L.A. Affairs

Cautious driver faces the prospect of a blind turn

L.A. Affairs: A driver's blind turn on the 405

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 hadn't been a personal driver long. It was a way to make extra cash, working the South Bay and Long Beach. She was my first job in Redondo Beach, and she had kept me waiting for 15 minutes outside her apartment. When she appeared, she was in a black cocktail dress and flip-flops. She carried a pair of blue high heels in one hand and her clutch purse in the other. She was friendly and complimented me on my tie.

"I'm so sorry. I've been running behind all day," she said.

"It's OK," I replied.

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The traffic on the 405 north was moderate. I figured I could get her to Hollywood in a half hour or so, but clouds had lingered for most of the day, and it had started to rain. I had already seen two accidents on the way to pick her up, so I was being extra cautious. We engaged in the usual chitchat. She asked how long I had been driving. I told her a few weeks. She told me about her job in broadcasting and how she loathed having to go out on weekends, especially to Hollywood. I agreed that Hollywood had changed, or maybe I had just gotten older and it had lost its appeal.

"Roads are slick," I said. "People drive too fast in the rain here."

I merged into the slow lane. She reached into her purse and produced a small compact. She was finishing her makeup.

"I look all right?" she asked.

"Yes. You look nice."

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She laughed. "Does that make you uncomfortable? Are clients not supposed to ask those types of questions?"

I told her it was fine. Conversation always put the clients at ease, especially women traveling alone. She seemed to relax the more we talked.

"Damn," she said, "I forgot to call my sister and tell her I've left. She likes to make sure I'm safe."

She spoke to her sister and reassured her that she was fine and that she'd call her after the event. I took the offramp to La Cienega and got bogged down in traffic around Pann's.

"This is why I never leave the South Bay," she said. "Traffic all the way to Hollywood." She was looking at a travel app on her phone when she got a text. She said it was her sister reminding her to text once she got to Hollywood.

"If I don't text my sister throughout the night, she has a fit. I wish she'd get out more."

She explained that her sister was a very attractive girl and had gotten into fitness modeling. After dating a string of the wrong kinds of men, she opted to focus more on her career. She stayed in most weekends.

I had grown quiet, fearing where our conversation was leading. Then it came, the dreaded: "So, do you date much? Are you married?"

I rarely talk about my personal life, especially with strangers. However, she had a kind of openness that I appreciated, and I found myself opening up too. I told her I had been in a relationship that had ended. We had recently entered that awkward phase of trying to find a way to be friends — a phase that required some form of make-believe, pretending that our emotions and any lingering romantic urgings were gone.

She was sympathetic.

"You'll find someone awesome. It just takes time."

I had heard that continuously in the past few months, and, frankly, it never seemed to make me feel any better. That's the curse of a breakup: No matter what people say, it's a dark valley you have to navigate on your own.

We were a few miles south of Sunset when she decided to call her sister, again. During their conversation, she mentioned me.

"Yes, I already told you, the driver is not crazy. Actually, I think you would like him."

I stayed silent. There was no protocol for this. She was trying to set me up.

"Yes, he works out," she said followed by a chuckle. She soon ended the call. I drove north on Ivar and found a meter.

"So, my sister wants you to call her." She handed me a small piece of paper with a phone number.

"She's never met me."

"You're a good guy. She trusts me."

I told her I'd think about it. I wasn't sure I needed to be dating at the time. The wound was still fresh and I was emotionally fatigued.

"You can call her while you wait."

I was hesitant to say anything. I smiled, appeasing her. She headed toward the club's entrance. I fed the meter, walked a bit and then got back in the car.

I placed the number on the passenger's seat and tuned the radio to jazz. After listening to a few songs, I got up the courage and took the phone from my suit pocket.

Aaron Philip Clark is a crime author and English professor. He moonlights as a personal driver.

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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