For Washington singles on the lookout for love, there are bars, the "social" Safeway store in Georgetown and the personals--for those brave enough--in the back pages of The Washingtonian. And then there is the L-7.
Call it The Lovebus. As the L-7 Metrobus rumbles up and down Connecticut Avenue past its swanky apartment towers during rush hour, it draws together young professionals, giving them a chance to look for a mate, or just a date, while hunting for a seat.
For Donna and Jack Taurman, who met on the L-7, Alice Heuser and Mark Herlach, who fell in love on the L-7 and married three weeks ago, and undoubtedly other passionate passengers, the express bus from Chevy Chase Circle to Federal Triangle worked a special magic.
Metro Supervisor C.B. Carter, a self-described "professional people watcher" who has dispatched the L-7 from Chevy Chase Circle for nine years, says he's witnessed many amorous episodes in the route's heart-throbbing history.
"There are people here standing waiting for the L-7. They strike up conversations and they leave here holding hands," Carter says.
As of Friday, though, the L-7 goes the way of the trolley and the 40-cent fare. With the extension of Metro Red Line service to Van Ness duplicating most of the L-7's route, Metro officials decided to drop the 40-year-old bus line. After tomorrow, Love will have to find another way.
While the legend of the L-7 is not widely known, Donna Taurman, who found not only her husband on the bus but several dates before him as well, says flirting is a subtle, but undeniable, ritual on the L-7.
"A lot of people who take it are working people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. It becomes a singles bus. If you ride it you can kind of see people eying each other," explains the 30-year-old marketing expert.
"It's easy to strike up a conversation because so many people are standing. And you know everybody on the bus has a job, at least," says Alice Heuser, a 33-year-old businesswoman who literally fell into her future husband when the bus lurched one day.
Jack Taurman, a lawyer who rode the bus four years before meeting Donna in 1978, said the L-7 "can be sort of a social world for the shy person like me.
"Part of being an L-7er--for males and females--is they're on the lookout," Taurman says. "But it can be frustrating. If you don't talk to someone the first time you see them they could be lost. You've got to talk to them when you see them or you're out of luck."
The day Taurman met his future wife, he looked up from his newspaper at each stop as usual to see who was getting on. He spotted Donna, was attracted by her looks, and then sprawled out on his seat to make sure no one else would sit next to him. When Donna climbed aboard, he scrunched against the window to make it clear the seat was meant for her. To his joy, she sat down.
"The whole trip is only 20 minutes and I couldn't think of anything to say for 10 minutes," he remembers. Finally Donna broke the ice by asking him about the art of folding a newspaper for bus-reading. They married last June.
Many other unrecorded romances are said to have started on the L-7, as it picks up smartly dressed commuters at high-rises with names like Jocelyn House, The Kenmore or La Reine and drops them off at the city's prestigious law firms and lobbying offices.
"It's a nonthreatening place. People are usually dressed up, ready for work, looking their best. You get a chance to size someone up," said one man we'll call the Don Juan of the L-7 because he doesn't want his real name used.
Don Juan, who has dated about five women he's met in five years of riding the L-7, and Jack Taurman, who used to daydream on the bus about whether the blond who got on last week would get on again, offer a few pickup pointers for would-be wooers:
"You come here often?" is a typical opening line, a bus stop substitute for "What's your sign?" or "What's your major?" Don Juan says he has seen some riders, who he knows take the bus every day, ask, "Excuse me, how much is the bus today?" just to hear someone's voice and decide if they sound stupid.
"You gotta check for rings," Taurman warns. "She may be engaged or even married. The risks are very high on the bus for total rejection--and total rejection in front of strangers."
"Some men are very obvious about their intentions on the bus," Don Juan observes. "A dead giveaway is if a man sits next to a woman when there are 20 empty seats."
L-7 riders tell you there is more to the bus than romance on wheels. It is also special to many of the elderly women from Upper Connecticut Avenue who use it as their lifeline to stores and entertainment downtown. The bus is so popular that nearly 1,000 people recently signed a petition in a fruitless drive to save the bus.
Carter, a Metro supervisor, says he's even sorrier to see the L-1, the Capitol Hill Express, also end tomorrow. "The L-1 is the prestige line," he says. "Everyone in the world wants to ride the L-1 because they want to impress their peers by looking like they're going to Capitol Hill, when really they're only going to 17th and K."
Some L-7 riders find it impossible to believe the bus has a reputation for romance.
"How could it? There's too many lawyers on it," was one reaction. L-7 driver Alvin Durham claimed there are no love affairs on board "unless you can have a romance with a newspaper."
"Surely you jest," was 12-year-rider Madeline Kramer's response. "All you're trying to do on a rush-hour bus is survive. The only romance is if you fall in someone's lap."
Now that the L-7 is fading, can love move to the subway? There are several theories on this question.
Metro supervisor Carter says the trains are too impersonal and it's hard to see people regularly because subway riders generally just catch the first train that comes along.
On the other hand, Jack Taurman points out that the bus is static--"you can be two people away on the bus and you might as well be two miles away"--whereas the train offers more opportunities to mingle.
That, at least, is what Metro officials hope. "It's a shame to break that up," said Richard Dawson, Metro's bus operations specialist, when told about the L-7's tender tradition. "Maybe they'll meet on the subway."