From the looks of Carlos Stewart's finalist questionnaire, it wasn't clear at first that he had what it takes to win Vita.mn's Hotness competition. Let's see: Works with kids for a nonprofit. Pursuing a master's in education. Has a (sigh) long-term girlfriend. All good stuff, but is it necessarily hot?
On paper, Carlos isn't exactly the jet-setting sexpot we envisioned after seeing his nomination photo -- dreamy looks, pensive expression, iconic San Francisco architecture in the background. I hastily decide he must be more square than sexy, and request to meet him at a SuperTarget Starbucks on Friday night, instead of my first choice of a nearby bar.
"That's too bad," Carlos says after I come clean about the venue change, five minutes into our meetup. "I could really use a beer after the week I've had."
He tells me that his week was a typical one, with half of his time spent working as a behavior intervention specialist at a St. Paul middle school, and half spent running an after-school basketball and mentoring program for boys. Both duties can take an emotional toll on Carlos, since providing kids with rides to school, getting them a decent meal and even finding them a safe place to sleep at night are often all in a day's work. The two hours we spend chatting over lattés are the quietest two hours of his week, despite the fact that his phone vibrates nonstop in the pocket of his nylon winter vest.
He refuses to reach for it, saying, "This is great. You have no idea how great it is for me to just sit here and talk and not think about any of that."
Carlos is incredibly easy to talk to -- hotness point No. 1. That should come as no surprise, considering what he does for a living, but the man is a master of naturally flowing, take-turns conversation.
Carlos is also pretty easy to look at -- hotness points 2 through 10. Manicured dreadlocks spring stylishly from a North Face stocking cap, framing a Superman jaw line that's dusted with a few days' stubble. Multicolored Nike Airs match a plaid muffler, offset by muted indigo jeans and that black vest -- an effortless style that's decidedly masculine.
He's also sporting a cute pair of brindle spectacles, but his soft brown eyes still make their presence known, a constant beam of compassion even when his speech goes harsh. Carlos doesn't hold back on the F-bombs (an occupational hazard, he admits), but they only seem to add conviction to every point he stresses. This square makes swearing sexy.
Our paper cups are nearly empty, and I've become smitten in an admiring, respectful, nonthreatening way. It's finally time to talk about the girlfriend.
They met at Dayton's Bluff Elementary in St. Paul, where Carlos was working for AmeriCorps in his first job out of college. A small-town girl who now teaches in an affluent suburb, and Carlos isn't shy about his occasional role as an adviser to her -- a yin representing the dark depths of working with inner-city kids to the yang of her job's relative comforts.
Where they meet in the middle is hard to discern, though he insists they are an ideal match. Carlos is "big on the little things" in their relationship, like going out for breakfast on weekends, taking walks with their two dogs and cooking together on the rare nights he's not carting kids around in his 15-seat passenger van (yes, that's what he drives). He waxes on about her patience for what he refers to as his "calling," but when pressed, admits that his dedication to his work also frustrates the hell out of her. He readily admits to getting completely absorbed in the counseling, coaching and mentoring, often all but forgetting to devote time to their relationship. I ask Carlos when Amanda's birthday is, and suddenly he's a shaky contestant in the final round of "Jeopardy!"