Girls out there, you know when you go to an awesome rom-com with your girlfriends (for the sake of the hypothetical, let's just say it's starring Ryan Gosling or Ryan Reynolds... what can I say, I'm a visual gal) and the guy in the movie - though tragically flawed at first of course - eventually comes around and plans some amazingly sweet gesture to whisk the lovely heroine off her feet? Yeah, that doesn't happen in real life.
Or so I thought.
I, too, was one of the girls in the audience of those movies left wistfully fantasizing of the day my dream guy would do the same for me. (Yes, I'm aware, I'm a huge cheeseball. It's one of my many charms - just accept it.) And of course, my more logical sensibilities would inevitably come over me, reminding me that things like that - grand romantic gestures - happen only in the movies. Expecting any man to stack up to a fictional character in creativity would only lead to disappointment, right?
... kind of.
Sometimes, apparently, just when you think life is predictably more mundane than a rom-com, it winks playfully at you and reminds you to dream big and revel in the fantasy of grand gestures. Which is exactly what happened when my very own Ryan Reynolds Gosling planned an enormously crafty and impressively deceptive surprise birthday trip for me to New York City.
Umm... yeah. That happened. In real life.
It took me about a week to fully accept that I didn't dream the whole thing (Some of you might be laughing, but I sleep LIKE A LOG and have some intensely realistic dreams so that's not an entirely ridiculous notion.) But due to popular demand (popular meaning my mother) and for sake of posterity, I thought I'd let the whole charade unfold again here on the blog in case any of you ladies out there want hope that there are real, in-the-flesh, non-fictional gentlemen out there (even ones that are kind of romantically... "moderate" let's say) that are fully capable of ginormous, wonderful surprises.
Let us begin with how completely and totally oblivious I was.
For several weeks leading up to my birthday, Jason only mentioned the day a handful of times and it was usually something like "What do you want to do?" or "Where do you want to eat?" successfully making me think there had been little to no planning involved. I also had planned a get together with several of my sorority sisters and close friends coming into town for a big dinner and girls' night out on Friday night (my birthday being on a Thursday.) I specifically asked Jason if it was okay to plan something on Friday night, you know, secretly hoping he might say something like "Tell your friends you can't - you'll be in Paris!" (pronounced "pair-EE" in that little scenario, in case you were wondering...) but completely expecting for him to say "Go for it!" which he did. So in the days leading up to my Thursday birthday, I thought things would be fantastical, but standard... a couple family dinners, maybe a fun lunch away from the office on my actual birthday, and a friend celebration on the weekend. That in itself is more than I could ever want or ask for. But Jason clearly had more up his sleeve.
Wednesday night I had plans with my Dad. We went out to dinner just the two of us while I left Jason at home working. After a lovely meal, I returned home with NO expectation whatsoever of starting my celebration a few hours early. But as I approached our front door, it quickly became obvious that the birthday festivities were beginning. This is what I came home to:
Hard to tell, but that little dot is a candle (nice touch, right?) and that card says Carol on it. FOR MOI??! (That's what the caption would say if a picture of my reaction had been captured in that moment...)
And here's what it said....
I won't bore you all with every single card in the hunt, but I will tell you there were six different cards. SIX! All with a different tone/message and another clue. I ran around the whole house and as the hunt went on I began to gather through deductive reasoning (and by deductive reasoning I actually mean just reading) that we were going on a trip of some sort. I was told to pack a bathing suit, a "nice dress" and that we were going somewhere that Justin Bieber loves. Needless to say my head was spinning with conjectures.
|If you look closely you can see all the different names on each of the cards...|
|Yeah. That's a bobble head. My boyfriend has a bobble head of himself. Creepy? Nahhhhh....|
The card scavenger hunt culminated in this clever little "boarding pass" to "destination unknown." Okay, this is the point where I have to say, could it be any cuter? There's a freaking BAR CODE. That's called attention to detail, people (Although, no, it doesn't scan. I asked.)
At that point I was thinking, okay, we're going on a trip somewhere. The card said wake up at 5am ready to hit the road. It also said bring your bathing suit, so maybe it's somewhere beachy, but it can't be too far away because we have to drive there. Key West? Destin? Jekyll Island? That was pretty much as far as I'd let my imagination go. (Except of course when three minutes before I finally fell asleep he casually mentioned I should throw my passport in my purse... then the ideas were flying! Damn red herring... I couldn't fall asleep for the longest time!)
5 am came and I zipped out of bed like a kid on Christmas morning. (Come to think of it, that's actually exactly how it felt. To experience that unmistakable, child-like feeling of anticipation and excitement again as a 24-year-old is a gift in itself.) I paid very close attention to which way we were going as we headed off into the darkness of early morning. At that point I still thought it was highly unlikely we'd fly anywhere, especially because Jason didn't seem in any hurry to rush me out the door (apparently he was just playing it incredibly cool.) Until we got off at the exit for the airport. At that point the possibilities seemed limitless. I had no idea where we were going, but the fact that we were flying there seemed amazing to me. I'll never forget that feeling as we walked through the airport, like I was living in a "choose your own adventure" book and the story was dependent upon which gate we were going to walk up to.
