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Thursday, Jan. 29, 2004 03:20 pm

Grace about town 1-29-04

Fallen from grace

I told you last week I was going to Speed Date, and I did.

ONE DAY BEFORE SPEED DATING: What questions do I ask? A friend said she'd rattle off a list -- Pepsi or Coke? Rolling Stones or the Beatles? Beer or wine? That sounded good. But I thought about it, and decided the type of beverage a man drinks isn't important. What really matters?

Travel. I love to travel, and it would be fun to do it with somebody I care about.

Sense of humor, that's a big one. But you can't ask a person, "Do you have a sense of humor?" It's like asking if they're smart; the dumbest people I've met have always assured me of their intellectual prowess. And people generally believe they have a good sense of humor, even if they're completely without mirth.

And also, kindness. Also a very tricky question; I don't think a man is going to say, "I'm not a kind person; I'm a mean bastard." I've had experiences with guys who appeared to be very nice, but then eventually revealed a darker side.

RIGHT BEFORE SPEED DATING: Why am I doing this I've clearly lost my mind I don't want to go at all I don't want to meet anybody anyway what if they ask what I do and I tell them I write this column and they won't talk to me because they'd be afraid I'd write about them which is a legitimate concern maybe I should just turn around and go home. . .

Earlier in the day, I asked people what questions to ask during my 20 four-minute dates. The best answer I got was from an older lady at a beauty parlor who was getting a perm. She said, "Ask them if they have a job. If they're an alcoholic. And if they've ever been in jail."

RIGHT AFTER SPEED DATING: I want to speed-date all the time: It was a blast. There were only a few guys I'd want to have a longer date with, but I liked talking to all 20 of them. If you're one of the men I had a Speed Date with, it was very enjoyable for me, and please don't take it personally if I didn't select you for a longer date.

I arrived at Jazz Central Station at the Springfield Hilton and was given a nametag with my first name and a number on it (#16). I sat at table 16, and every four minutes a different guy came over and we'd talk. The men also had numbers, and we had sheets to jot down notes about each other. We knew our time was up because they'd turn off the music; it reminded me of musical chairs, one of my more favorite childhood games.

I was fascinated at how many men had ties to each other. Two of them knew each other since grade school in Williamsville, and one had babysat the other's kids when they were toddlers. A couple of guys were there because one friend had signed up the other.

The men have all kinds of professions -- engineers, truck drivers, state workers, small-business owners. Many have hazardous jobs. The most risky was the coal miner. He didn't look like a coal miner; he wasn't all sooty and wasn't wearing a hat with a light on it. He was nice, as was the farmer I met. I told the farmer about a good friend of mine who's a retired farmer; he's going deaf, and he was run over by his tractor and is lucky he didn't die. The farmer (#19) said farming is one of the most dangerous professions. I told him to please be very careful.

During the halftime break women poured into the bathroom. Some said they hadn't met anybody they'd be interested in. One woman said there was only one man she'd pick, and that was just because he was a doctor. That made me feel bad for the doctor (#10), because he seemed like an especially good guy, and I didn't want him to end up with some woman who only wanted him because he's a doctor. Maybe he should have said he was a shoe salesman.

After the break, men started figuring out that I write this column, but they didn't seem to mind. I hope it won't make them afraid to pick me.

But whatever the outcome is for me, personally, I highly recommend Speed Dating. It was a great way to find out about 20 very different men, and a really good time.

Next week I may or may not report on the S.D. aftermath, but right now, I'm headed to L.A. for some warm weather and sunshine. And I'm sure I'll find plenty of interesting stuff (Men? Celebrities? Souvenirs?) out there.

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