Writers on Strike Make Time for Romance at Picket Lines
LOS ANGELES — “I’m not out here necessarily for love — I’m here for a strike daddy,” Brett Maier said, a length of blue yarn tied around his wrist.
Mr. Maier, a 35-year-old television writer, had recently arrived at a picket line outside the Universal Studios lot, where dozens of writers were gathered on the ninth day of a writers’ strike that has brought Hollywood productions to a standstill. But while the Writers Guild of America remains laser-focused on securing better compensation and protections from studios, its membership is only human: After spending hours marching around in a loop with the same people, a few connections are bound to be made.
“If things happen, past strike, that would be wonderful,” Mr. Maier said of his would-be strike daddy. “But if there’s someone I can come here every day with and just chitchat for four hours and go home, I’m happy.”
Around 5 p.m. on Wednesday, a large crowd mostly made up of Writers Guild of America members gathered for a singles event at Roadside Taco, a Studio City taco spot a short walk from the Universal picket line.
At the restaurant, the line to order was spilling out the door, making it hard to move around. There were at least 200 people at the event — cheekily titled Strike Up a Romance — about an hour into the night.
“It’s like traffic,” said Diego Ramirez, a filmmaker who was sitting at a bistro table alone, taking a break from mingling. “The more dense it is, the more it’s hard to move around.”
Anabel Iñigo, 28, was waiting to snag a table outside when she engaged in what she called a “very flirty” conversation with a man to whom she eventually gave her contact information.
“I accidentally texted me through his phone and spelled my name incorrectly because I’m so tired from walking for four hours,” she said. “My last name is I-N-I-G-O and I added in a D. I don’t know why I did that.”
While fighting to “save the companies from themselves” earlier that day, Michael Robin said, someone on the picket line had caught his eye, and he was hoping he would spot her at the restaurant.
“I was in the crosswalk,” Mr. Robin recalled. “She was wearing an orange vest and a W.G.A. captain baseball cap. She saved my life from oncoming traffic. Sparks flew.”
“She said she was going to be here, so we’ll see,” he continued. “I asked her if she knew about the singles event and she said, ‘Oh yeah, I requested this shift.’”
Hours before the mixer, protesters packed the sidewalks outside the Universal Studios gates, marching in circles, chanting and waving signs. At a table set up across the street from the picket line, organizers were handing out strips of yarn in different colors: blue indicated that you were interested in men; pink, in women; purple, you’re fluid. Many stopped by the table to grab a piece to tie around their wrists, delighted by the news of an open bar.
One person could be overheard sharing a hopeful thought: “Maybe I’ll meet somebody.”
“Manifest that,” someone replied.
Asked about their dating lives before the shutdown, several writers described being too busy working long hours in writers’ rooms or on set to make time for romance. One silver lining of the strike: They now have more time to connect, platonically and romantically.
Varta Torossian, a television drama writer originally from Bulgaria, said she would prefer to date someone from the industry who could understand her lifestyle, but had found it difficult to make time.
“I seriously think the W.G.A. should have their own OkCupid — OkWriters or whatever,” she said.
“We’re fighting to not be squeezed out of our life and savings,” she added, “but to have personal lives and to have sustainable lives and time for ourselves.”
At Paramount Studios earlier on Wednesday, Ashunda Norris, a 43-year-old filmmaker, was taking a moment to rest from the march. She said she had been single for years and had recently tried Her, a lesbian dating app, but had mostly taken a break from dating, calling the process “overwhelming.”
“If I’m in preproduction or production, dating is not going to happen,” she said. “If I’m on set for eight hours, 10 hours, sometimes 12 hours, I’m not going to have the energy to go on a date.”
Outside the Paramount gates, dozens of picketers waved signs while others carried open pizza boxes so members could fuel up with a slice. The gathering was also the first official Black writers meet-up on the picket line organized by the guild’s Committee of Black Writers. (A friend on the picket line admitted to scoping the area for eligible Black men. She was aware of the singles mixer but passed, liking her odds better outside the Paramount gates.)
Back at Roadside Taco, the outdoor seating area was crowded, with a long line of people waiting to grab a drink at the open bar curving into itself. Picket signs were parked upside down in various corners so people could free up their hands for margaritas and tacos.
The mixer was the brainchild of Jaydi Samuels Kuba and Lauren Rosenberg, two industry professionals who run a matchmaking business together; Debby Wolfe, the showrunner of “Lopez vs. Lopez”; one of the show’s writers, Marcos Luevanos; and the writer Deanna Shumaker.