Jason wouldn't even let me see my own boarding pass - he checked in and went through all of security holding it for me.
|Jason printing our boarding passes as I'm exiled from the check-in kiosk...|
The whole flight there was a blur (convenient since I HATE flying with a passion), and the second we touched down around 9am I was in full-on happy tourist mode. I wanted to take pictures of everything.
|Like this irrelevant photo of me waiting for our car to pick us up. Or this photo (one of several) of random buildings out the window. (Whatever, I thought it looked SOOOO "New York."|
As it turns out, the room actually wasn't ready. But the hotel was gorgeous! We stayed at a place called The Benjamin at 50th and Lexington. (I know what you're thinking, and yes, the amount of times that I used the phrase "It's all about The Benjamin, baby!" over those two days was borderline embarrassing.) The location was perfect because we were right in Midtown at the center of everything. The hotel had a really cool mix of vintage and modern style. I also loved that it was kind of dark and romantic.
|Can we just imagine for a moment how long the torso would have to be on the human that fits in that chair perfectly?|
While we waited for our room to be ready, the unbelievably attentive doorman Jonathan recommended a great breakfast place on the same block as our hotel. I had forgotten how ridiculously fast the service is in New York! Man, they were pumpin' out some breakfast. After that we did actually go to Starbucks to work for a few hours. I guess our sponsor for the week would not have been very happy if all we did was play around in New York for two days ignoring the internet. I really didn't mind though. Working at a Starbucks in New York is like people-watching heaven. The amount of awkward business conversations and hilarious gossip I overheard, coupled with the abundant bold fashion statements that kept walking by was enough to keep me entertained.
We headed back to the hotel around 2pm to get ready for Jason's live video show and to settle into the room. I have to also mention for The Benjamin's sake that our room was enormous as far as New York hotel rooms go. We had a suite with a separate living room/mini kitchen and a large bedroom.
|Love this shot from the window of our room. Such fun shapes!|
Cool! I thought. I've never been to Top of the Rock or anything so that's a fun touristy NYC thing to cross off the list. What a great surprise! Wrong again. He said it wasn't that.
Then I saw the sign for NBC studios and thought, Oh maybe we're stopping by The TODAY Show. (They did a piece on Jason last year and I know he stays in contact with some of the producers.) Still wrong.
So at that point I was all out of ideas until we walked inside 30 Rock and up to the front desk where Jason asked the woman nonchalantly, "Excuse me, where do we pick up our VIP passes to Jimmy Fallon?"
STOP. Just stop! I thought. Life, you can go ahead and pause it right there. If this is a dream I will NEVER forgive you!
And that was the second time I almost cried like a doofus. Complete and utter shock. Fallon is one of my favorite late night hosts and we had... eh hem, I'm sorry... VIP passes? I was ecstatic. Like, this ecstatic:
|Forehead-wrinkles, crooked-glasses ecstatic!!! Kind of freaking out.|
Also, after they wrapped taping, Jimmy ran up through the audience giving people high fives, to which I obviously held out my hand. And for all of you that will never be able to experience that momentary bliss, I would just like to let you know that Mr. Fallon's hands are abnormally soft. Like, the softest hands I've ever felt. Is that a celebrity thing? Do they just have access to really, really great hand moisturizer? I don't know, but either way, now when you watch Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, you can think to yourself, "I know for a FACT that that man has incredibly soft hands." You're welcome.
Oh, I also managed to get the comedian Seth who warms up the crowd at the beginning of the show (hysterical by the way) to heckle Jason. You know when comedians ask standard questions to the audience like "Who came from far away to be here tonight" just waiting for someone to volunteer as tribute to be made fun of for a little while? Yeah... I was feeling feisty so I kind of yelled out "Florida!" hoping I'd get him to pick on Jason. Plan worked like a charm. You really can't take me anywhere.
|Post Fallon. (Apparently my natural instinct to convey excitement is to open my mouth in photos. I wonder where I get that from....)|
|The question is, how did The Benjamin know that I like to get ready for dinner while downing a glass of champagne? Well played, you cheeky hotel. Well played.|
|That tag-looking little guy is their business card and I absolutely adore the design!|
Shrimp, scallops, ribs, pork chops, chicken, risotto... we seriously managed to taste EVERYTHING. Not to mention I had the best cheese grits I have ever had in my life. I would have those things every single day if I could. And of course Jason made sure the restaurant knew about the surprise (I think the entire island of Manhattan was in on it at this point) so they gave us a few complimentary appetizers (the scallops were the most buttery delicious scallops I've ever had) and this amazing little concoction...
|It took all my inner strength not to start shoveling the contents of this cute little vessel into my mouth...|
... and we were so full I'm surprised I didn't pass out amid the one and a half minute walk back to our room. Day one in NYC a success! (Aren't you exhausted just reading the whole thing? Well pull yourself together, we still have one full day left!!)
