As one of the food writers in our stable of contributors here at Borderstan, I’m usually piping up with the two-paragraph paean to some Washingtonian Top 100 restaurant, or the recently discovered hole-in-the-wall. My experience is in our city’s culinary scene and our neighborhood’s eateries. But just for this week, here’s a something a little bit different: a little story about my recent engagement, if you’ll indulge me.
Which is not to say Borderstan and food don’t both make a lot of appearances throughout this story. In fact, our meet-cute tale is full of familiar locations and bites. It was the day I finished moving my last box into my first U Street home that I met Jess, at a Dupont backyard barbecue. A list of our first and best dates reads like a neighborhood guide: Bar Pilar, the now-closed Cajun Experience, Posto. Ours is very much a Borderstan love story; heck, both of us even worked for Borderstan.com.
So it’s a little funny that the key restaurant for this particular part of our story is one we ultimately never ate at: DGS Delicatessen. Our engagement wasn’t a surprise; both of us think that an engagement should be a mutual decision, I’d already asked her parents for permission, and we’d gone together to pick out her ring (under the “well only one of us has to wear this on our hand forever” logic).
The one caveat I held for myself however was this: how I pop the question is totally up to me. So the only way to keep it a secret was to cloak it with something plausible, like say, lunch at a new restaurant. How about that new Jewish deli on Connecticut?
In reality, a few factors had coincidentally fallen into place: the ring was going to be ready on President’s Day, when not only she was off of work, but so were a few co-conspirators. What’s more, my company treats President’s Day as a floating holiday and I had just taken on a huge project at work, so it only made sense that I would have to go into work that day.
Jess knew this last part, so it didn’t necessarily raise any red flags when I told her I would be up by Dupont Circle for an off-site meeting and would be free to grab a quick lunch near our house.
We met just north of the circle to avoid suspicion, though I almost gave it away a few times: being a little too overeager to get rid of her tissue (she was fighting a cold) or to hold her hand, and nearly putting the ring in my inner jacket pocket (which would have given it away when we hugged).
As we cut through the circle, I thought about the near-decade I’ve spent in this city, how much I’ve loved this spot in particular, and how eerily empty and quiet the circle was, except for the sounds of a strumming guitarist on the far side. And then, the faint strums of a ukulele on a C major chord…
I had recruited two friends to help me out in this endeavor. One was secretly snapping pictures of the occasion, while the other sat behind a newspaper, hat and hood pulled over, with iPod speakers on his lap. It’s from there that the song was coming from, competing and losing slightly to the erstwhile musician in the distance. Still, it’s enough that when I turned to her and said, “Hey, do you hear that?” she could still pick it up. It’s our song. She smiled, and I asked her to dance.
There are a lot of things that must run through someone’s mind when they realize that this is it, this is the moment that they’ve been imagining for a while. “I’ll be telling this story to so many people in the coming years.”
“Oh, so this is how you planned to do it. I’m so happy right now.” It’s a flood of emotions that cause you to think and say about a million things. In Jess’s case, all she could say was: “Wait, did you steal my passport, too?” She had misplaced it that morning, and apparently thought I’d orchestrated something that required photo identification. Now, it’s my turn to smile. “No. That one’s on you.”
The quip had thrown me off my prepared speech. You’re sort of in your own bubble when you propose, with everything else blocked out besides you and your soon-to-be-betrothed, right up until the moment that she says yes. Then something will pop that blissful ignorance. Like a bystander sitting on one of the benches, who said, “Well I’ve never seen that before.” It doesn’t ruin it though.
The moment had been carefully planned, and our friends knew just when to jump out with champagne flutes and cigars they’d brought to celebrate. The one thing I didn’t account for was the audience, and nothing made me appreciate Borderstan more than them.
There were the two photographers who joked, “We didn’t know if we should be taking pictures too.” There were the two early-20-somethings who actually asked us, “Hey, can we Instagram this?” And then there was the fountain itself, the spot I’ve loved so much, now with just another reason to love it that much more.
Funnily enough, we never did end up getting lunch at DGS Deli. Guess that’ll just have to be our rehearsal dinner then.