It was to be a different kind of Valentine’s Day.
I was okay with that.
My five-year-old son had a special event scheduled at his karate dojo. Something just for kids.
Maybe I’ll meet some other parents.
I had been looking forward to it. It’s fun to be a parent at little-kid things.
But as I signed a permission slip for my son to take part in the evening’s scheduled activities, it dawned on me that this wasn’t something parents would be attending.
I thought it was curious they would schedule something on Valentine’s Day. But when I realized they did it intentionally to give adults some time to do adult stuff while the kids had fun together in a safe location, it all made sense.
I decided right away I’d go have dinner somewhere. The dojo is located in a strip mall a couple suburban towns away. There were a couple pubs and restaurants nearby.
So, I parked the Jeep and walked into an Irish pub I’d never been in before.
The Bar Crowd
It was an interesting crowd.
I’m like Jason Bourne when I’m sitting alone, only instead of being a badass prepared for anything, I’m really just creepily digesting everyone’s conversations and making judgments about them based on very little information.
The bar was U-shaped.
To my left was a couple I assumed to be meeting for the first time. They seemed an odd pair. Like they’d decided to meet for drinks on an online dating site.
Three stools to my right, in the middle of the U, sat a man by himself who walked in not long after I did. He immediately ordered a pint of Fat Tire—the same beer I was drinking—and a shot of Jägermeister. I was at the bar for nearly three hours. He never took that shot while I was there.
There were two intoxicated couples and one guy who boasted about how he dumped his wife at home to come drinking with his friends. They sat directly across the bar burning money on losing attempts at Keno.
A male gay couple came in and sat in a booth on the other side of the room. A couple guys who looked like they were really into science-fiction and comic books came in and sat between the guy who wouldn’t take his shot and the drunk Keno players.
Those guys LOVED the song “Sail” by AWOLNATION. It’s probably the fifth-best song on the album.
And back to my right sat two couples in a booth. One of the guys was older than my father and was with a girl younger than me. And yes, they were a couple.
What am I doing wrong? Honestly?
The bartenders were sweet. Two girls. One was gorgeous. The other was not. The one who wasn’t flirted with me all night.
I didn’t mind.
I left the bar and walked down to the karate place to check on my little man. It was shortly after 8 p.m., and the pizza delivery person was JUST getting there as I walked in. Dinner for the kids. My son is usually in bed at this time.
Whatever. Special occasion.
I chatted with a couple staff members. Everything was under control.
Screw it. I’m going back to the bar.
I sat down in the same stool.
I smiled at the bartender who thought I’d left for the evening.
“Another Fat Tire?” she said.
A couple minutes later, a pretty blonde girl walked in and sat right next to me.
“A Miller Lite and a Fireball,” she told the bartender.
“Nice work,” I said, holding out my glass.
She clinked it and we drank.
She asked me to do it again when she took her shot.
“I was supposed to be out with my mom,” she said. “She dumped me.”
“Dumped by your mom on Valentine’s Day? Brutal,” I said.
She was only in town visiting.
She lives in Venice Beach, Calif. A self-employed action-sports photographer. A very talented one. I checked out her work.
She just travels around, sometimes internationally, shooting cool stuff.
Not quite an hour later, I didn’t want to leave.
But my son always has, and always will, come first.
“Devon, I’d love to stay and get silly with you. But I gotta go be a dad. It was a pleasure to meet you.”
And I walked out, leaving that lovely stranger to have whatever adventure the night was going to deliver her.
And I smiled.
A chance encounter.
A simple thing, really.
But a big thing.
A reminder that life just happens.
That plans are great. Expectations are fine. But life just happens anyway.
The beautiful stranger chose me to sit next to.
And someday, there will be another one.