I met RM in the summer of 1981 waiting tables at the Steinburg Inn located downtown on Kansas Avenue in Topeka, Kansas — the Inn was a deli that was co-owned by his dad and a business partner. I stumbled on the waitressing job late in the summer employment hunt after spending several days early in the same summer in Texas in training for my year-round job as a Resident Assistant for student housing at KU. I was planning to take two summer classes at Washburn, get a part-time job, and live with my parents so I could save money. That summer was between my sophomore and junior year in college. The deli was small but busy at lunch with government workers and downtown business people as the primary customer base. There were four employees that waited tables most days from 11-2 when we had our big rush. We worked well together — all four of us were about same age, fairly compatible, and a little competitive with one another about tip total counts after our shift. The food was fresh and business was good. That summer, RM was in a frat house studying to pass aerospace engineering coursework, the other male waiter, David, was son of a former sheriff and destined for leadership at KU as student body president and a Frank Sinatra impersonator –you should hear him croon– Susan had a distinct laugh and already a couple of modeling gigs under her belt, and me working to support myself through school, a GDI through and through, and happy to be foot loose and fancy free after recently ending a year-long relationship with a young man from Wichita.
RM didn’t ask me out, I asked him. Ladies, when you see a good man, go for it. RM was a good waiter, quick to impress the ladies, made the most tips except when I beat him, unfortunately obsessed with Astroids and Pinball, but a snappy dresser (no seed cap). I got his attention by asking him if he liked banana splits. RM said “yes”, and the next thing I know I am on the back of his Vespa, arms locked around him tight, headed to a late night spot for dessert. That was all we could afford at the time but it was sweet and that was the beginning of thirty plus years together. The next date, we decided to ride the Vespa together over to Lawrence so he could show me his frat house, meet some of his frat friends, and have a few beers. It is less than 20 miles between Topeka and Lawrence and there is a quiet, paved two-lane road that is fun to ride and enjoy the summer breezes. We made the trip over with no problems but stayed much later than we should but we were young and beginning to fall in love. After midnight, we head back the 20 miles only to quickly realize we had a rear flat tire on the Vespa. RM pushed it to a nearby car wash that also had, conveniently, an air pump. He paid the quarter, filled the tire, but the air quickly escaped again leaving all of us flat and late. No cell phones then to alert anxious parents of our whereabouts. The tire needed a patch and we had nothing on hand. We reluctantly left the scooter and walked to a Kwik Shop to see what they had on the shelves. No patch kit just beer and stale nachos and a tired cashier. We were both wondering what our next steps would be. How to fix the tire? We combed the aisles and with my suggestion (RM will verify this important fact in the story) settled on a pack of pink Super Bubble and a roll of grey duct tape. We hurried back to the scooter, hoping it was still sitting where we left it. Still there, still flat. I chewed the gum and RM disassembled the tire to reach the tube and the tear. We worked together quietly. I worked on the biggest wad of gum I could chew and handed it over to RM. He placed the sticky pink mass over the hole in the tube, we wrapped the tape around the tube and over the gum, using our teeth to tear the tape, reassembled the tube into the tire, and then paid the air machine another quarter. The air went in, the tire inflated and held. RM bounced the machine up and down a couple of times and the tire continued to hold. We jumped on the Vespa and drove it to my home holding our breath that it would get us there without any problems. RM kept the speed down, took the corners and bumps easy and it worked. I arrived home to a sleepy mother that was glad I still had all my parts and I arrived home pretty sure that RM was mine. There isn’t much that Super Bubble, Duct Tape, and Love can’t fix.