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Originally published Sunday, January 30, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Matchmaker cabbie connects New York's lonely passengers

If you look hard enough, you can find anything in New York. So for the lovelorn who are burned out by the bar scene, fed up with personal...

The Associated Press

NEW YORK — If you look hard enough, you can find anything in New York.

So for the lovelorn who are burned out by the bar scene, fed up with personal ads or tired of scouring the Internet, there's 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," Ibrahim mused while driving through the city's West Village. "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 Ibrahim's cab with friends on the way to a party one day in April. When their conversation switched to how hard it was to find a decent guy, Ibrahim chimed in through the bulletproof partition: "Hey ladies, I make matches."

"He really got our attention when he said that," Dillon said. "I was kind of skeptical at first, but then I figured, 'Oh, this is New York, what the hell.' I figured he must meet a ton of people."

So Dillon — a 33-year-old graduate student in media studies — described what she was looking for in a guy, and gave Ibrahim her cellphone number. He called her about six weeks later and said: "Natalie, I have a guy for you."

"I couldn't believe it," she said.

She exchanged several phone calls with Martin Karamon, a 34-year-old lawyer, and they soon went on a date. The lovebirds are going strong six months later.

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"It's very surreal, but that's the way it happened," she said.

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

Playing Miss Lonelyhearts with a hack license comes naturally to 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. Ibrahim took her number.

A man got in his cab three days later and bemoaned his bad luck finding a woman. Ibrahim called the woman and gave her the man's number.

She called back three weeks later 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 matches for doctors, lawyers and students.

He since has been featured on Fox News Channel and NBC's "Today" show and in The Wall Street Journal. He has an agent shopping his story to producers in Hollywood.

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 settling 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, Ibrahim's 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 Ibrahim's first attempt to set her up. "But I'm very picky, and it's hard to meet someone right away."

She said she's willing, however, to give Ibrahim another chance to set her up.

"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."

Ibrahim said he will keep working on setting his passengers up 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."

And what about for himself?

"Marriage is not for me," said Ibrahim, who is divorced. But he has a girlfriend — a woman he picked up in his cab.

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