Sunday, November 8, 2015
Four decades later, couple shares another booth
After the football game Saturday, my wife and I decided to walk across the campus to a place where we could get a light snack while the traffic thinned out before we went back to our car and headed home. We dodged puddles of water and people half our age and twice as slow at walking, checking in at a popular spot that was so overcrowded that I suggested they call the mob not "standing room only" but "standing on someone else's toes room only." We kept walking, rejecting another spot with a line out the door and settling at an "Ale House" with a 20- to 30-minute wait.
We tried walking around the place, but it was too crowded for movement and chose to sit on a bench in the vestibule and wait for my name to be called. We watched the people coming and going, mostly college-age or a bit older, all appearing carefree and joyful.
When my name was called, the waitress seated us in a booth where the cacophony of the crowd was muted enough that we could carry on a conversation. While we waited for our order, we reached across the table and linked our fingers as we talked. We were happy for a football victory and for being back in Chapel Hill, where we had met almost 45 years before.
Immediately, it occurred to both of us that we had sat this way, on our first lunch date, seated in a booth holding hands across the table, oblivious to all around us. That old booth at the Rathskeller is probably gone forever, the Rat having closed years ago with little hope of revival. But this booth in this new place, a few blocks west of where we had begun, served nicely as a re-creation of that old booth of dark wood and carved initials. And we would contend that we are now what we were then, two young people discovering themselves to be happily in love. Only our lost hair, wrinkles and sagging skin belie our illusion.
Decades ago — it must have been our seventh or eighth wedding anniversary — we drove more than an hour to eat a celebratory meal in the Rathskeller's subterranean maze of tables and booths. As we talked that night, I watched with envy two couples at a nearby booth. They were a few years older than we and were there for a night out together. For them, it was obvious, a trip to the Rat for dinner was a frequent event, no special occasion necessary, while our rare moment had to be carefully planned and arranged around work, babysitting and a tight budget.
Now we find ourselves not in the Rat, which is no more, but in a neater, updated and above-ground place, still holding hands across the table, still thinking about a future together, still overjoyed to be in each other's company.