Once upon a time, the internet ran on Windows 3.1 and people used big clunky personal computers with large and ugly monitors. They also used modems and dial-up connections to access the online world. Diane and I met by chance thanks mostly to a “right place, right time” situation and a Canadian Broadcasting Company documentary about hockey.
First, a bit about our backgrounds.
I am a non-religious New York Jew. I love real bagels, chopped liver and gefilte fish. Other famous New York Jews include:
Seinfeld – known for being funny and sarcastic
Woody Allen – the king of neurotic New York Jews
The Nanny – made big noses and annoying accents famous.
Then there’s me: Not famous. Born and raised in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn, most known for The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and featured prominently in John Travolta’s first movie, Saturday Night Fever . There’s a scene where they dangle off a small catwalk of the bridge. My friends and I actually did this. The film crew did not.
Back then, I used to drink “caw-fee”, “tawk” funny, and “wawk” to the store to buy 8 ounce bottles of Budweiser known as “nibs”. My childhood weekends were mostly spent hanging out in a park.
In 1987, women in Brooklyn chewed a lot of gum and had really big hair. They usually dated disco crazed “Guidos”, also known as “cuisines”. (Italian guys that come from working class roots). I tried dating one once or twice and was even treated to a tour of the street where John Gotti lived. Not really my cup of tea, I preferred hanging out in the park listening to AC/DC, usually with the stoners.
We called this strange device pictured below a boom-box. It played cassette tapes. It’s how we listened to music in the old days and we even enjoyed distraction free listening without
Diane is from Melville, Saskatchewan.
Her family emigrated to Canada from the Guandong Province of China sometime after World War II. The details are a bit sketchy to me. They were one of only a few Asian families in a small town on the Canadian prairie. Her family moved to Edmonton, Alberta when she was a young child.
Americans know very little about Edmonton and were it not for Wayne Gretzky and a string of Stanley Cup Championships, most Canadians wouldn’t know much either. Although it’s the provincial capital and home to one of the top universities in Canada, nothing much happens there. The pace is slower, people are very friendly and lifestyles are less frantic. There’s a river valley, some nice trails, and lots of frozen ponds for ice skating during the nine and a half month winter.
Based on physical circumstances and a difference in backgrounds, it seems unlikely that we’d wind up together. How did this happen?
After a broken beer bottle incident and a shabbily constructed ramp in a cheap bar that left me housebound with six broken tendons in my left hand a broken leg, I grew tired of New York. I drove my shiny black 1987 Monte Carlo west for a few thousand miles and found myself in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco. Why there? It’s as far as you can go on Interstate 80.
In 1995 I was working for an obscure division of the Bank of New York when an awesome new application came along: Email. And everyone at the bank was getting it. Those of you who remember Al Gore, the guy that invented the internet, may recall the clunky days of Lotus Notes, one of the predecessors to Outlook and G-Mail. Many offices used it including mine.
Some of you may remember “moderated mailing lists”. Best described as an early version of a forum or chat room, they usually required approval from a moderator to join and take part. I’m an avid hockey fan and grew up a long-suffering New York Rangers Fan. We suffered because the team hadn’t won a Stanley Cup Championship since 1940, hockey’s longest drought at the time. This changed in 1994 when an amazing team captained by Mark Messier brought tears of joy to an entire city.
I consider it the second best day of my life, behind my wedding day of course.
With my sparkly new Compaq Presario I began writing daily on a list devoted to Ranger fans. In my parallel universe I am a journalist. It’s a pre-blog word, now mostly obsolete, defined by Wikapedia as follows:
A journalist is a person who works with collecting, writing and distributing news and other current information. A journalist’s work is referred to as journalism. A journalist can work with general issues, or specialized in certain issues. For example, a sports journalist covers news within the world of sports.
Our list was run by a guy named Matt from Columbus Ohio. For reasons unknown to me, his dream was to attend a Rangers home game in at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
In total jest, I proposed a charity drive called the SMTNY Fund (send Matt to New York). Its sole purpose was to collect enough funds for airfare, game tickets and one night of lodging. I volunteered to run this endeavor and even gave my real address for donations.
