What fun Hans and Janel will have their rest of their lives describing how Hans proposed to Janel.
Take a John le Carre spy novel, add "You’ve Got Mail," and you start to get the idea.
First, some preliminaries: Hans Erchinger is 27; Janel Davis is 26. He’s from Bellingham; she’s from Snohomish.
Hans makes documentaries and has other jobs. Janel is a grant writer and substitute teacher.
They both attended Western Washington University, but didn’t meet until the summer of 2003 when they drove tour buses for competing companies in Skagway, Alaska.
In Janel’s view, they shared quirky natures and a love of travel, but she thought Hans was a little too smooth with the ladies, at one time calling him a "Christian Casanova." For Hans, Janel’s aloofness made her even more intriguing.
But their mutual interest and they eventually began dating. Last November began thinking about marriage.
That’s when the wheels started spinning in Hans’ head. You see, Janel had a 1975 Mercedes wagon to sell, so she listed it on the Internet. That created the virtual opening for Hans’ plan to surprise Janel with a marriage proposal in a faraway place.
Hans, who had traveled in Europe and was familiar with England, signed up for a Yahoo email account through the company’s England office. That created a United Kingdom email extender for his fictitious "John Beef" character, who replied to Janel’s Mercedes ad.
Hans sent his John Beef emails from a computer at his late-night job, so the clock time would jibe with the time in England. He even misspelled Janel’s name in the first email, to lend credibility.
After a few back-and-forths about the car, Beef mentioned that he and his wife, Patricia – (a bit of word play there, because Patricia Beef equals Beef Patty) – planned to stage a Mercedes show in Oxford and they wondered whether Janel might want to apply to be their "spokesperson with an American accent."
"We Brits love the accent," Beef explained.
Hans had cast the line, and Janel took the hook.
She indeed was interested in the job. Beef later informed Janel that an associate had agreed to do the job for free, but Beef’s "travel coordinator" had already bought non-refundable air tickets for Janel, so would she still like to come to England? His wife, Patty, would be in London and could meet her for tea at the Savoy Hotel.
Sure, Janel replied.
Hans was reeling in the line.
Now, step back for a moment. How did Hans pull this off?
To start, he had some help. His roommate and Janel’s roommate were both in the know and played along. Even Janel’s folks knew and continued to act appropriately worried. Hans counted on Janel’s rebelliousness to compel her to go to England.
Plus, Janel checked on her email messages at Hans’ home, so he could look over her shoulder and comment on this John Beef fellow, and help Janel compose her replies.
"There were times I wanted to burst out laughing," Hans said.
Janel said she wasn’t overly concerned about Beef’s offer of free tickets because she didn’t have any obligation to visit him, she was going to stay with a friend of a real friend in London, and she had only promised to visit Mrs. Beef in a public place.
But Hans still had details to worry about. He’d bought two tickets for England, one for Janel and one for himself, on the same flight. He asked the airlines to seat them far apart on the plane, hoping the distance and his disguise would conceal his ruse.
Using the excuse that he had to work on a film, Hans drove Janel to Tacoma so a friend could take her to the airport. He then stayed with a different friend nearby and came to the airport separately, packing his disguise – a set of new clothes, glasses, a wig and a glue-on mustache.
"It looked pretty real," Janel said, "but slightly askew."
By luck, the flight was crowded, so the airline offered a free ticket to passengers who would fly to London a few hours later. Janel went for the freebie, so Hans flew alone.
Janel was scheduled to meet Mrs. Beef at 3 p.m. at the Savoy. Hans, in disguise, arrived early and waited outside, map in hand, ready to ask her for directions.
Janel walked by, but Hans didn’t see her. Suddenly he saw her rounding a corner.
"Excuse me," he said. "Do you know where King’s Cross is?"
Janel saw the man’s phony mustache and became wary.
"No" she replied, backing away and turning to flee.
Hans didn’t know what to do.
"Janelly, it’s me!" he yelled.
Janel realized it was Hans, but still didn’t put it all together.
"I’m thinking he’s going to propose," she said. "Should we tell Patricia Beef?"
Hans led Janel to a nearby square, got down on one knee and asked her to marry him.
Janel, still a bit dazed, accepted.
"This whole time I’m thinking, ‘There’s no Mercedes show?’" she said.
Hans explained it all to her and they spent several more days in London before jetting home.
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