My New Year’s Eve plans were all laid out: My friend Hally flies in from Hong Kong (where she lives) to Los Angeles (where I live) on New Year’s Eve afternoon. I pick her up from the airport, we grab dinner at In-N-Out (so she can satisfy her craving for an animal-style burger), drink lots of scotch, catch up on our lives and ring in the new year with Dick Clark or Ryan Seacrest or whoever is the least annoying. Just the two of us. A nice, intimate celebration, just the way we wanted.
See, Hally is a flight attendant. That’s how we met—a few years ago, on a flight from Asia to the U.S. I was returning home from a conference and she was one of the flight attendants and we had somehow gotten to talking about food. The conversation turned to hamburgers and she had confessed that she had never had an In-N-Out burger. I told her that whenever she was in L.A. and wanted to try an animal style burger, I’d be happy to take her. And…I didn’t hear from her after that. I figured you win some and you lose some. But then, four months later I got an email from Hally: “I’ll be in L.A. this weekend. In-N-Out?”
Since then, whenever Hally has a lay-over in Los Angeles, we’d get together for our regular ritual of In-N-Out, drinks and catching up. But recently those visits have grown rarer. Hally doesn’t work the Asia to L.A. flights anymore and I haven’t seen her in more than a year. We even made tentative plans to meet up in Hawaii or Tokyo this past fall during her week off from work, but scheduling issues popped up on my end (cough* Interpretations *cough) and it didn’t happen. So we decided to take a rain check for New Year’s Eve in L.A.
Now, the great thing about being a flight attendant is you get to fly for free. But the bad thing is if the flight becomes over-booked or there’s some other problem, you’re the first to get bumped. And that’s what happened. No flight. Good-bye, New Year’s Eve plans with Hally.
We eventually got to talk on the phone later that evening and wished each other a Happy New Year. After hanging up, I thought it would be a good idea for me to walk down to my local bar and have a drink or two. So I did.
It was still early so the place was fairly empty. I ordered my whiskey and headed to the jukebox to put in my regular songs when I noticed someone had already punched in a dozen songs of their own. As I said, there weren’t many people there so who could’ve had the audacity to pick so many songs and in effect, deny me my right to enjoy some Mott the Hoople with my Irish whiskey? I looked around the room and through a series of brilliant deductions, identified the guilty party (i.e. they were the only ones bopping along to the music). It was a young couple at a corner table—they looked like they were barely out of school.
But being in the holiday spirit, I decided I’d give them a chance to acquit themselves. If the songs they chose were to my satisfaction, I’d let it pass. But if I heard Justin Bieber’s voice singing even a single note, the plug on the jukebox would be mysteriously pulled.
I took my seat at the bar and listened. Carefully. So far so good. The songs tended to be more pop than I prefer, but nothing too bad. The young couple continued bopping along to the music while holding hands with dumb smiles on their faces. Then, this song started to play:
They had chosen one of the best jukebox songs ever created! OK, maybe I had judged these young folks too harshly and unfairly. The boy took the girl out to the middle of the bar and the two started dancing. They danced the way people who are young and in love dance—with utter abandon.
After the song, the couple walked up to the bar. Out of the blue, the girl turned to me and said, “Hey, can we buy you a drink?”
“Sure.” Far be it for me to say no to holiday hospitality from complete strangers.
Introductions were made and the young couple said they were about to drive to Las Vegas to get married on New Year’s Eve. They had graduated from college a few months ago and wanted to get married right away, but their parents disapproved and forbade them from doing so.
“So the only choice we had was to elope,” the boy added. “We thought New Year’s Eve would be the perfect time to get married. You know, a new start and all.”
“Isn’t it romantic?” the girl said as she planted a big kiss on the boy’s lips.
They were giddy with happiness. And they definitely seemed to be in love. There was no doubt about that. But they also reminded me of other friends I knew back when I was that age who were equally young and giddy and in love and rebelled against their parents to get married (oftentimes rebelling against traditional Korean parents who didn’t want their children to marry a non-Korean). Of the dozen or so people I know who fit into that category, all of them were divorced by age 30. Rebellious love may seem sexy at 21, but as you get older, you realize a “real” relationship requires much more.
That’s what I may have been thinking, but of course I didn’t say that to the young couple. They were happy in punch-drunk love. No need to burst their bubble yet. It’ll eventually happen on its own. So I wished them the best as they left to hit the road for Vegas.
As they were about to drive off, the girl stuck her head out of the window and asked if I wanted to come to Vegas with them. “You could be our witness,” she said.
I considered it for one second, after all my New Year’s Eve plans were no more, but I politely declined. This was their moment, not mine.
“Well, then I hope wherever you are celebrating, you’ll be as happy as we are. Happy new year!” And then they drove off into the night.
As I walked home, I thought about what she said. And I realized that she was right. They were genuinely happy. Who was I to think that they were naïve and too young to get married and that their relationship wouldn’t work out? What the hell do I know about relationships anyway? I mean here I was feeling blue because my New Year’s Eve plans with a woman I hardly knew fell through. Don’t get me wrong—Hally’s a great person, but we both know we’re just ships passing in the night as the saying goes. And that’s nothing like what those two kids had.
I suspect in a few hours that young couple will be standing in front of Elvis at some neon-laced chapel and taking their vows as husband and wife. And my wish is that moment, that “new start” to use the boy’s own words, will kick off a full and long life together. That no matter what shit life throws at them—whether disapproving parents or worse—they’ll continue to love each other as much as they did the moment I saw them together in the bar—dancing to Cheap Trick as if they were the only two people in the world, as if love only came into existence because it knew these two kids would eventually be coming for it, as if their new start is not only the beginning of everything but the end of it as well.