How a cheap date became one of the best

By Jen Rouse
The Short Years

Oregon Blog

It was our anniversary yesterday. Nine whole years with this guy. That’s not counting our years of dating and engagement. I’ve now spent more than a third of my life linked to this one particular human being. It’s weird and it’s wonderful, and in honor of the occasion we went out on one of the nicest dates we’ve had in a long time. And it was almost entirely free. It doesn’t get any better than that.

First we foisted the kids off on my mom and dad. That’s Step One: obtain free babysitting from grandparents, friends, or some other sucker who’s willing to care for three kids all day and night in return for the sheer joy of their company. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

Then, we headed for the river, armed with a fishing pole, a camera, a cooler full of beer and a backpack full of snacks.

We picked up our way up the rocky riverbank until we got far enough away that the only previous fishermen, so far as we could tell, were raccoons. Our only companions were the ospreys circling and screeching over the water.

You might have to click to see a bigger image to find the osprey in the picture above; he blends in with the trees a little bit, but it’s the best picture I could manage. Those guys swoop fast and were hard to capture photographically.

Eric fished. I amused myself picking blackberries, climbing trees, and taking pictures of waterbugs. That’s Step Two in Cheap Date Night: be amused by simple things.

The small darkish oval in the upper center, above, is the water bug. The cool-looking shape off to the right that looks like a five-pointed star with circles at each tip is his shadow on the river bottom.

It was warm, and the water was all shiny and sparkly out in the middle where the current was swift, but like a mirror in the shallow, still edges.

The only fish interested were lots of little tiny trout, which Eric caught, then tenderly released back into the river.

See that ring on his finger? I put it on there exactly nine years ago.

After awhile, we sat on the rocks with our picnic and our drink. Nine years ago, we actually visited Stonehenge as one of the stops on our British honeymoon. This year, we contented ourselves with Henge-themed beer.

As the sun started to set, we hiked back to the car. On the way, we noticed an old toilet that someone had perched up on the riverbank. But it had flowers in it, so that makes it classy.

We went home and enjoyed coffee and ice cream on our own comfortable couch. Then we decided to use some free movie tickets that Eric had been carrying around in his wallet for two years (we don’t get out that much). That’s Step Four: get people to give you gift certificates to things, and then carry them around until you forget you have them, and then find them and be thrilled at your discovery.

(We saw “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” which I found to be light-hearted, funny, and clearly aimed at 30-something geeks like my husband who grew up playing old-school video games; this review claimed it “offers no possible entry point to someone over 30,” but I disagree. Case in point: the opening credit sequence shows Scott’s band playing a song called “Launchpad McQuack.” Launchpad McQuack? No 12-year-old would get that! Also: Michael Cera has hair like a Q-tip and pretty much plays the same character in every movie he’s in, but I still find him entertaining).

By the time the movie was over, it was late. Giddy with the joy of being up so far past our bedtimes on a weeknight, we decided we needed to get something to eat, but what’s open at 11:30 p.m. in Albany? The 24-hour-taco place, that’s what. We got burritos and went home and watched TV and then went to bed. That’s Step Five: enjoy cheap food.

It was a really, really, really awesome evening, and it reminded me just how much I like hanging out with my husband. That’s the final step for Cheap Date Night: truly enjoy the company of your date, and then it doesn’t really matter what you do. I’d do the whole thing over again tonight if I could. Which pretty much sums up my feelings about my marriage. I have regrets about choices I’ve made and things that I’ve done; there are plenty of incidents where I wish I could go back and get a do-over. But marrying Eric? Not one of them.

I’d do the whole thing over again.

Us. Self-portrait. Camera shadow across our faces. Happy.

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