I feel like my columns of late are occasionally descending into stereotype: Hapless bachelor writes for years about meeting nice girl. Hapless bachelor meets nice girl. Hapless bachelor can't shut up about nice girl.
I don't wanna be that guy. And I'm certain that you kind folk don't want to waste your Sundays reading the play-by-plays of our boring dates. Good thing, then, that our dates aren't boring.
The other night we had plans for a no-holds-barred evening o' romance and chivalry. This is not my strong suit, as my usual idea of romance is letting her hold the remote control for an hour or two. But I had a plan.
First a nice dinner and a stop for ice cream. Afterwards, I'd take her to one of my favorite locales: Lock & Dam 14 at Fisherman's Corner out by Hampton. You can stroll right out on the Illinois side until you're pretty much in the smack dab middle of the Mississippi -- just you, your special someone, a few quaint fishing folk, the setting sun, and the gentle call of nesting pelicans. It would be my shining romantic moment.
So after dinner and ice cream in Davenport, I slyly headed north along the river giving myself mental high-fives. Goin' to the dam, gonna be all romantical and supa suave studly maaaaaan.
That was about the time we reached Leclaire and I remembered that the I-80 bridge to Illinois was closed. Not good. I was trying my best to play it off like our night was super spontaneous and magical, and I feared a sudden U-turn would blow it.
I had to find a way to play it cool, so I just kept driving along the river with the hopes of finding an appropriate turn-off to nonchalantly get us home. A few miles later, I realized I didn't know where the heck I was, other than way far north. At this point, if I turned off, I'd have no clue how to get us home. That was when I decided my best option was to keep right on truckin' up to Clinton and just take the bridge there and come back to the dam.
Sure, my night was starting to go badly, but unbeknownst to me at the time, someone was having an even worse night. Someone so distraught over the state of their life that they had chosen that night to end it all.
That someone was a suicidal deer -- and just as I reached a bend in the road at 55 mph, it trotted out in a kamikaze head-on dash for my grill. I didn't even have time for one of my customary expletives. I slammed on the brakes. Bambi of the Damned just galloped straight at me. I swerved to the side. It swerved to the side. I swerved back. It swerved back. This deer clearly wanted to die. I braced for impact, grabbed my girlfriend's hand... and missed the sucker by THAT much.
I could have reached out and pet it as we went by. Well, I could have, were I in control of my extremities. As my girlfriend tells it, I reacted to the close call by throwing my fists in the air and screaming "YES!" as though I'd just scored the winning touchdown. Truth is, I was simply happy that I hadn't wet myself.
Ever been SO pumped by adrenalin and a racing heart that you can't sit still? That was MY state of mind when we reached Clinton. I needed a breather after Venison: The Home Game, so I rolled down my window to get some fresh air.
Ladies and gentlemen, NEVER DO THIS IN CLINTON, IOWA. Dear, sweet Clintonians: I love you all. I really do. And I know it's not your fault. But your town STINKS. Yes, I know, it's a horribly rude thing to say. After all, I'm sure there are occasionally times in life when yours truly smells a little ripe. But even at my funkiest of funks, I can rest safe in the knowledge that I will never be as reeky as Clinton, Iowa. It's a delightful mix of yeast, molasses, rotting entrails, and creepy Jimmy Spencer, the kid from my 5th grade class who never showered. I've now learned that one of the key elements to a romantic night is to plot a route that DOESN'T make your girlfriend retch and dry heave in your car.
But I'm stubborn and I'm not a quitter, so we charged over that bridge and headed back on the Illinois side -- and when I finally saw the turn-off for Lock & Dam 14, I took it with gusto. I wanted my romantic stroll to the middle of the river. I wanted my picturesque fishermen. I wanted the gentle lull of the pelican's call.
None of things, I've come to learn, happen at midnight. In fact, I'm not even sure the dam's open at midnight and perhaps I'm confessing a felony trespass in this column. Either way, lesson learned. There were no quaint fishermen at midnight. There was NO ONE at midnight. Just the two of us, a damp river fog, the darkest walkway ever, and probably a 20-30% chance of being dismembered by an axe-wielding homicidal rapist ghost vampire werewolf.
The gentle Mississippi looked more like the River Styx. Oh, and as for the gentle lull of the pelicans? When you wake them up in the middle of the night, they just start going "HOOOOOOOOONK!" and flapping their wings spastically in alarm. I was hoping to salvage at least one or two sweet nothings in my ear. Instead, what I got was, "OMIGOD SOMETHING'S ON MY SHOE EW EW GET IT OFF GET IT OFF!" It was at that point we made a break for the car and never looked back.
So my grand idea of a romantic evening ended on the couch with a rerun of the Colbert Report. Still, I'm not entirely without chivalry -- once I fell safely asleep, I let her have the remote control.