Gay 101:

Cruising

For the sake of this lesson, weíre talking about cruising in a public place, not a bar. Bars have their own separate etiquette and weíll talk about that later.

You told me about a guy who was circling your car slowly - watching you, sizing you up. You said he was scary and his behavior was scary.

What you didnít tell me was if he was good-looking.

Let me say this first: He was attracted to you. He was cruising you. He was interested in you. Either that or he liked your car, which I doubt.

And, OK, I agree his behavior was kinda scary; circling over you as if he was a crow and you were some sort of roadkill.

Let me also say this: I am not in any way condoning public sex or nudity. Once upon a time in the not-so-distant past it was overlooked. It may have even been winked at. Not anymore. I also have to state a warning: Sex in public places is very dangerous these days. Itís true that police rarely raid adult bookstores these days, but it does happen, and all it takes is one complaint. Sex outdoors is really risking your future.

The United States has gotten a lot more conservative. Americans have always had a strong Puritan streak when it comes to nudity and sex but it has gotten worse since about 1990. Law enforcement puts the names of offenders online and in the newspapers. Sex offenders have to register. Elected officials want to appear "tough on crime" to voters. People donít want their kids exposed to public sex (I know, bad pun.) And really, can you blame them?

Here are some generalizations about cruising, whether itís done in a park, a bar or an adult bookstore. Cruising is bleakly depersonalized. Itís very difficult on your self-esteem. Just when you think youíre going to score with some hot guy, another old queen scoops him out from under you. Or, worse yet, no one approaches you or they walk away if you approach them.

Cruising is also addictive. Itís like gambling. Once you get that big score with that humpy number, chances are youíll be back again and again.

In my experience, you have to start with the right attitude and it is this: Be realistic about your expectations. You may not get any sex. And thatís OK.

OK, so youíre reading this and thinking, "How do you know so much about cruising if you havenít donít it yourself?" Well, I did cruise. A lot. But that was back in the eighties and nineties and I havenít done much cruising for about ten years. I also havenít had sex in public since then.

Even peeing on a tree nowadays can get you in trouble. So be careful. A little paranoia is a good thing.

One final warning: If the other guy looks too young to be there, he probably is. Donít take any chances. Oh, I know, young guys are so pretty and theyíre unbelievably horny. You can try asking for his ID and heíll probably laugh at you. Question him. "What are you doing here in the middle of Wednesday afternoon?" "How did you get here?" "What were you doing on 9/11?" If he answers, "I skipped school," "I rode my bike," or "My teacher brought a TV into our classroom." DONíT TOUCH HIM! Most judges will be required to lock you up and throw away the key. Youíll end up with a cellmate named Bubba whoíll say, "You my little puppy now."

Letís start with come cruising basics. Ready, class? Get out your pencils and take notes.

Some basics before you leave your abode:

--Bring your cell phone and make sure itís fully charged.

--Check the weather forecast. Go cruising another day if the weatherís going to be bad.

--Donít go cruising on a major holiday. This includes the Super Bowl. Few guys are going to be out, I guarantee it, and the ones that are will be really frightening.

--Dress for the weather. Black may be very slimming but itís hotter than hell in the summer. Dress warmly if itís cold. Donít wear anything that screams "queer."

--Bring a bottle of water.

--Carry a handkerchief or bandanna. You never know if youíll need to mop up. And itís useful for wiping your forehead on a hot day so youíll always look calm, cool and collected.

--If you smoke, make sure you have enough butts and a good lighter even though you canít smoke in most buildings. Itíll calm your nerves and give you something to do with your hands.

--If youíre bored easily, bring a book or a crossword puzzle or your Diskman. Donít leave it unattended or in an open car if you want to see it again.

--Do your homework. Find out the closing time (see below.) If itís a large park, rest area or forest preserve, there may be a certain area that is more cruisy than other areas. If your destination is a city park, it may be full of families during the day but get cruisy at dusk. Check out the internet.

--Bring your driverís license and proof of insurance. God forbid you should get stopped but if you do theyíre the first things the cops are going to ask for.

--Be realistic about your expectations. Youíre not going to meet Mr. Right. You probably wonít even meet Mr. Right Now.

Once you get to the park, rest area, or other cruising spot, look around. Get out of your car and case the joint.

--First, though, make note of the closing time, if there is one. Some forest preserves close at sunset and city parks often have a set closing time. If it isnít posted on the sign, look it up on the internet or call the Parks and Rec Department. And get the hell out well before closing time.

--What is the general condition of the area? A well-maintained park means it gets a lot of use. An area thatís a little rough around the edges means it may be more cruisy.

--If there are workers in the area such as cleaning crews, consider coming back another day. Or go to another cruising place. Why? Often these crews have radios or cell phones and they can, and will, report suspicious behavior.

