by Will Reisman, @willreisman
For months, Ben Talbert-Goldstein and Michelle Senn would see each other on Caltrain, both at the San Francisco 4th and King station where they boarded, and at the San Antonio station where they got off in Mountain View.
And while they caught each other’s eye, shyness prevented them from taking the bold first step to start up a conversation. That was until a Friday the 13th in September of 2013, when Ben finally resolved to sit next to Michelle on a train heading to San Francisco.
“I was on a train car that was basically empty,” said Michelle, who works as a graphic designer for a startup in Mountain View. “And he came up and sat next right next to me. I had noticed him for like six months, and now he was right next to me. I just thought, ‘oh my gosh,’ he’s finally talking to me.”
“It was definitely impulsive,” said Ben, who also works in Mountain View, as an engineer. “I didn’t really have a great game plan going in.”
Despite Ben’s lack of prep time, the two hit it off immediately, talking the entire trip back to San Francisco. Their relationship quickly grew from there.
“We had this great conversation on a Friday, and then spent the whole weekend together, but the next Monday, he wasn’t on the train,” said Michelle. “And I got very nervous that he didn’t like me and he didn’t get on the train because he was trying to avoid me. It turns out he was just working from home that day.”
Ben serendipitous move to approach Michelle turned out to be particularly prescient. A native of Switzerland, Michelle’s Visa was expiring, and she was set to go back home just two weeks after their initial encounter. Following 11 days of spending time with each other “pretty much 24/7,” Ben decided to propose to Michelle over dinner at Foreign Cinema, a restaurant in San Francisco.
“It was kind of a weak proposal—more like, ‘if I were to ask you to get married, what would you say,’” said Ben. “And she answered ‘of course.’”
With those plans set in motion, Michelle returned to Switzerland, and over the next half-year, the two would see each other once and a month and talk on the phone every day.
“It was all very natural,” said Ben. “Things went fast, but in a very organic way.”
During Michelle’s application process to move back to the U.S., she applied for a Visa lottery, which would have fast-tracked her return.
“We talked about if we would still get married if I won the Visa lottery, and we both were so quick to say yes,” said Michelle. “We both knew how special it was.”
The couple got married in San Francisco on June 13, 2014 (another Friday the 13th), a special moment they said would have been impossible without Caltrain.
“We actually only lived a few blocks away from each other in San Francisco, but there is no way we would have met without taking the train,” said Michelle. “Riding on Caltrain is a great way to get to know someone, because you have such a long time to talk with each other. Our relationship really grew because of the train.”
The two, who will celebrate their nine-month anniversary with an early Valentine’s Day Dinner today (yep, another Friday the 13th), still take Caltrain every day. They board with their bikes at the San Francisco Caltrain Station in the morning, and get off in the evening at the 22nd Street Station, a short distance from their Mission District home.
The two said they are happily married, in what has turned out to be a storybook romance so far. Well, almost.
“I actually got the nerve to speak with her a few months before we officially met, because I was on the train one day and saw that she had a passport,” said Ben. “So I asked to see the passport and noticed that she was from Switzerland. I assumed she spoke French, so any time I’d walk by her at the station, I’d say “bonjour!” Turns out, she’s Swiss-German, so she never really understood why I was speaking to her in French.”