On a busy Friday evening at VCU’s West Grace Panda Express, VCU student Rebecca Holland locked eyes with a stranger. She didn’t know it yet, but after years of waiting in line, this stranger would soon be known as the love of her life.
“I wasn’t there for love. I was there for one thing and one thing only: a Panda Bowl with fried rice and broccoli beef. I never could have expected what happened that night,” Holland said.
As the line inched forward little by little at its usual snail’s pace, which would begin their decades-long wait to get food, Holland struck up a conversation with a man next to her, VCU student Thomas Gilmore. What began as small talk would become one of the most memorable moments of Gilmore’s adult life.
“I just—I’ll never forget what he said to me. How he loved broccoli beef more than he loves retro patches for his denim jacket,” the dreamy eyed Holland recalled. There was an instant connection, and in the next few years they spent in line, anxiously awaiting their rice, Gilmore became anxious about more than just rice. He popped the question.
“I was so worried she’d say no to be honest, but we’d spent so long in that line together and like, life is fleeting,” Gilmore said, four years into their relationship. “I just had to ask.”
With just a few more years before they were able to put in their order, the Gilmore family began to grow faster than their hunger for the low-quality Chinese cuisine.
“This is our son,” Holland said, gesturing towards the now 18-year-old boy, Eggroll.
As the family finally arrived at the counter to order, the restaurant had run out of fried rice, as well as brown and white rice, but even if they would have had the option available, the Gilmore family said their tastes had changed throughout all these years.
“We realized we were older at this point,” Gilmore said. “There’s so much more to life than fried rice. Not a lot but a few things. We were ready for something bigger.”
With Eggroll now getting ready to go off to college soon, the family decided to embark on a new journey: Chipotle. The next few years they spent in line here were some of the highest and the lowest points for the couple.
“We were on top of the world some days. Other days we just couldn’t stop fighting over whether or not we would pay the extra few dollars for guac,” Holland said.
Despite it all, the couple couldn’t lose sight of what was really important here.
“You’d see a Panda Express bag blow past on the sidewalk outside and you just couldn’t stay mad. Especially not in front of Eggroll,” Gilmore said.
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