--Walk a short distance along a path and look at the ground. Are there condom wrappers or used condoms? Are there beer cans or bottles? There could even be underwear or jock straps. Iíve even found notes and Polaroids. If any of the above are present, this is Party Central.

--Go inside a building whether itís a restroom or a picnic shelter. Check out any historic markers or monuments. Look at the walls, pillars, posts and picnic tables. Inside the restroom look in the stalls - but be discreet if there are other men in the restroom. What are you looking for? Graffiti. Read whatís going on and note the dates. You may even find warnings about recent busts or raids.

So, Scary Guy is circling your car. What should you do? The only way youíre going to discover the degree of his scariness is to talk to him. Make small talk with him. You do remember how to make small talk, donít you?

--Hot enough for you? (Or any of the weather-related questions.)

--I like your ____ (Fill in the blank. Shoes. Sweater. Smile. Whatever.)

--Got a light? (Make sure your lighter is in your pocket.)

--This old car looks like hell, but it runs and always starts.

--How Ďbout those _____ (fill in the blank with your favorite sports team.)

--A smile or a nod is a universal language and especially useful with recent immigrants.

--Or finally, simply, "How ya doing?" Or "Whatís up?"

--Donít rely on bad pickup lines. ("If I could rearrange the alphabet, Iíd put U first." Barf.)

It wonít hurt you and itís not going to lead to sex. Itís part of the cruising ritual. Listen to his comments and responses.

--If he asks your name, remember, you donít have to tell him your real name. Make something up. Better yet, develop an alter ego.

--Never accept any open drinks or food from him. Gay men know about date rape drugs, too.

--Politely decline any drugs or alcohol he offers, even though the offer is generous and even though you may really, really want to get buzzed. Youíre in a public place and the cops want nothing more than to find something with which to nail you.

--Never give your address or phone number.

--If he asks you if youíre a cop, tell him. If you ask him, he has to answer you honestly otherwise itís entrapment. If you ask him if heís a cop and he says Ďnoí then he isnít.

--If he says "Iíve never seen you here before" it really means that HEíS there a lot but he hasnít seen you there.

--If he mentions anything at all about money (His car broke down, he needs to buy cell phone minutes, etc.) RUN LIKE HELL and donít look back.

Those are the major ones. You have to develop your own set questions for the other issues depending on your preferences. For example:

--If I discover that he lives with one or more of his parents, I usually break off negotiations. Guys who live with their parents are losers or too young or just plain frightening.

--I run in the opposite direction if theyíre unemployed. Maybe itís just my own bias but he should be spending time finding a job rather than cruising.

--If he has open alcohol in his car or the back seat is littered with beer cans, he probably needs to be a Friend of Bill W. Keep away.

--Likewise if you see him using drugs. Remember youíre in a public place and there will be hell to pay if youíre caught with him, even if you havenít touched his stash. Thereís another very practical reason for avoiding obvious drug users. Any drug, including alcohol, lowers inhibitions and makes the user do things he might not have done otherwise. You have no idea where that mouth has been. Therefore drug users can be disease carriers. This is particularly a problem with younger gay men among whom meth is widely used.

--Be careful about approaching a guy who flashes you. It may be very exciting and even flattering. And I know that part of the excitement of cruising is the omnipresent idea youíre in a public place. But theyíre taking a risk that is probably well beyond where youíre willing to go. An arrest for public indecency is all it takes these days to get your mug on the internet as a sex offender.

--What about married men? Well, what about them? Many, many of the men you see cruising will be married. Maybe they got married because they felt they had to, maybe theyíre bisexual or curious. Or maybe the wife is pregnant and not putting out. Lots of men will remove their wedding rings and most will lie about being married. I personally have no problems with a married man but I have friends who do. Itís your call. Is it OK if you donít find out heís married until youíre both sighing at the ceiling? I donít know. But I do know that if youíre going to have a major guilt trip afterwards, itís not worth it.

He may ask, "What are you into?" Donít be scared off by the question. At least heís being upfront about what he wants and itís part of the negotiations. Donít tell him Ďanythingí unless youíre totally willing to follow up on that. ĎAnythingí could lead to you being bound and gagged in his basement while he prepares the cattle prod.

Look at what heís driving. We Americans define ourselves by our automobiles and when cruising can be a clue to the driver. We buy cars that reflect our image and values. Like a separate language, you can Ďreadí the driver by what he drives.

--Buicks are almost always favored by older men.

--Older men as well as blacks also drive Cadillacs and Lincolns.

--Minivans? The guyís married and/or has a family. Full-sized vans, on the other hand, are good; especially if they are the vans made for the trades or deliveries.

--SUVís probably indicate a family, but not always.

--Looking for younger guys? Look for practical cars like a Chevy or Pontiac. Toyotas and Nissans are good, too. A lot of times the cars may be older because theyíre family hand-me-downs.

--A sporty but impractical car like a Mini Cooper, a Miata, a New Bug and the driver is probably gay and pretty comfortable with his gayness, thank you very much.

