L.A. Affairs: This is why I stood him up on our very first date

A couple share a kiss behind a menu shaped like a heart.
The bartender came over to take my order after I had been waiting and waiting for my date.
(Boris Séméniako / For The Times)

I was living in Hollywood in a studio apartment. The street was a bit sketchy, the elevator never worked and the parking was horrible, but I loved my little place, with its top-floor peek-a-boo view of the Magic Castle. It had two huge closets, some good friends down the hall and a manager who roamed the building with a baseball bat.

The horrible parking was one of many reasons why my boyfriend never wanted to come my way for the weekend, so I reluctantly moved to his turf in Redondo Beach. I really thought he was “The One,” but after three years of dating, he seemed to be in no hurry to propose.

With my 30th birthday approaching, I finally asked the question: Do you ever see us getting married? His response: “No.”

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So I packed up my stuff, along with my self-esteem, and moved back to the Hollywood Hills, only this time on the Valley side, in a little guest house where I could see the lights of Universal City at night.

During this time, I was working as a sales rep for a women’s clothing line, and one of my accounts was Nordstrom, which had its buying office in the Topanga Plaza store. The buyer’s assistant was a lovely older woman named Ellen, and we would chat and catch up every time I visited. I stopped at the office not long after my breakup, and our conversation worked its way around to Ellen asking, “How are things with your boyfriend?”

“Oh, Ellen, we broke up.” No sooner than the words came out of my mouth did she reply, “Well, you should meet my son.” She went on to tell me he was a television producer, had just bought his own home and had a 28-inch waist. Not quite sure how that last one was a selling point, but I told her to have him give me a call. I had never been set up, but I thought, what the heck. Then I promptly forgot about it.

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Some six weeks later my phone rang, and on the other end was, “Hello, this is Barry, Ellen’s son. My mom told me to call you.” We chatted for about 20 minutes, and I thought he seemed funny and nice, so we made plans to meet for a drink at a restaurant bar called L’Express. I was new to the Valley, and this was pre-cellphones and GPS, so I asked a friend where it was. Sherman Oaks.

I showed up on the appointed night at the appointed time, sat at the bar and waited. And waited. Some rather handsome British guys kept asking to buy me a drink, but I demurred, as I thought it in poor taste to be drinking with some other blokes when my date walked in. But he didn’t walk in. So I reached an agreement with my new British friends. If he was still a no-show after an hour, they could buy me a drink. I figured at least that way the night wouldn’t be a complete loss.

I continued to wait.

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As hope for my date faded, I agreed to a drink with the Brits. When the bartender came over to take my order, I told him what had happened, that I was supposed to meet a guy and he stood me up. “Well,” the bartender said, “there are two L’Expresses in the Valley — the other one is off of Lankershim.” My heart dropped. That was right by my new place. I had gone to the wrong restaurant.

I went to the pay phone in the back and dialed. He answered.

“Hi Barry, this is Susie.”

He hung up.

I just stood there, pay phone in hand, not believing what had just happened. I felt horrible. It had been an honest mistake. But how could someone react like that without giving me a chance to explain? What was I going to do? Go back to the bar and have a drink, that’s what. Then it hit me. What in the world was I going to say to Ellen?

I called him back. I thought if at least I could tell him what had happened, he wouldn’t have horrible things to say about me to his mother. When he answered, I blurted, “Barry, this is Susie. Please don’t hang up!” And fortunately, he didn’t. (Apparently, when I called the first time, he hadn’t heard anything on the other end, so he’d just hung up.) He had indeed gone to the L’Express on Lankershim and, when I didn’t show, he went home to watch the Lakers.

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Turns out, the L’Express in Sherman Oaks was right down the street from his house. So he asked if we could still meet up for a quick drink. Which we did. And I was right: He was funny and nice. Cute too. Our quick drink lasted three hours, and by the end I knew he really could possibly be “The One.” He thought the same about me. Six months later, I moved in.

My boxes were still not unpacked when the Northridge quake hit just a few days later in 1994, and our home suffered a considerable amount of damage. We spent every weekend for months cleaning and repairing, bit by bit. One Saturday, after a day spent doing chores, he suggested we go to dinner. As we were leaving, he said, “Hey, why don’t we go to L’Express? We haven’t been there since the night we met.”

As we were seated, the hostess handed us the paper menu with the day’s specials printed on it. I perused the menu, and there it was at the bottom:

The Susie Special
Will You Marry Me?
Love, Barry
Add Fries $2.50

Two kids, two dogs and two cats later, the author recently celebrated her 26th anniversary with Barry. She is on Instagram @stumgur

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