I have been told so many times that I will meet the love of my life when I least expect it, you’d think by now I’d have figured out not to bother doing my makeup before leaving the house. Just the same, people always say that some of the greatest times in life are unplanned. So, am I to throw my makeup out the window and dismiss the possibility of bumping into my future husband in the produce department or at the post office? And likewise, am I never to plan or hope for good times with friends? Ok, maybe I’m taking it too far. I’ll admit, I do know first-hand that sometimes unplanned moments are indeed the best.
I recently experienced one such moment on a mid-week evening in Central Park. I’ve been there so many times during my life as a New Yorker, one might assume that my fascination for it has waned. No, no, no. To me the park is a puzzle—a great green puzzle in the middle of Gotham City taking up a block of land that measures 843 acres. This impresses me to no end, and even after so many years, there are countless pieces to this puzzle that are stranger to me. It was only last week, that I really discovered the lake. Never mind that I’ve been to Bethesda Fountain a thousand times before; I suppose I’m usually so taken by the Angel of the Waters herself, that I’ve never paid much attention to the rather substantial body of water behind her!
The other night, I went with friends for what was to be a casual glass of wine at the boathouse, thinking it would be a nice change from the typical air-conditioned bars of summer. Well, we arrived to find that every other park-goer (local and tourist) had the same idea that evening. So we waited in line as one glass of wine turned to two and before long we had a table. It was turning twilight and the rowing had finished for the day. There was not a boat on the water but one—the gondola, docked. Gondola? I’d never even known you could take gondola ride in Central Park. And I probably wouldn’t have been so interested in going out for one had it not been for the fair-haired young gent sitting at the stern waiting for takers.
I didn’t notice him at first, but my friends, neither of which is in the market for a new man, both did. At one glance they were convinced he was perfect for me. This is what married girls do. Like hawks watching for prey, they are always on the lookout for suitable mates for their single friends. As over the years I’ve grown used to this practice, I’ve also perfected my uninterested response, always with a new reason why it just won’t work—an arrogant nature, wandering eyes, pleated pants, goatees. But this one, I agreed hit the mark, in terms of appearance at least. He was in a gondolier’s costume of red and white stripes and a hat, but nevertheless, I agreed he was cute and very much my type.
Still, going for a ride seemed too obvious. We continued to watch and whisper, and as girls do, we began to feel sad for him as he sat there all alone. It’s like the bird with a broken wing thing—you just want to take care of him. Certainly he was fine; maybe even cherishing the interlude. But my friends were on mission. So minutes later, following handshakes and an exchanging of names, with champagne in hand, the three of us stepped into the gondola to let our sweet (but not broken) bird take us away.
It was magical. Once out into the lake, we realized its grandeur—a glassine surface, like a mirror, reflecting the park’s lush green and the famous Upper West Side architecture towering above in the soon-to-be night sky. And in our boat, over the quiet that surrounded us, our gondolier serenaded us in Italian. It’s fitting for the comedy that is my life that I was there with my girlfriends. Some enchanted evening.
It would be quite a story if I could say that we rowed off into the sunset, the cute gondolier and me, but we all know the likelihood of such fairytale endings. It was really more about the unexpected wonder we stumbled upon that night. None of us thought we’d be on a lake in a gondola, not to mention there with a handsome stranger. We couldn’t have planned it. Or, at least if we had tried, it wouldn’t have been so perfect.