The Bucket List: The Marriage Proposal

by Just Juan
  1. Propose in stunning fashion. Funny thing is I kinda already have it in my mind how I’m going to do it and where I’m going to do it. All I need is the future lead lady.

One of the tracks that gets heavy rotational play in my Windows Media Player when I’m listening to love songs is the Mýa’s “Fallen” from her Moodring album. It samples “Runnin” from The Pharcyde’s Labcabincalifornia, which happens to be one of my favorite old school hip-hop songs. Of course, there’s the music video in which Mýa stalks Hassan Johnson. But, I actually dig the remix with Tre & Fatlip more than the original because of the rap Tre chimes in: “There comes a time in every man’s life/When you find someone, wanna make her your wife/And you can’t breathe/’Cause nothing else matters now”. I remember how I felt when I first heard those words back in November 2003, just 2 weeks after losing my first love. About a year later, I wrote in Triumphs & Tribulations V that “I can’t see myself proposing to somebody’s grown daughter unless I feel the words from that flow in my heart”. Well, I felt that feeling in my heart on May 29th. Mercedes and I were dining in at Gilligan’s in Destin. Sitting across the table from her, there was this feeling that came over me that said “it’s time”.

And that feeling brings me to the other part in this equation: the marriage proposal. For me, as with just about every major event in my life, it was a process. Here is how it all played out:

STEP 1: CONVINCING MERCEDES TO TAKE A TRIP TO TOKYO. I know what you’re thinking. How hard can it be to convince somebody to take a trip to Tokyo? It’s actually not as easy as it seems. Most Americans have reservations about going to Tokyo—or even Japan, at large—because of the extreme differences in culture as well as the public perception. From a cultural standpoint, the language barrier is off-putting to many. Japanese is a tough language to pick up…even the novice stuff like saying “hello” or “please” or “thank you”. The cuisine is something that can make a lot of people uncomfortable. It’s not your typical tropical or exotic location like Mexico, Dubai, or the Caribbean. It doesn’t offer a lot of variety like Europe or Latin America. More than anything, it’s not a place where you can go on a weekend turnaround or a weeklong excursion. You really need at least 10-14 days to really take it in…and 3-4 days of that is adjusting to the time difference and shaking off the jet lag. Japan is exactly what it is: an island nation that’s pretty much out there doing its own thing. All of this ran through my mind when I asked Mercedes—a lifetime lover of beachy locales—if she wanted to go. I fully expected some brush back but she surprised me by quickly agreeing. A major hurdle was cleared and I didn’t have to pull out the tricks I had up my sleeve just in case. I went about making arrangements for the trip “home” to Tokyo. My preference was for a mid-September trip as that would really bring everything full circle with my epiphany from 2008. However, it didn’t fit with Mercedes’ schedule so I settled for a mid-August trip. I booked it and we were set. Step 1 complete.

STEP 2: FINDING OUT HER RING SIZE. Figuring out Mercedes’ ring size was a challenge. It’s not like I could’ve asked her directly without her knowing. Interestingly, while in Destin, we stopped by Zales in the Silver Sands Premium Outlets. I disguised it as a stop-in to look at their collection of Bulova, Citizen, Invicta, and Movado watches. As I was hoping, Mercedes had to use the restroom and did so inside of the store. That’s when I took advantage and told the sales associate that I was discreetly trying to figure out her ring size and we came up with a quick plan to do so. When Mercedes returned, we casually walked around and as we passed by the engagement and wedding rings section, I stopped with a “wow…look at that ring”. The sales associate came over and explained the details of that particular ring. Mercedes noted that it was a nice looking piece of jewelry. That’s when the sales associate asked her if she knew her ring size. Mercedes didn’t. The sales associate suggested she get sized because “every woman should know her ring size”. Mercedes got sized and that’s how I found out. Step 2 complete.

STEP 3: PURCHASING THE RING. The next step in the proposal process was purchasing the ring itself. That was actually a moment that was 11 ½ years in the making. Way back in October 2003, I had $800 saved up with the intent of purchasing an engagement ring ahead of a planned Thanksgiving proposal to my then-girlfriend. She died in a car accident before I had a chance to purchase the ring. I hung on to that $800 and after my grieving period, I decided that I would earmark it for the exclusive purpose of acquiring an engagement ring…thus giving birth to the Ring Account. I had 3 specific rules for the account: (1) it was completely untouchable except for its stated purpose regardless of financial emergency [the only such bank account I had to have such a restriction], (2) starting with my 20th birthday in 2004, I would add $500 to the account on every October 24th that passed with me not being engaged, and (3) I had to spend the entire balance once I identified the woman I would propose to. At the time, I figured I would be back in position to propose within 2 years so the plan was to spend around $1800 on an engagement ring. A not-so-funny thing called The Lost Decade of Dating happened and I went through the entirety of my 20s without getting close to proposing to somebody’s grown daughter. That $800 from October 2003 had grown to a more significant figure by the time I found out Mercedes’ ring size this past May. A couple of weeks after finding out Mercedes’ ring size, I found myself inside of a Birmingham-area Jared The Galleria of Jewelry. And true to my word, I used every penny in that account to purchase not only an engagement ring but an entire bridal set since the engagement ring I specifically wanted for Mercedes didn’t come standalone. Step 3 complete.

