In April of this year, Flash and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary; that number seems much bigger than last year’s 24th year. Prior to the big day, I planned a wonderful cruise to Bora Bora - in my imagination. In reality, although we’d talked about different options, our anniversary month snuck up on us, and it wasn’t the right time for a big trip.
It was late March when I said, “Flash, I want a party.”
“That would be fun,” he replied.
“Like, I want everyone we know there. With dancing for hours. But we need a big place.”
“Where did you have in mind?”
“The Astrodome’s not being used for anything,” I answered, “but it’s too late. We can’t plan a big party in two weeks. We should’ve started this months ago, so the masses could’ve cleared their calendars, rented their tuxes, bought evening dresses, and the city of Houston could’ve declared it a holiday.”
And so, the annual What Are We Going to Do for Our Anniversary discussion ensued. As in years past, I wanted us to do something beyond our usual dinner and a movie.
In the early years, often we celebrated with a trip to the Texas Hill Country, usually in Wimberley. But life got busier, and when our anniversary falls on a weekday, it’s not easy to get away. So we try to find things locally that we haven’t done before or in a long time.
One year, we decided to celebrate our anniversary at Galveston Beach. It was a beautiful day, so we had an early breakfast by the water, then shopped near the seawall. But I’m not much of a shopper; I’m more of a doer. As we walked, I spied a shop that rented out surrey bikes – bicycles with four wheels, two sets of pedals, and a canopy. We chose a four-person bike, not that we could’ve moved the bike with two more people added to the load, but there weren’t any two-person bikes available. Excitedly, and impressively, we got up to speed, and were cruising down the seawall at a pretty good clip.
“This isn’t as hard as I thought it would be,” I told Flash, after about 10 minutes. “And we haven’t hit any pedestrians or small animals.”
"Want to turn around soon?" he asked after 20 minutes of pedaling, reminding me that however far we went, we'd have to travel back the same distance to the rental shop. Thank you, Captain Obvious, I thought, I’ve got this. I knew his only concern was his sedentary wife pooping out, leaving him to do all the work.
"Let's keep going," I replied. I was unstoppable. "Let’s go to the end of that jetty over there."
Flash indulged me, then stopped us abruptly, three feet from the end of the jetty.
"Oh come on. Let’s go all the way to the end,” I persisted. We scooted up another 12 inches.
My sense of adventure had lit the pilot light of my courage; I wanted to get as close as possible to the edge without falling into the water. Eventually, inch-by-inch, we were close enough to see Neptune waving at us from the Great Deep. Or perhaps he was motioning for us idiotic humans to stop and turn around. One more pedal would’ve put us head first into the Gulf of Mexico. As the waves crashed on the rocks below, and spray hit us smack dab in our faces, the voice of common sense, which sounded exactly like Flash's voice, insisted we turn around. The thrill was gone; our near-death experience was over in less than a minute. It was time to return to the rental shop before our time was up.
As we headed back, it took only a couple of seconds to sense a change in the weather. Going west, it had been a calm, sunny day. Going east, it was a completely different climate, with gale force winds gusting to at least 200 miles per hour. We started pedaling, and things weren’t too bad at first. But five minutes later and a couple of feet down the road, we were spent. As if a huge bottle of molasses had been poured on us from heaven, we looked like a slow-motion scene in the The Six Million Dollar Man.
“Maybe if we stand up to pedal,” brilliant Flash suggested. But, of course, we couldn’t stand up to pedal because the cute little sun-blocking overhead canopy was in the way.
Our romantic escapade had become a survival of the fittest. We were determined to return to the shop without getting out and pushing the darn thing. Twentysomething-year-olds jogged by. Birds glided overhead as they tweeted lovely songs, oblivious to our struggle. Slugs passed us on the sidewalk, making obscene gestures because we’d been impeding their progress.
For an eternity, we pedaled. We stopped. We pedaled. We stopped.
We tried to hire an eight-year-old boy to pedal us back to the shop. But his paranoid parents quickly took him back under their wings and leered at us. They didn’t understand; they were only thirtysomething.
Although we’d started our adventure at 1 p.m., I was worried we wouldn’t make it back before sundown. Or ever. We’d be stuck on that seawall for the rest of our lives. For the sake of returning home to our son, we persevered. At some point, okay at several points, I had to rest. Poor Flash pedaled away, as I propped my feet up on the front bar. I had failed him as a worthy cyclist. But he never complained. “This is my exercise for the next four months,” he explained.
Finally, we saw hope in front of us; the sun shone in streaks through the clouds, illuminating the rental shop. It was our Star of Bethlehem, but we weren’t too wise. With wobbly legs, we returned our instrument of torture, and headed off to eat more calories than we burned.
The next time we tried the surrey bike at the beach, we took Cowboy with us; there was a significant difference in manpower.
