- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 30, 2005

NEW YORK - For the lovelorn who are burned out by the bar scene, fed up with personal ads or tired of scouring the Internet, there is another place to look for that perfect date: the back seat of a taxicab.

Specifically, Ahmed Ibrahim’s cab.

The 50-year-old Egyptian immigrant sets up blind dates for his single passengers through a free, impromptu matchmaking service he runs out of his yellow cab. He said he finds mates, or at least dates, for about eight people a week.

“New York is a very tough city for dating,” Mr. Ibrahim mused while driving through the West Village recently. “I have heard a lot of crying in this cab, a lot of fighting and a lot of broken hearts.

“Sometimes, great people were just missing each other by minutes; one would get in my cab just as another had gotten out,” he said.

Funny thing is, it works. Ask Natalie Dillon. She hopped into Mr. Ibrahim’s cab with friends on the way to a party one day last April. When their conversation switched to how hard it was to find a decent guy, Mr. Ibrahim chimed in through the bulletproof partition: “Hey ladies, I make matches.”

“He really got our attention when he said that,” Miss Dillon said. “I was kind of skeptical at first but … I figured he must meet a ton of people.”

So Miss Dillon — a single, 33-year-old media-studies graduate student — described what she was looking for in a guy and gave Mr. Ibrahim her cell phone number. About six weeks later, he called her and said: “Natalie, I have a guy for you.”

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said.

She soon exchanged several phone calls with Martin Karamon, a 34-year-old lawyer. A few weeks later, they went on a date. Six months later, the lovebirds are still going strong.

“It’s very surreal, but that’s the way it happened,” she said.

New Yorkers have long poured out their hearts to cabdrivers, but during his 21 years on the streets, Mr. Ibrahim has built deeper relationships with many of his fares. During the holiday season, he decorates his cab with Christmas lights and ornaments. He routinely sends birthday cards to passengers whom he has befriended and even hands out roses on Valentine’s Day.

Playing Miss Lonelyhearts with a hack license comes naturally to Mr. Ibrahim, although he stumbled across the part accidentally.

“I was joking around with this girl … who said she couldn’t find a boyfriend,” he recalled.

Mr. Ibrahim took her number.

Three days later, a man got into his cab and bemoaned his bad luck finding a woman. Mr. Ibrahim called the woman and gave her the man’s number. Three weeks later, she called back and said they had gone on a date and were getting along great.

“I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is my new project,’” he said.

So he set about it with gusto, attempting to make matches for doctors, lawyers and students.

Since then, he has been featured on Fox News Channel and NBC’s “Today” show and in the Wall Street Journal. He even has an agent shopping his story to producers in Hollywood.

Mr. Ibrahim doesn’t charge for his service; he does it for fun, he said. But he doesn’t offer his help to just anybody who gets into his cab.

First, they must be serious about looking to settle down. Men in their early 20s usually are ruled out as being too young and wild. Older men who are “looking for Britney Spears” are crossed off the list for just being creepy. They must be gainfully employed: No one looking for a meal ticket is invited.

Try as hard as he may, his work is about love and chemistry, so not all of his matches have been successful.

“The guy I met was a very nice person, but he just wasn’t for me,” Dana Rosen, 26, said of the one date Mr. Ibrahim arranged for her. “But I’m very picky, and it’s hard to meet someone right away.”

She is willing, however, to let Mr. Ibrahim set her up again.

“I trust Ahmed because he knows what I want and he knows that I’m picky,” she said. “Besides, I’m always up for something different.”

Mr. Ibrahim said he will keep working on setting up his passengers for as long as it takes to find them the perfect match.

“I hope I can accomplish a few marriages,” he said. “I’m an old-fashioned guy.”

Personally, the divorced Mr. Ibrahim said, “Marriage is not for me.”

But he has a girlfriend — a woman he picked up in his cab.

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