Thursday, August 17, 2006

A fast track to love?

Next time someone gives you a signal in traffic, it might not be to indicate a right turn. Or to invite you to race. Or even to express road rage.

It could be the start of something romantic.

The highway has become the next stop on the Internet dating scene. A free website,, debuted six months ago as a way to link people who catch each other's eye while passing by.

"The hook is that someone can meet you instead of never seeing you again after the light changes," said Jennifer Litz, 24, of San Antonio. A blogger, Litz was chosen last month from hundreds of candidates to be the website's flirting expert.

Site visitors can complete an online biography and upload a head shot. They will get a Flirting ID that can be printed on an oval bumper sticker. Drivers can flirt from behind the wheel or take it further by jotting down the ID and getting acquainted online.

Some people groan at the notion, seeing flirting as one more driving distraction on a list that includes chatting on a cell phone, watching TV, applying makeup and eating. And law enforcement officers say it might attract someone dangerous.

But Litz said the flirting can be subtle -- "don't hang out the window and wave" -- and relatively safe because people initially communicate on the website rather than by personal e-mail. The site had more than 1 million hits in June and has pulled in 7,500 members nationwide.

Wooing from behind the wheel helps people winnow candidates in ways that many websites do not, Litz said.

People can tell immediately whether they feel the "spark" many consider crucial to a relationship, she said. The approach is more efficient and realistic than wading through old photos some people post on dating sites or trying to make conversation in a bar.

The bumper stickers that flirts use as ID cost $4.99, although thrifty folks may print out their own in black and white on adhesive labels, said Ilyse Shapiro, a site publicist in Wynnewood, Pa.

The site's founders are thinking about offering a rainbow bumper sticker for gay people. It could be a timesaver for people like one Fort Worth, Texas, woman, 24, who registered on the site to search for other women.

Some romance seekers prefer to flirt in traffic without a website as a go-between.

A month ago, Angela Clements printed cards with her first name, her phone number and a picture of a rose printed in pink. She has given cards to about a dozen men.

"It's all about multitasking," said Clements, 35, an executive assistant who works in telecommunications. "I figure this is utilizing your time."

After all, the average person in Dallas-Fort Worth is stuck in traffic about 60 hours a year -- the country's sixth-worst gridlock, according to the Texas Transportation Institute.

Clements said her direct approach has led to pleasant dates.

But some guys erroneously figure, "fast car, fast girl" when they spot her silver Pontiac G6 with a sunroof.

Some people are unnerved by in-traffic overtures, among them Matt Hurd, 31, a plumbing/heating/air-conditioning specialist.

While in his truck at a stoplight, he spotted a woman looking at him in her side-view mirror.

"I could see her mouth moving and thought she was cussing at first," he said. "I drove fast and passed her, but she weaved in and out of cars to get to me. She rode my bumper, then pulled up and kept pace with me. I had to look over, and then she did the phone signal."

He pulled over, and she handed him a card with the message "Wanna Be Friends?" and her name and phone number.

Hurd said he prefers less-aggressive women.

"It alarmed me," he said. "I thought maybe she wanted to lure me to her lair so she and her husband could kill me."

Good point, said Tommy Williams, police chief in Kennedale, Texas.

A flirt might be Mr. or Miss Right -- or a stalker or worse, he said.

Clements said she insists on meeting a man in a public place. She does not hand out her cards after dark. And she slammed on the brakes, figuratively speaking, when a 20-something wanted to meet her at a hotel at 2:30 a.m.

Sometimes, her prospects are puzzled.

"One guy just thought I was trying to tell him he had a flat tire," she said.

But Litz said the confusion will clear up as the word gets out.

"If you like the person's looks and have made that initial eye contact and they haven't tried to road-rage you, maybe at the second light you can maintain the eye contact and see if you can get some kind of banter going without crashing," Litz said.

"If you can do that, that bodes well for your future communication."

Terry Lee Goodrich, McClatchy News Service

More on this topic:

How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale