One man's quest to bring drivers together-after safely exiting traffic, of course.
Ben Philips didn't like the corporate world. After being "a bum" for a few years following high school, he went back to school and eventually graduated from Temple in 1998. But when he went to work for Lockheed Martin, the things many people count on from jobs didn't really interest him.
"It wasn't bad, but it wasn't my idea of fun," says the 35-year-old Pottsville native. "It was full-time, with benefits. They try to shower you with little things like health insurance, savings bonds they contribute to. They're things that make most people comfortable in a job, but they made me uncomfortable. It felt like they were trying to suck me in and keep me there.
"So I bailed out."
Philips switched from a 9-to-5 job to one as an independent consultant building intranet infrastructure for pharmaceutical companies. And one warm summer day in 2004 he pulled his Mercedes up to a light in the western suburbs and began chatting with a cute girl in a Jaguar next to him.
The light turned green. She drove away. He never saw her again.
It's the usual boy meets girl, boy likes girl, girl drives away and he never even gets her number story.
"It was a great little talk," Philips says. "And the light turned green, and I never saw her again. I didn't want to follow her and do any kind of stalker thing."
Instead of chalking up the experience to a missed opportunity and moving on, Philips decided to do something about it. He merged two of the biggest automotive fads of recent years: flirting (always a fan favorite) and those oval stickers from European license plates, adapted as U.S. tourist secret code: OBX (Outer Banks, N.C.), LBI (Long Beach Island), WW (yes, even Wildwood).
"It took me about a week to put the two together," he says. "I thought, 'What if I put a number on a sticker and put it on cars?'"
Philips bounced the idea off a few friends and a few strangers in bars. He says eight or nine out of 10 people gave him positive feedback on the idea. And after debt from a divorce forced him to file for bankruptcy last September, he figured there was no better time to launch his business.
He developed FlirtingInTraffic.com. The premise is simple. A user signs up and gets a sticker in the mail. The person puts the sticker on their car's bumper, and waits for the emails to roll in from interested potential dates encountered in traffic.
"It's not Internet dating," he says. "It's a way to meet the person you should've met before."
Flirting in traffic is just a start. Philips promises other themed sites: flirting at the beach, flirting on campus, maybe even flirting in the supermarket. (Fans of Craigslist's missed connections have to know people who hit up Whole Foods will love this idea.) He eventually plans to sell hats, shirts, key chains-really, any way to let people know you may be up for meeting after a heavy flirting session.
"Maybe the person working the checkout counter is a cute girl," he says. "But it's uncomfortable to ask for her number with all those people around. You can just hold your keychain up and say, 'Here's my ID. Look me up later.'"
When an ID number is typed into the site, users have the chance to send a note to the person's Flirting in Traffic inbox, which kicks off a message to their email account. Philips says it's anonymous, so there's no need to worry if the victim of a cutoff on I-95 will try to retaliate in person.
"The worst thing that could happen is, if you cut somebody off in traffic, you could get a nasty email from them," Philips says.
The site went live in early December and is free until March 31. As for Philips, look for him on the Schuylkill Expressway in his 1998 Saturn. He's user PA100.
Daniel McQuade (firstname.lastname@example.org) last wrote about attempts to drive military recruiters off Penn's campus.
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