RIVER NORTH — Spanning less than 250 square miles with one of the most concentrated urban populations in the U.S., Chicago should provide a fairly intimate dating climate.
But some residents say that for the young, single and carless, would-be relationships that cross CTA lines are usually a no-go.
"I used to live off of the Argyle Red Line stop, and my boyfriend lived off the Division Blue Line stop," said Lakshmi Rengarajan, founder of Me So Far, a Chicago-based company that hosts dating events for singles. "That's a really hard route to take, because you've got to take a train south and then a bus west. We were basically having a long-distance relationship within the same city. It's like, 'Wait, you're technically only 6 miles from me, how is this possible?'"
"Red Line/Brown Line," a new Me So Far event inspired by Rengarajan's struggle will debut on Wednesday, Nov. 28 at Sushi Taiyo, 58 E. Ontario St.
The event is aimed at single Chicagoans who live off the CTA lines that circle the Loop.
It is also a fundraiser for Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, and gift certificates to businesses along both lines will be raffled off to raise money, "because public transit was so affected by Hurricane Sandy," Rengarajan said.
Rengarajan, a strategic planner for Draftfcb, started Me So Far as a side project two years ago to take blind dating offline.
Her concept: give a room full of single men and women a theme (past events include "Hot For Teacher," for educators, and "Tales from the Quarterlife" for twenty-somethings), and spotlight a few participants to get conversation flowing.
Of the 50-70 attendees at Me So Far events, 10 to 12 are chosen to prepare Powerpoint presentations that "share the kinds of things that they normally wouldn't put in their online profile, that wouldn't come up on a first date, to get people to break out of that small talk," Rengarajan said.
For 31-year-old Kasey Passen, a chef who runs a catering company, the setup worked like a charm. At the "Nerd Alert" mixer in July, Passen chatted up a fellow presenter while waiting for her turn to take the stage.
The pair ended up dating for about four months. Passen, a Ukranian Village resident, is planning to attend the Red Line/Brown Line event on Wednesday as a Blue Liner with her own wheels.
She described Chicago's dating scene as "brutal."
"Online dating and set-ups are usually no fun for me. I think it feels like work, it feels draining, you almost sometimes feel like, 'What's wrong with me?'" Passen said. "I think Me So Far is the opposite. You feel celebrated. I mean, I spoke, and I talked about the nerdiest things ever, and so many people came up to me after and wanted to meet me for coffee, and email, and talk about stinky cheeses. I had so many girls and guys that just found out little things about me that I would never share on a first date...[it] actually makes you want to date more. Instead of online dating, which makes you want to date less."