By Amy Silverman
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By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
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"He used the flight benefits when he was in college to see his girlfriend in Des Moines every other weekend during the summers," he says, noting that children and spouses of employees are entitled to the same perks. Fortunately for Monahan, this story has a perfectly PG ending: "He's married to her now."
Ironically, it was Miller's son who originally suggested he work for an airline back when the boy was only in the first grade. "It was that or a toy company!" he says, laughing. Miller wound up in a job as far removed from being a pilot as he could possibly get, interfacing with chambers of commerce, researching proposed legislation and slogging away at the other dry tasks of a government relations manager.
But each time he uses that badge, Miller admits he still feels a tinge of that thrill his young first-grader imagined an airline job would surely provide.
"Whenever people hear I work for an airline, the first thing they ask is, Oh, are you a pilot?'" Miller chuckles. "I tell them, No -- but I get to live like one!'"
"It's almost a power trip to be able to click here on dating range' and drag your cursor all the way down to any,'" says Barry, an analyst at America West on a coffee break at the Starbucks on Mill, tilting the screen on his laptop to demonstrate the workings of his favorite Web site, Match.com.
Online matchmaking sites such as this, one of the few Internet enterprises still flourishing years after the dot-com bust, are blocked by company firewalls -- a good thing, Barry jokes, or he'd probably never get any work done. But here at Starbucks, within a pleasant strolling distance from the corporate headquarters building, Barry is able to log on with his Wi-Fi-equipped laptop and check out the latest offerings on the Web's most popular dating service, which now boasts nearly three quarters of a million subscribers who pay at least $24.95 per month to be able to contact the hotties they find using the service's free search feature.
Like a veteran site user, Barry tabs quickly past the fields where his selections have already been saved from previous visits -- "man," seeking a "woman," between "18" and "35" -- to the field where he's asked to specify the distance in miles from his entered zip code that he's willing to travel on a date.
"Ahhh!" he sighs, mouse-upping on the coveted "any" selection at the bottom of the pop-up menu and hitting the "search" button. "Let 'em roll!"
Within seconds, the first 10 of 199 matches begin scrolling down Barry's screen: Thumbnail photos of women in every color, type and shape, complete with short self-descriptions ("My turn-ons are tattoos, body piercings, skinny-dipping and flirting," writes one 33-year-old mother of two from Waterloo, Iowa) and handy, user-friendly response buttons. If Barry is interested in that "Sexy, well-read techno geek" from Potsdam, New York, for instance, he can choose "E-mail me," "Send me video e-mail," "Add me to favorites" or even the curiously worded "Send me to a friend."
But Barry is usually not looking to see if that blonde from Eureka only smokes occasionally, or if that brunette from Cedar Falls says the celebrity she most resembles is Demi Moore. The first thing Barry looks at, even before the photos, are the cities where the women live. If Mardi Gras is coming up, he'll scan down the page for the words "New Orleans." If it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas and he's missing the snow, Control-F "Telluride."
"Is that terrible?" he asks, embarrassed just a little by the admission. Barry insists he's upfront with the women he contacts about his "location, location" priority -- and that it usually even works in his favor, bringing out a weird competitive side a lot of confident women share. "It's like, You'll come for the snow, but you'll stay for me!'" Barry just laughs.
Perhaps he can blame a bit of his calculated dating technique on the mechanics of online dating itself. Populated by millions of love-seeking men and women willing to post their picture and divulge all their best attributes to the world, and funneled through slick corporate Web sites always striving to make the hook-up faster, easier and more selective then the next, Internet matchmaking has mated the traditional bar scene with modern online catalogue shopping to create a universe where no one feels compelled to lower their standards, only "modify my search."
"Fundamentally, it's become the same thing as selecting a book from Amazon.com," muses Martin Sargent, wise-guy host of the irreverent nightly talk show Unscrewed on cable's TechTV. A kind of The Man Show for computer-obsessed geeks ("You know, Dungeons & Dragons freaks who are desperate for love, wanting to reach out for more human contact but trying to achieve that through the computer terminal"), Unscrewed features a regular segment where Sargent attempts to fact-check some of the most outrageous profiles found on matchmaking sites -- an enterprise the former PC Magazine writer is clearly fascinated with.
"I mean, you can sit in your bedroom, type in some words on your computer, and have thousands and thousands of potential women that match the criteria that you typed into some box, right there on your screen," Sargent marvels. "And you can see their picture, you can see what they're into. It's power! And it kind of gives you some strange advantage in these modern times when it comes to dating."