All the men I went out with between 2011 and 2013 met me on Buena Avenue between Broadway and Sheridan. I have been on so many dates on this block. So many dates. An impossible number of dates. An original Lifetime TV movie marathon’s worth of dates. Except none of the guys I went out with turned out to be Santa Claus in disguise to teach me about the true meaning of Christmas. Or Patrick Duffy.
This block is my romantic Bermuda Triangle. So much time wasted, so much good lipstick left on my lips. It’s literally shaped like a triangle. As if urban planners anticipated this essay. When I was living down the street — my one-bedroom apartment with a “view” of the lake was on the 800 block — I was single for the first time in five years. I was romantically rudderless. To guide myself on this emotional journey, I decided the key to dating was having a great bar within walking distance of my apartment. I would be eager to accept a first date, I told myself, if I could walk to it in three minutes.
The bar was called, yes, the Bar on Buena. The entire block felt like a first draft. The whole street was just five blocks long — the exact distance you’d tolerate walking with heavy groceries — and ended at a cemetery. More a metaphor than a street.
From the 900 block of Buena Avenue, I could see an entire relationship unfold in front of me. I could see a church where I might get married. I could see a public library where I might take the kids for story time. If I squinted really hard, I could see that cemetery, where my husband and I might be buried next to each other with matching headstones.
I stood on the sidewalk with Bryan, a friend from sketch-writing class — because it was 2011 and we all were making mistakes — and lingered for a while outside the bar after we’d shared a hummus platter and he’d watched me drink a beer. The snow was swirling gently around our feet. I realized that he wanted to be more than friends. I asked him to walk me home.
In the awful, oppressive heat of July, I stood on the same sidewalk with Mike. The sun had been down for hours and it was still 80 degrees. We felt a blast of air-conditioning from the 24-hour liquor store on the corner when someone opened the door to go inside. The sudden chill felt like a moment of clarity. The block was telling me, “Think about it, bitch!”
Thank you, block. Thank you.
(I still asked him to walk me home.)
Like HAL 9000, the 900 block of Buena Avenue was helpful and kind, but it could turn into an impetuous and scornful creature. I went out with Nate, a bearded law student, and we sat by the Bar on Buena’s huge open window. The big, full trees on the sidewalk were dancing in the breeze. The sun-dappled street almost felt idyllic. I looked good. I’m pretty sure I was wearing my date-night maxi dress from Target. I was feeling like this could be my 2012 summer romance when suddenly Nate screamed, “Oh shit!” and was gone. He’d parked super illegally in front of the boarded-up fast-food restaurant across the street, and his car was being towed. Have you ever watched a date argue with an unfeeling employee from Lincoln Towing? Because I have.
The block giveth, and the block taketh away.
Note to readers: None of the names in this story have been changed, because what are they gonna do?
Ali Barthwell is a Second City instructor, TV critic for Vulture, and cofounder of Wakandacon.