“You can’t start a fire without a spark”
Dancing in the Dark
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band
I was 25 years old and working crazy hours as an associate producer at MSNBC. Overnight shifts, weekends, you name it…I worked insane hours. The news business never sleeps. But I desperately needed to sleep. I was exhausted and needed to get away.
I convinced my friend Kim to take a few days off from work and try something different. Instead of a long weekend down the shore, why not travel north to New England with me? She actually loved the idea and it was off we go…right into summer traffic on interstate 95. The ride to historic Newport, Rhode Island was LONG. Thank goodness Jersey Girls know how pass the time just chatting away.
We finally arrived at a charming Bed and Breakfast on Spring Street some four hours later. We unpacked and kicked into vacation mode at a popular bar on Thames Street. That’s where we met a group of sailors. Shocking, I know. Newport is a sailing mecca. Surprise, surprise, we met sailors!
The guys (I don’t remember their names) were from San Francisco. They were in town competing in a regatta hosted by the New York Yacht Club. Yes, one of the stations of the New York Yacht Club is located in Newport, Rhode Island. A New York establishment in Rhode Island, huh??? I thought New York didn’t mix well with New England. It was all so very confusing!
The boys from the west coast were nice enough to meet up with us again the following night, Friday, July 11, 1997, at the Red Parrot. After just one drink, one of the guys announced, “Hey, sorry ladies, we’ve got to go to the club.” Our reaction? “Really? How do we get there?” They looked at each other and then looked at us and said, “ Oh, what the hell… just come with us and pretend you know a few things about sailing.”
Kim and I could not stop laughing. Two girls from Jersey were on their way to a prestigious yacht club and didn’t have a clue about anything pertaining to sailing. However, we certainly knew how to play the role. We walked into the club confidently and acted as if we had been there hundreds of times.
Let me set the scene. The New York Yacht Club is located on Newport Harbor with spectacular views of the Newport Bridge and Narragansett Bay. The club is enormous and fits right in with the other Newport mansions. The formal garden and the grounds are meticulously maintained. The patio overlooking the harbor has a steep grassy hill down to the water and boat dock. It’s the perfect place for cocktails and to watch the sunset. The club is just breathtaking and stunning. Membership is by invitation only. You get the idea…you can smell the MONEY!!! FYI… the original clubhouse was located in Hoboken, NEW JERSEY. Go figure, a Jersey connection. I firmly believe that all good things originate in JERSEY!
Back to the story…. right on cue and with a drink in hand, Kim and I start mingling with others on the lawn overlooking the harbor. I immediately noticed a gorgeous guy wearing a blue shirt, khaki shorts, and boat shoes. He had light hair and light eyes and looked like he just stepped out of a Ralph Lauren catalogue. Before Kim could even think about making a move, I barked out, “Don’t even think about it!”
Mr. Blue Shirt and I kept making eye contact with each other. After what felt like a half hour long staring game, I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to intentionally walk past him on the way to the bar. As I flirted by him, I only had the nerve to say, “Hi” and nothing more. I had stage fright. Normally, I don’t get nervous at all but this time, I was a train wreck, flight risk, and a major disaster all rolled into one. It was awful. It was truly one of the very rare times in my life that I was practically speechless. After my pathetic performance, I walked back over to Kim in a panic. She gave me a look of disgust and told me I was ridiculous. The scene was just about to get worse.
Mr. Blue Shirt left the club with a crew of sailors. I was devastated and beyond disgusted. My attitude went from nervous and pathetic to completely miserable. I wanted to leave PRONTO! And I had no problem making my feelings known. Those poor guys from San Francisco! They had to experience the wrath of a bitchy and bratty Jersey Girl. I had no problem telling them that it was time to leave. “I’m done. I’ve had enough of this place. Let’s go somewhere else!” They knew better than to argue otherwise.
Just as we were walking out of the club, Mr. Blue Shirt was in his car staring at me AGAIN. He waved and called me over to his car. You know that feeling when you’re wondering, “Was that meant for me? Or is there a gorgeous supermodel behind me? Oh no, what do I do? I don’t want to look like a fool!” I took the chance and found the courage to walk over to his car. We introduced ourselves. Mr. Blue Shirt’s name was Tom. He told me he was on his way to a crew dinner at Zelda’s on Thames Street but really wanted to meet up afterwards.
As you can imagine, I suddenly had a complete attitude adjustment. I was happy as can be and shouted over to Kim and the guys, “ Hey, where are we going? They answered back with “HILLSIDE CAFE.” It seemed like a perfect plan. “See you later, Tom.”
Let me set another scene. Hillside Cafe is the extreme opposite of the New York Yacht Club. The other side of the spectrum. It’s a dive bar and instead of smelling like MONEY, it smells like a fraternity house. It’s the perfect place to act like you’re still in college. So much fun! There was cheap beer, pool tables, loud rock and roll music and smoke in the air.
One hour went by. Then another hour. And there was no sign of Tom. I was on the emotional rollercoaster again. I was furious. Kim just kept shaking her head and started yelling at me. “Get over it. Let it go! Seriously, you both said maybe a total of three words to each other!” I yelled back, “Kimmy, something is different about this guy.”
“You can’t start a fire without a spark.”
I may have felt a huge spark with Tom but I was upset. So at around midnight, I gave up waiting at the Hillside Cafe. Kim and the guys tried to lift my spirits. We all decided to go for Last Call at the Clarke Cooke House on Bannister’s Wharf. On the way there, I insisted on making one last move of desperation. We walked passed Zelda’s. No luck though. Tom was nowhere to be found. I was crushed. Although I knew it was time to give up, I really didn’t want to. There was a spark!
I walked into the Clarke Cooke House, ordered yet another drink, and let it go. Or so I thought. While I was in the midst of a conversation about the Yankees and Red Sox rivalry with a really nice guy from Boston, Tom walks over to me. For the second time in one night, I’m almost at a loss for words. I turn to the guy from Boston and bluntly exclaim, “ I’ve got to go. I’m really sorry but I’ve been waiting for this guy all night.”
I looked at Tom and the first thing out of my mouth was, “Where the hell have you been? How could you do that to me? I was waiting and waiting and waiting at the Hillside Cafe.” Tom seemed a little surprised that I was yelling at him even though I hardly knew him. (I was simply offering a preview of my personality.) He went on to tell me that he had been driving around Newport all night looking for the Hillside Cafe. He even paid several cover charges to get into other bars thinking maybe I moved onto another place. He was really hoping to find me. He kept asking people where the place was but nobody knew. Finally, a local guy cleared things up for him but it was too late. When he eventually walked into the Hillside Cafe, I had left. Tom had no other choice but to do what most people do at the end of a night in Newport…Last Call at the Clarke Cooke House.
Why the confusion? And what was the problem? It turns out that Hillside Cafe is the official name of Cappy’s. However, nobody refers to Cappy’s as the Hillside Cafe. Well how the hell were guys from San Francisco and two Jersey Girls supposed to know that? Crazy! You can’t make this up.
It was meant to be and the rest is history. There was a spark and it grew into a full-blown love story. Exactly one year later, July 11, 1998 Tom proposed to me at the New York Yacht Club. He popped the question at the exact spot of the lawn where I said, “Hi.” We married in September of 1999. We have been blessed with three beautiful boys. And yes, the spark is still there!
PS…We’re not members of the New York Yacht Club although I wish we were! How we have access to that incredible place is a whole other story!