Taxi driver Gene Bahr calls it a "little bump in the road." But he's not talking about the many potholes he swerves. He's referring to his love life, and that "little bump" was more like a 30-year mountain of heartache.
It all began in 1973, before cellphones and social media. He was a teenager dialing up the KDWB Jam Line on his rotary phone, listening to other teenagers chatting while they waited to request Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" and other hit songs of the era.
Bahr overheard a sweet girl's voice as she shared her phone number with another guy. He jotted it down and quickly dialed her up, trying to beat the other boy's callback. It worked. The girl, Shannon Vollmer, gave him an alias name of Cindy and the two chatted away for a couple years until Bahr got his driver's license as a sophomore at St. Paul's Harding High School and they started dating. He'd pick her up at Woodbury High School -- her Class of '77 would be its first graduates -- and drive her home.
One thing led to another. There were love letters, prom dates and finally a promise ring and a diamond engagement ring. Bahr, admittedly "young and dumb," decided to forgo college and enlist in the Army. After a three-year stint, they agreed to get married.
From 1978 to 1981, he'd drive home from Fort Riley in Kansas to visit. Shannon, though, wanted to "explore the world and check out her options." She broke off the engagement. Bahr kept trying to win her back. By 1981, he was out of the Army and she was adamant it was over.
So Bahr rode a Greyhound bus to Seattle and sold the engagement ring she'd returned to an Army buddy's brother for $500. He used the money to buy the guy's mother's used Datsun 510. For two months, heartbroken and unemployed, Bahr drove from Seattle down the Pacific Coast, over the Golden Gate Bridge, through Hollywood and down to Tijuana. He'd call Shannon from the road, to no avail.
Eventually, they both married others, settled in suburbs east of St. Paul, went to work and raised their children. Fast forward to 2009. By then, both were divorced and Shannon sent him a Facebook message.
"I wasn't thinking romance, I just had my curiosities," she said. "I figured there was no harm and if he were married, I'd respect that."
Bahr warmed up slowly, afraid of having his heart smashed again. After nine months of casual contact at coffee shops and Mickey's Diner, Shannon said: "Listen, Gene, I started my life with you and I want to finish it with you."
"How do you say 'no' to that?" Gene asked.
They finally married on June 2, 2010, at the Dakota County Courthouse with their kids looking on. This spring, they'll drive down that Pacific Coast highway together. "It's been wonderful," he said.
In Shannon's old flowered diary, she found an entry from April 1976 that read: "Gene is really one of the best."
Nearly 37 years later, she realizes just how right she was.