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Stretching Your Dating Dollars : Need a cheaper alternative? Try one of these.


Jim hawks his watch to buy a hair comb for his gal, Della. Meanwhile, she gets a haircut, finds someone willing to pay good money for used hair and buys him a watch fob.

Wait. That was an O. Henry story.

How about the time when Rocky was trying to get Adrian to be his girlfriend? He barges into an ice skating rink after closing and persuades the janitor to let her skate for a while.

No, that was a movie.

In real life, it's tougher to court without a wallet full of cash. A fancy restaurant. Tickets to a show. We're talking a week's salary for some folks.

So we did some legwork for you, researching low-price locales throughout the San Fernando Valley to compile a guide to cheap dates.

We have sampled each of the following suggestions and will vouch for their dollar-per-fun unit value.

Think of this as an "Impress for Less" guide:

Fore for One

Speaking of movies, who can forget "The Karate Kid" and that magic moment when a baby-faced Ralph Macchio courts Elisabeth Shue by taking her to play miniature golf? From such stuff springs romance.

But a smoochy round of putt-putt can run you $10 these days, and that's not counting cherry Cokes in the clubhouse. So we suggest the early-bird special at Sherman Oaks Castle Park. If you tee off between 10 and 11 a.m. on a Saturday or Sunday, it costs only $1 per player.

Course No. 1 is our favorite. It wraps majestically around a pond that appears to be filled with lime Kool-Aid.

Give Your Wallet a Break

At the Plush Cue Recreation Center, manager Ron Donnelly knows that times are tough.

"Oh my," he mutters. "I should say so."

But business has remained steady at this Canoga Park pool hall. It is not a fancy place, with its thin carpeting and fluorescent lamps overhead. But it is clean and the rates, at $4.50 an hour for two players, are cheap.

"We get a lot of guys bringing their girlfriends and wives," Donnelly says. "People are budget-conscious."

A cluster of video games--the electronic blare can be deafening--stands in the corner. If you have kids, you can park them with a fistful of quarters while you shoot a rack.

The Best Things in Life Are Free

Tucked away in the northwest corner of the Valley, Chatsworth Park South is a gem of a municipal recreation facility that offers stands of trees for a shady lunch or wide lawns for those who prefer to bask in the sun.

Such natural serenity is framed by rocky hills to the north and west, and there are trails that lead upward for an afternoon hike. Picnic tables and barbecue pits are provided. Best of all, Chatsworth Park South is rarely crowded.

So pack a lunch for a super-cheap rendezvous. And there's a basketball court, just in case you and your sweetheart feel like going one-on-one.

Hit the Road

Once you get west of the Ventura Freeway, past the convenience stores and tract houses, Las Virgenes Road to Malibu can make for a pleasant weekend drive. The route winds upward through the Santa Monica Mountains, then follows Malibu Creek down to the ocean.

The Venkateswara Temple rises in majestic white spires over the road west of Mulholland Highway. Stop in and walk around if you have the time. On the drive back, as you enter the only tunnel along the way, you can look up and see where the "Pink Lady"--a controversial 1960s nude painting-- used to be.

Beware of afternoon beach traffic.

It Doesn't Cost Anything to Look

In a city chock full of oddballs and misfits, the 11000 block of Magnolia Boulevard might be the quirkiest stretch of pavement to be found. It is just the place for you and your hip darling to window-shop.

First, duck around the corner to the Eclectic Cafe on Lankershim Boulevard. You'll need some caffeine ($1.50 for an espresso) to fuel your sojourn, and interesting art hangs from the walls, too.

OK, now head east on Magnolia and resist the temptingly seedy North Hollywood Billiards. Remember, it's cheaper at the Plush Cue.

The first stop is Kathy's E Boutique, a closet-sized store for vintage clothes, where you'll find everything from batik to a pair of see-through, hip-hugger bell-bottoms that Cher would kill for.

Next, visit the World Famous Philadelphia Sandwiches. For $4.50, you can grab what the sign boasts is the best Philly cheese steak in town. A large Italian sub with garlic topping is $4.95. Consult your significant other before ordering.

All of which leads to the Survival Store, where the windows are crossed with bars, but the sign says open. Cans of purified water line the shelves, as well as an eye-opening selection of books:

"Wound Management: A Comprehensive Guide to Dressing and Healing."

"Secrets of Modern Knife Fighting."

"Espionage, Down & Dirty."

And, a copy of Rush Limbaugh's latest tome is prominently displayed at the counter.

After the mayhem, you might be in the mood for charity. St. Anne's Thrift Shop is waiting to help. All profits go to St. Anne's Maternity Hospital in Los Angeles. Check the jewelry-and-mink room in back.

Music to the Ears

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