Restaurants in the Straight World are a gamble. You never know which are gay friendly, and which are homophobic, until you get there.
Except for the Pizza Ranch.
I ate there for the first time a couple of weeks after I moved to the Plains.
It had an annoying cowboy theme and a gut-sloshing buffet: deep fried chicken, mashed potatoes, fried potatoes, chicken wings, bacon pizza, sausage pizza, taco pizza, and dessert pizza with frozen custard.
The "salad bar" consisted of macaroni salad, coleslaw, pudding, and a few paltry carrots and cucumbers.
The other patrons were all obese heterosexual couples with passles of kids.
All were obese. Every last one of them.
And it was openly Christian. Bible verses on the walls, Christian music for sale at the front counter, a prominently posted Mission Statement: “To glorify God by positively impacting the world."
By serving taco pizza and deep-fried chicken?
Its website doesn't say a lot about pizza, but it does offer resources on godly marriage, and spiritual discipleship, and a place where you can submit a prayer request.
Homophobic groups from Focus on Family to Mike Huckabee supporters hold their rallies there.
There were photos of the staff members who weren't there, engaging in wholesome activities like singing, playing a violin, playing football, fishing, and...um...just posing in a studly fashion.
Surely they're hired for their hotness, I thought. This is a male version of Hooters.
That thought might not be far from the truth. In 2001, co-founder Lawrence Vander Esch, the founder, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2001 for sexually assaulting his male employees. He fondled them and persuaded them to donate sperm samples for "medical research." While he watched. (He is no longer mentioned on the website.)
The hotness of the staff almost made up for the deplorably unhealthy food and deplorably fundamentalist ambiance. I've been persuaded to return several times by gay friends, who usually say things like "Who cares about their politics, when the eye candy is so incredible?"
Besides, it's rather fun to go undercover, mimicking their language and demeanor, knowing that if the staff and other patrons found out about me, they would be shocked. They would either run from the restaurant in terror or pull out a Bible and start screaming about Leviticus.
Oscar Wilde called it "feasting with panthers." One false move, and you're history. The deception is the excitement.
One day in the spring of 2015, I wondered, How far can I go without being discovered?
I didn't want to actually get outed, and be banned from the nightly hunk fest for life -- or worse, rile the fundamentalists so much -- Imagine! A sodomite in this holy pizza restaurant! -- that they would move from screaming to punching and kicking.
But how close could I get to the edge?
Experiment 1: Come with a guy.
I brought Chad, a regular at the M4M Parties. We loaded up on the least-greasy pizza we could find, cucumber slices, and carrots, and sat in one of the booths under Wild West wagon train mural.
No stares, no snickers. Since you pay in advance, there wasn't even a question of "Separate or together?"
Experiment 2: Discuss gay topics at the table.
"So, I had a date with Scott the theater major last week."
"How did that go?"
"Oh, he's super-hot, but we don't have a lot in common."
"Yeah, you can't always judge by how hot the guy is."
Experiment 3: Hold hands under the table.
Experiment 4: Wear a gay pride t-shirt.
I didn't want to wear it while paying, or I wouldn't be let in at all. So I wore a black button-down shirt over it, and unbuttoned when we started hitting the pizza buffet.
Stares, gasps, pointing mumbled conversations. The wait staff kept running into the back to get their coworkers to come out and look. There were several people at the pizza buffet, but when I approached they suddenly decided they didn't want pizza and hurried off.
I spent extra time at the pizza and salad bar, then returned to my booth.
Suddenly one of the wait staff approached. College-aged, light brown hair, thin, pale skin with two moles on his neck like vampire bites, handsome, smiling. "Pardon me, sir, may I join you?"
This was it! I was going to get screamed at!
Without waiting for an answer, he sat across from me and pulled a small New Testament from his pocket.
Bring it on! I can argue verse by verse, in the original Greek!
"I've seen you here before. You're so hot! Where do you work out?"
WTF? "Um...campus gym and the YMCA, depending on the day," I said, staring, clueless.
"I've been wanting to start a weight-lifting program. With so many gay guys around, getting buffed up would give me a competitive edge, don't you think?"
"Oh, I don't know. You look like you do all right."
Of course, when we got back to my apartment, we did more than discuss weight training.
Smooth body, into kissing and oral, gigantic uncut Mortadella.
"Pizza Ranch is great," Willy told me. "They think all gay men are swishy queens who live in San Francisco, so as long as you don't swish, you can get away with murder. I cruise guys all day long -- coworkers and customers! But you're the first one who made it this easy by actually wearing a gay t-shirt."
See also: We Hookup with the Waiter at a Mexican Restaurant; I Pick Up a Track Star in Small-Town Illinois; Cruised by the Waiter in a Crazy Retro Restaurant.