April 30, 2003
Going the Distance
"Gee, you came quite a way to this event, didn't you?"
"Gee, you sure have a long drive home."
Gee, You. G.U.
In the sprawling Southland, I've learned there's more to the rules of attraction than "How You Look," "What You Do" and "What You Earn." There's "Where You Live."
I first heard the term G.U. -- Geographically Undesirable -- 20 years ago when I lived in Los Angeles. Even back then I had trouble understanding the concept. Those of us who are native Angelenos have car keys and motor oil in our genetic makeup, and the idea of driving anywhere, especially in the days of vastly cheaper gas, was taken for granted. Twenty miles to a lunch place? Sure. Fifty miles for an amusement park? No problem.
But to hear other singles write off a person because they lived too far away was a concept I hadn't grasped. This was partly due to my own naivete, my willingness to shlep, and my living in a reasonably central point -- Sherman Oaks -- in the L.A. Jewish community. I drove to singles activities around the Westside, and dated women as far away as Orange County.
In 1985, I left Los Angeles for career purposes for points north, and it wasn't until last June that I returned to Southern California for the first time in 17 years. The opportunities in my chosen profession -- newspaper editorial cartooning -- are few and far between, and the offer that gave me a piece of my career happened to come from Ventura.
As I moved from the Bay Area, deciding where to rent involved factoring in apartment prices and availability -- and balancing my desire to be closer to Los Angeles for social and family reasons with the daily commute to Ventura. I picked Camarillo -- a pretty, bland town with great weather -- which placed me 12 miles from the office and let me avoid the engine-straining Conejo Grade separating it from Thousand Oaks in eastern Ventura County.
The problem as a single Jewish person is, there ain't much happening here. The only congregation in town attracts mostly young marrieds with small kids, or the nearby Leisure Village crowd. There were no Jewish singles groups or events in the entire county until a new group had its first gathering in March. The Jewish population is growing here, but it's nothing compared to Los Angeles, and the number becomes far more important if one is seeking a pool of dating candidates.
So, I shlep; either to the Valley or the Westside. I drive places where there is a choice of singles groups. Places where mingles and lectures for Jewish singles occur, where they hold SpeedDating. Places where Jewish Renewal congregations exist, where Jewish films are screened and where you can find a bakery with decent hamantaschen.
I fill the tank with $2-per-gallon gas and hit the 101. Fifteen miles gets me to Westlake Village, 25 to Calabasas, 35 to Encino, 50 to Beverly Hills. If traffic moves decently, I don't mind the trip too much. But it bothers other people. As in, females I want to meet.
At a dinner, I meet an attractive woman. Where do I live? I'm suddenly aware that I try to soft-pedal the distance: "Uh, I'm across the county line in Ventura County."
She's in Pasadena. Click, whirl. The brain calculates this as 55 miles -- maybe an hour and a half in traffic, if I'm lucky. Doesn't matter; her eyes have already glazed over and started scanning for someone else to talk to.
Another woman from Tarzana speaks of a musical venue in Thousand Oaks.
"I don't want to go there ... that's such a long, long way!"
I note the extra "long" in the sentence, and that she's only in the West Valley to start with.
Another dinner. The other singles are interested in my profession, but are shocked and awed that I attended. This isn't an "805" or even an "818" crowd, it's mostly a "310" crowd.
"You came all the way out here for a dinner?"
Well, no, I came out here to meet women.
"Camarillo? Oh, yeah, I've been to the Outlet Mall way out there," said one attractive woman, in a tone suggesting a distant camping trip.
It's a lost cause: "G.U." might as well be tattooed on my forehead.
Now, if you met your soulmate -- or maybe a Debra Messing or a Shawn Green -- you might be willing to drive a little more. Or a lot more. For the right person, you'd cross the burning desert, or at least the Sepulveda Pass. The problem is, you're trying to get to the point of meeting someone who matters that much, and generally you don't know that they do matter that much until you've spent time with them. Unfortunately, the distance factor is part of the elimination of less-promising candidates. If you can marry a rich mate or a poor mate, go for the rich; if you can date a convenient person or an inconvenient one, go for the convenient.
Perhaps my career path will move me back to Los Angeles at some point. For now, perhaps I should consider moving to Thousand Oaks. It's not a long, long, long way out there -- merely a long, long way.
Steve Greenberg, editorial cartoonist for The Ventura County Star, contributes editorial cartoons and illustrations (including this week's cover) to The Jewish Journal. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.