Beth Stebner
October 30, 2015 9:29 am

Five years ago, I called up my friend Laurie to see if she wanted to come with me to DC. I had agreed to cover Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Fear and/or Sanity for New York Magazine and I wanted a partner-in-crime to make the trip down to Washington with me.

Ever the good sport, Laurie agreed. On one condition: “We have to make sure we both find a cute guy,” she said. I rolled my eyes. I had people to interview, photos to take, notes to file, not to mention we had about three hours between our late-night arrival time in DC and the early-morning start of the rally. Finding a “cute guy” was honestly the last thing on my mind. And yet – five years later, I have none other than Jon Stewart to thank for helping me find my future husband at that event.

Laurie and I got in very late the night before the rally. It was only three hours after I had gone to bed in DC that I was blearily waking up and getting ready to hit the ground running. To refresh, for readers who may not remember: Jon Stewart had proposed a Rally to Restore Sanity And/Or Fear on Washington’s National Mall on October 30, 2010. Though Stewart denied it, many media outlets guessed that the rally was in response to a rally put on a few weeks prior by conservative pundit Glenn Beck to “reclaim America” (whatever that means). I was in DC to photograph funny signs, bring some firsthand information from the ground, and report on the faux-political aspects of the event.

For the day ahead, I saddled up with my camera, reporter’s steno, and fully-charged iPhone (still a novelty in 2010!) and got ready to head out to the National Mall with Laurie, my friend CC, and CC’s sister.

To be perfectly honest, I was a bit of a mess – my eyes were bloodshot from the short night before and dry from staring at the endless stretches of highway on the trip down from New York. My voice was also a little husky from the hours in the car that Laurie and I had spent singing along to Wicked at the top of our lungs. Not to mention, I had forgotten conditioner, so my usual blonde curls were more like amorphous Miss Frizzle globs. The point? I was not expecting or hoping to meet anyone.

As the four of us walked to the National Mall, there were plenty of great signs. “God Hates Figs.” “Hide Your Kids, Hide Your Wife.” “I’m Against Picketing But I Don’t Know How to Show It.” We worked our way through the crowds as I snapped picture after picture and began interviewing people about the rally. The energy was palpable.

There were more than a quarter of a million people on the Mall all told, and CC kept making us move closer to the actual stage so we could see and hear what was going on. Huge screens were all around the area for those who just weren’t going to get closer, and stuck in a sea of humanity, we eventually resigned ourselves to the fact that by one of these screens is where we’d spend the next few hours.

I looked around our spot, surveying the crowd for potential interviewees and photo ops. To my right was a group of three with giant rubber character masks on – one dressed as zombie Sarah Palin, another as Dick Cheney, and the third as Richard Nixon. I decided to approach them.

“Hi, my name’s Beth and I’m a reporter,” I began. “What brought you three out to the rally today?”

The guy in the Nixon mask didn’t miss a beat. “We’re just here for The Roots,” he said dryly, referring to Questlove’s band that was slated to play.

Nixon then de-masked, revealing himself to be a cute guy in his mid-20s with sandy blonde hair and hazel eyes. We started talking about the rally and I found out quickly that Nixon (real name: Mike) lived in Philly doing AIDS research. He was also applying to medical school.

“Would you be my neurologist?” I asked suavely. (Note: do not flirt like me, ever).

As the rally went on, I was furiously scribbling notes of Stewart’s speech.

“The truth is, there will always be darkness,” he was telling the huge crowd. “And sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the Promised Land. Sometimes it’s just New Jersey.” Mike and I both laughed over that line.

As the rally winded down and Stewart thanked the crowd for restoring his sanity (“Sanity will always be and has always been in the eye of the beholder. To see you here today and the kind of people that you are has restored mine. Thank you”), I handed Mike my business card, possibly empowered by the rousing bit of Americana Stewart had just delivered, or possibly because I had failed to eat breakfast and was borderline delirious.

Either way, Mike took it and smiled, and we parted ways.

I would later find out that Mike accidentally dropped the card on the Mall as he was reaching for his phone and came back for it an hour later, sifting through the discarded Coke cans and paper littering the ground. Somehow he found the card, a little smudged and worse for the wear, and two weeks later, he messaged me on Facebook asking me for a date in New York.

Fast forward one year, and Mike moved from Philly to New York for medical school, living on campus in the Bronx. A year later, we moved in together in the East Village. We’ve often talked about how serendipitous it was to have met at all on the National Mall, given that there were 300,000 people there that day. Not a million-to-one odds, but close.

Mike popped the question this spring while we were traveling in Sweden, musing over those astounding odds – but luckily, he left the Nixon mask at home.

It seems strange to think that we owe our entire future to one day in Washington five years ago. But we do. And of course, we also owe it to Jon Stewart for putting that event on the calendar at all.

Before Stewart announced he was stepping down from the Daily Show, Mike and I scored tickets. We were planning to thank him for bringing us together during his routine Q&A session before the taping. But another couple trumped us, majorly. They were in New York for their honeymoon and were huge fans of the Daily Show. Thwarted!

So, Jon Stewart, if you’re reading this (hopefully on your farm in New Jersey, surrounded by cute and fuzzy animals) I wanted to thank you. Your rally restored not only my hope in America, but my hope in love in a way that you’ll never know.

[Images via the author and photo credit Cassandra Bianco]

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