Ms. Wolfe said she had been hearing people express interest in meeting other singles on the picket line and was inspired to host a mixer, taking a cue from the last major strike: “We’ve heard these legends of writers meeting their spouses at the last picket in 2007.”
Hunter Covington and Stacey Traub, who met during the last strike at a singles-themed picket that Mr. Covington organized in 2007, were on the line on Wednesday. They recently celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary.
“Everyone here has a lot of time — all they have is time,” Ms. Traub said. “You only have to picket four hours a day, the rest of the day’s free.”
Nye Littlejohn, a TV writer, was at Roadside keeping an eye out for a cute man she had met at Paramount during the Black writers gathering.
“I met somebody really beautiful there, but he’s not here, so he’s not single,” she said.
Mushad Moore, an actor and writer, sat alone in the back of the restaurant’s patio area, away from the crowd. After being on the picket line for most of the afternoon, all he wanted was to rest.
“I’m tired as hell,” he said. “Right now, the mingle’s got to come to me.”
For Max Larsen and Phillip Walker sparks really started to fly. Mr. Walker was striking on the picket line outside Universal when he heard someone yell out to him, “Oh, hello blue,” referring to the blue yarn around his wrist.
“I looked over and there was this really cute guy, and that was Max,” Mr. Walker said. “And that was hours ago!”
The two later ran into each other at Roadside after exchanging glances across the bar and eventually joined each other at a table and began talking about how they are both from Chicago. At one point they even exchanged a kiss.
Mr. Maier was waiting outside at Roadside to grab a cocktail, but there was still no sign of a strike daddy: “I’ve waited in line for an hour, so I haven’t been able to find him yet,” he said.
Ms. Samuels Kuba, one of the mixer’s organizers, said that the night had far exceeded her expectations. “I think people knew that we were going to focus on picketing and then I’ll find this person later over tacos,” she said.
Attempts at romance weren’t limited to the picket lines: During its brief existence, the Twitter account @WGAStrikeBaes promised to help bridge the missed connections on the picket line. The page was later taken down after causing anger for sharing submissions that included gender speculations and racial stereotypes like “spicy Latinx” and “Nubian goddess.” The creator of the account declined a request to be interviewed.
Some strikers also went online to criticize others for expressing interest in dating on the picket line, worried it could overshadow the strike. But others argued that activities such as the singles events and the Black writers meet-up would help sustain the W.G.A. membership through what is expected to be a long strike.
At Disney Studios on Thursday, a day after the mixer, strikers were in full force. Some made laps around the entire campus, while others performed karaoke, singing songs like “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child and “Hey Ya!” by OutKast.
Michael Rodriguez, 28, was recapping his experience at the singles mixer the night before while picketing at Disney. “It was packed,” he said. “The venue couldn’t hold us. Many writers are interested in finding love. I think that’s what that means.”
Shakinah Starks, an actress, said she hadn’t been searching for anyone but did have what she called a “semi-meet-cute.”
“Someone accidentally smacked the hell out of me with a sign,” she said. The man apologized, but a friend of hers saw an opportunity. “My friend was like, ‘Now you owe her a drink,’” Ms. Starks said. “And I was like, ‘I don’t want to put that pressure on him because he’s also not being paid.’”
Tash Gray, the writer and producer who led the planning of the Black writers’ meet-up the day before, said at the Disney picket line that she had received several messages from people expressing gratitude, and others asking her to plan a Black singles mixer.
“I got that request twice, and one was from a guy,” she said. “So I was like: ‘You know what? I would be open to doing that.’”
Matthew Rasmussen admitted that he had, on occasion, checked Grindr while at the picket lines to see who was nearby. He hit it off with a fellow picketer at CBS, and they spent most of the afternoon getting to know each other. Mr. Rasmussen was hesitant to ask him out in front of colleagues, and they eventually were separated at the end of the day.
He almost gave up searching for him after not finding him on Grindr and social media, but the man soon sent him a message.
“It was basically a mirror image of what I was feeling,” Mr. Rasmussen said in a phone interview on Saturday. “He was like, ‘Man I really wanted to ask you out for a drink but I didn’t want to do it in front of my co-workers.’” They met up at a bar before the weekend and hit it off.
“I think we might start seeing each other,” Mr. Rasmussen said.
Send your thoughts, stories and tips to [email protected].