Los Angeles, which brought us drive-in funeral parlors, flow-through fast- food shops and drive-in chapels, now offers: Love in the fast lane. Auto- dating.
Maybe it's not really love in the fast lane. Some say it all began in gridlock. Driving the same congested highways day after day - for an average of nearly two hours daily, studies show - Angelenos have discovered new ways to use the time productively.
According to officials of the California Highway Patrol, drivers now shave, read the paper, apply makeup, remove hair curlers, change clothes, brush their teeth and do aerobic exercises in their cars. So maybe it was only a matter of time before romance, too, hit the road.
Eloise Evans wasn't looking for love when she drove to work on the Harbor Freeway one morning a few months ago. But then Keith Gibbs, a Marine recruiter, spotted her a few lanes away.
"It was bumper-to-bumper," she recalled. "He got out and handed me his card. He looked really cute."
They've been dating ever since.
For others, the route to romance was paved by frustration. Ruth Guillou, a real estate agent, had stopped at a traffic light when she spied an attractive man in a yellow Cadillac.
"I knew instantly that we both wanted to meet. Then the signal changed. I turned left and he went straight ahead," she lamented. "I drove around the block trying to find him, but no luck."
The anguish of that missed opportunity led Guillou to create the Freeway Singles Club. Each member pays $35 for a red-and-white car-window decal displaying an ID number and the club's address.
So, if you spot some divine-looking driver, you can write to him or her in care of the club, join up, and propose an encounter. "We're mainly a love- letter forwarding service," Guillou explained.
In Guillou's view, scanning the freeways is an efficient route to romance. It's safer than bars or discos or even parties, because people in those places ''always put on a front," she said.
And it's more informative.
"Just drive behind a person long enough, and you'll learn all about their personality," said Guillou, whose grey Mercedes was being repaired at the time of the interview. She said she didn't feel like herself without it.
The recent spate of freeway snipings caused club membership to plunge to about 500, ages 18 to 80. But Guillou is convinced that the idea is revving up again.
"It's easy," she stressed. "All you have to do is look fairly decent and keep your car clean."
Others are finding auto-mates with the "freeway flip sign." It looks like a loose-leaf ping-pong paddle with signs on O-rings you can flip over and flash out the window.
Signs read, "Hi," "You're cute," "How about a drink?" "Neat car," ''Meet me at the off-ramp," and other alluring come-ons. They also send messages discouraging romance, such as "No" and "Quit Tail-gating."
Even an accident or a traffic violation can be a ticket to romance. L.A. is full of tales of love affairs sparked by fender-benders. And every now and then, you hear a story like Jerry Richardson's.
Richardson, a pastor and marriage counselor, was driving to the L.A. airport when two women cut in front of him. He pulled alongside to give them a piece of his mind, but reconsidered when he saw how attractive they were.
"I decided to become a Don Juan of the highway," he said.
To a chorus of honks, they drove along side-by-side, blocking traffic, chatting and exchanging phone numbers. Then police stopped the women, citing them for driving too slowly. Later, Richardson phoned "and magnanimously offered to split the ticket," he said.
Five months later, he married the woman in the passenger's seat.
According to driving instructors Brett Elkins and Hardy Warren, the hottest new spots on the singles scene are L.A.'s eight-hour traffic schools, which violators can attend to have offenses removed from their records.
To capitalize on this phenomenon, the two young entrepreneurs are opening the first "L.A. Singles Traffic School" in April. The school will offer instruction in auto safety and "a casual, interactive atmosphere" with ''mock dating games concerning traffic-related matters," Warren said.
The games "will help people understand what driving traits say about someone's personality," he continued. For example: "If I drive an '86 Oldsmobile at 75 m.p.h. in a 55 m.p.h. zone, what does that tell you about me, and would it be a turn-on?"
You might expect the California Highway Patrol to be worried about the safety of the budding freeway romances. But not so, or at least not much, said spokesman Kenn Rosenberg, "so long as the desire to meet is mutual," and love's preoccupations don't make drivers "inattentive of the road."
Studies of L.A.'s traffic snarls predict they will get worse. By the year 2000, reports a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles' graduate school of urban planning, the metropolitan population will increase 25 percent and the number of licensed drivers will be up 32 percent.
"So you can honk and get frustrated by the traffic, or you can play games and socialize," said Rosenberg. "The highway patrol is not about to stand in the way of love."