Steven Becker had been thinking about it for a while. Actually, he’d been thinking about it for a really long time if he was being honest with himself. He had prepaid the $2,000 registration fee for the evening’s event and now here he was, exiting the taxi outside of U and 14th, one of the most crowded and recognized intersections in Washington DC.
It’s not too late, to turn around and get the hell out of here, the half of his brain that was a little anxious and nervous to be there tells him.
Just go, the other half tells him. He moves his feet, putting one in front of the other, his Berluti Scritto leather slip-ons revealing his wealth while moving him towards the unmarked door of the Gibson’s speakeasy.
Inside, the subtlety lit room is filled with a modest crowd of other attractive, well to do and smartly attired men and handsome women clad in an array of mostly black cocktail dresses. Everyone here has been vetted by the dating agency to have commonalities in interests, financial means, and education. One of the men waves to him and makes his way over.
“Hi, I’m Josh, your host for this evening. And you are…?”
“Hi, I’m Steven Becker. Nice to meet you,” he says, and thrusts his out his hand for a pre-COVID handshake.
“Of course, the marvelous travel writer. We’re thrilled to have you here and I think you will find quite a few lovely ladies to engage with. Here is your scorecard. We’ll be starting once everyone is here. Feel free to get yourself a drink and mingle a bit.”
At the bar he sits down and tells the bartender with the gold hooped earring and goatee, “I’ll have a whiskey, straight up. Well really, better make it a double while you are at it, it’s going to be a long night.” And then hands him a twenty.
“This is my sixth time laying down for one of these events, I still have yet to find my dream mate,” the guy sitting next to him at the bar says while throwing air quotes around dream mate. “Every time I register, I am sure that this time will be THE time but I’m still looking. I’m Ronnie by the way. I’m in finance. How about you?”
“Steven Becker. This is my first time at one of these events.”
“Say, you’re not Steven Becker the travel writer, are you?”
“Yep, the one and only.”
“I’ve been reading your articles for years and you seem to have been everywhere. Paris. Brussels. Tokyo. Sydney. Cairo. Places I’ve never even heard of before. I wouldn’t think you’d need to pay to find a date or mate. I’d think you’d have women in every city.”
“I’ll tell you a secret Ronnie. I hate traveling. In fact, I’m terrified of flying. All that research for my articles is done from the comfort of my apartment, I have a really comfortable couch, and a great photographer I use who is a gem with photoshopping my image on location when necessary.”
“But you know where the hotspots are located. Which are the trending restaurants and bars. Things to do, go, see. I usually follow your suggested itineraries,” Ronnie says, his manicured eyebrows hefting up high on his angular face.
“Uncle Google is a great resource,” Steven says with a wink.
“Well, I’ll be damned.”
“Okay folks, if I can have your attention. We’re ready to get started,” Josh says over the hum of the crowd. “So, the rules are this. We have fourteen men and women in attendance tonight, so we’ll be seating the ladies and then the men will rotate to each woman. Each speed date will last ten minutes at which time we’ll be letting you know to move on. Please use the score sheet we’ve given you to check off anyone you’d like to be able to meet up with again in the future. You’ll be turning those cards into me at the end of the evening. Any set of matches, meaning if you like Jane for instance and she notes she likes you, will be considered a match and we’ll send you both each other’s email addresses tomorrow. It’s up to you to take it from there. There will be one ten-minute break halfway through the roughly 2-1/2 hours tonight. Good luck.”
Steven Becker finds himself seated in a cozy enclave upholstered in red leather with a pretty little brunette for his first date. She’s nice enough and spends the first seven minutes prattling on about her dog Cooper. He wonders if he could live with someone who bakes puppy biscuits shaped like fire hydrants and has stairs leading up to her bed so her dog can breeze up and down any time it pleases without waking her up. After the ten minutes he crosses Bridgette off his scorecard as he rotates to the next awaiting date.
“Hi, I’m Sunny,” a well-endowed redhead says brightly.
“I’m Steven. What do you enjoy doing Sunny?”
Turns out Sunny is a flight attendant who absolutely adores flying and is looking for a travel companion.
Bye-bye Sunny, he thinks as he lines through her name during the next rotation.
He meets Cynthia, a perky Ukrainian model who speaks nine languages and wants to fulfill her childhood dream of working for the U.N., before moving on to Beth, an economics professor at Georgetown who is recently divorced and itching to go on a long exotic summer vacation to all of the micro-Indonesian islands in an effort to exit her sorry, staid state of homeostasis.
By the time the break rolls around he’s also met Rachel, Samantha—who was actually kind of creepy on account of her ultra-long fingernails—and Lonnie. Lonnie is his first maybe. She didn’t talk about dogs and she wasn’t obsessed with globetrotting, but still, being an actress on Broadway sounded like it would make for a complicated dating partner and probably not the wife and mother of his children he was so desperately seeking. She was probably going to be a no too.
He hits the men’s room while he can, splashes some cold water on his face while he’s there, and then wanders back to the bar for another whiskey in the last remaining break minutes.
He notices Ronnie is talking rather closely to a stunning woman he hadn’t noticed was there before. It’s Zala Potocnik, a Slovenian model that he’s had his photographer use for many of his travel features. He hand-picked her for his stories because she represents the height of beauty. He is absolutely infatuated with her and has spent endless hours studying her face and curves. He has even built some of his stories around her. Wow, she’s here, he thinks. Now SHE is my kind of woman. He hopes that she hadn’t already picked Ronnie as a yes on her scorecard.
When Josh calls for the ladies to resume their places, and the men to rotate to their next date, Steven sees that Ronnie puts his hand on Zala’s back for the slightest moment and they smile at each other as they move towards their respective places. He notes where Zala sits and acertains that she will be Steven’s last encounter of the evening and he is determined to impress her.
He can hardly focus for the next hour as he speed interviews Debbie, Trish, Maya, Angel, Jessie, and Laura. All nice women, but none holding the allure and beauty that he knows awaits him when he gets ten minutes with Zala.
“Nice to finally meet you Steven Becker,” she says, extending her hand when he finally gets his ten minutes with Zala.
“You recognized me?”
“Ronnie told me who you were,” she said.
He hopes that Ronnie didn’t tell her that he is a big fat travel fraud.
“I’ve been honored to be spotlighted in so many of your articles, to have been sent to so many wonderful places to explore. I’m surprised our paths have never crossed on location. I hope we can change that.”
“I’d like that. To meet you on location I mean,” he says, and he really wants to mean it.
“Where is your next assignment?” she asks.
“We could have a really good time in Norway, Steven. I feel like I already know you from all of your writings.”
He realizes that he is still holding her extended hand, its soft, it’s so perfect, he almost wants to cry. He closes his eyes for just a moment and can see himself getting his butt off his couch, going places, doing things with Zala. He can see her in a beautiful white dress walking down the church aisle, holding their first born, cooking for their big family in a humungous house in the countryside, laughing together. He blinks again and she’s still there.
He sees that same smile she shot Ronnie and lies the lie he wants so badly to be truth, “But of course I’ll meet you in Norway. That’s a perfect idea.”