L.A. Affairs: I’d been single for 32 years. Then he walked in

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It was just before Thanksgiving 2019, and I was traveling from my home in Grand Junction, Colo., to Denver to see relatives for the holidays. Over the years I’d made the trip many times aboard the California Zephyr, which is often billed as America’s most scenic train ride: It meanders through the Colorado Rockies exposing vistas rarely seen if you drive by car. I decided to get a cup of coffee and spend the morning sitting in the observation car enjoying the awesome scenery.

After settling down, I noticed a tall, handsome man with a classic driving cap sit down not far from me. At that very moment, I spotted a spectacular site: wild horses racing alongside the train. Startled, I pointed and spoke out, “Look!” (If you have never been on a train before, this is how one acts in the observation car.)

As we watched, marveling, the man in the driving cap shared that while sitting in this observation car on an earlier trip, he’d spotted a bear out in the unspoiled wilderness. And that’s how we got to talking, and talking. I found him intriguing, the conversation was fun and easy, and I wanted to continue it. When it came time for lunch, I couldn’t help myself. I asked if he’d care to join me in the dining car.

No thank you, he’d said. “I think I’ll just eat my trail mix.”

I admit to having some bruised feelings as I made my way out of the observation car and headed for lunch. But we’d seemed to really hit if off. Maybe he just wasn’t hungry?

When I made my way back through the observation car, he was still sitting there. But a new passenger — a young man — was in the seat I had earlier occupied.

I decided to be uncharacteristicly bold. I decided to give him one more chance. I patted him on the shoulder as I walked by and said, “You didn’t save my seat!” The young man bolted straight up and offered me the seat back.

I took it.

The train ride over the Rocky Mountains takes about eight hours, and we talked the whole way. Paul and I found we had so much in common. Our backgrounds were both in sciences — nursing for me, engineering for him. We both loved salmon, salads and Altoids. Our political and religious views were complementary too. That was some kind of miracle right there. And he, like me, was headed to Denver to be with relatives over the Thanksgiving holiday. What a kind, smart man I had met.

Still, as we exchanged contact information, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would ever hear from him again. Soon we were in Denver being shuttled away and Thanksgiving was in the air.

That Friday, Paul texted me. “I really enjoyed our conversation,” he said, “Hope you had a fun Thanksgiving!” He said he was heading back to California the next morning, once again aboard the Zephyr.

My heart leapt. As luck would have it, “I am on the same train,” I texted back. “Hope to see you …”

Thus leading to our second eight-hour date. I think we both knew we wanted to spend a lot more time together when the rocking and rolling of the train led to a playful bump of shoulders that felt electric. We both got off the train at Grand Junction because he was moving into a sleeping car for the rest of his journey. Time was running short — the conductor told him he needed to hurry and motioned to him to get back onboard.

We just looked at each other, unsure of what to do next. We both moved in for a hug. It turned into a kiss that surprised us both — and was spotted by my shocked daughter, who had arrived to pick me up.

“What was that?” she said as soon as I was within earshot.

During his return trip to California, Paul and I texted seemingly nonstop. (By this time, he’d confessed that he’d realized he fumbled my invitation for lunch that first day, but by the time he tried to catch up with me the lunch line for the dining car had grown too long. He said he’d feared he’d “blown it.”)

Once we were both back home, we realized we needed to see if “us” really worked away from the magic of the train ride. I decided to be bold once more. I proposed that I come to his place for New Year’s Eve or he come to mine. He countered with a better offer. We decided on a snowy Colorado Christmas and Santa Barbara for New Year’s to ring in 2020.

We have been together ever since, continuing back and forth between Colorado and California. Mountain biking is his passion, so he loves the western Colorado trails. It has been a challenge, though, putting a Southern California man in Colorado. We have snow, you know. But that isn’t a problem. I’m in love with the ocean, beautiful beaches and relaxed lifestyle that Santa Barbara offers, including daily drives along Cabrillo Boulevard to check out the ocean, the dolphins playing, the surfers and, of course, the gorgeous views.

Walking our little dog Foxy at Hendry’s Beach and the Douglas Family Preserve has been so invigorating to me that it has given me a new outlook on life.

You see, I am 81 and he is 74. Our adult children and our 13 grandchildren (I have six and he has seven) are thrilled for us. When I met Paul, he was widowed and I had been single (divorced) for 32 years. I was not looking for love. I thought my life was full and felt that I had a happy life.

It has been so very unexpected to find myself falling in love at this time of my life.

But it has been so wonderful learning to love again.

>The author is a retired registered nurse.

L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.