29 March 2017

Speed Dating & the Virtues of Staying Home

All right, I'll come clean, I've been claiming to want to try speed dating for at least as long as I've been writing this blog, purely for "scientific research." It was the stone left unturned, the one thing I felt I hadn't tried and which, I felt sure, would make for a blog-worthy story.

Although none of that is technically a lie, the true-er truth is that I've pretty much wanted to try speed dating ever since that one scene in the movie Hitch. (For a highlight, skip to the 2:25 mark.)

As you've probably guessed, my ambition finally came to fruition. At long last the opportunity presented itself, and how could I resist? Essentially, the weekend prior to Valentine's Day, Navy Pier partnered with Chicagoland Singles to create this magical event for those of us "looking for love." Oh yes. Speed dating. But on a Ferris Wheel.

The premise: Each carriage was loaded up with two ladies and two gentlemen. Halfway through a rotation, the couples would swap dates, so I had a "date" with two guys per rotation (or I was meant to, but we'll get to that.). At the end of a full rotation on the wheel, the guys would get out and move to another carriage, and two new guys would get in. All sounds pretty clever, right? Well, yes, in theory. But unfortunately, an event is only as good as its planners, and I have to give Chicagoland Singles a pretty strong side-eye over this whole mess.

No one in charge had a microphone or was capable of projecting their voice, which meant hearing instructions at the beginning of the evening was a lesson in extreme frustration. We also allegedly started "late," which was very odd, as everyone showed up at the allotted hour, or within a few minutes of it. Apparently, however, the cocktail hour was meant to be a time-killer before the official time of the event. So if you wanted your two free drinks and appetizers and to mill about and mingle, you were supposed to get there early. Tough, as it was a Thursday night, and a lot of people are coming from work. So to compensate, apparently we started the event late, which was news to everyone involved. Keeping in mind, of course, that the matchmaking service only had the Centennial Wheel booked for a certain amount of time. Starting late did not mean ending late. It just meant not meeting everyone in your pool.

Okay, whatever. No big deal. What was a big deal was that this event was not handled like any other speed dating event I've ever researched. And although I was a rookie to speed dating, it just so happened that I brought my roommate Loretta with me, a veteran to the concept. Lor, having come home from the holiday season estranged from her lover (Sounds more romantic than saying she dumped her S.O. for poor behavior, doesn't it?) was victim to my desperate pleas for an wing-woman that night. I needed her for "emotional support," after all. She was helpless against my pitiful puppy eyes. According to Loretta, my instincts about what was amiss were dead-on.

First of all, the entire thing was one giant commercial for Chicagoland Singles. Like, to the extent that it felt like they didn't actually want you to get a date out of the evening. They wanted you to end up being a client of theirs after the evening was unsuccessful for you. What makes me say that? Well, primarily the fact that instead of keeping track of which gents I found interesting for the evening, turning in that list, and receiving contact information where the feeling was mutual, I was given a stack of 5 of Chicagoland Singles' business cards, told to write my number down on them, and hand them out to anyone I found interesting. Um, I can do that on my own business card, thanks. No need for me to do your advertising for you, CS. This set-up was especially awkward when a guy at cocktail hour was trying to get my number and I was thinking But I only have five of these cards. What if I give them out now and don't have any for the actual speed-dating portion of the evening? Of course, I need not have worried, because I didn't end up wanting to give my number out to anyone all night. I only gave it when the guy straight up asked me for it because I would have looked like a complete bitch if I didn't.

Next, I take issue with this because only by a stroke of sheer luck, Loretta and I ended up in the same carriage on the Ferris Wheel, and we had one another's backs. What would it have felt like being in that carriage with a complete stranger next to me? How would I have felt if I watched every guy in our car give or ask for her number in front of me, and been ignored? Or what if she had felt competitive with me, like I was her enemy? Not ideal.

The other problem was, you guessed it, the weather. Now, this event was made possible by the opening of the new Centennial Wheel on Navy Pier last spring. The old, slightly smaller ferris wheel had open carriages and was closed during the winter. This new model had enclosed, "heated" carriages. And yes, I just put air-quotes around the word "heated." Because frankly, you couldn't tell. I even heard someone say that the heating was broken on the wheel. Don't know if that was true, but it was kind of a disaster anyway. What could ChiLand Singles and the Pier done differently? First of all, we were allowed to bring our drinks from the cocktail hour with us to the wheel. How about some hot beverages? A hot toddy would have been perfect for that evening. Or maybe some boozy hot chocolate. As it was, I clutched a shaking plastic cup of now chilled red wine (ew.) that I could barely keep control of because I was shivering so hard. Reminder, it was February in Chicago. On the Pier. As in, next to Lake Michigan.

