This is a fictional account. Any resemblance to actual events or persons is strictly coincidental.
Janet remembers her first date with a young man called Barry. He was charming, though a little bashful and awkward at times. She had just arrived in town to enroll in college. He was beginning his second year.
Janet met Barry at a popular pizza parlor near the campus. Looking for a place to sit, she spotted the empty seat at a small table. On the other side sat a young man with a serious expression reading a thick book.
"May I take this seat?"
The man looked up. A smile broke out, spreading across his face. "Why, sure! It's my pleasure." He rose, stepped around the table and pulled out the chair. "Here."
Janet set her food on the table and sat down. "Thank you. Thanks a whole bunch!"
He returned to his seat, secured a bookmark and closed the volume.
"You're new here, aren't you?"
"Yes, I am. I will finish registration today."
"Are you a freshman?"
"Yup. This is all new to me. I'm from Yreka, up north near Shasta."
"Welcome to the metropolis. This place was new to me last year."
"By the way, who are you?"
"Pardon me for not introducing myself. I'm Barry."
"I'm Janet." She took a bite of her meal. When she had swallowed, she dabbed her mouth with the napkin.
Barry, who had reopened the book, rested his hand on the page, then asked, "What's your major?"
"Sociology and Psychology. I want to be a social worker. What do you study?"
"Political Science and Government. I'm planning on going to law school."
"To be a lawyer?"
"To start with, yes. One can go a long way from there."
"Hah! My dad said, 'If you want to go a long ways, become a lawyer. It'll take you all the way to Hell.' Have you ever heard that?"
"I think I have. I've also heard that about other professions and businesses, such as used car salesmen."
"Me, too. It really depends more on the person."
"I'd better let you finish your meal before it gets stale."
"Thanks." Janet resumed eating, while Barry resumed reading.
Just as Janet was picking up the food tray, Barry looked up. "What are you doing when you finish registration?"
"I don't know. I don't really know anyone here, and I don't know this town."
"Would you like a guided tour?"
"That sounds great! When does it start? Does Gray Lines operate that late?"
"They do have evening tours during the tourist season, like summer and Christmas week. I was thinking of something in a sports car, not a bus."
"Are you a tour guide?"
"I know this area well enough to be one. I can put on cabbie cap if you like."
"I'm on. Where does the tour start and when?"
"When does registration end?"
"I should be done about 3:30. But I have to get back to the dorm and file my papers."
"When can you get back to here?"
"See you then."
At 4:45 Janet saw Barry standing by the door as she walked down the street toward the pizza parlor. A lightweight sweater was draped over one arm, ready to ward off an evening chill. She lightly brushed her hair with her hand to corral any stray strands.
Barry was looking up the walk the other direction. Janet was only two doors away when he turned and spied her. He waited to speak until she was only ten feet away. "On-the-dot! You have a very good sense of time."
"I honed that skill with summer jobs in high school. It really helps when you have to keep track of several things all at once."
"It helps in college, too. Are you ready?"
"Yes, I am" She hand-brushed her hair again. "Where's the tour car?"
"Around the corner, in the parking lot. The top's down to improve the view." He flipped out a duster cap and pulled it onto his head. His hair was just bushy enough to hold it firmly.
Barry drove south to York Boulevard and turned west, then headed north onto a freeway, talking all the time like a tour guide: "The first thing to learn in this city is the freeway system. It is a network which ties the whole metropolis together. This is the Glendale Freeway, which goes from I-5 to the Foothills Freeway."
They followed a ramp to the right. "Now we're on the Ventura Freeway, which will take us to Pasadena, home of Cal Tech and the Rose Bowl." In Pasadena, Barry exited the freeway and showed Janet the local icons.
From Pasadena, Barry took the Ventura Freeway to the Hollywood Freeway, pointing out all the well-known places as they went by. They exited in Hollywood, then followed Santa Monica Boulevard through Beverly Hills to the San Diego Freeway. From there, Barry drove south to the Santa Monica Freeway and headed east to the Harbor Freeway, north to the Hollywood Freeway, and south to the N. Broadway exit.
On North Broadway, they went north. "Here is something you definitely don't see in Yreka. Now this is mostly Chinese, but not all. It is more or less international, but it is still called 'Chinatown.' Different, isn't it." To Janet this was like visiting a foreign country, all the quaint Oriental stores and signs. Being in a convertible, they could hear non-English, sing-song conversation.
"Are you hungry?"
"Let's find a good place to eat."
"You know the area. What's good?"
Barry pulled to the curb in front of door with a marquee reading "Mai-Chu Sing" above a string of Chinese characters. "This is what I like."
The food was good, but not exactly exotic. Janet, with her family and friends, had frequented Chinese restaurants in Yreka. After the meal, she said, "I'm feeling global. For dessert, can we try another nationality?"
"Sure. I know of an interesting place. How does Manchurian sound?"
"Now that's different! I'm game."
"Now this place is not exactly in Chinatown, but it's close."
South and east about a half mile a sign hung over the sidewalk: "The Yak Shack."
"What a name!"
"I know it sounds almost American, but it is genuinely Manchurian. They have confections found nowhere else in the world except in Manchuria --- and places like this, of course. There is a candy I especially like. The flavor is (how shall I say it?) over there."
Barry was right. The confections were deliciously exotic, the best she'd ever had. This was the defining memory she would carry of this day. For the rest of her life, she would remember it as "the Manchurian Candy Date."
© 2010, Wesley G. Vaughn