Always Be Prepared

TEMECULA, Calif. _ I like being prepared. Recently I drove from Los Angeles to Temecula with my brother, his wife and my date to a charity wine and music festival. Facing a two-hour mid-day drive, I grabbed an apple and dried fruit for the road. I also purchased two one-gallon bottles of water for my brother and sister and a Diet Coke for my date. I had my brother bring his GPS navigator, and just in case something happened to the GPS, I e-mailed myself directions that I could access on my phone. There was no way we would go thirsty, starve or get lost. I think that’s the implied deal passengers make with the driver on a road trip – reach the final destination without loss of major organ function.

Prepared? I was not even close to being fully prepared yet.

In the trunk of my car was a backpack. Inside the backpack was a pair of shoes, socks, camera, sunscreen, a backup shirt and two sweatshirts. I brought the backup shirt because I knew I would be drinking wine and eating Italian food, and if history was any indication, there was an 80 percent chance I would spill something on myself. (We Italians enjoy talking with our hands, often while holding a glass of red wine, a tray of cocktail meatballs and a baby.) That second sweatshirt? That was for my date. I had a feeling that she would need one, and I was right. When I wrapped it around her shoulders after the sun set, she was grateful.

I do remember the exact moment my beautiful date destroyed my nice white shirt. (Pictured above, in better times.) One second I was sitting at a table, outdoors, on the patio of a beautiful house overlooking a vineyard, eating dinner in my summery Miami Vice drug lord shirt, and next thing I knew I was covered in red wine from neck to knee while my date apologized profusely. My date’s finger caught my wine glass, the wine hit my plate at good speed and ricocheted up into my shirt and splashed down onto my shorts. She was mortified. I told her it was OK, and that everything would be all right and that there was no need to worry. She did not know what I knew. She did not know that I had a backup shirt.

Calmly, without drawing attention to myself, I walked away from the table, to my car, removed one shirt and replaced it with another. I also – and this should not come as a surprise to you at this point –  keep an emergency pair of jeans in my car. I purchased them at Costco a few years ago, because like all men, I am slowly turning into my dad. I call these jeans my Kirkland Signature jeans. Standing next to my car, where only the neighbor’s horses could see me, I stripped down to my boxers and put on my white-and-caramel striped backup shirt and jeans and socks and shoes. My date went into clean-up mode. She greeted me back at the house with club soda in hand. We washed the shirt in a sink and then put shirt and shorts in the washing machine. I returned to my dinner plate. But what I really returned to was more tragedy.

(It should be noted here that although we were at a wine and music festival, all parties involved in this story were not drunk, which makes this tale all the more sad.)

Wearing my backup shirt, which everyone agreed looked nice, I cleaned off my chair and sat back down so that I could resume eating. I forked a bite-sized piece of sausage, raised it to my mouth and then watched, in slow-motion, as the sausage tumbled down my backup shirt, leaving a trail of marinara sauce in its wake. My sister was the only person who saw this. I will never forget the look on her face. Sometimes when one woman, Woman A, knows that another woman, Woman B, is about to cry, Woman A’s eyes will tear up in anticipation of Woman B crying. That is how my sister looked at me. Her eyes said, “It’s OK to cry.” But I held it together. I held it together because my sister did not know what I knew. She did not know that I had brought a backup backup shirt.

Bravely, silently, stoically, I marched back to my car, removed my soiled white-caramel shirt and grabbed the emergency shirt that I keep in my car at all times. It is a long-sleeve, dark-blue Weather Channel shirt that I received as a freebie at a golf tournament. I knew that it would never enter my regular shirt rotation, so I threw it in my trunk. Five years ago. In case I ever needed it. Five years later, I needed it.

This is me in shirt number three with Jen.

It was our first date on our second go-round as a couple.

The rest of the day passed without incident.

Jen and I got engaged that December wed the following September. We held our West Coast wedding reception at the site of the infamous backup-backup shirt incident.

I brought an extra shirt to that event, too.

Joe Donatelli is a journalist in Los Angeles. He publishes The Humor Columnist. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter

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