L.A. Affairs

Dates, music, Pinot are nice, but she belongs to the city

L.A. Affairs: It was something bigger that plucked at her heartstrings

L.A. Affairs is our weekly column about the current dating scene in and around Los Angeles -- and finding romance in a wired world. If you've got a story to tell, we want to hear it. We pay $300 per published column. Past columns and submission guidelines are at latimes.com/laaffairs

"I've had this pizza before, but it tastes better this time … must be the company."

I smiled at his comment and turned nearly as red as the pepperoni on my slice of Casa Bianca pizza during a third date with Kevin, a music lover from Los Feliz.

It tasted better than I remembered too. Not only because I was feeding a flock of butterflies dancing in my stomach but also because I honestly couldn't remember the last time I was there. When I was 5, my family moved from Eagle Rock to Orange County. I'd asked Kevin if he wanted to grab dinner at Casa Bianca in the old neighborhood before a concert, since my family used to love that place.

The warm atmosphere, old-school checkered tablecloths, thin-crust pizza and, yes, the company, captured my heart as I began to form not only a connection with a person but also with a city I'd left behind, perhaps too soon.

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Afterward, we watched Ben Sollee perform at the Luckman at Cal State L.A. I was unfamiliar with this talented cellist but was quickly endeared by his passionate plucking and friendly demeanor; by the time I heard him play the opening notes of Paul Simon's "Obvious Child," I was a full-blown fan. The small crowd was full of people of all ages and quickly took on a communal feel, which culminated in us all joining in a Pete Seeger-style sing-along as Sollee climbed through the audience. Kevin stole a kiss at the end of the show, and I felt giddy, like I belonged, maybe with him, maybe in situations like this.

As we drove away, I ogled the unique Craftsman-style homes in the area accented with eclectic fences, succulent gardens and large windows lighting up the bougainvillea branches, which lingered into neighbors' yards. They reminded me of our small one-bathroom home in Eagle Rock, where my parents started our family; it was covered in those same sprawling magenta flowers. Kevin said he'd love to live here one day if he could afford it. My mind jumped to the future, and I pictured us settling down in one of those beautiful bungalows, enjoying a lifetime of concerts, culture and … love? Too soon to tell, but something was knocking at my heart.

Our mutual love of music was the foundation of our relationship. After all, we did meet at the Hotel Café. I'd asked him how the Pinot Noir was, and he offered me a sip. Intrigued and a bit wary (Mom told me never to share drinks with strangers!), I took him up on the offer. With that first taste, I wanted more. I wanted more of him, but I also wanted more of the city. On our first date, he took me to the Troubadour to see a bluegrass band. Our second date was another Hotel Café show.

We never made it to a third round there. He wasn't as available as I'd wanted, and I broke things off when I met someone in Orange County who seemed as if he would move mountains for me. Ultimately, that relationship ended, but Kevin and I kept in touch.

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When one of my favorite artists was playing at the Fonda Theatre, Kevin invited me up. Fresh off a breakup, I secretly hoped he may be single again, but no. We walked to the rooftop bar, lined with twinkling lights and surrounded by a stunning view of Hollywood. We weren't holding hands, his arm wasn't around me, he was committed to his girlfriend, but I was loved by another force. Something bigger was holding me up and letting me know that I was just fine alone.

My experiences with L.A. dating started before Kevin, with a screenwriter named Mark. Where Kevin showed me downtown life, Mark showed me the ritzier side. I sipped from a different glass of Pinot Noir with Mark. On our first date at SoHo House, while staggering down the stairs, focused on not tripping in my heels, I looked up to catch Arnold Schwarzenegger walking beside me. My wonderment continued at Firefly in Studio City and at Mozza, where I ate the best pizza I've had outside of Italy.

Where Mark took me to Mozza, Kevin took me to All' Angolo, next to a Baskin-Robbins in Koreatown. I was equally enamored of both — the classy feel of the first and the familial charm of the second.

And maybe that's what I love about Los Angeles: the diversity of experience, the innate magic in the glamour and the grit, ready to cast its spell around every corner. While my relationships with Kevin and Mark ended, I have them to thank for introducing me to a third party that was vying for my affection all along. While we dated, I was also dating Los Angeles. This romance bloomed steadily, naturally, uncontrollably, like the bougainvillea. It asked nothing of me other than open eyes and an open heart. The city's branches wrapped their vines around me, and I felt re-rooted. I fell in love with a city. I fell for L.A.

Horrigan is an English teacher who lives in Orange County. She blogs at flavorandsubstance.wordpress.com.

L.A. Affairs chronicles dating in and around Los Angeles. If you have comments or a true story to tell, write us at home@latimes.com.

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