man.”
I glanced down at my dainty T-strap shoes and then up at the mountain, which looked as if it had been the victim of hundreds of rock slides, and frowned.
“Sounds like fun!” Don said. He grabbed my hand and began to yank me up the trail. My leather-soled shoes were so slippery on the rocks, if I hadn’t been hanging onto him, I’d have ended up flat on my face and spitting out teeth.
After about 15 minutes, Sam, who was ahead of us, stopped walking, pulled Irene into his arms, and gave her a passionate kiss. Don stared at the two of them for a few seconds, then turned toward me and moved a step closer.
“Try it and die,” I said.
Don was not pleased. In fact, he stopped holding my hand after that and stomped up the trail to walk ahead of Sam and Irene.
I struggled to keep up with them, but not only was I not used to climbing mountains, my shoes continued to plot against me.
Finally, after what seemed like 20 years, the trio stopped walking. “Look at the view,” Sam called out. “Isn’t it great?” He, with Irene leaning back against him, his arms around her waist, stood staring at the Old Man.
Breathless, with my lungs feeling as if they’d been filled with concrete, I reached the group. When I turned to look at the view, my feet slipped out from under me and I landed flat on my rear on a bunch of small, pointy rocks and slid downhill about 10 feet.
As I sat there, groaning in several octaves, it was Sam who came to my rescue and helped me to my feet. Don still was too angry with me. In fact, his expression all but told me he was wishing I’d have slid over the edge of a 100-foot cliff.
When I arrived home that night, my mother thought I had been in an accident. My hair was a mess, my face was dirty, my jeans were torn, and one of the straps on my shoes was broken.
After that, I vowed never again to accept a blind date, no matter how wonderful the guy sounded. But a few years later, I broke that vow just one more time.
And that was how I met my husband.
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