It was the weekend.
I found myself showering, flipping through my Superstore-Target wardrobe and digging out my largely untouched makeup bag from the recesses of a bathroom drawer.
The occasion: a birthday gathering for a friend at a local winebar. An occasion that comes around roughly once every two years for this party animal.
I’d been instructed to arrive ‘around 8’ which, for someone with my limited nightlife exposure, was difficult to interpret. Did ‘around 8’ mean 8-on-the-dot, 8:15, 8:30, 9:00, none of the above? I considered the source of the invitation, my friend; an extraordinarily punctual individual, and settled on arriving between 8:15 and 8:30. A move that would serve two purposes: (1) creating the illusion that I am a very popular person trying to squeeze multiple engagements into my busy weekend nights and (2) avoiding the awkwardness of being the first one to arrive.
With painted lips and highly uncomfortable boots, I hopped in my teal Volvo just after 8 and drove to the winebar. As I skulked along the strip of bars and restaurants in desperate search of a parking spot, I mentally kicked myself for not getting there earlier, if only for parking purposes.
As luck would have it, I finally found one available, non-handicapped parking spot within a block from my destination. I parked my teal box and hobbled un-suavely in my obnoxious boots to meet my friend. I descended the bar stairs and opened the door of the subterranean venue, searching the candlelit room for a familiar face.
There were no signs of my friend, but I spied one woman sitting at a large table by herself. I decided to take a chance, and made eye contact with her whilst muttering my friend’s name, question mark. As in, ‘Susan?’ As if to say, ‘are you also waiting for Susan?’
She nodded and, relieved that I wasn’t the first one there, I plopped down across from her and introduced myself. She had a glass of red wine, and a plate of oysters on the way. We, two complete strangers, made small talk. The oysters came and I mentioned how I’d never had oysters. She insisted I try one. I insisted I could not. We discussed our mutual acquaintance, our kids, our husbands. She ordered a charcuterie plate and I followed suit; ordering a half-glass of Tempranillo and a plate of serrano ham.
We ate our respective cured meat and talked about work and where we were from, all whilst not-so-secretly wondering why our very-punctual friend wasn’t there.
‘Do you think she’s here?’ my new-friend suddenly asked. I imagined walking around the corner and finding our friend sitting at a table, wondering where on earth we were. ‘Let me take a look,’ I slid off my seat and stepped into the main area, trying not to look like I was staring at each of the eight tables to determine if our friend was, in fact, sitting thirty feet away.
It seemed she was not.
‘This is sort of like a blind date,’ I joked to my new-friend, attempting to make light of the fact that we two strangers had spent the better part of an hour in each other’s company on a Saturday night at a wine bar. [I should also add that my new-friend was wearing sunglasses because one of her children had scratched her cornea. So basically I was hanging out with a combination of Isla Fisher and Stevie Wonder.]
I imagined our absent friend scheming: ‘you know who’d really hit it off: Nicola and Isla-Wonder. I know, I’ll stage a fake-birthday-gathering, but not show up, and then they can get to know each other.’
Around 9:40pm, I called the professor. Because, in classic-Nicola fashion, my friend had emailed me her phone number, but I hadn’t actually entered it into my featureless, technology averse, non-smart-phone. ‘Can you check my email for her phone number,’ I asked my human-smart-phone.
He found the crucial ten digits and I called my friend.
‘We’re here,’ she insisted, ‘where are you?’ I looked around the room. Did I, in my myopic, glasses-less state, actually miss the fact that my friend was sitting a stone’s throw away? Surely not.
‘Where are you,’ I asked suspiciously.
‘I don’t know, the wine bar…..where are we,’ she seemed to ask a server.
They were sitting in the restaurant directly above the winebar.
They paid their bill and hustled downstairs to join me and Isla-Wonder, where we proceeded to laugh for the next four hours about the folly of it all.
[I really should get a smartphone.]