On Friday, we got up, did an hour of cardio to work off some of the gazillion calories we had the night before (worth every bit), grabbed breakfast at Alice's Tea Cup (yep, it's just about as emasculating as it sounds) and immediately went to Times Square to grab a cheesy tourist photo. (It was mainly so Jason could grab a photo for our weekly sponsor at the time, Pepperidge Farm, but it's kind of a fun one just to have. Listen, I'm not above cheesy tourist photos.)
|Yellow cab, outstretched arm, bustling fellow tourists. Classic.|
After that we only had a couple short hours before dinner, and we wanted to do something that required walking around and exploring a bit. (Not gonna lie, being strapped for time and having to plan an itinerary in NYC is a little bit anxiety-inducing, but luckily I was up for the challenge.)
One of my favorite areas of the city when I lived in New York was The High Line. It's basically an area of old raised train tracks that was converted into a mile-long park on the West Side from the Meatpacking District to Chelsea. Maybe it's because you can see the water, or because the buildings aren't quite so high, but I just love that area of the city. It's neighborhoody and artsy. Anyway, I wanted to take Jason there because he had never been and I knew there would be some great views he could photograph. Turned the tables on that little sucker. Who's thoughtful now? Yeah, that's right.
Here are some of my favorite shots:
|Love the color of the buildings and the warmth of the neighborhood down there.|
|Gorgeous street art/mural/whatever. I admit, it kind of captures my complete joy over the whole two-day adventure. So beautiful.|
The memorial pools were so beautiful. The sound of the water gives off this feeling of constant motion and gives the whole thing such a powerful feeling. My favorite thing about it is how they organized all the names of those remembered by relation to one another. It means so much more than simply arranging them alphabetically. Now, not to make this whole post take a somber turn, but when you see the titles for the fire stations and police with names underneath, you can't help but be overcome with emotion. I think about all the emergency responders that lost their lives, and it just makes me feel so grateful. Those people weren't simply in the wrong place at the wrong time like so many in the towers - they willingly welcomed danger rather than fled to safety because people needed help and that's what they swore to do. All these years later it still gives me shivers, and I think seeing the memorial in person where everything happened helps you feel gratitude in a completely different way.
|The new One World Trade Center at its completion it will be the tallest building in America. Isn't it beautiful?|
Thanks to our afternoon of trekking around lower Manhattan, we had worked up a pretty nice appetite at that point. For our last night in the city, we made reservations at a gourmet Mexican restaurant called Taloache (tah-lo-ah-chay) at the recommendation of our favorite Jacksonville restauranteurs, TacoLu's Don and Debbie. I'm going to be 100% honest here, at first I wasn't crazy about Mexican for our last meal. I just wasn't feeling it. But then Jason mentioned it was Don and Debbie's favorite place in the city and I knew there was no way it would disappoint. Which it did not.
You guys, almost two full weeks later and I can still taste how delicious this meal was. It was unlike any Mexican food I've ever had - cactus fries and fried avocado slices and sweet plantains (oh LORD the sweet plantains.)
We started off with cocktails (obviously) and it was hard to choose among their list of exotic margaritas. I ended up selecting something that included hibiscus flower IN the margarita and it was deceptively strong (whoops!) After that I decided I couldn't leave without at least tasting their sangria. Some girls just have principles, ya know?
|My picture kind of makes it look all goupy but I promise it was so fresh.|
|Jas still thought they were gross. I thought they were yummy!|
|So why can't I have this every night AND still fit into my jeans? Life's not fair!|
The whole trip was such a whirlwind. Of course I would have loved to try and see so many of my friends that live in New York, but our trip was so short that we kind of made a pact to just enjoy it with each other.
Words can't even express how grateful I am that Jason took the time to plan this whole thing out. I also have to thank Kelly, Jason's sweet sweet mother, who paid for my plane ticket as a birthday gift and helped make it possible, and of course my friends that kept the secret and rearranged our plans to accomodate the trip. My family, his family, my friends - everyone spoiled me for the week and there were so many times I was left thinking to myself, what in the world did I do to deserve so much love?
There are certain times in life when people and experiences just completely surprise you and you feel as though you're living in a dream. My advice - soak up every moment and vow to do the same for someone else one day. That's what I hope to do at least.
And to you Jason, my very own Ryan Reynolds Gosling, thank you for having a heart as big as Montana (is that a saying? No? Montana's big, right?) I never in a million years expected such an extravagant birthday, but I know you know that. Which is why you did it anyway. Thanks for showing me how much you care, and for giving me so many memories I'll get to enjoy forever. I love you.