In Providence: Falling in love on Federal Hill

If you took the chance to walk down Federal Hill on a cold February night a few years ago, you might have seen her showing him how to change a tire.

“He wanted to go out on our first date. I knew it was Valentine’s Day, but I didn’t want to bring it up, because I thought he knew what day it was, and that’s why he was asking me. I get to the date, and he says, ‘Did you know it was Valentine’s Day?’ He didn’t know, but here we are, no reservations anywhere and all the prices were up, because of what day it was. He hadn’t planned for any of that.”

They found a place that would take them, but the table was near the kitchen, and they couldn’t hear each other over the sound of the Valentine’s Day rush.

“You know how you’re on a bad date and you know it’s a bad date and they know it’s a bad date? That’s what this was. It was a bad date. I felt bad for him, to tell you the truth. He knew it was a disaster.”

Afterward, he tried to salvage the date by taking her to an upscale bar, and the two of them were walking in as a brawl was spilling out onto the street.

“Some guy thought some other guy was hitting on his girl, and they come flying out, and the manager’s behind them, and some of the other drunks were getting in on it. I think he caught a fist to the side of his head, if I remember it right. The side of his head or his cheek. But he got hit. Somebody called the police. Him and me were sitting on the sidewalk — me in this new dress I got — and I’m holding snow up to the side of his face to try and stop the swelling.”

When it was clear this date wasn’t just bad, but historically bad, he offered to walk her back to her car so they could call it a night.

“We got to talking as we were walking down Atwells, and he made me laugh more in that walk back, talking about the night we just had, then I had laughed in a long time. I had been through a lot that year, and I was not laughing a lot. My mom had gotten sick, and we lost a cousin of mine, and the only reason I went out on the date is because we had a mutual friend who told me that she thought the two of us would get along, but I wasn’t buying it. Then we’re going down the street, and I notice that I’m walking slower, because I want to keep talking to him.”

They got to his car first, and he offered to drive her to her car. That’s when she noticed the flat tire.

“I thought he was going to run away. He was so embarrassed. I said, ‘You got a spare?’ He said he could call AAA, but his card was expired. I told him, ‘Let’s walk to my car. I have a jack. I can change the tire.’ My father ran an autobody shop. I had everything I needed to change the tire. Changing a tire is nothing to me.”

She was expecting him to put up some sort of macho fight about it, but he was nothing but grateful. That resonated with her.

“I said, ‘If he puts up a fight about this’ — because I’ve had guys not like it when they find out I’ve worked on cars and I’ve played sports my whole life growing up, but he thought it was great. He kept complimenting me on being able to do something like that, and I said I could teach him, and next thing I know, we’re kind of flirting with each other about it.”

That was how they ended up making out in his car.

“I put a new tire on it. I may as well get paid for my work, right?”

That was several years ago, and this year, they celebrated Valentine’s Day in their apartment together.

“Every Valentine’s Day since then has been great. No problems, but that first one is my favorite, because it was the first, and because, even though it all went wrong, it didn’t matter. I didn’t realize it until we started that walk back, but I was never going to wind up with anybody else. He had me the minute I saw him standing outside that restaurant without a reservation. I thought, ‘Look at this dope,’ but what I really thought was, ‘That dope’s all mine.’”

If you’re looking for love in Providence, it might not look exactly how you thought it would, but that’s why it’s good to keep an open mind and a spare in your backseat.