I first met Michelle Garcia when I would help emcee the annual All-Star Awards Banquet conducted by the Southern California Bowling Writers Association. There was always a celebrity master of ceremonies (Bob Barker of “The Price Is Right”… Roy Firestone of ESPN… even Milton Berle, going way back), and the event culminated with the announcement of the Southern California Bowling All-Star Teams and Bowlers of the Year.
For several years, Don Snyder of the Los Angeles Times presented the men’s and women’s teams, and I would present the junior boys’ and junior girls’ teams. The honorees were not announced in advance, so the elements of suspense and surprise added to the fun of the evening. All of the kids cleaned up well for the occasion, but a number of the girls dressed like it was prom night.
On two different occasions, Michelle was named Southern California Junior Girl Bowler of the Year. I was married at the time, but I’m a guy and I still remember her dress.
There was no contact with her other than on those nights, but about five years later, by pure coincidence, I was bowling in a league with her dad and brother. By then, she was 21, and I was divorced and writing a syndicated wine column.
Michelle would occasionally stop by the bowling center to watch her dad and brother bowl, and on one of those nights, I asked her if she’d like to go to a wine-tasting event at the Ritz-Carlton in Laguna-Niguel, Calif. It wasn’t a date, per se. I simply had been given two media tickets, was still stinging from the divorce and not dating, and didn’t want the second ticket to go to waste. Michelle accepted.
Then, just a few days before the event, she called me, apologized, and said she couldn’t go. The league season ended, and that would be the last contact I’d have with her for about 20 years.
That’s when she was helping to organize a reunion of former Southern California junior bowlers and, through a mutual friend, found me on Facebook. We saw each other only briefly at the reunion because the turnout was so good; there were a lot of people to catch up with.
Afterward, however, we began chatting on Facebook, via email and eventually by phone. We had a lot in common, pretty much all dealing with bowling or family experiences. One night, we talked about why she had changed her mind about attending that wine event at the Ritz all those years ago.
“You had a 9-year-old daughter at that time,” she reminded me.
That would be Tawny, who has been trained to uncork wine bottles since the age of 5, but to this day still prefers beer over wine, explaining that wine smells “winey.” She must have gotten the non-wine gene from her mother. But I digress.
Added Michelle: “I started thinking, ‘What if I really like this guy? Am I ready for a ready-made family?’ That kind of scared me.”
I guess I hadn’t made it clear that it really wasn’t a date.
At the time of the reunion, I was freelancing for Vinesse while holding down a full-time job in the publishing industry. I was working 16-hour days, seven days per week, and had a daily one-hour, round-trip commute by train. I loved my work — I was quarterbacking a special-edition magazine that encompassed 300 pages, in addition to editing a monthly 88-page magazine — but one also needs a little time away from it, and I really looked forward to what had gradually become nightly chats with Michelle before I went to bed.
Getting to know her during that period helped keep me focused, not to mention sane. And when she came to visit me in Chicago as my time in the Windy City was winding down, I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. I had gotten to know the person inside that prom dress, and felt fortunate that someone like her would even give someone like me a second look.
In August 2014, I asked Michelle to marry me. She said yes. Two months later, we went on what we like to call “the honeymoon before the wedding.” Virtually of all of the pictures from Spain, Austria and Switzerland seen in this blog since then were taken by her — including the one accompanying today’s post, depicting the 10 glasses we used to taste two flights of wine at a winery/restaurant just outside Vienna.
You’ll note that the glasses are configured in the shape of a set of bowling pins. Once a bowler, always a bowler.
And this Saturday, Michelle and I will walk down the aisle, each of us for the second — and last — time.
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Just as there has been little that’s “normal” about out courtship, there will be little that’s “normal” about our wedding. I’ll tell you more about that in tomorrow’s blog… which also will include tips on selecting wines for a wedding.