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L.A. Affairs: My mom said I’d know it was a date if he offered to drive me home

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My mom said I’d know it was a date if he offered to drive me home.
(Tess Richards / For The Times)

I was 20 and carless. Cam was 25 and the owner of a 2011 silver Ford Focus. We met interning for a late-night talk show, where we worked together on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank.

He was renting a room in Pasadena — about 30 minutes east of the lot. I was living just outside DTLA, near USC.

The first time he offered, I assumed it was a fluke. We were just getting off work on a Friday when he casually proposed giving me a ride home.

I interpreted his offer as a one-time gallant gesture he felt compelled to make because six days earlier he’d come over to watch a movie and ended up spending the night in my bed.

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Driving me home was a not-so-casual, 60-minute detour. Cam had to head south on the 5, then hop on the 110 and exit at Vermont to drop me off, only to turn around to head home just when traffic was thickest.

Once we’d spent the night together, there had been an incubation period of uncertainty.

Cam and I passed that workweek in friends-with-newly-minted-benefits purgatory, doing our best to seem nonchalant by mirroring each other’s emotional output.

Our texts went from stream-of-consciousness to measured and intentional. Our positioning in the office became a geometry of subtext. At what distance should I place myself to imply interest but not obsession? For how long could I laugh with a male coworker to inspire intrigue, perhaps a twinge of jealousy, but not despondence? We were highly attuned to each other.

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A key bit of backstory happened a few weeks earlier, before I even knew what kind of car Cam drove. In a mess of “Are we friends, or are we flirting?” texts, we had made plans to go to the movies on a Sunday night.

When I was talking to my mom on the phone that morning, I told her I had plans that evening with a friend from work — but I had no idea if it was a date or just an amorphous hangout.

My mom said I’d know it was a date if he offered to drive me home.

That night, he didn’t.

So the first time he offered to drive me home, I assumed it wouldn’t happen again.

But then, more often than not, we found ourselves leaving the office at the same time, letting the backs of our hands brush as we walked side by side.

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In the car we’d recap the workday, listening to music that would soon become reminiscent of our relationship. We’d reach over the center console to touch each other. A hand on the thigh, a palm on the back of the neck — like we needed constant reassurance this relationship was grounded in physical reality.

We were lulled by the routine of the drive. Sometimes I’d invite him in to watch a movie, sometimes he’d stay the night, but more often than not he’d just drop me off. To head home Cam would retrace his route on the 110 but stay on it past the 5, heading east until he made it back to his apartment — his finished course the shape of a lazily written Y.

Soon we were spending every ounce of free time together. At the office, we became the other’s confidant. I would search Cam gaze for any sign of an eye roll, brow raise or smirk. I could feel his crush on me.

And the more he liked me, the more I chipped away at his gold star work ethic.

Soon we were shirking all responsibilities. We spent our days huddled in the copy room, sitting on boxes of paper and gossiping about coworkers. He made me laugh so hard I had to shove my fist against my mouth to catch my breath.

Outside the office, we traversed Los Angeles. We drove to the Griffith Observatory and looked out over the illuminated city. On Halloween we drove into Hollywood to visit the Museum of Death. We drove to the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach and spent hours in the cool calm of glass tanks, imagining social drama between the “hot” tropical fish, the “brawny” sharks and the “uggo” deep sea creatures.

Because I didn’t have a car, I understood L.A. by neighborhoods, not freeways. Discussing L.A.’s infamous freeways made me feel like a fraud, like I was back in high school answering essay questions on an AP bio test. I had memorized the terms but didn’t understand their mechanisms. With Cam, it didn’t matter that I wasn’t fluent. In fact, I loved the abdication of power inherent to the passenger seat.

During these car rides, I fell in love — an emotion that hovered above the center console, thick as honey between us. Suddenly, I had it, the easy and obvious connection I had only ever observed in others, like a spectator at the zoo.

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With Cam I felt peaceful in a way I didn’t know possible in romantic relationships.

At the end of the year, Cam would drive home to the East Coast to finish his degree. As the weeks ticked by, his departure date hovered over our relationship like a fog, infusing our dynamic with a sense of urgency. (When Cam and I started dating, I assumed our bond was a seasonal romp that would end with the internship — a fond memory to look back on, nothing more.)

But two months later, I was sitting in the passenger seat of Cam’s car, paused in a blurry silence because I had just said “I love you.” We were pulled over on Pacific Coast Highway, where we’d parked to watch the sunset at El Matador State Beach.

I’d never said that out loud to a guy before, but I didn’t feel nervous.

I felt sure.

The following year, I flew to Cam’s hometown in Florida and we spent the next two weeks driving cross-country — moving our relationship back to Los Angeles.

Now we live together in a tiny apartment in Silver Lake with a lemon tree outside. Three years have passed and of all the places we’ve visited, his 2011 Ford Focus is still our favorite spot.

The author is a writer. She’s on Twitter @Sophia__Ortega.


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