When you’re a child, one of the most crucial lessons that parents try to teach you is not to get in cars with strangers. Ironically, as a grown-up confident in their street smarts, this rule tends to fly out the window.
Now, treat this rule as a metaphor. When nothing truly awful has happened to you in a while, you may forego the “car with strangers” rule when you find yourself hammered in a strange city with an intelligent and beautiful girl and it’s only 11:00 p.m. That is, until you look up from your phone and realize your Uber is turning into a dimly lit strip mall that is showing no signs of life.
“Hey, uh… Hey, Liz… are we supposed to be turning in here?”
“Yeah! It’s right around the corner,” she replied.
“Okay, but like, there are no cars anywhere, everything looks dead…”
“Oh, that’s to be expected,” she turned to the Uber driver. “You’re actually going to have to go around back. There’s an opening on the left-hand side that you should be able to make it through.”
“This is it,” I thought to myself, “This is how I die. In the back of a goddamn dollar store and Laundromat strip mall. Well, no, let’s not jump to that. Maybe she just wants to pick up some weed or something. That wouldn’t be the worst thing, right?”
I looked over at her just in time to see her scratch the tip of her nose.
“Oh my god, I’m about to die in the result of a cocaine deal gone bad.”
The car slowly pulled around back, only the headlights lighting the way. My pulse was heightened. Toes tapping. Hand on my phone just in case I had to make a quick call to 911. In fact, just as I was about to text my friends that I shared my location with, a new source of light came into view.
A neon sign. It read, “Linger Longer Lounge.”
We got out of the car and walked down a narrow hallway that led to a fork. Turn left, and we go to the dimly lit bar for drinks and dancing. Turn right, and we go to the game room, with dart boards, Skee-Ball, shuffleboard, and a GD Big Buck Hunter.
“Holy shit,” I said to her. “This place is amazing!”
“I know, right?!” She looked over at the bar and then back at me. “I’m thinking we grab some drinks and head over to the game room?”
“Sounds like a plan to me!”
We started to head into the bar and she paused.
“You totally thought you were going to die for a second there, didn’t you?”
“I mean, you took me to a fucking strip mall in the middle of the night with no lights on and no context for what kind of bar this would be. So yeah,” I smiled. “Either that, or I thought we were about to pick up some blow.”
“Oh…” she said, visibly shaken by my last comment. “I mean, I don’t really do that stuff, like, at all, but I think I know a guy if you’re trying to—“
“Oh! Oh my god! No, no I don’t do that shit. Addictive personality. Don’t want to risk it.”
Both of us feeling relieved, we made our way to the bar, grabbed some more whiskey drinks, and stopped by a quarter machine before entering the game room. The only game open was Skee-Ball, which was good because that’s a game that I’m half decent at when I’m fucked up, and it also allowed for both of us to make obligatory jokes about how well we handle balls.
After I won two games in a row and felt vengeance for my previous loss in Foosball, she offered up darts. I accepted, thinking that I was a drunk savant when it came to bar games. In reality, I lost all four darts in one turn. Not a great look, but if I remember right, we both laughed about it.
We finished our drinks and I ran to the bathroom. When I was washing my hands I looked in the mirror to fix my hair and beard, and gave myself a pep talk. As much as this wasn’t a date, it was starting to feel like one. Maybe this girl was actually into me. Maybe this is the start of something.
I exited the bathroom and saw her talking to some dude at a high top. That normally wouldn’t be an issue to me, but as I recall, she was touching his arm and leaning on his shoulder and laughing.
Okay, okay. That could mean anything. I know. Plus, this wasn’t a date, remember? Snap out of it, Charlie!
Either way, I was bummed. I tapped her on her shoulder and told her that I was going to head to the bar and asked if she wanted anything. I expected her to shake her head and that would be it, but instead, she gave me an enthusiastic, “Oh! I’ll just come with you!”
“I have no idea what’s happening right now, but I’m just going to run with it,” I thought to myself.
Two shots of whiskey and two Dos Equis later, we were on the dance floor. There was no bumpin’ and grindin’, but once we heard the smooth, smooth voice of Montell Jordan explain to us that this is how we do it, I had no other option than to bust out my signature moves. I’m talking about the Cat Daddy, the One Armed Rowboat, various versions of a body roll, and of course, the Poor Man’s Sprinkler. I think she laughed, but she was out there dancing, too, so who’s the real winner?
Suddenly, Lizzie grabbed her phone.
“Oh shit!” she yelled. “We have to go. Finish your drink.”
“Why?” I yelled back.
“Just come with me, I’ll explain on the way!”
