Looking For Love in Underground Places: Speed Dating on the Red Line

All images: Elson Trinidad

All images: Elson Trinidad

Metro’s subway cars normally carry some 163,000 commuters each weekday, but last Friday the transit agency turned the Red Line into a ride through the Tunnel of Love to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

It was Metro’s first “Speed Dating on the Red Line” event, which gave relationship-seeking subway riders a chance to find romance on transit.

“Do you want to get on the love train today?” said one of the orange-vested Metro staffers that greeted me on the Vermont/Santa Monica station platform, wearing a red heart-antennae tiara on her head.

As a single dude who hasn’t been in a serious relationship in several years (uhhh, there’s no need to explain why here), I figured…why not. I’ve got nothing to lose. This only cost me $1.50. YOLO.

And it went a little something like this: After signing a release waiver, participants wear a pink wristband and board the first car of the Union Station-bound train (or last car of the North Hollywood-bound train), which is decorated with Valentine hearts on the windows.

The whole idea was to take a seat and take two minutes to chat with someone. Participants were free to move to another seat or another train.

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But without a governing clock anywhere, you could pretty much guess that whole two-minute thing went out the window. The car, while not packed, and with many passengers choosing to stand in the aisle towards the center of the car (the far-end seats were mostly vacant), was already lively and loud with conversation. People talked as long or as short as they wanted to. The Metro staffers who rode on the car to call stops and keep the mood festive and lively seemed excited that things were going so well (as well as the opportunity to work away from the office).

The mood was upbeat and positive, and no one caused any trouble. The media showed up on some of the trains, video cameras and bright lights in tow, while one participant played a ukulele (though he played all but two chords the whole way through), but neither the Sheriff’s deputies nor transit security officers bothered him.

I saw a couple of attractive ladies board the Wilshire/Vermont station. Maybe I could start a chat with them. But right as they got on, one guy came from the back of the car, muscles popping out of his sleeves, and swooped in like a hawk.

What is this, a Vegas nightclub now (albeit sans the booze and the DJ)? Whose idea was this thing anyway?

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According to Metro’s Steve Hymon, who was snapping pictures on this car for The Source, Fran Curbello, Metro’s communications manager for promotions and special events, came up with the idea in December. There were some legal issues that had to be wrangled out first, hence the waiver freeing Metro from any specified liability, but it was finally approved by the higher-ups.

The Speed Dating event went from 11 am to 1 pm I rode back on the last North Hollywood-bound train of the activity, and it hit 1 pm halfway en route, but Metro staff just let the fun go on until the end of the line. Though by then, there were no more new participants getting on board, and riders just chatted among themselves as Metro staff took down the decorations from the car.

The event attracted perhaps a little over a hundred participants. – a small fraction of the Red Line’s daily ridership. But the event was only announced a week ago and largely promoted on social media. Participants seemed to be an ethnically diverse cross-section of Los Angeles, most of them in the 20s-to-40s age range. The male-female ratio seemed roughly even, though I did overhear comments on how the event can accommodate participants of all sexual orientations.

Despite a relatively low number of participants, the general sentiment from both participants and staff was that it was a heck of a lot of fun, and that it could likely happen again next year — February 14 falls on a Saturday in 2015, which could mean a longer Speed Dating period. I did see a few numbers and business cars get exchanged, and heard from the staff that this event cost basically next to nothing to put on, so chalk it up as a success.

So did I find romance on the love train?

Did I TAP my way through the fare gates of love?

Umm, well, uh…let’s just say I was more there to report on the event. Maybe I didn’t have my game on that day. Maybe I’m not the speed dating type. Maybe I’m just too picky. But even if Cupid’s arrow didn’t hit its target on Friday, it was a time to relax and celebrate the social aspect of transit.

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For a public agency that customarily deals with things such as consent decrees, fare increases, and all the rigmarole and minutiae pertaining to running a public transportation operation, Speed Dating on the Subway is a sign of a culture shift: A transit agency that actually wants to engage and interact with its riders.

As the agency said on its official Twitter account, “Ultimately, we just want everyone to fall in love with Metro.”