In the 1980s and 1990s, when you found a gay haven, you stayed there. You ventured into the straight world only when absolutely necessary, and then you stayed closeted, undercover, careful not to let your guard down for a moment. If the straights found out that you were gay -- or even suspected -- they would scream "God hates you!" and grab the nearest baseball bat to attack.
But in July 1997, shortly before I left San Francisco to go to graduate school in New York, my friend David suggested that we drive down to Gilroy for the annual garlic festival.
"Are you crazy?" I exclaimed. "It will be full of straight people! We'd never make it out of town alive!"
"I was there last year. It's fine -- nobody says anything. The straights might not like us very much, but they don't mind taking our money. Besides, it's full of the cutest small-town rednecks you'd ever hope to meet."
"You don't....cruise straight men?" I asked, aghast. "That's just asking to get beat up!"
"Boy, you've got to get over this straight-o-phobia of yours. Straight guys get just as horny as you and me. Tell you what -- we'll get a hotel room, spend the night, and if you don't trick with a straight guy, I'll pay for the whole trip."
There was music, art exhibits, and cooking contests, but the main draw was the food -- garlic-infused everything, from burgers and pizza to muffins and ice cream (plus some non-garlic items). There were booths sponsored by town restaurants, charities, churches, and clubs.
Most of the crowd were aggressively hetero families or teenagers, but there was a scattering of gay people, in groups of four or five for protection.
David selected his straight guy to cruise right away -- a cute, muscular blond in a trucker cap who was staffing the petting zoo.
But I was uncomfortable trying to cruise among straight people. Finally I gave up and stopped at the garlic ice cream booth.
"Do you get much business?" I asked as he poured a bowl of diced garlic into the ice cream maker.
"Not too much in the afternoon. It's mostly a 'friends-dare-you' kind of thing, so we do good business at night, after the guys have a few beers in them."
"You work that late?"
He smiled. "I'm here until midnight, except for a dinner break at six."
The ice cream wasn't bad -- vanilla with a slightly spicy undertone. But definitely a fad item.
"Do you eat the ice cream yourself?"
"You know what -- I shouldn't tell you this, but I've been working here five years in a row, and I've never had a taste. Garlic isn't really my thing."
"Five years!" I exclaimed. "How old are you?"
"Twenty. I graduated two years ago. I go to UC Santa Cruz now, but the guys always ask me to work this booth -- it's tradition."
We chatted for a few minutes, and then Hector got a line, so I wandered away, looking for someone to cruise. Not much luck: straight guys made eye contact with strangers only to issues threats ("You're too close, back off!), or to respond to them ("You got a problem?").
"Can't get rid of you, can I?" he exclaimed.
"What can I say? I'm hooked!"
"I'll get you the recipe, so you can make your own, when you get back to..."
Suddenly David had his arm around my shoulders. "About to seal the deal with my guy. Who's this?"
"Hector. He's run the garlic ice cream booth for five years, but never tried it."
"Well, you should try it!" David said with a leer. "You never know what you're missing."
Hector scowled with unmistakable homophobia.
"Um...Hector, this is my friend David," I said. "We came down from the City together."
"What can I get you?" he said icily.
"Was that your guy?" David asked.
"No, we were just chatting, but when he found out we were gay, he turned into a first class homophobe! I have half a mind to go cruise him just to watch him squirm!"
We drove back into Gilroy, had dinner, and worked out in the hotel gym. Then I settled in for a night of HBO, but David wanted to go out. "Pete -- the petting zoo guy -- said he might stop in at Stubby's for a drink later. I'm going to check it out."
"Cruising at a straight bar? That doesn't sound safe."
"Don't worry, Mom, I'll be careful. Up for sharing?"
"Sure, if he agrees. But don't stay out too late -- I'm tired."
At midnight, David wasn't back yet, so I went to bed.
I awoke about an hour later to the warmth and pressure of someone between my legs, fondling me. David! I thought. He must have been unsuccessful.
Wait -- then who was lying beside me in the darkness? I reached over and felt hard biceps, a smooth hard chest.
I tried to make out his face. Young, Hispanic, smiling.
He drew me close, and we kissed. I ran my hand down, over his firm abs, down below his waist -- and found David, working on us both.
We changed positions a few more times, and then we fell asleep with Hector between us.
"I thought you were lovers," he told me in the morning. "That's why I got all bitchy -- how would you like it if you were just about to seal the deal with a hot guy, and his lover showed up? But then David came by the booth and explained the situation, and invited me over."
I still had to pay for my half of the trip, since Hector was technically David's pickup. And he wasn't straight.
See also: David pulls "it" out; David and I Pick Up a Teenage Hitchhiker; The Boy Selling Pickles at the Farmer's Market