We’ve noticed that some of the best times that we have had together as a couple and as a family have occurred when something unexpected happens and we end up taking life on the fly. On two occasions recently, these wonderful moments happened under what could have been very stressful situations, and they ended up being some of our favorite days in recent memory. Here is one of the stories, and we’ll follow up with the other sometime soon.
So, it is no secret among our family and friends that Maria and I really enjoy country music. Neither of us grew up with it, and in fact we only started listening about four years ago when I took a few days off of work to help a contractor to frame out our deck. The guy brought a radio with him, and we ended up listening to country music for about 10 hours a day. After three days of this, I wouldn’t necessarily call it brainwashing, but I quickly became a fairly devout listener to our local country music station, and eventually Maria got hooked too. We definitely connected to something within the twangy tunes, catchy beats, singable lyrics, and generally positive themes (other than a notable preponderance of songs about drinking and pretty girls, but there are certainly worst things in the world). Anyway, after listening to country music for a year or two, the Zac Brown Band emerged as one of our favorite bands. For a long time, we looked for an opportunity to see them live, but the concerts were always too far away, too expensive, or too long (weekend festivals, etc…). Finally, they made some stops in eastern PA, and to my surprise, Maria got us tickets to see them for my birthday this year!
I was psyched. The concert was on Friday night at 7 pm in Camden, NJ; just across the river from Philly, about a 90 minute drive from our house on a normal day. Maria had arranged for her parents to watch the kids, and we were going to stay overnight in Philly after seeing the concert so that we wouldn’t have to drive all of the way back home afterwards. The plan was that Maria would pick me up close to where I work around 4:00 (it was on our way to Philly), we would stop at the bed and breakfast to check in around 5:00, and grab a quick bite to eat before heading over to the concert before 7:00. Well, like the best laid plans, it didn’t quite work out the way that we expected. Maria hit a bunch of Friday afternoon traffic on her way to our rendezvous, and didn’t end up picking me up until 4:30. Unfortunately, the traffic didn’t stop there…we ended up getting snarled in bumper-bumper stop-and-go traffic almost all of the way down to Philly. What should have been a 1 hour drive ended up taking 2 hours and 30 minutes. Gotta love the city 😛 Despite having a fun destination, traffic on Route 76 heading into the city is enough to crack even the strongest composures (which mine is not…I was FUMING). By the time we found parking in downtown Philly and got to the bed-and-breakfast, it was about 6:15. Of course, in typical bed-and-breakfast fashion, the proprietor (a very nice older woman who ran the B&B in a couple of rooms in her historic row home) was very interested in sitting down, talking, and getting to know us before giving us the keys to the room. By now, my blood pressure was through the roof, but I didn’t have the heart to give her the cold shoulder, so we chatted for a few minutes before she finally showed us to our rooms. By the time we walked out, it was 6:30…just 30 minutes left before the concert started.
At this point, we had two options. Skip dinner, leave right away for the concert, and probably get there right on time but risk not having the opportunity to eat anything, OR stop in for a quick bite to eat somewhere, accepting that we might be a little late to the concert. Neither of us do very well emotionally on an empty stomach, so we decided that it would be in the best interest of the evening and our relationship if we ate first…besides, we would probably only miss the opening act, which was someone that we had never heard of before. Luckily (but not out of character), Maria had done some research on local restaurants and had found a smokehouse called The Twisted Tail, complete with local meats and microbrews, just around the corner from the B&B. “OK…we’ll stop in, grab one beer, and the quickest dishes that they can make us and we will head back out to the concert”.
Still being pretty early for the city crowd, the restaurant wasn’t very crowded when we walked in and we had our choice of seats at the bar. The bartender (“Shazam”) greeted us with a smile and a c0uple of great beers. After the afternoon we had, I am pretty sure it was the best beer that I had ever tasted. His recommendation for the quickest bites to eat were the Pulled Pork Empanadas and Smoked Chorizo Sausage Tacos. we took his advice, and he was right…they came out fast. OK…I am not one for drama, but those also might have been the most delicious pieces of food that I have had in a really long time. The texture of the meat was amazing, and the flavor of the smoked sausage was phenomenal. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
For a time check, it was about 6:50, 10 minutes before the concert the started. Both of us had finally settled down from the drive, and we were finally getting to the point where we could actually enjoy each other’s company. The next 5 minutes went something like this…
- Joe – “Hey Shazam…how long will it take to get from here to Camden?”
- Shazam – “On a Friday, at least 45 minutes man…why you wanna go there?”
- Joe – “Well, we have tickets for a concert over there for the Zac Brown Band”
- Shazam – “Damn. Never heard of ’em. Well, we have live music here tonight starting at 7:30. You want another beer?”
The thought of getting back in the car for another 45 minutes was soul crushing to both of us, especially because we would most certainly miss a big chunk of the concert even if we left right away. We were getting more and more comfortable as the seconds wore on, and the thought of being elbow to elbow with 10,000 other people also did not feel terribly appealing.
- Joe – “Maria…how much did we pay for those tickets again?”
- Maria – “Mmm…not too much”
- Joe – “Was it more than I could pay you to get back into the car right now?”
- Maria – “Hell no”
Did you ever get the feeling that you were in the place that you were supposed to be despite having planned to be somewhere else? At this moment, we both started to have that feeling, and ultimately came to the decision that we needed to have fun with one another in a relaxed environment (which we had just then achieved) more than we needed to follow through with the plans that we had made (which threatened to totally stress us out). While it felt really weird to adjust our plans so drastically, it just felt right for us to follow our gut and stay where we were.
- Joe – “Hey Shazam, I think we’ll take you up on that second round of beers. Do you think you might be able to sell a couple of tickets to a country concert? We’ll give you a 50% cut.”
- Shazam – “Heck no man…nobody wants to go over to Jersey tonight”
To make an already long story a little shorter, we spent the rest of the night at The Twisted Tail, listening to live music (Christopher Davis-Shannon), ordering just about every appetizer that they had on the menu over the course of the night (highlighted by the Country BBQ Spare Ribs…Good Lawd were they good!!!), sampling many of their beers and whiskey mixers as well (including the Shazam 103, our bartender’s one hundred and third attempt at a custom drink, made of whiskey, herbs – thyme and rosemary, I think -a little lime and a little seltzer…absolutely delicious), getting to know our bartender a little better (Shazam was actually Michael, an architect by day and father of two kids), and playing darts with Maria’s sister and her fiancé’ who live a few blocks from the restaurant and came out to join us after hearing that we were in town (despite her fiancé competing in a triathlon the next morning, which he ended up posting one of his best personal times in…you’re welcome Lou ;-). While it was a huge departure from what we had planned, and I felt pretty bad about not taking full advantage of the birthday present concert tickets that Maria had centered the night around, we ended up having one of the best, fun-loving, and stress-free nights of our lives together, and I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. The next day, we went home and downloaded the live album from the Zac Brown Band, and have listened to that a bunch of times since…close enough for now;-)
A lot of times, it requires focus and dedication to power through and make your plans work. And sometimes, just sometimes, it is better to stop, appreciate where you are in that moment, and just enjoy having a night out with your pretty girl at the whiskey and smokehouse. Now that almost sounds like a country song 🙂