Now, couples were instructed to "Dress to impress, but also for warmth," as we would be outside for "brief periods" during the evening. I think they were referring to lining up to load onto the carriages, and brief moments when the carriage door was open to allow gentlemen to switch cars.

Loretta went hardcore in a turtleneck sweater dress and her Canada Goose parka. I had on a brand new long-sleeve dress, which I paired with some leggings, high heels, and my hooded London Fog, adding a scarf and gloves for good measure. I figured that would be more than sufficient for "brief periods," fool that I was. As I said, if the heaters were working on the wheel, none of us could really tell.

Sporting our Winter Chic looks at the cocktail reception. Lor was obviously a lot happier that evening than I was. For me, the chocolate martini in my hand was easily the best part of the night.

What could the hosts have done differently other than hot beverages? The first thing I thought was they could have loaded some throw blankets onto the carriages for coziness, or even told us to bring our own from home. Loretta and I would gladly have cuddled up under a warm wool blanket that night, making us a lot more comfortable and relaxed. Secondly, we received swag bags at the end of the evening, mostly with coupons to such Navy Pier classics as Bubba Gump Shrimp, but also including tickets to the Flower & Garden Show at the pier in March, and, naturally, some Navy Pier-stamped gloves. Really? You hand out the gloves when the night is over? I can assure you there were a few schmucks here without coats who would have deeply appreciated those gloves a little earlier in the evening.

Moving on, although the logistics of how the dates were supposed to go seemed simple enough, the execution was terrible. Whoever was making the announcements to the carriages had zero public speaking skills, was often hard to understand, and, yes, missing her cues. Multiple times she was late telling us to switch, so I did not spend equal time talking to both men. At one point during the evening, for reasons unknown, someone demanded to "get off the ride," and the wheel rotated backwards, leaving me talking to one man for almost triple the time. We then resumed the ride in the correct direction and they once again were late informing us to switch. After that oddity, we had the last rotation of the night, and 3 men were inexplicably shoved in our carriage, and I had to entertain two men at once, one of whom did not seem to be capable of answering a direct question, then went off on clearly practiced speeches about himself (poor guy) that I could barely understand because he was mumbling so hard, which made it very difficult to respond to anything he said. The other guy was clearly trying not to laugh at him, which felt kind of mean, but on the other hand, he was clearly getting gipped by being forced to share his time slot, so I felt sorry for him, too.

Finally, about 2/3rds of a rotation in, I realized the hosts had forgotten to tell us to switch dates. So I turn to Loretta in hopes of being rescued from this awkwardness, but find her huddled together with her date. I actually overheard the words "Democratic Convention." It was a testimony of my love for my roomie that I chose not to break up that little pow-wow and to suffer through the remainder of the ride, at which time we were abruptly told to get out and either go hang out at the Tiny Tavern or go home.

Yeah, given that it was a work-night, Lor and I chose to call it a night. Did I find love? Not exactly. Most of the men were too socially awkward for me or just physically unattractive to me. Doesn't mean there's not someone out there for them, but they simply weren't my cup of tea. Oh well. I also found myself on Chicagoland Singles' advertisement e-mail list the next day, to my annoyance, which I promptly unsubscribed myself from.

Loretta and I both got a handful of numbers out of the night but neither of us chose not to call any of them. (Sadly, Lor didn't even call the Democrat, whom I was obviously rooting for, since they hit it off so well and he was clearly into her.) Regardless, she and I had a good time because we went together. I frankly would have been miserable if she hadn't been there laughing at it all with me, the two of us huddled for warmth in our frosty carriage. But, the important thing is I can finally cross speed dating off of my Single Woman's bucket list. Would I do it again through a more organized setting and host? …naaaahhhhhh. It wasn't really my thing. But it was still a fun way to spend the evening, despite all the chaos and sloppiness.

A bonus highlight of the evening: When one man explained to me how he "smokes everything there is to smoke—cigars, cigarettes…other stuff…" but his doctor says his lungs are still in "great condition." Excuse me while I wipe the tears of laughter from my eyes.

And as a closer, I recently came across this adorable short film, which really summed up what the evening was like, sans the adorable happy ending.

After all, isn't love just a matter of finding someone whose Weird compliments your Weird? I like to think so.

Happy Belated Valentine's Day, everyone.

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