Written for LA Times

Heart to heart, Cupid is where you find him

If you’re out to charm, even the dullest places are friendly venues for meeting someone new.

By Mimi Avins, Los Angeles Times, February 10, 2005

Food shop at night

Once you’re armed with a smile, an open heart and a truckload of confidence, where do you go to meet someone?

Dating coach David Wygant endorses the everyday-errands-as-opportunities strategy. Everyone has to exercise and find nourishment, he says. By adjusting your timing, you can maximize the chance of a pickup at the video store, bank or post office.

“Bars and gyms in L.A. are the worst places to meet people,” he says. “Go to the dry cleaner on Saturday morning, when everyone else is there,” adds Wygant, whose guide for singles, “Always Talk to Strangers,” will be in bookstores March 1. “Buy your groceries at Whole Foods, and go between 6 and 8 on a weeknight, when all the single people who don’t want to cook are buying prepared food to take home.”

Wygant found the Whole Foods on San Vicente Boulevard and Barrington Avenue in Brentwood, the dry cleaner across the street and the nearby Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf to be fruitful hangouts. Now 42, Wygant estimates he met 1,000 women before the day, 4 1/2 years ago, that he asked Alison Horstmeyer if she had stomach problems as she examined a bottle of digestive enzymes in Whole Foods; now they live together.

Following Wygant’s guidelines, a random to-do list would include shopping for food at the rock ‘n’ roll Ralphs – as it’s popularly known – on Sunset Boulevard and Fuller Avenue in Hollywood, eating lunch at a restaurant where a meal can be ordered at the bar, such as Prego in Beverly Hills or Bar Celona in Pasadena, or going to restaurants with community tables, such as R?ckenwagner in Santa Monica and Le Pain Quotidien in Beverly Hills.

Any kind of shopping can lead to a pickup. A guy won’t necessarily believe you need his opinion on the tie you’ve picked for your father, but chances are he won’t mind your asking. “Go to the Beverly Center or the Grove on a weekend afternoon,” Wygant says. “Just do laps. It’s teeming with guys and girls of all ages.”

Before moving to Seattle a year ago, Wygant hiked regularly in Runyon Canyon, one of many local trails that can be fertile ground for pickups. He also recommends dog parks, like the one atop Laurel Canyon, as ideal places to meet other singles. Go on weekends or in the evening – unless you’re in the market for a professional dog walker.

At the beach, Wygant cautions that strolling up to someone’s blanket and starting a conversation would be too intrusive. A better plan would be to join a pickup volleyball game, talk to someone walking on the strand or stand next to the object of your affection as she’s sticking her toes in the water.

“You can pick someone up anywhere people linger,” says Bryan Swerling, Wygant’s coauthor. Swerling’s favorite coffee bars are Peet’s on Main Street in Santa Monica, the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf on Sunset Plaza and the Urth Cafe on Melrose. (The Coffee Table in Silver Lake and the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in Los Feliz are also often full of friendly lingerers.)

At a gas station, the time it takes to fill a tank is long enough to ask, “How do you like your car? I was thinking of buying one of those.” And if you buy the car and it turns out to be a lemon, use the time you log in the dealer’s dank little waiting room well. And speaking of waiting, what to do when you’re waiting at a carwash? If your car gets a bath at the Hollymont carwash at Vermont and Prospect avenues in Los Feliz or the one on Sepulveda Boulevard just north of Olympic Boulevard, chances are other singles might be in cleanup mode too.

Books and chat

Bookstores, unlike libraries, have no prohibitions against conversation. Barnes & Noble at the Westside Pavilion, Borders on Westwood Boulevard, Book Soup on Sunset and the Barnes & Noble on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena are packed with people, especially on weekend nights. Many outdoor newsstands have the same atmosphere. Try the racks of magazines at Ventura Boulevard and Woodman Avenue in Studio City or the newsstand at Hollywood and Cahuenga boulevards.

A friendly encounter can redeem an unpleasant situation, such as waiting at a baggage carousel at LAX or attending traffic school. Figure anyone signing up for Comedy Traffic School isn’t so guilt-ridden about getting caught speeding down Olympic that they have lost the will to laugh.

And then there are sporting events. Says Wygant: “Men at Laker games are like sitting ducks. The key for a woman to succeed is to make eye contact when a guy looks at her, and wave at him. Make sure you smile and that he knows it’s him you’re smiling at. Then wave him over.”

If you want to be attached, should you follow your own interests … or go on a highly focused search for love? The experts line up on different sides of the question. One of Spindel’s clients signed up for a golf class, in hopes of meeting a man. Most of the others in the 100% female class had the same idea.

Knitting classes will probably be full of women. Expect to find a majority of men at car, boat and technology shows. Look for women at antiques and crafts shows like the ones held at the Santa Monica and Pasadena civic auditoriums several times a year.

On weekends, the Adventure 16 store in West Los Angeles is crawling with fit, healthy outdoorsmen shopping for hiking gear. That’s terrific, if you’re a woman who also likes communing with nature. If you don’t, Wygant says, “you’ll be exposed as a phony and a relationship will never work. When I work with clients, I develop a game plan based on their hobbies and interests.”

Attending bereavement support groups in hopes of meeting a widow or widower might be a sign of being too goal-oriented, but don’t rule out art galleries (be alerted to openings by getting on gallery mailing lists), museums, churches or synagogues, jury duty, volunteering for nonprofit or political organizations, adult education classes and cultural events at places such as Walt Disney Concert Hall, where you’re most likely to meet someone in the gift shop or during intermission.

Addiction is serious business, but that doesn’t mean no one’s ever made a connection at an AA meeting. “You’re not supposed to date someone in the first year that you’re in a 12-step program,” Wygant says, “but meetings are one of the biggest pickup spots in L.A. If you’re there because you have a problem, you can meet someone who has the same demons.” Elizabeth Taylor found a husband in rehab. The marriage didn’t last, but neither did her other wedded unions, to men not in recovery.

In “Hitch,” a romantic comedy that opens Friday, Will Smith plays a dating coach who preaches sincerity; cheesy pickup lines (“You look an awful lot like my next girlfriend”) make his eyes roll. Real pickup artists say clever come-ons matter less than body language, self-confidence and a brilliant smile. And ultimately, the art of the pickup is a self-limiting skill. The more you practice, the more likely you won’t need to do it anymore.

From Los Angeles Times, Calendar Weekend, February 10, 2005