STEP 4: SETTING UP THE SCENARIO. With the trip to Tokyo officially on the board and the ring in play, I arrived to the next step in the process: setting the scene. It was the hardest part because I was at a geographical disadvantage and had to rely on everything I remembered from my 2007-2010 residency and my 2011, 2012, and 2013 visits. I reached out to a couple of acquaintances who still lived in Tokyo and we came up with a flash mob scenario. It was to play out as follows:

  1. Everybody was to meet in Downtown Tokyo at JR East Tokyo Station on the Chūō Line platform level no later than 10:05pm with each participant giving me a signal that they were good to go. Once given the good-to-go from all participants, I would untie my left shoelace.
  2. When the JR East Ōme Special Rapid pulled into Platform 2 at 10:14pm, we would all enter the train through different doors and cars. Mercedes and I would enter in on Car 6 with her taking a seat and me standing over her.
  3. Once the train arrived to Kanda, the first of the other participants would make their way to Car 6. More would do so at successive stops at Ochanomizu, Yotsuya, and Shinjuku. It was plotted this way to intentionally throw Mercedes off that a group of Americans were congregating in the same train car. [I couldn’t chance her awareness in this instance]
  4. During the nonstop stretch between Nakano and Mitaka, I would drop down to a knee to tie my shoe. This was the signal for everybody to pull out their mobile phones to record.
  5. While down tying my shoe, I would then start coughing. With her being a nurse practitioner by trade, the expectation of Mercedes would be to ask if I was OK.
  6. I would look up, pull out the ring, and pop the question. My acquaintances would all be in position to capture the footage from several different angles along with giving their congrats and encouraging the other passengers to join in.

We all agreed to August 18th as the date of significance because it was the only day during my trip to Tokyo in which everybody was assured to be available for a weeknight flash mob. We had a couple of Skype video chats to do dry runs of the flash mob scenario. We were set to go. Step 4 complete.

STEP 5: KEEPING MERCEDES AT BAY. When she agreed to the trip, part of me believed that Mercedes expected that I would propose to her during the trip. The absolute worst-case scenario would be me asking her to marry me and her feigning surprise. I actually accounted for this. We did a lot of romantic, mushy couple stuff during the trip where the ideal proposal scenarios presented themselves. There was the candlelight dinner at the Park Hyatt Tokyo’s New York Grill. We were all dressed up for her birthday and it was an incredible view of Shinjuku at 52 floors up…a perfect scenario to propose. Nope…didn’t happen. There was the moment we had admiring the scene at Shiraito Falls during the Mt. Fuji day trip. It was a perfect moment to pop the question. Nope…not there either. There was our stroll along the boardwalk in Odaiba outside of DECKS Tokyo Beach. With the Rainbow Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, and Tokyo Tower in the backdrop, it’s an ideal place to propose. Nope…not the spot. There was our evening walks through Tokyo Midtown, Ginza Dori and Shinjuku Southern Terrace on August 17th. In my 3 years of residency in Tokyo, I saw 8 proposals combined in those locations. Great spots but nope…not there either. We even went to Faith Christian Fellowship in Fussa for a church service and the pastor called me up and asked if I had something to say. I knew it was a hint at a conversation I had with him several years earlier, when I told him that if I ever brought a woman on a trip to Tokyo, she was leaving as my fiancée. I refused to take the bait and simply said “I got nothing Pastor”. Simply put, I did everything to throw Mercedes off the path that I would propose. I’m sure her friends and colleagues hinted to her that she could be returning back to the United States with a ring on her finger. I felt I did a good job deflecting, per se. As far as I could tell, Mercedes somewhat anticipated something happening in each of the romantic moments but when nothing happened, she seemed to move on with her thoughts and enjoyment of the trip. Step 5 complete.

STEP 6: THE PROPOSAL. With all other steps complete, we arrived to the final step in the process. We got to August 18th. I woke up with a clear mind on what was at stake for me. After emailing my acquaintances, everything was all systems go. The plan was for Mercedes and I to leave our Airbnb in Yoyogi at 9:15pm with the intention of heading to CoCo Ichibanya in Fussa. We were going to take the Yamanote Line around to Tokyo Station to meet up with everybody else. A funny thing happened around 8:30pm. Mercedes got sick and she was pretty adamant that she was done for the night. The entire plan was scrapped and I alerted the other participants. Knowing that we only had the one shot to make it all happen the way we planned, everybody expressed sadness at the moment being lost. A lot of different things went through my head as I laid down to retire for the evening…including consideration of a February 2016 return to Japan for the Sapporo Snow Festival with the proposal happening on the backend of the trip, where we would spend a day in Tokyo. I scrapped that plan fast as it would be a giant ask to have her come back in the winter. Step 6 incomplete.

I woke up the next day and I told myself that I would just freestyle it and propose on the train. The important thing for me was to propose between Nakano and Mitaka stations. So, on the night of August 19th, I told her I was going to take her to CoCo Ichibanya and we hopped on the 8:08pm Chūō Special Rapid at Tokyo. We ended up sitting next to each other and shared an enlightening conversation about the trip to that point. As we were departing Shinjuku for Nakano, I tried to position my Samsung Galaxy Tab 12.2 to video record but I was unsuccessful. When the train was about halfway between Nakano and Mitaka, I simply pulled out the ring and asked her to marry me. She was in obvious shock. Her first words to me were “Are you serious?” I told her that I was and asked “So?” She said yes and we were officially engaged. It wasn’t the stunning fashion that I envisioned but she was stunned nonetheless so that counts. Oh yeah, I should note that, unlike a certain somebody’s dream, it didn’t play out with me getting an engagement ring with a loose diamond at a Motel 6 auction that fell off and got lost when my fiancée showed it off to her friends.

The next stop is my wedding, which is set for next summer. That’s where I’ll complete Item 41 on the bucket list.

Engagement photo [Source: f/Scott Photography]
Save The Date for the Rice-Thomas Wedding
Engagement photo [Source: f/Scott Photography]
Featured Image: Engagement photo [Source: f/Scott Photography]
Engagement photo [Source: f/Scott Photography]

You may also like

Leave a Comment