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L.A. Affairs: He didn’t have a car. Was I more than just a ride?

I lived in Costa Mesa. He lived in Pasadena — and he didn't drive.
I lived in Costa Mesa. He lived in Pasadena — and he didn’t drive.
(Cameron Cottrill / For The Times)

NorCal-raised, I was new to Orange County, and fresh out of college. I was reveling in the intoxicating independence of both being in a new place and having my own car for the first time: namely, a ’98 Buick Century that had been decaying in my aunt’s garage in Riverside for years. The constant visits to the mechanic for unusual repairs left me unfazed. I was ready to take it anywhere. Everything that Greater L.A. draws criticism for — the maze of freeways, the sprawling cities — was, to me, an invitation to explore. I would get excited just from plotting my route on Google Maps.

This is probably why I was amenable to an invitation to a Tinder date with a guy from Pasadena, at a restaurant in Pasadena. (This was prior to the coronavirus shutdown, of course.) He was the first person I’d met in L.A. who didn’t have a car, so there was no easy option for meeting halfway. But I had enjoyed our conversations over shared geeky interests, so I viewed it as an adventure and accepted.

So, Costa Mesa to Pasadena. Friday afternoon. I was just relieved that it was an overcast day, because my less-than-trusty steed had no AC. When I arrived 2½ hours later at the Indian restaurant we had agreed upon, darkness had fallen. The beef vindaloo was tasty and my companion was pleasing to the eye, although hardly loquacious. Afterwards, we wandered around downtown for over an hour, both of us tossing around haphazard topics of conversation, mutually uncertain where the night was heading. Eventually, he invited me to come over to his place, which I gladly agreed to. It was out of sincere interest — potentially not having to drive all the way back that night was merely a fringe benefit.

But if there’s one thing I appreciate in a relationship, it’s equality. So I felt an inevitable twinge of resentment when he didn’t acknowledge the hours I spent breathing exhaust to have dinner with a stranger in a strange city. Heading toward his place, as we made our way out of the parking garage, I fantasized that in return for my effort, he would offer to pay for my parking. Or at least chip in. But he didn’t — and I didn’t comment.

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It was a telling moment for how our future relationship would be. As is so often the case at the beginning, we allow these moments to pass by us and pray that we aren’t looking into a crystal ball. But more often than not, we’re indeed being shown the future.

And so it came to pass that I would make this drive nearly every weekend, braving the Friday traffic and returning late Sunday night. I did this willingly and savored the time in L.A. with him. He soon moved to Los Feliz, and our days together would see us darting across the map, from a Silver Lake brunch to Armenian dumplings in Glendale to the bars of WeHo.

I would drive, of course.

If I had to describe him in a word, it would be “logical.” It’s a quality I appreciate, but could I live off logic alone? He was a smart guy but wasn’t very conversational, which I would notice on our drives, when sometimes we’d barely talk. Sure, part of it was that we felt comfortable with each other. But it would disappoint me when he would seem emotionless and disinterested. I didn’t know what to do with this, so I involuntarily ended up following suit, and over time I grew more quiet around him as well. It seemed as if my own emotions were becoming muted in turn.

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When we decided to officially be together, it was in the car. It followed two whole months of hesitation on my part, and perhaps his too, considering how we had never discussed it. The topic came about pragmatically: as we were driving to meet some of his friends (I would be meeting them for the first time), he asked, “Should I introduce you as my boyfriend?” I said, “Yeah.” And that was that.

Where was the fanfare, the rejoicing, the excitement around this next step for us? I wanted it from him as much as I wanted it from myself. Neither of us could break free from the slow roll of a relationship that was much like my Friday trips up the 405: progressing steadily onward, but never with the euphoric rush of speed.

I loved spending time with him, but the consequence was that I had made zero friends in Orange County. My weekends were a delight, but the majority of the week I felt alone.

One night, months later, I had the misfortune of my first L.A. parking ticket. It was on a tiny side street near the convoluted confluence of Sunset, Hollywood, Virgil, and Hillhurst. I had apparently misread the arcane interactions of three different parking signs (a mistake I have never repeated since), leading to a $68 fine. As we got into the car, the frustration must have flipped a switch within me, and some deeper emotions started flooding out. What I was really upset about was less the ticket and more the lack of social connection in my life.

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This was something I had never expressed because, just like him, I had been closing off emotionally. He quietly watched me vent all this and then told me he understood. There may have been a note of guilt in his voice, but he didn’t directly express it. His reaction was entirely in-character — muted, logical and not what I really had hoped to hear. Deep down, I wish he would have emphatically told me, “I appreciate you always coming to see me... It means so much.”

To his credit, he did offer to pay half the ticket. (He was a logical person, but not a cold one.)

More or less appeased, I continued to spend my weekends at his place.

Was our entire relationship dynamic centered around motor vehicles? Certainly not, but somehow my car seemed to frame and interweave all of our pivotal moments. Is that an L.A. phenomenon or was it just us?

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Our story came to a mutual end when I was accepted to a master’s program in Santa Barbara. This would mean an even longer “relationship commute.” And so, logically as ever, we said our goodbyes.

Next time, I’m hoping for someone who can take the wheel.

The author is a mental health professional. He is on Instagram @rhomicron

Straight, gay, bisexual, transgender or nonbinary: L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for love in and around Los Angeles — and we want to hear your story. You must allow your name to be published, and the story you tell has to be true. We pay $300 for each essay we publish. Email us at LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find submission guidelines here.


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