Chiara Atik is the author of Modern Dating: A Field Guide, in stores now!
“It’s very exciting when a train comes, ’cause you meet a new batch of fish!” Erika Christensen gushes to me as a Brooklyn-bound M train pulls in at West Fourth Street. We’ve been on underground for about seven minutes, and though trains have come and gone, we’ve stayed put on the platform, surveying the crowds of late-afternoon commuters.
Erika isn’t just wasting time — she’s hard at work. Her chosen career is a matchmaker — specifically, a (the?) subway matchmaker — and today, we are here to fish for a date. For me.
As the founder (and “Love Conductor”) of Trainspottings, a matchmaking service that’s about as New York as pastrami and midnight pizza, Erika spends an inordinate amount of time doing in public what we all do in private: gawk at attractive people on the subway. If you’ve ever found yourself asking “Where have all the good men gone?” Erika’s answer is, quite simply, the F line. Or the C line, or the L, depending on your taste. They’re going to work, they’re going to see friends, they’re going to run errands, and, for the most part, they’re getting there by subway. Her logic makes sense: what do all the single men of New York City have in common? Well, they pretty much all take the train.
Of course, just because the men are there doesn’t mean it’s easy to approach them. That’s where Erika comes in. For a few hours a week, she takes the train with the sole purpose of scoping out suitable men. And when she sees someone she thinks a client might like, she doesn’t hesitate to introduce herself, hand them her card, and urge them to sign up for her site. A surprisingly high amount of them do. Not since Louis Armstrong has the A Train seemed so romantic.
Today, I am doing what Erika calls a “ride along.” She wants to get to know both me and my taste in men the old-fashioned way: by pointing to guys on the platform and saying “Him?” at full volume. Meanwhile I, used to a much subtler M.O., try to communicate either “yes” or “no” by the tiniest movement of my head. Maintaining a conversation with Erika is a little difficult — she’s bubbly and warm, but her eyes never leave the crowd, scanning people up and down, trailing off mid-sentence if someone catches her eye. At one point, she literally swoops down in front of a guy reading a newspaper to look at his ring finger. She crinkles her nose at me — he does. “I’m really happy that it’s getting warmer because we are losing the bane of my existence: gloves,” she tells me as she eyes another well-dressed specimen.
When Erika approaches someone, she’s confident and direct. “Hey, you’re really cute, are you single?” If the answer is yes, she hands them her card. “I’m a matchmaker. I’d love to set you up with someone, here’s my card, just sign up on the site for more information.” And then she smiles and walks away. A few of the guys she approaches are in relationships, but they all seem bemused and flattered. “You just made my day,” one tells her, grinning. It’s more awkward for me, the creepy bystander staring at this exchange, than it is for either of the participants. I find myself holding out my recorder unnecessarily, lest the guy think she’s asking if he’s single on MY behalf (which, of course, she is). (“No, no, I’m just a reporter,” is what I hope my body language says. “I, of course, would never allow myself to be set up with a stranger from the SUBWAY.”)
West Fourth Street isn’t proving too fruitful for our search, though it’s one of her go-to stations. (“A lot of trains. If the single are fish swimming in streams, the big stations are like dams.”) I’m not finding very many people who fit my “type” — on the nerdy side, bookish, kind. I tell her I like to travel and walk around the city and read and drink beer with friends on weekends.
“I think a lot of the boys you’d be into live in Brooklyn,” she says at one point. Ha. You’re telling me, sister.
So, armed with a vague idea of my type (probably about eiiiiiiighty percent of New York men under the age of 35 fit the description “nerdy, bookish, likes to walk around the city and drink beer”), Erika promises to look through her database of subway fish and set me up on a blind date.
Sure enough, the next week, Erika sends me an email. She’s picked out a date for me, he is a tall drink of water, I’m to meet him at The Highline, and oh, he will be carrying a flower. As blind a date as I’ve ever been on.
On Sunday, I meet Joe* at the appointed meeting spot. I see him right away — the flower, a yellow rose, is a dead giveaway. It’s also a dead giveaway to everyone else on the highline that day (so, about six thousand people) that we are On A Blind Date. Joe is beaming, friendly, cute, with a thick Israeli accent and a pretty great attitude about being approached by a woman at a subway station and then dispatched on dates. “Shall we take a walk?” He says. I nod gamely, and try to subtly shove the flower under my jacket as we embark on our stroll.
Immediately, I can see why Erika chose to set me up with Joe. He’s super nice, polite, nerdy if not quite bookish, and obviously, as a recent emigre, at least vaguely interested in “travel.” (He’s certainly international, anyway.) But it’s awkward, I find, to walk side-by-side on the highline with someone you’ve just been set up with — the park is crowded, it’s a little hard to make conversation, I am holding a yellow rose, etc.
Things get better when Joe and I adjourn to a nearby bar, and, over beers, really start to have a conversation. I ask him about first meeting Erika. He tells me he was in Union Square (one of her favorite stations), when she bounded up to him and did her spiel: You’re cute, are you single?
I asked him if he could imagine anything like this happening in Israel. “Definitely not,” he said, shaking his head. “Only in New York.”
At the end of the date, Joe and I parted ways and I found myself pretty into the subway matchmaking business. He was a nice, single guy in my city, the type of guy I probably pass 4 or 5 times a day on my underground commute without noticing, let alone meeting. It’s not that our paths wouldn’t cross — they do, all the time, on the F train, at Union Square, Columbus Circle, going this way and that — but we would have never approached each other. The subway may indeed be full of single people, but in order to take full advantage of it, you need someone who’s fishing for you.
We compiled the 8 best subway stops to find your ideal date. Click the image below to view the full list and see if your stop is among the ranks!