Apparently, my writing is very influential. I know this because TripAdvisor emails me often, telling me I’m in the top 2% of all reviewers with 22,324 readers but only 25 reviews. I even received 112 “helpful” votes. I’ve also been to Boston, Kalamazoo and Florida on blind dates based solely on snail mail letters, some Polaroids and phone call or two. This was before being married of course.
Oh yeah. Writing online also earned me a meeting with my future wife. I’m getting to that.
Amazingly, my online crusade took off. I actually started receiving letters with cash; mostly a buck or two. The largest amount was $25. I even received Canadian cash. Letters came from over 30 states, four countries and as far away as Japan. After a few weeks I had a box with 91 letters and about $600. Fascinated by the degree of trust, I asked others for help. A travel agent in Arizona agreed to make the plane and lodging reservations and a season ticket holder in New York donated his tickets.
I know this sounds like fiction so I went to the garage to prove this actually happened. Below is one of the posts I printed from the old mailing list with the details and some more evidence of the event.
Sometime in the middle of all this I saw a post about a hockey documentary on Canadian television and inquired if anyone could send me a copy of the tape. I guess I should explain. Pictured below is a VCR machine. It’s what people used to watch before there was HD streaming, You Tube and Hulu Plus.
Although I don’t remember Diane ever sending any cash, she did respond about the documentary. We started corresponding via private email. You’d have to ask her if it was my intriguing stories or charming online personality.
Diane graduated from The University of Alberta with a degree in nursing. Sadly, there was a recession in Canada at that time. Nursing jobs in a socialized healthcare system were very limited. She’d been looking for an excuse to work in the United States. I’d been looking for an excuse to kick out my roommate. We exchanged many letters, photos and emails and got to know each other.
Without really trying we’d developed enough of a connection to meet. The crazy part is the leap of faith on her part. Diane came to San Francisco on her own free will even though I could have been an ax murderer. We spent our first weekend together at The Jabberwock Inn, an awesome little bed and breakfast in Monterey, California.
That weekend led to a few more visits to each other’s respective cities in the next 18 months. On October 30th, 1997 Diane packed her stuff, said goodbye to the cold and came to live with me. We got married a few years later at The Monterey Plaza Hotel on a glorious 72 degree late September day. The ceremony was small, helping to decrease the cost.
Diane worked in California courtesy of a “NAFTA” entry visa, made possible by a very controversial accord signed by Bill Clinton in 1993. Designed to let certain professionals from Canada and Mexico work in legally in the United States with little hassle, the visa grants resident alien status indefinitely, although it needs to renewed every six months.
At the turn of the millennium, Canada had a desperate shortage of nurses thanks mostly to well-paying healthcare jobs in America that sent many qualified nurses packing.
Taking advantage of this, we decided to leave California for Alberta and packed our things.
Armed with mounds of emigration paperwork and importation forms for the car, we crossed the border in April, 2001 and drove to Calgary. I’d become a permanent resident of Canada and an expat only three months later. A local hospital hired Diane less than 20 minutes into her interview and they even asked me if I wanted to become a nurse. I did not.
Six years later, Alberta was experiencing the same housing boom as America thanks mostly to the oil and gas industry. The job market was closing fast for me, however. Unqualified for any of the good jobs, I’d already worked in two of the three possible financial service companies that dominate Calgary. We were also frustrated with the nine month winter.
We sold our house in less than two days for 99% of the asking price and made more than double what we paid. Timing is everything and we’ve been lucky. The market peaked a few months later but didn’t crash thanks to Canada’s boring but smart federal banking policies which prohibit banks from investing in sub-prime mortgages and other risky investments. As it turns out the market peaked that summer so the timing was perfect.
Once again we packed our stuff, this time driving to San Diego. Who wouldn’t want to live there, right? Wrong. We hated it. And the jobs don’t pay well.
We returned to the San Francisco Bay Area again 2007 and used almost all the cash from the Canadian house for a 50% down payment and a 15 year mortgage on a 1,650 square foot corner lot in a quiet neighborhood of suburban Walnut Creek, California.
The next chapter begins as soon as we arrive in Malaysia. We look forward to new adventures.
Rob and Diane – (Rodi)