It's not quite an obsession, but it has certainly led to wasting a lot of time reading alone in my car, circling around the block and drinking a lot of soda I didn't really need, just to kill time.
I suppose I can trace this back to my days as a newspaper reporter. For those rare moments of scheduled news events — such as city council, planning-commission or school-board meetings — showing up early allowed for a bit of prep and relaxation time, as well as the chance to do some more reporting or watch as things develop from the beginning.
Showing up late could have meant not getting the story. Most news is not planned, which means speeding to crime or accident scenes, house fires or press conferences.
The compulsion to arrive early probably has its roots earlier in my life. When it comes to dating, arriving early creates a host of both logistical and practical problems.
A couple years ago, I showed up 10 minutes early for a date, and the girl met me at the door wrapped in a towel. I did not think 10 minutes was a big deal, and she didn't think it was funny when I asked her, "Can I borrow a towel, I just hit a water buffalo." (Thank Chevy Chase's "Fletch" for that line).
She turned out to be kind, and trusted me enough to let me wait in her living room while she got ready.
Sometimes, there are benefits to arriving early. Although I have a great sense of direction, and can read and follow a map, there have been a number of occasions when I've gotten lost.
Last year, while I was home in New Jersey, I had a date with a girl who lives in New York City. She chose a restaurant on Front Street — "just under the Brooklyn Bridge," she said.
I was congratulating myself for making great time at the tunnel, arriving more than an hour early and finding a great parking spot on Front Street. There was only one hitch: while I was on Front Street, the restaurant was on the other side of the bridge — the Brooklyn side. My time buffer saved me when I had to speed across the river.
Normally, when I arrive early, I secure the location — always wary of a possible ambush. I make sure the restaurant is the right one, and if we do not have reservations and it looks crowded, I put my name down for a table.
But the normal pre-date, early-arrival anxiety usually focuses on other things. I have a friend who arrived early for a date once and saw her date finishing up a date with another girl. Apparently, he scheduled his dates too close to each other.
Calling All Colors!
After securing the location, the waiting period breeds a range of emotions from anxiousness and excitement to self-doubt and depression, especially with blind dates.
Maybe a color-coding scheme, à la the Department of Homeland Security's warning system is in order for dating:
Stage Blue: While checking out the secure location, and taking in everything from the menu and whatever papers are lying around to "the game" on a bar TV, the scene is being set. It's cool. At least one party is there, a table is waiting. Things are good. All systems are go.
Stage Purple: After waiting for a few minutes, every squeak of a door raises that burst of potential. Every person entering the restaurant is full of potential. Will that be her? Will she look like her picture? Will she be nice?
Stage Fuchsia: After a few more minutes and the actual date time approaches, the anxiety level rises. Is this the right place? Will she show? Will I be stood up — again?
Stage Red: The time has arrived, but the girl has not. Is she running late? Did she get hit by a car? Will I be stood up — again?
Stage Orange: The scheduled time has passed. Now, she's really late. Was this a deliberately calculated effort? (Some women like to have guys waiting for them.) Is she blowing me off? Did I go to the wrong place on the wrong day? The host of questions mutates and multiplies.
Just then, she walks through the door: Problem averted, all systems are go, proceed with date.
Roy S. Gutterman is a Syracuse, N.Y.-based writer. To contact him, visit: www.Lrev.com.