Sunday, November 20, 2016
Three Terrible, Horrible, No-Good Days of Cruising in Chicago
I'm in Chicago for a conference. I've been here many times, but not recently, and never to the heart of downtown, across the street from the Art Institute.
It's a rough neighborhood. There are a dozen panhandlers at every corner, lots of homeless veterans saying "please help," men singing loudly and yelling at no one in particular, and no way to avoid them without hitting the thousands of other scurrying pedestrians.
And even though the streets are arranged on a grid, I can't find anything. What should be around the corner is actually two blocks in the wrong direction.
There are no Asian restaurants in walking distance, if we consider "walking" "go outside, get lost, check GPS, get lost again, check GPS, literally trace your steps on the GPS while you are walking."
The hotel is just as bad, a maze of corridors and hallways, half-floors, rotundas, verandas, buildings inside buildings, with a map too small to read and contradictory information on directories. It charges $240 a night for a "basic room," the size of a closet, looking out on a fire escape, with wifi $20 per day, then offers you a "business upgrade."
The Art Institute of Chicago is just as bad: mazes, multiple floors that don't connect to each other, galleries off to the side of other galleries. I kept looking down at a sculpture garden, but couldn't figure out how to get to it.
Maybe I can assuage this very confusing day by going online and getting some cuddling and making out.
There are a dozen guys on Grindr in this very hotel. But no one approaches me.
Back home, I go on Grindr and I'm inundated by twinks in 15 minutes. Here I wait an hour. Nothing, except one guy who wants me to pay him.
I even send out "hellos" to everyone within 1/2 mile. One chubby cub wants to see my face pic, even though my profile has a face pic, and when I send it, he blocks me.
A terrible morning: trying to find breakfast that isn't the $30 buffet offered by the hotel, then two very boring conference sessions, a network meeting that's all complaints about the conference, and finally, I have to be the discussant to a session full of papers on topics I know nothing about.
In the afternoon, I take the train to Boystown, Halsted and Clarke on the North Side. It's nice to be in a gay neighborhood, with gay pride markers and rainbow flags, and half-naked men on billboards, even though most of the couples I pass are straight.
I go to the Steamworks, a bathhouse with a "glory hole row," places where you stand, and on a higher level there are openings for guys to insert their penises for blow jobs.
Years ago, I could go to Man's Country, which had a similar set up, and just walk down the line and pick who I wanted to go down on, and stay as long as I wanted.
Not this time. Guys take one look at me, and scram. Or stand there naked a few inches behind the glory hole, waiting for someone better.
I manage to go down on a cute South Asian twink with very dark skin, but only for a second before he bolts.
And a black guy with a very thin penis, wearing a cock ring. I dislike cock rings.
Otherwise I just stand there waiting, while guys walk up, look, and walk away.
Back to the glory hole wall. Three guys standing in the line, waiting. But when I approach, they all leave.
At least I know how to clear a room.
I lay down on one of the mattresses to rest, and a cute, smooth-skinned Hispanic guy plops down next to me and just lies there with his arm over his face. When I go down on him, he doesn't get aroused.
Must be drugged out.
There is literally no session this morning with any paper on any topic I am interested in. None. I hang out in my room all morning.
Back to Boystown in the afternoon.
I go to a used bookstore with a surly proprietor who orders me to turn off my cell phone and asks what I want.
Is everyone in Chicago rude?
The glory hole wall at the Steamworks is no better than yesterday. I manage to go down on a tall, well-hung Hispanic guy and a cute blond nerd, for a few minutes each. Otherwise it's wandering and waiting.
Finally I give up. I drop into a bar called the Town Hall Pub for a Diet Coke before getting back on the train to...shudder...my hotel.
It's mostly deserted. Are we in some postmodern world where people don't choose bars, neighborhoods, or friends based on whether they're gay or straight?
A blond twink approaches me. "Depressed over the election?" [Ten days ago, Donald Trump won the electoral vote and became President on a platform of white supremacy, bigotry, homophobia, and unbridled fascism].
"Well, yes, that," I say, "But I'm also depressed over the decline and fall of gay neighborhoods. When I was growing up in western Illinois, Chicago was a haven of freedom from a homophobic world, where guys cared about each other. We were all brothers. Now they won't even give you the time of day. You should have seen me clear the room at the Steamworks."
"Are you sure you're remembering Chicago right? Maybe you're being nostalgic -- as far as I've heard, guys in the baths have always been picky, waiting for Mr. Adonis to come down the hall."
"Yeah, maybe I'm just not competitive anymore. I do fine in small towns, but in big cities, too old."
"You're not that old. I'd guess...what, 60?"
"56, but thanks. I had no success on Grindr, either. Dead silence. And I'm no slouch -- I bench press 300 pounds."
He touches my shoulder. "I can see that -- and feel it. Let me ask you something. Instead of looking for a hookup, did you ever think of asking a guy out?"
"I'm just in town tonight. I can't really date."
"So you have time for dinner, right?"
The twink, actually a dialysis nurse named Dwayne, takes me to dinner at the Ann Sather Restaurant on Belmont, and then back to the his apartment, where we kiss and cuddle and listen to some weird kind of indie music before going into the bedroom. He is slim, smooth, hairless, but very well hung, with a very thick cut Kielbasa. The head is enormous.
I go down on him for a few minutes, but keep gagging, so he puts me on my stomach and rubs off against my butt crack without entering.
I can't spend the night, since I'm speaking at the conference at 8:00 am, so Dwayne takes me back to the train station. We exchange emails.
Chicago is a rough town, but there are some bright spots.
See also: My First Bathhouse