originally published 6/1/2020
by Bridget Baiss
Date nights haven’t been easy during the pandemic.
But, my husband and I desperately needed to feel part of the world we knew, remind ourselves who we are — or at least were. We also needed a respite from the noisy kids, moody teens and hyperactivity of our virus-induced By commune.
In late March, with our 13-year-old daughter, my husband Sean and I rented a car, left New York City and joined another couple and their five children at their family house in New Hampshire’s White Mountains to wait out the lockdown. Little did we know that our getaway would turn into a two-month forced retreat.
At first a “date night” seemed an indulgence, then not worth the effort, then depressing. At around week six it became a mental health necessity.
We plucked up our courage and bravely got ready for our Saturday night on the town — the deserted, resort town of Lincoln, NH 30 minutes over Route 118 near the slope of Mount Moosilauke.
We agreed not to discuss our looming lease renewal in the City, cutting back expenses or what the heck will happen with our daughter’s school in the fall.
Naturally, it snowed several inches just before our date. A violent Polar Vortex with hurricane gusts in May!
Sean wore his navy suit jacket with a blue and white button-down complete with monogrammed cuffs he’d packed out of habit in case of a sudden business trip. (Of course, that never happened). I wore a cotton, navy blue and white dress I’d packed naively assuming mild weather would have arrived by late April. I blew out my hair for the first time in weeks. And shaved my legs. Sean shaved the bushiest beard he’d ever grown. Our urbane look was only corrupted when we realized we only had dusty sneakers. Still, we cleaned up pretty well — spiffy, dapper and totally over-dressed.
We set out on our date night at what used to be the start of NYC rush hour — 5:45 pm. As we left, our friends commented how nice we looked while their 12-year-old son assumed our get-ups meant we were heading back to New York.
Driving our mud-splattered, Altima sedan we dodged a couple oblivious wild turkeys and spotted a moose through the still leafless trees. In the entrance at the Thai restaurant we’d found the stone Buddha offered serenity, but of course we weren’t allowed into the empty dining room. The friendly, mask-less owner handed us our take-out order. I forced Sean to take a masked couple selfie before we hustled back into the frigid dusk.
“Wouldn’t it be great if it was warmer and we could sit outside and eat this on a picnic blanket staring at the stars?”, I said to break our awkward silence and lighten the somber mood.
We drove 20 minutes through backroads looking for a scenic spot. Frustrated, we settled on a dead-end, wooded path above a raging stream. To serenade our romantic meal, we cracked the window to let in the peaceful burbling then cranked the car’s heater.
While lifting hot tubs of Tom Kha Soup and Chicken Green Curry out of the bag a new challenge emerged. “Uh…how are we going to eat this?” I asked Sean, realizing all we had were chopsticks and no plates, bowls or spoons.
We wanted to laugh, but kept up our charade, sitting silently for a few minutes listening to the water and staring out the dirty windshield.
Solemnly, we sipped our soup from the tubs and used flimsy chopsticks to fish out chunks one tiny morsel at a time while trying not to splash our clothes with oily sauce.
Surprisingly, the food was excellent, tastier than many of the authentic Hell’s Kitchen Thai places we frequented. Through the slurping, we couldn’t help talking about how we missed our apartment and wondering when we could return to the City and what it would be like.
We didn’t end up kissing or “making out” but we did manage to hold hands.
After about an hour we drove back, our car still fragrant with curry, feeling a perverse sense of mission accomplished. We had successfully attempted to touch the civilized world we took for granted.
We agreed we’d try another date night sometime in the future. Except next time probably wearing jeans and going for something more car-friendly than Thai soup.
Ms. Baiss, a former broadcast journalist, a former television journalist, is a communications consultant in Washington, DC.