I'll start off by telling you 4 short back stories to set up the things that came together over the course of a year for * The Best Date Ever *.
In December of 1991, I was in my local mall with my brother just before Christmas - finishing up our holiday shopping. My brother and I were sitting on a bench that was just in front of a glass retaining wall. (The typical mall setup where you can see the level below.)
My brother and I noticed a little girl (4 years old at best) walking in a daring form of circus tight rope walking - balancing the top of the rail on the upper level. No parents present - my brother warned her that she might fall. She got down briefly, but very soon was right back at it. I turned my head over my shoulder (my back was to the girl). Right as my brother said a second time,
... the little girl fell. Reflex made me contort my arm over the rail with lightening fast reaction. Pretty much crushing the little girl's hand - I caught her ... literally dangling her over the guard rail in between the two levels. I was straddling the rail, about to fall myself. My brother grabbed me. I couldn't hold on, the girl had yelled and so many people were screaming that a gentleman was able to be right underneath her to okay a drop.
I went to this mall today to get a fresh visual. I would estimate the drop for the girl would have been 30 (or more) feet - enough to kill her or at least break a number of bones.
This incident actually makes me believe the situation when someone falls in the movies and miraculously catches onto a rail and holds on by a few fingers. I suppose it's adrenaline and instinct that combine to give us heightened physical strength and awareness in situations like this.
The girl was caught safely. The mother and father came over to thank me. The father mentioned that he worked at a local airport & landing strip as a "Hot Air Balloon Enthusiast/Technician/Competition Balloonist". As a thank you, he said he would love to give me a free hot air balloon ride. Smiling, my brother who's in the Air Force said:
Being the romantic that I am ... I knew that a hot air balloon ride would be the perfect date. So ... I took a rain check for a future date. (My Senior Prom)
My high school was located close to two very large hospitals and a prominent university. There were quite a number of specialty doctors and tenured professors .... many of the radiologists, neurologists, and physics professors had very nice cars. A wealthy local business owner in town had a Ferrari 308GT. (The same kind of Ferrari that Magnum P.I. drove) A prominent radiologist in town had a Lamborghini Countach. I asked the business owner if he would be willing to help chauffeur or even let me drive his Ferrari to my Senior prom. He declined. Good thing though, because visually a Lamborghini is more impressive - especially with the swing up doors. The doctor accepted and even offered to help ... all I had to do was, as he said, "Give me the time and place and I'm there". The added advantage to making an arrangement like this instead of renting or having a chauffeur is that you don't have to tip a millionaire.
My mother has always seemed to know at least one person that did everything. If she didn't have an answer or couldn't fix something herself ... she knew someone that had a solution. My mother knew of a local UPS delivery guy. I'd always wanted to be delivered ever since I'd heard (possibly urban legends) of people being shipped to save on air fare. I can't recall how I thought of it ... but I came up with an idea where I would be delivered by the "Prom Date Delivery Service Inc". So ... for my Senior Prom I found a wooden crate, filled it with white 3" and 4" diameter styrofoam balls and white rose petals. With a woodburning tool, I burned the words:
... into the front of the box. I arranged (for a date soon) to be delivered by UPS (at least by a UPS guy in a brown UPS truck) ... even making sure that I would have to be signed for.
My last name is Smith. My heritage is Irish. The name Smith comes from Blacksmith, Silversmith, Goldsmith. My particular heritage is from that of a family of Silversmith's. (As legend goes) 400 or so years ago in a fishing village called Claddagh overlooking Galway Bay, close to the city of the Tribes, lived Richard Joyce; a Master Goldsmith. He supposedly crafted a now famous ring design that has become part of Irish heritage.
The Claddagh Ring is also called "The Irish Wedding Band" and is often used in modern wedding ceremonies.
The Claddagh Ring belongs to a widespread group of finger rings called Fede or "Faith rings" which date from Roman times. They are distinguished by having the bezel cut or cast in the form of two clasped hands, symbolising faith, trust or "plighted troth". Fede rings were popular in the Middle Ages throughout Europe.
The "Claddagh" ring is a particularly distinctive ring with two hands clasping a heart that is surmounted by a crown.
The ring worn on the right hand, crown turned inward tells others that your heart is yet unoccupied, worn with the crown turned outwards reveals you are seriously involved and considering commitment. Worn on the left hand with the crown turned outward shows that you are married or spoken for - loyal to only one for life.
So ... that sets up up a few things that had to come together for the Best Date Ever. I'm going to be honest and say that while nothing in the "Worst Date Ever" was embellished ... I'm going to slightly change some facts and circumstances that don't really add or subtract from this story. I realize this may sound a little pathological - but this is the way I want to remember this particular story. There's really only one thing that happened slightly different in reality than in the telling of this story. (Nothing bad that happened though.)
For weeks before my Senior Prom I had been planning how I could bring everything together for the perfect date. I had been dating a cheerleader from my high school for about 5 months at this point. She was from a very large family that, while not deprived, certainly had it's share of financial strife. I really wanted this night to be for her - a Cinderella transformation - the pumpkin carriage, the prince (me) - a beautiful girl given what she so rightly deserved.
So ... on the day before my Senior Prom I made all of the arrangements and coordinated all of the schedules. On the day of I got very nervous ... knowing that something somehow would go wrong - there was just too much going to happen.
I arrived at my girlfriend's house at 5:30PM sharp ... delivered in a wooden crate and handtrucked into the front lawn - I felt like I was in a casket. My date was apparently running just slightly behind with her hairdo. The UPS guy demanded that she be the one to sign. I heard her yell at her mother from the bathroom that she couldn't come. Her mother told her that there was a package out in the yard for her and that it was "time sensitive".
