As the Internet shrinks the world around us, it is also shaping the way people meet.
Who wouldn't like a little company while "on the road"? We've all heard the stories — mostly, thanks to the likes of Oprah — about airline pilots or long-haul truckers who turn out to have multiple families in different parts of the country.
Even the late Charles Kuralt, the CBS-TV host who traveled the country telling folksy stories, managed to keep a mistress and a second family on the road. Of course, that wasn't uncovered until after he died in 1997. It turned out his "fishing place" in Montana, as his first wife called it, was actually the home of family No. 2. This raises the question of what he actually caught while "fishing."
What would Kuralt have done in the Internet age? Probably, start courting women via e-mail weeks in advance, lining up potential dates for particular stops on the road.
The major difference between his and my personal experiences is that he more than likely met more of these long-distance set-ups than I have.
With the exception of a summer trip to France — where I met a woman I corresponded with through e-mail for months before I even contemplated my trip — all other pre-travel attempts fell into that black hole where online dating e-mail goes unanswered. But my summer friendship in Paris was just that, a friendship.
Over the years, in advance of two or three speaking gigs in faraway places, I have contacted a couple of women beforehand. My e-mail messages were polite, nonthreatening and neutral — I was simply interested in possibly meeting for a meal or a cup of coffee. Yet none of those nice women wrote back.
On the other end of the spectrum, over the years, I've been on the receiving end of e-mail from imminent travelers.
A few years ago, a girl I'll call "Croc Nurse" contacted me via a popular Jewish online dating Web site. She was a nice, attractive nurse from Sydney, Australia, who was traveling in the United States for a few weeks.
We exchanged e-mail, and she gave me a telephone number for the relative she planned to stay with. She was very eager to meet up when she got here, she wrote. However, she wound up blowing me off within minutes of an actual phone call, and we never met.
Strangers in the Night
There were similar scenarios with interesting, exotic and seemingly attractive women from Brazil and then Holland, also procured through the same Web site.
The messages leading up to their respective trips made it sound like they were truly interested in meeting me. The e-mail came almost daily. Telephone numbers were exchanged, and the anticipation ratcheted up as their arrival date approached.
But both the "Samba Princess" and the "Dutch Girl" turned out to be unavailable. I actually spoke with "Samba Princess" on the phone for about two minutes in between her busy party schedule. Her image was better on the Internet before I heard her actually speak broken English. The "Dutch Girl" never contacted me when she got to New York. Come to think of it, "Croc Nurse" also had a rather strange accent.
Then came the girl I'll call "The Commando," a stunning and quirky Israeli who was visiting New York City with her cousin for week. She had contacted me, and we e-mailed one another for a couple of weeks. As her arrival date neared, her replies became a bit playful, even racy.
Of course, I wasn't picking up on these increasingly "forward" messages. It is difficult to decipher a tone in an e-mail, especially when you haven't even met the person.
When I arrived at her hotel, she was nowhere to be found. She had contacted me using a work account, which had displayed her name, yet no one under that name was staying there.
So I thought she was standing me up. The international cell-phone number she gave me also didn't work. In the end, it turned out that she neglected to tell me that she was traveling with her cousin, and the Midtown hotel room was not in her name.
When I went back to the lobby after grilling the concierge about whether a woman with the name she gave me was registered, there she was, sitting in the lobby in a short black skirt and high boots. She was 20 minutes late, but seemed unfazed.
We went for a walk, watched ice-skaters, got some hot chocolate and talked. She was fiery and exotic, and quite overt. We stayed out late, and when I proffered another meeting, she balked, saying, "It's not a good idea; I get very attached easily."
She e-mailed me a few days later, and that was that.
My date with the "Commando" was almost two years ago.
Perhaps I should consider taking to the road one of these days.
Roy S. Gutterman is a Syracuse, N.Y.-based writer. To contact him, visit: www.Lrev.com.