By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Finally, a singles club that has found the fast lane to romance in South Florida. Similar interests? Nah. Intellectual compatibility? Ha! The potential for long-term commitment? Not a chance.
Try this: a hot set of wheels. As any swinging single will tell you, the key to becoming a love magnet in car-crazed Dade is a cherry vehicle. Even better A a cherry vehicle with no additional payments owed.
Matchmaker Dick Weinstein founded his new singles club, Auto Dates, in the hope of redefining auto-eroticism for the Nineties. For nineteen bucks, the lovelorn are entitled to membership in the club and receive its official totem of courtship, the Auto Dates bumper sticker. This red, black, and yellow decal includes the club hotline number (770-0330), along with an individual, personal code. The protocol is simple: Spot a babe (or hunk) with a sticker, jot down the code number, and leave a message with Auto Dates stating your desire to meet the driver in question. Weinstein then passes the word along. The messenger service is even open to nonmembers, for a fee of two dollars per message.
"How many times have you been speeding down the highway and seen a person you really wanted to meet?" Weinstein asks rhetorically. "Now you can. And with our service, you get to see the person you want to meet. You even get to see their car."
You could call Weinstein a hopeless romantic. But then, many South Floridians share his belief that the car is the ultimate sunroof to the soul. "The chances of at least a dating situation is pretty good because you can see where the person is at with their life by what car they drive," observes Cliff Dvorkin, Weinstein's business partner.
What's more, couples who make an Auto Date connection know they have at least one thing in common: they're both desperate enough to scour traffic for a mate (or at least a date).
To abet that process, Auto Dates has planned a series of parties so members can meet outside the confines of their cars. The first, this past Sunday at Bruzzi in North Miami Beach, drew 240 singles, 50 of whom joined the club. (Typical opening line: "So, you drive automatic or, uh, stick.")
That may seem like a drop in the bucket, but Weinstein isn't at all discouraged by the turnout. It took nine months for the concept to catch on in Los Angeles, where he ran a similar club during the late Seventies. Eventually, he notes, he had more than 100,000 bumper stickers on the road.
"South Florida's a natural for Auto Dates," says Weinstein, who launched the venture to supplement his income as a professional mover. "We're such a mobile culture, and there are so many people new to the area who are trying to meet other singles. This is a town where new ideas are taking hold. We think this will do especially well in the Latin community because they're more aggressive, more willing to take chances socially."
Weinstein hopes to prime the social pump by inviting professional athletes to his parties. He has yet to secure the ultimate celebrity endorsement, however A from Miami native Jose Canseco, a Latin baseball hero famed for his aggressive automotive high jinks.
Ann Rotman, a paralegal who has organized singles parties for twelve years, says Auto Dates traverses the racier fringe of a revival of dating services. Petrified of the health risks engendered by one-night stands and tired of the bar scene, the unattached have taken up ballroom dancing, sailing, even religious discussion as a pretext to snaring a mate. There's even a local group for unemployed singles.
"Basically you need something catchy if you're going to survive in this market," Rotman remarks.
Catchy is one thing. Dangerous is another, says Ann Charles, public relations manager at the Dade chapter of the National Safety Council, a nonprofit group that promotes health and safety education: "From the safety standpoint, I think you've got to be a little concerned about this club because people need to concentrate on driving, not writing numbers down. Is someone going to tailgate you just to get your code number? Are they going to want you to lower your window? And what if they follow you home?"
Daunting questions all. But the Auto Dates duo says Charles may be taking the service a bit too seriously. "It's just a cute way for people to meet each other," Weinstein insists. "You know, a gimmick."
A gimmick, it would seem, that isn't making any inroads into Dade's gay and lesbian singles market. Unlike newspaper and telephone personal ads, Auto Dates bumper sticker codes provide no information regarding a member's sexual orientation. "Auto Dates is for everyone," Dvorkin stresses, a bit uncomfortably. Gay members are welcome, he confirms, "but we just facilitate the introduction. It's up to our club members to do the rest."
Auto Dates did receive its first official endorsement (of sorts), from the Department of Transportation. "Aside from the concern about people almost having to crash into you to read the code number, I've got to voice support for anything that would promote South Florida drivers being friendlier," ventures DOT spokesman David "Pontiac" Fierro.