There was a time when area teen-agers hopefully cruised the parking lots of drive-in restaurants when they needed a date.
But the drive-in has gone the way of the poodle skirt, beehive hairdos and big cars. Shy teens in Northern Virginia are turning to the symbol of their high-technology age: the personal computer.
Thanks to Rick Hoover's Apple II computer, it is now possible for teen-agers to find a date for as little as $2.
Hoover, a 19-year-old computer science major at George Mason University, calls his service Teendate. He claims it's one of the largest computerized dating services in the country run exclusively for teen-agers. "I've never heard of another one," said Cindy Thacker of Together, an adult dating service with six offices in the Washington and Baltimore areas.
Hoover said Teendate, which he incorporated in January and runs from his home in Burke, has 462 paying members in the metropolitan area.
Prospective members fill out an application that asks such things as, "Will you date someone without the use of a car?" or "Will you date someone who is overweight?"
Hoover files the information in his Apple computer. Once a month, he mails individuals who have paid the $12 annual fee the names, yearbook photos and phone numbers of compatible teen-agers.
"Our people would have to come from all over," Hoover said. "And the problem is a lot of our people aren't old enough to drive."
Options offered by his service include free listings in a dating pool and a one time, $2 matchup good, Hoover says -- if you need a prom date in a hurry. "We're getting a lot of prom calls now," he said. "It's the season, and people are getting panicked."
When asked how much money he has made, Hoover said, "It's not McDonald's or anything. It's just fun for me, and I like it. I'm not making more than $4 an hour, when you consider the postage I send out once a month."
To advertise the service, he has hired students to pass handbills out at shopping malls ("Teendate -- For Exquisite Individuals"), but he relies heavily on word of mouth.
Eventually, Hoover wants to sponsor a variety of activities, such as dances or hikes, where teens could meet without having to go through the trauma of a solo date. "You forget how you were when you were 14 about that kind of thing," he said.
Julie Stuller, 17, a junior at West Springfield High School, joined Teendate two months ago and so far has had one "very nice" date. She and her date talked on the telephone a couple of times before meeting at a movie. "I'm into skiing, and he's into skiing, but of course we couldn't do that now," she said.
The mother of another Teendate client was appalled to learn her daughter had used the service. "Teendate?" the mother said, slowly. "My daughter? You say that my daughter belongs to a dating service?"
At Fairfax County's W.T. Woodson High School, students yesterday reacted with a mixture of skepticism to the idea of computerized matchmaking.
"It could be kind of fun," mused Charlotte Kidd, 15, a freshman. But, she said, transportation could be a problem. "I'm not allowed to get into cars with anybody yet," she said.
"Computer dating? I don't think so," said Bill Carnell, 15, a sophomore. "It would depend on how hard up I was. But, if you look around here, there's so many girls just waiting to be asked out."
Others said they would consider Teendate for a one-time event, but probably not a prom. "What if they were really ugly, and then you'd be stuck with them?" one girl said.
"I think Teendate would be neat -- something new and exciting," said Heidi Nugent, 15, a sophomore. "It would be like a blind date."
"It would be exciting," said Deanne Smart, 17, a junior. "It would give you something different, that's not routine."
"Probably a dating service wouldn't be for me," said Greg Rafuse, 14, a freshman. "I'm pretty lucky -- in fact, I'm on the hunt right now."
"Stupid idea," said Bill Sherwood, 16, a junior. "I don't have any problems getting dates."