Waiting on her front lawn in the crate .. I was able to see through a slat ... she walked out in a beautiful teal dress with a few curlers in her hair. She started shaking. In a boisterous manner she said, "Oh God ... knowing Rusty this is a kangaroo or something ... oh God Oh God". She was prompted to pull the string to let the front of the crate to drop down.
She pulled the string and jumped back very quickly. White rose petals and white styrofoam balls spilled onto her lawn. I saw her mother's eyes light up and then smile wide. Her dad just shook his head in a "no no" motion. My girlfriend looked at him, blushed, and then smiled.
Right on cue ... with a very loud revving engine roar ... the Lamborghini pulls up to her modest house. I tell her that she is going to be taken for a brief ride and that I will meet back up with her in 30 minutes time at an undisclosed location. She was chauffeured into the Lamborghini.
I headed quickly to the next rendezvous point - the local university basketball coliseum.
In my car I had a special table with built in stools ... I had ordered her favorite dinner from her favorite Italian restaurant. I set up the table with candles on the front side of the coliseum. I met a friend of mine at the coliseum to help me.
On cue ... the Lamborghini drove up to the sidewalk where I had the table for two waiting.
My girlfriend was raving about the ride in the Lamborghini and interupting herself with questions about what was happening next and why we were at the University.
She helped sort of set the table while I thanked the doctor that "donated the Lamborghini" . We talked while we ate the meal. Then suddenly we were interupted with a loud explosion. She asked if I knew what the sound was. I said I did and not to worry. The we heard it again. I became concerned myself and said I needed to "check on something". I went around to the back side of the coliseum. The ballonist was having a few issues getting the balloon to fill with hot air because the wind was blowing a little too much on the back side of the coliseum which is right next to lake - giving a little lake effect wind.
My girlfriend came around to check as well and asked with wide eyes ...
I said ...
We packed up the table and dinner while the balloonist finished getting the balloon ready. Perfect and on cue the sun had just started to set over the horizon. We got in the hot air balloon. The balloonist asked if we had ever been in a hot air balloon before ... we both replied, "No!" (in unison) He explained that he didn't really have any control over where the balloon would go and that he was a little worried about the wind. He explained that he had a chase crew that would be following us in a van on the ground by road. And like it was a dream ... the wind changed and we were immediately over the lake with the orange and pink colors from the sunset shimmering in the water.
A line from the movie American Beauty really sums up this moment in my life:
" ... there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel I'm seeing it all at once and it's too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst. And then I remember to relax. ... You have no idea what I'm talking about, but don't worry ... you will someday."
The balloonist lowered the flame on the balloon and we dipped down into the water. We rose back up really high into the air and then we stopped by clipping pine trees in a nearby neighborhood eventually landing in a culdesac in a nearby town.
We got out of the balloon and the balloonist handed us a bottle of champagne saying,
"I know you guys are under age and I really shouldn't do this but you'll probably have some any way tonight. It's just customary that you drink champagne on a hot air balloon."
I don't drink and never have and my girlfriend was the former President of ESUBA (Abuse spelled backwards) which is an alcohol & drug prevention and support progam that was at our high school. But ... it was still cool to get the champagne ... it would make for good conversation.
The chase crew drove us back in the chase van to the University where I had my car. We drove to the Prom ... had a great time and left to try and find a party.
We didn't find the party ... but I wasn't really interested in finding it anyway. I had the keys to my father's lakehouse (stolen) and so I had the plan to go their and sleep in front of the fireplace ... wake up in the morning and meet friends at a local Waffle House.
We got to the lakehouse. I had a blanket in front of the fireplace and a fire ready to light. I had some Godiva chocolate on the coffee table and let her indulge while I started the fire.
I then pulled a box from my pocket ... I let her open it ... it had the Claddagh ring inside. I had tried to research the story behind the ring. (This was before the internet and Godsend of Google.) The best story that I could gather was kind of lame so I made one up.
A prince, being constantly confronted on the subject of marriage by his father, The High King Of Ireland - set out to find a wife. Although it would have been easy to just go to any woman to ask (even demand) her hand in marriage ... he wanted someone to love him first and foremost. His father had presented many possible candidates for him to be suitor. When asked what the greatest thing about being the Princess and potentially the Queen each maiden would say something similar, "We would rule together and have the kingdom at our feet, we would eat all we wanted to, and we would have everything we wanted to." The Prince was not pleased with this typical answer. So ... he dressed in peasant's clothes and set out on a frail horse amongst the villages in the countryside. A band of thieves knocked him from his horse and stole the meager amount of bread, water, and money he took with him. They beat him unconscious. When he awoke he was warm and in front of a fire with a hot bowl of soup and covered with thick blankets. As he gained focus ... a soft voice told him to rest, eat, and gain his strength. Coming into focus with this soft voice was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Over the course of the next week, the woman nursed him back to health. He, of course, not revealing that he was the Prince. After two weeks he was healthy enough to do a few chores to repay his debt for the care. Not really wanting to leave, but knowing he would have to return - he set back onto a path for the castle. Before he reached the castle gate he asked the gaurd for a fast horse. He went to the local Silversmith and asked him to make a ring based on the story he told him of the beautiful woman. The Silversmith worked all night and into the next morning ... he crafted this ring:
The next day he returned to the village with the beautiful woman, knelt and asked for her hand in marriage. She said, "Yes, but only if you promise to love me ... not with riches, not with compliments, but only with all of your heart. I want to be treated like I am your Queen." The Prince smiled and said, "As you wish." <--- yes I stole that line from The Princess Bride
We quickly fell asleep. We woke up early and went to the Waffle House to meet up with some friends for breakfast. (WINK) We were the topic of the conversation.
Cost of the "Worst Date Ever": $620
Cost of the "Best Date Ever": $150
Having had both experiences: Priceless!