This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on September 2, 2012.
Few people would predict that the day they were stranded on a train for six hours would be the happiest day of their lives, but that’s what happened four years ago for Shari Dickstein.
At the time studying for her doctorate from Harvard, Dickstein, now 36, was traveling alone from Boston to New York for a friend’s engagement party. She got as far as Connecticut when the train came to an abrupt halt. (She didn’t know it at the time, but the train had struck and killed a person.) Several minutes passed, and lacking conversation, Dickstein took her laptop to the train’s bar where she could get an Internet connection.
“There wasn’t a young enough guy I’d want to talk to in a 10-mile range of my seat,” Dickstein recalled.
She settled in with a glass of wine and began streaming the Yankees vs. Red Sox baseball game until a man’s voice interrupted her.
“You’re a Yankees fan?” he asked. “I’m so sorry.”
The Red Sox fan was Craig Staub, a Boston native who had moved to the Bay Area to work in the semiconductor industry. Staub, now 37, had returned home to help judge a school science fair dedicated to the memory of his mother, who had been a popular science teacher.
“I immediately felt like he was someone I’d grown up with,” Dickstein said. “He had me laughing the entire time.”
The pair chatted for the rest of the six-hour delay. Staub entered his contact information directly into Dickstein’s laptop – “a ballsy move,” in her estimation – but Dickstein doubted it would be more than a one-time encounter.
“It was the best blind date of my life, and I thought I’d never see him again,” she said. “He lived in California, and I had no money for travel.”
When he finally reached his destination – one stop before hers – Dickstein said they had an awkward goodbye. Until Staub kissed her. Or did she kiss him? No one remembers for sure, but, according to Dickstein, “It was by far the best kiss of my life.”
When she finally arrived at the engagement party and told her friends about her journey, they all insisted this was “her guy.” But the serendipity and the prospect of a long-distance relationship left her uncertain.
Staub didn’t share those fears. He left voice mails and sent funny, flirty e-mails to Dickstein for three weeks. She ignored all of them. But on the advice of her friends, she finally picked up the phone. Their first call lasted three hours.
“From the minute I called back, it was a known thing that this would last,” Dickstein said.
She agreed to visit him a few weeks later, and they spent the weekend in Napa. The following year, Dickstein landed in the Bay Area to be with Staub for good.
In August 2011, Staub boarded a train alone again, but this time, in San Francisco, he knew Dickstein would be on board. He arranged for his co-worker to invite them to dinner in Palo Alto. Staub insisted Dickstein take Caltrain at a certain time, even though she had finished work early. And instead of meeting her at the restaurant as Dickstein was expecting, Staub was on that train.
He said he found her in her seat and pulled her into the compartment between train cars. “I didn’t want to do anything lame, and it took me a long time to come up with this plan,” Staub said. “Turns out I couldn’t do it in front of people.”
In the privacy of the tiny train compartment, he asked for her hand and presented her with his mother’s wedding ring. It fit perfectly.
And the real dinner Staub planned for the evening wasn’t in Palo Alto. It was in Napa, at the restaurant they went to on their first date three years earlier. By chance, they were seated at the same table and had the same waiter.
Dickstein and Staub married in July at Nestldown, a private estate in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Staub said they found it with a Google search for “weddings in the woods.”
Dan Fogelman, screenwriter for Disney Pixar films including “Cars,” “Bolt” and “Tangled,” performed the ceremony. He and Dickstein have been friends since age 11, when they met at a Jewish summer camp.
Wedding planners from San Francisco-based Events of Distinction helped the couple keep up the tradition of their “railway romance.” All the reception food stations were named after train stations and the wedding invitation was a train ticket. Staub wrote a Flash computer program that directed guests to their tables by flipping letters on virtual rolodexes to spell the words, like an old-fashioned train station directory board.
And after Staub and Dickstein said “I do,” they traveled to the outdoor reception on the small train that encircles the Nestldown estate. When they stepped off the car to a crowd of cheering guests, he kissed her. Or did she kiss him? No one remembers for sure.