HE WAS LOOKING FOR LOVE, driving a Nissan pickup out of a 7-Eleven parking lot in Leesburg. She was a brunette in a blue Honda, headed south on Route 15. Their eyes met. She waved. What to do? Why, of course, he followed her. That is, he followed her . . . all the way to the place where he made his usual daily turnoff and went to work.
Can there be, I wondered -- reading the ad the man subsequently placed in the personals section of the newspaper -- any purer expression of what is wrong, romance-wise, with Washington? A woman waves at a man and he . . . drives off to work?
The ad ran recently in the "You Caught My Eye" section of the Washington Post personal ads, a niche segment of what is clearly still a growth industry. Even in these days of Internet chat rooms and online dating services, the low-tech classified seems as popular a meeting ground as ever. Not only are there old-fashioned ads for men seeking women and women seeking men but also ads for seniors seeking seniors, tennis players seeking tennis players and even people who -- why is this the most poignant? -- just want a friend. To me, though, the Caught My Eye section is the most reliably fascinating, maybe because it's the only place where people describe not some fantasy date but someone they really did glimpse, then lost sight of. Maybe because it's an example of the ridiculous places in which love can strike. Maybe because it's so, I don't know, so Washington.
Which is to say, because romantic encounters seem so often to involve commuting. One person will be going to work, or just getting off work, when all of a sudden there is The Girl of His Dreams in the rearview mirror: "6/12 YOU in a blk car at light. Me in a blk truck. You got on 395. Dinner?" is a classic of the genre, as is "Commuting, 6/15: You in red truck, me in Honda. Smiles! Single? Call me?" Around the region -- on 395, on 270, on 123 -- people are gazing at each other wistfully or perhaps just gazing at each other's cars wistfully: "Wyoming four-wheel parked in front of Mr. Barber, Falls Church, Thurs., 6/17" was one ad that I stared at for a while, wondering whether it was written by a man attracted to a woman; a woman attracted to a man; or whether someone, male or female, had written a love note to the car.
Of course, dangerous commuter arteries aren't the only places where sparks are flying. So exciting is this town as a place to live and date that people are finding love -- for example -- at Lowe's in Waldorf, where one "Tom" encountered one "W/F in black skirt/white shirt" and recalled, "We talked poison ivy. Yes/no?" Yes, no, what? Caladryl versus cortisone?
And why are Washingtonians -- as a breed -- so unable to articulate emotion? Are we thinking too hard? "Showed you A-1 and ice; should have showed you my number, too," lamented one habitue of the Burke Safeway. "You: pretty brunette who went in for a hot dog. Wish I'd said more than hi," wrote a man at a Tysons 7-Eleven.
When not carousing in Metro stations and supermarkets, we meet, naturally, in strange corners of the suburbs: "Alex, Police Department: 6/22: Park/Fairfax. Thanks for help w/my screen door. Single? Dinner?" read another ad that mystified me. Two people had met in an Alexandria police station? One was carrying a screen door? Or -- this eventually struck me as the most likely scenario -- had a suburban woman fallen for the officer who answered her 911 call?
A friend of mine theorizes that -- in Washington as everywhere -- the Caught My Eye ads show the real difference between men and women. That is, she argues, these ads prove once again that men are attracted to egregious superficialities: "Farragut Square runner, young F. Noontime, 6/4. You had a nice stride, headed for K Street," wrote a man who described himself, creepily, as "the handsome Gent seated at your left." Similarly attentive to physical detail was one Metro rider who appeared to be taking notes: "Orange line, 6/10 a.m. ride from VA to DC. You: tall, brown hair, green eyes (?), white linen, 4-button short-sleeves, navy slacks, raised heel slings." Whereas women, presumably, are attracted to more profound qualities such as finding somebody who can fix that darn door. Just how easy is it, guys, to win her heart? Really, really easy: "Red line, Monday June 7, 8:00 a.m. You: very nice, commercial real estate, moved your briefcase for me and got off at Metro Center."
On the other hand, what about the men who do in fact find minds attractive? "Rachel: We met while in line for tickets to Shakespeare Free-for-All at Carter Barron . . . Enjoyed talking with you," read one ad; another man recalled himself as the "BM beside you and daughter" at the "Tarzan movie, 6/19, Fairfax Towne Center." He saw the single mom; he saw the daughter; he would accept the package. How genuinely romantic. Apparently, even in Washington love can flourish in isolated pockets and unexpected ways; hence "Me reading `Black Enterprise' " was smitten by "You singing `Here and Now.' " Doubtless, while both were traveling at top speed in opposite directions on the Beltway.
Liza Mundy's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.