Last year, Payam Rajabi got a new job and had to leave Toronto and his girlfriend Clare and move to San Francisco. All that left him feeling a little down — until he came up with his upsy, downsy Valentine idea.
He jumped on his bike, opened his iPhone to a map of San Francisco, and tracking himself with a GPS, he rode 27 miles around the city, taking two and a half hours, burning 1,135 calories and carefully etching a heart shape onto a city map ... like this ...
... all for Clare. "Clare and I have been doing the long distance thing for the past few months. I wanted to do something a little different to surprise her on Valentine's Day," he told his local bicycle store. And to make sure Clare knew this was a labor of love, emphasis on "labor," Payam not so modestly included an elevation map of his ups and down, so Clare would know that about 12 miles in, he had to pump his way up one of those muscle-wrenching hills, (maybe near McLaren Park?) to map his loving heart.
... for which, we assume, Clare has baked him some cookies ... with lots of butter.
The folks at the bike shop, aware that Payam had used one of their "Mission" bikes to make the trip, put his Valentine on their website, and you know how these things go — Payam's map got picked up by Cyclelicious, a geeky bike equipment site, by Uptown Almanac, a local blog, by Health 2.0, a health news site, by Iranian.com, a Persian-American site. Payam was named "Iranian of the Day," and within the year, ka-ching! An ad agency called.
It was Verizon. They asked Payam if he would get back on the bike and do the whole thing over again, this time tracked by a rigged out truck with a giraffe-like hi-cam, and a lionish lo-cam that raced him up and down hills and streets pushing those cameras inches — literally inches — from his head as he dropped down hills at 50 miles an hour ...
... then they had the bike shop duplicate his original "mission" bike; they hired a body double for the long shots, closed down streets, rejiggered traffic lights so they could shoot from below, above, from up the block, down the block and if you've been watching TV, Payam is everywhere now, his 2 hour 27 minute pilgrimage of the heart collapsed into 27 seconds, set to music and turned into this:
Socially conscious bloggers worried: another "blatant case of ripping off a cool indie project and stealing it for a mega-million dollar commercial"? Well, not really, not if they could have had any gorgeous actor they wanted (an actor with a Payam-hair wig played his double-but you only see him from behind staring out at the Golden Gate Bridge). All the other shots are Payam playing Payam. So they chose the real deal.
But I am left with this dangling question: That girl in the café, who gets his Valentine? She's not Clare. Look at the top of this column (that's Clare) and at the bottom (that's an actress). What's it like for real Clare to see an ad starring her real boyfriend with a real valentine that goes to a substitute Clare? "She really liked the ad," Payam told me, but, and here his voice got a little softer, "I think she'd have liked it better if she'd been the girl."
Robert Krulwich is co-host of Radiolab, WNYC's Peabody Award-winning program that examines big questions in science, philosophy and the human experience through compelling storytelling. Today, Radiolab is one of public radio's most popular shows. Its podcasts are downloaded over 4 million times each month and the program is carried on 437 stations across the nation. In addition to Radiolab, Krulwich reports for National Public Radio. “Krulwich Wonders” is his NPR blog featuring drawings, cartoons and videos that illustrate hard-to-see concepts in science.