--Pickups are usually good. The driver is probably looking for a quickie before he goes home to the pregnant wife.

--Sports and muscle cars like Mustangs or Cameros are a crapshoot. The owner could be a twink whose mommy and daddy are paying for the wheels. Or it could be a middle-aged man going through an identity crisis.

--Stay away from drivers of vintage, custom, and high-end cars like Corvettes. Chances are heíll be much more concerned about his car than you. And for Godís sake donít touch his car unless he invites you to do so.

--Donít dismiss a guy in a rusted old junker. He may be down on his luck right now but he still may be really hot.

--I donít know about you, but motorcycles are hugely sexy.

--If the guy has arrived on foot or on a bicycle, stay away! Heís probably too young. Donít offer him a ride and say Ďnoí if he asks for one.

Bumper stickers can be very revealing, too.

--A bumper sticker that says "Easy Does It" or "One Day At A Time" and the driver is in a 12-step program. That doesnít usually scare me off but the choice is yours.

--Anything with a rainbow flag or pink triangle indicates the owner is gay and proud of it. Ditto for bumper stickers that say "Silence = Death" or "Hate Is Not A Family Value."

--I usually avoid drivers who have Christian bumper stickers. His closet is going to be very deep and very, very dark. An exception is the rare message that says "The Uuncomon Denomination." Unitarian Universalists are very open-minded.

--Itís a sweeping generalization but bumper stickers that advertise sports teams usually indicate a straight man. Not that gay men arenít sports fans; far from it. But usually gay men wonít advertise it on a bumper sticker (or on clothing.)

--Union bumper stickers also indicate a straight man.

All right, so youíve talked to him and determined that heís not too scary. Now comes the real part of the negotiations.

--If youíre not attracted to him, let him down easy. Really. Thereís no need to be a prick about it. Just tell him youíre not interested and do it with a smile on your face. If you canít do that, rely on your acting abilities. "Would you look at the time!" Or plead an urgent meeting or appointment.

--If he doesnít get the hint try, "Iím just out to get some fresh air" or "I just wanted to get out of the house/apartment for a while."

--If he still doesnít get the hint, youíll have to be blunt with him. But please do it with a smile.

But if the attraction is mutual, you have some further negotiations to do. And the biggest is:

--Your place or mine? In some cases, the answer will be obvious. He has a roommate or you do or he is married.

--Use your questioning techniques before you decide. Determine how scary he is. Listen to your intuition and donít let your libido override it.

--Take your own car and donít let him ride with you. This gives you an escape if the situation is not working for either of you or if, God forbid, it gets dangerous.

--If you go to his place, let someone know where youíre going. At the very least, call your home phone (from your fully-charged cell phone) and leave a message on your answering machine.

--Get directions to his place before you leave the cruising area. If you get separated in traffic you can still find him.

--Donít go with a guy on a hunch. If itís been years since youíve been a bottom and you go with some guy whoís really hot and wants to screw you, the result is going to be a disaster.

--If the guy tells you he doesnít do something, believe it. Youíre not going to change him. For example, if he tells you he doesnít kiss, donít think for a moment that youíre going to change that.

--Hereís hoping your place is presentable, if thatís where you decide to go. The old bachelor thing of not washing the dishes until youíre out of teaspoons is not going to make a good impression.

--Try to be a good host and make him feel comfortable. Offer him a beverage. A lot of guys need porn to help them get in the mood, so to speak. Go ahead and put a video in. Hopefully, you have at least one straight video in your collection if thatís what he wants.

--The bathroom is a great place to get yourself together if youíre nervous. Excuse yourself. While youíre in there, calm yourself and make yourself look presentable. Rinse your mouth out and wash your hands. DO NOT snoop in his medicine chest. Itís dishonest and unethical and you may find things there you wish you hadnít. And, for Christís sake, flush.

--Try to make it work even if youíre disappointed and even if itís not going the way you wanted. There must have been some mutual attraction otherwise you wouldnít be where you are now. Adjust your expectations. Be flexible. Mutual masturbation, for example, can be hot even if itís not what you wanted. Give it a little time.

--On the other hand, you have to have limits. If you absolutely canít make it work, break it off and donít feel guilty about it. Be gracious but honest about it.

-- Relax! Sex is supposed to be fun.

Finally, keep in mind that every guy you meet is a potential friend. At the risk of sounding like a Hallmark card, one canít have too many friends. Even if youíre not attracted to him in a sexual way, you have an ally; someone to laugh and gossip with. Itís fun to pull into a cruising place and see someone you know. And Iíve gone out cruising only to spend hours with friends. Iíve even played cards at a park I used to cruise. A more experienced friend can help you negotiate the complicated mating dance known as cruising. Heíll tell you which guys are truly scary and which ones are potential partners. If heís less experienced, you have someone to commiserate with and someone to tell your experiences.

© 2005 Nick Archer