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Express Yourself:
Discovering The 'Cortina Principle'

or, Do What You Love and the Honey Will Follow

by Evany Thomas

My car is totally ridiculous. It's a 1966 Canadian Ford Cortina, a two-doored slip of a thing with peace-symbol tail lights, a sparkling white paint job, and big, red racing stripes. There aren't many of its kind here in the US and it's so cute and cheerful looking, people can't help but stare and smile when I drive by. As a friend of mine once said, "It's like driving around in the hotdog car...should I be waving?"

Sometimes I forget what a spectacle I'm helming and mistake all the attention as the result of a particularly good hair day. "I feel pretty!" I'll be singing to myself, "Oh so pretty!" And then one of my admirers will shout, "That three-on-the-tree or four-on-the-floor?"

Oh, yeah. The car. Everywhere I go -- parking lots, gas stations, intersections -- people talk to me about it. Did you know they used to race Cortinas against the 510s and the 2002s? Or that the car destroyed at the end of Christine was a Cortina? Or Ian Dury, of "Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick" fame, sang about Cortinas? My car is much more than a mode of transportation; it's the ideal conversation starter.

After years of driving a car that's essentially a parade of one, I've developed a group of theories, collectively know as the Cortina Principle:

1) People really do want to talk to each other; they just need an interesting topic, like a foreign vintage car, to overcome their innate fear of starting conversations with strangers.

2) Owning something interesting or unique can rub off its owner. People want to learn more about the fascinating person who acquired such a distinct item.

3) Your mother was right: Do (or buy) what you love, and you'll be exposed to people who share your fancies, however obscure they may be. ("Ohmygod! That girl likes freaky cars! I like freaky cars! Perhaps we are soul mates!")

Not that I recommend buying a Cortina just to meet people (unless you're the kind of person who's willing to spend ten months hunting for a new gas cap). There are far easier ways to distinguish yourself from the many other fish in the sea.

Dress for Success

Everyone knows that shoes, way more so than eyes, are the window to the soul (notice that I could have said "sole" -- you owe me big). The shod-dy thinking goes like this: Hiking boots indicate nature lovers possibly in touch with their feelings. Grubby black Converse hightops are short-hand for artists who paint and still listen to X or Sonic Youth (or are/were in a band influenced by same). Tassled loafers mean investment banking, woven-top slipper loafers mean real estate. Platforms are worn by ravers, trendsters, short people, or prat-fall artists looking to tumble into the arms of potential love interests. And so on.

Since people are already conditioned to look toe-ward for clues, it's the perfect opportunity to put the Cortina Principle into play and carve your own niche with a really distinct pair of shoes. It keeps people guessing ("Who is that mysterious, unclassifiable stranger? I must know!") and offers the perfect springboard for conversation.

Same goes for the rest of your clothes. Why not eschew the usual flat-front khakis and stretch capris and don items that set you apart from the crowd? Something small, like an exotic accessory, could be all you need. Or try combing garage sales and flea markets for some one-of-a-kind togs. Who knows? You may even lock eyes with a like-minded treasure hunter over a pair of old-school parachute pants. Even if you don't find a trend-upsetting outfit, you may spot some real conversation pieces for your apartment.

Which isn't to say that the Cortina Principle is all about buying your way into people affections. Indulging your passions and interests is another method of meeting simpatico folk.

Get Involved

What to do if loud threads and ostentatious wheels aren't your bag? Be not afraid. The Cortina Principle can also be utilized by people less inclined to buying or wearing flashy baubles. You might not know it, but you could already have something people are looking for.

Your red hair, gapped teeth, or even your dislike of buying things, for instance. You take them for granted, but entire communities revolve around simple attributes such as these. And they're dying to meet you.

Comrades can also be found in your less common traits. You may think you're all alone in your love of traveling barefoot, hunting for wild mushroom, or even listening to Swedish rock sensation Roxette, but you aren't. No matter how obscure or odd your interests, there's bound to be a group of people that shares your fetish, and they're hooking up in website chat rooms and conventions everywhere.

The key is to take a close look at yourself, then take a good look around -- you'll be surprised by how much you have in common with other people, and how much there is to talk about. You may even find a Cortina lover club meeting in a town near you.

Evany Thomas is the girl next door, if the girl next door was a one-woman media empire redefining the digital revolution from within.

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