And so I followed her. We walked out of the bar and into the rain. She was speeding around the same corner that we first came into. Once I caught up, she turned back to me.
“The bars here close at a hard 1:30,” she explained. “Last call is at 1:15, and they’ll chase you out with broomsticks starting at 1:45.”
“That really sucks!” I said back. “So, why couldn’t we just stay at that place?”
“Linger Longer? We could, but I have one more that I want to show you. It’s my end-of-the-night bar, one of my favorites. I think you’ll like it!”
“Sounds great. Should I call an Uber?”
“Nope! It’s walking distance.”
Walking distance was stretching it. This place had to be about three-quarters of a mile away. It was cold and rainy. About halfway through the trip, Lizzie mentioned how she’s made the journey plenty of times and it’s never this difficult. Her voice was shaking. The rain was picking up. Without thinking about it, I put my arm around Lizzie and pulled her close, partially to comfort her, partially because… have you ever walked in the cold and rain for twenty minutes? It fucking sucks.
We walked into Swizzle Inn at around 12:45 a.m., just in time to comfortably order drinks and grab a table. I’ll be honest, at this point, I don’t really remember much about the bar. I know there are Christmas lights strung throughout and I’m pretty sure there is a cigarette dispenser somewhere.
“Alright, I have to ask,” Lizzie said. “How do you like Phoenix?”
“You make it pretty appealing, I must say.”
“Good! Are you cool with just going to local spots? I’m just wondering because I want to make sure you have a good time and—“
“Lizzie, I had an awesome time. This was a fantastic night, and I can’t thank you enough for it.” I took a sip of my beer and looked at her. “So, I have to ask, how was it meeting me? Some faceless writer from the internet?”
“You know,” she laughed, “You’re not as douchey as I thought you would be. You’re kind of a hipster, but not in a pretentious way. You’re nice, funny smart, and just all around fun to hang out with.”
Note: If you are my mother or the girl that I forgot I was supposed to have a Bumble date with, tonight, please stop reading, here.
We talked until the bar closed. We talked about the hard stuff we’ve come across in our days, about our families, about our friends, our hopes, dreams, goals, everything. Everything, until the bouncer came over and pulled the drinks directly from our hands and kicked us out.
We stood alone underneath the awning outside the building. Side by side, leaning against the wall, inching closer and closer. Our phones were out with the Uber app open. Neither of us had input a destination. We turned and made eye contact, and laughed awkwardly. I looked down to the ground, and then back up to her.
“Well, I’ll just put it out there. I’m staying in a hotel in downtown Phoenix, and have an unopened bottle of Bulleit, there. Do you want to come back with me, have a night cap, and keep talking…or whatever else might come our way?”
“I do.” She stared at me. She was forcing a smile. She was choosing her words carefully.
“What’s the ‘but?’” I asked.
“I do want to. I want to really badly. I’m probably feeling the same thing about you that you’re feeling about me right now. But…but I just started seeing someone. As much as I want to come with you, it wouldn’t be fair to him. So, thank you, but no, and I’m really sorry about that.”
“Okay,” I smiled at her. It was a genuine smile. “Okay. Right on, then. He’s a lucky guy! Well, Lizzie, I’m going to call an Uber and head out. Thank you so much for kicking it with me tonight. I had an amazing time.”
“What, that’s it?” she was taken aback. “You’re not going to push harder on this?”
“No! Why would I? I asked, you said no, and plus, you started seeing someone recently. I have too much respect for you to interfere,” she didn’t look convinced. “Look, I could go into great detail about all the things I want to do with and to you. Things that would make my mother cry. Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact that you might feel like shit when you talk to your guy the next day. I don’t want that. I’m not about that.”
Her Uber pulled up.
“God fucking damn it,” she said to herself. “Okay, well, thank you. That’s incredibly respectful.” Before she got in the car, we hugged it out and I thanked her for the drinks and unforgettable night.
Lizzie is a fantastic girl. She went out of her way to show me, a total stranger, local spots in an unfamiliar city. I will always appreciate her compassion and kindness. Here’s the deal: I can’t stop thinking about her. I’m looking for reasons to text her. Right before I hit send I end up feeling like it’s a bad move. I can’t do distance relationships, plus we only went out once She’s got the other guy. I’m in over my head.
Full discretion, we have been in contact for the duration that I have been sharing our story. She likes how it’s written. I told her that I’m not sure how she’s going to feel about the ending. Maybe we’ll stop talking, maybe not. Either way, I’m putting it out there. I feel like it would be against my brand not to.
Lizzie, if you’re ever in Chicago, let me know. I would like to take you to dinner sometime. .