Looking for Love at Rush Hour 

Are you a female commuter, 25 to 45, platinum blonde, average weight, long hair? This cowboy wants to meetcha.

Wednesday rush hour. Cars bang down Fremont's Mowry Avenue past Redwood Terrace and Tyson Lane. Then, just past Guardino Drive, brake lights flare. Traffic pauses momentarily. If you don't look up and to the right, you'll miss him entirely. But there he is -- six-two, cowboy hat, yellow oxford neatly tucked into a pair of fading Levi's, and black cowboy boots bought with blackjack winnings -- waving like some freakish roadside welcoming committee.

It's his signs that grab the eye. Hand-drawn on cardboard, the O's fetchingly inscribed with eyeballs and lashes, they alert commuters that this cowboy is "Lookin' for a Lady." He's flexible. About 25-45, the signs suggest, medium to long hair, and average weight for your height.

There is one deal-breaker, though: Must like dogs.

John Conrad has been at it for two months. Each afternoon, he pulls out his various signs, plays a little catch with his black lab, Molly, and tries to wave down that special someone. "I concentrate heavily on these two lanes," he says, leaning against his split-rail fence outside his pale-green home and indicating the adjacent left lanes. "Anything that's in the right-hand lane is pretty much married, or daughter-of and isn't old enough to, you know."

Sound easy? It's not. This takes endurance. This takes strategy. "You only have about twelve feet to twenty feet to actually see what's in the car," Conrad says, pausing momentarily from his task to swig from one of the day's three O'Doul's, "to make a decision of whether to get your hand up, keep your hand down, get enthusiastic, or just give a [he waves meekly]. ... There's an art to it."

Perhaps so, but all this strategizing hasn't yet landed the 53-year-old SFO airline mechanic so much as a date. Maybe it's the stuffed chairs that populate his yard, or the '57 T-Bird and '64 Lincoln sitting covered in his drive. (They run, he promises, if he could just get them started.)

There must be an easier way. After all, there's a whole industry devoted to helping people hook up. Why not try that? "Simple," Conrad says, tightening his eyes and clutching an imaginary pen. "With a piece of paper and a pen you can lie all you want. ... So then I get there, and the lady is not anything in the scope of what is written. Now I've wasted my money, gas, everything -- and I'm stuck with this lady."

So he looks for love in rush-hour traffic instead. It hasn't been a total failure; he figures between fifty and sixty women have stopped by. But "stopping by and ones that I would date are in [separate] categories," he says.

As though on cue, a white Cadillac captained by two fortysomething bleach-blondes comes to a screeching halt. They're laying on the horn, practically falling out of the car, smoking cigarettes, and acting rowdy. The old Caddy coughs and spits.

"Well, hello," Conrad says, smiling his crooked-toothed grin. "Now that you're here ..."

The driver cuts him off: "Oh yeah," she screams, "in your worst nightmare!"

Their voices are hoarse. Each has about an inch of brown roots showing. And though they're not exactly the quiet, soulful commuters of Conrad's dreams, they seem to meet his basic criteria. He moves to swing a leg over the fence.

Too fast, perhaps. The lady riding shotgun seems alarmed. "We're gonna go," she says. "Okay," Conrad says, quickly stepping back to his side.

"Have you found anybody?" the driver screams. Hard to say, she just might be interested.

"Nope," Conrad shouts back.

"Oh shit!" she barks, "I thought you had it in the bag the other day."

Then they're gone in a cloud of dust and pebbles. Conrad seems a little dejected. "I won't tell you what I actually think," he says, kicking a muddy tennis ball to Molly. "But I don't think she was in control of her faculties at that particular moment."

Rejection is nothing new for the urban cowboy. Of the women who've stopped by, there have been only three he'd have gone out with, and they didn't accept his invitation. "There was not enough between both parties to continue the short-termed relationships," Conrad says.

He insists he's not picky. "Let's put it this way," he says. "Perfect lady: five-seven, platinum blonde, long hair, very nice figure -- doesn't have to be James Bond-typish, just nice-looking. Both my previous wives were cheerleaders. I see no reason to go backwards in life."

If two months on the roadside have taught Conrad anything, it's that he must hold women to less stringent criteria. "Before, I wouldn't have even considered a lady with black hair. A brunette? No way in the world," he says, scanning cars until he finds one with promise. "Now that one is a regular lady," he says, pointing out a passing sedan. "Long, long black curly hair -- comes down to about here [mid-back] -- and she is gorgeous, drop-dead gorgeous."

But like most of his prospects, she's on her way out of town, and she ain't looking back.

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