But this year, we were at a loss regarding anniversary ideas. I wanted to be in the sun, near water, but didn’t feel like driving to Galveston. So we headed to Bacliff to eat at one of our favorite places, Noah’s Ark Bar & Grill. They serve a great breakfast, and it was a peaceful morning. I could’ve stayed for hours, but we had limited time before Cowboy came home from his vocational training, and we needed to find adventure.
“Let’s go to Kemah,” I suggested. “We can walk around and look at the shops. Maybe we’ll find something in silver, for our Silver Anniversary.”
But when we got there, of course, I wasn’t in the mood for shopping. I was in the mood for courage.
“Flash, let’s go on a ride.”
Now, when I say “ride,” dear reader, I’m not talking about the rides I went on in my 20s, 30s, or even 40s. The last roller coaster I rode was at Six Flags New Orleans, in 2006. I don’t remember the name of it, but it went forward, and then it went backwards. I can handle terror when I see it coming much better than when it’s at my back, so I’d waited while Flash and Cowboy rode it six more times in a row.
These days, “ride” can mean the kiddie train at the zoo, bumper cars, or a golf cart. However, I wanted a ride that said, “I’m scary because you’re 56 years old” without saying, “Call 911 to help the old couple get off the ride.”
I chose The Aviator. I’ve always liked rides that feel like I’m swinging, and don’t involve going upside down. Or rapid spinning. Or sudden drops. Flash had ridden The Aviator with Cowboy a couple of years prior, so I knew it would be easy and fun for both of us.
But as soon as we got seated, Flash said, “I don’t know if I can handle this.” This from the Backwards Roller Coaster Man.
“What are you talking about?” I asked. “You rode this with Cowboy, and did fine.”
“I hate heights. I was so focused on making sure Cowboy wasn’t scared, it kept me distracted. ”
Suddenly, the prospect of The Aviator was even more thrilling – it was the first time Flash was more yellow-bellied than I.
“Oh, come on, Flash. You’re not scared of this,” I said, as I pulled the bar between us back and forth to make our car rock.
Superman’s face paled, as he instructed, “Don’t do that when we’re in the air.”
As young children loaded onto the ride, we both checked our seatbelts a minimum of five times. Terror-induced OCD at its best. Finally, we figured out how the darn safety bar locked, right before I was ready to flag down the ride operator for help.
As we lifted into the air, Flash began his self-talk. “Don’t look down. Don’t look down.”
“Awww, it’s so pretty down there,” I consoled, as we rose higher and higher.
As we started to spin – a slow spin, of course – I pulled the bar to make us rock. Just a little bit, dear reader; I’m not a cruel person. Just enough to make my brave hero whine a little. It was a refreshing course of events.
Of course, Flash’s constant one-sided discussion regarding whether or not our life insurance policy was sufficient in the event of an Aviator crash did put a damper on my brave moments. Soon, the ride was over, and it was time to tackle another milestone.
So, Flash and I headed to a nearby tennis court. When Cowboy began learning the sport for Special Olympics this year, I decided to learn more; I thought it would be fun for Flash and I to play with Cowboy. Growing up, I often went with my friend Lylas to her church building, where we practiced hitting balls off a brick wall. She progressed to actual tennis lessons, but my athletic career was short-lived. So far, I’m not sure I’ve exercised much more than humiliation, but I’m determined to get better before my next birthday. Tennis is covert exercise; it’s so much fun, I forget it’s a workout.
Twenty minutes after Flash and I started our practice, I knew something was wrong with our rules.
“Flash, I don’t think we’re doing this right.”
“We’re hitting the ball over the net, then hitting it back and forth,” the Tennis Pro explained.
“But you’re slamming it to the back line every time you serve. I don’t think that’s right.” One visit to Google confirmed my suspicions, and I added, “When we serve, it has to land in the square on the other side of the net, that is diagonal from where we serve.”
Things were harder when we played by the real rules. And it was 11:30 a.m. Which meant the April sun was bearing down on us at 150 degrees. I’d started off in the shade, and there had been a slight breeze. But when I switched sides with Flash, the glaring sun melted my already weak endurance, and by noon, it was time to drive to McDonald’s for some iced coffee.
When we got home, we had just enough time, before Cowboy got home, to exercise our remote control skills, as we put in a movie and ate lunch in our marvelous air-conditioned living room. It had been a good day. Not a day in Bora Bora, with waiters serving us copious amounts of chocolate while we basked in the sun. But it was a laughter-filled day, my favorite kind.
We’ve survived a lot over the years, including grueling bike rides, Flash’s driving, my lousy athletic abilities, relationship losses, weight gains, late-night “disagreements,” and early morning breath. Such is the stuff of marriage. But every day, there’s something to celebrate – us. Flash is my silver lining in life’s storms, and my live-in comedian who gives me plenty to write about. And, come what may, anywhere with him is my favorite destination.