Today’s essay is courtesy of a reader who wrote in the following question:
Give hope to the hopeless & tell us the funniest time you've mistaken someone's approach as something sexual when it was as mundane as wanting directions. If you have failures I may end up with one or two successes—and wouldn't you wanna help a brotha out?
I always want to help a brotha out. Here goes.
I’ve mentioned before that I didn’t learn to drive until I was in my early twenties. It wasn’t out of any particular timidity on my part to climb behind a wheel, believe me; I wanted to drive very badly, and concealing my lack of a license during my college years was both shameful and almost more work than the college courses themselves.
No, my dad very simply didn’t want to pay the exorbitant insurance rates on a teenager. I think he would have been quite happy to let me rely on him and on my mother for rides, and kept me on the mercy of the Richmond public bus lines until I was thirty, if he’d had anything to say about it—but when I moved to Michigan to attend graduate school there, I’d been working for a few years, had a little money saved up, and bought my first car from one of his colleagues. It was a dark blue 1979 Chevrolet Malibu with whitewall tires. Despite the fact it was over a decade old when I bought it, it only had something like 12,000 miles on it; the professor from whom I’d purchased it was a little old lady with a cane who drove it a mile back and forth to the campus every day, and then to church on Sundays.
Before I had my own family, and when my mom was still alive, I used to visit my parents in Virginia for all the big holidays. It wasn’t a small undertaking. It was the same thirteen-hour drive that I was still making when I started writing this blog, in fact—across the Ohio and Pennsylvania turnpikes, then snaking down through Southern Pennsylvania and West Virginia to avoid D.C.., and finally into Virginia to Richmond. In those pre-internet days I didn’t have a cell phone to talk in, or email to check, or Twitter to keep me amused. I didn’t have an iPod. My car stereo consisted of an AM radio that seemed somehow only to pick up Spanish-language channels.
So what I would do would be to spend a few days beforehand recording seven or eight mix tapes of my favorite eighties hits (this was during the actual nineteen-eighties, so they weren’t retro, then). Then I’d put my ginormous boom box in the back seat of my car along with a bag full of D batteries and all those mix tapes, hop in the car, and then start the looooong trip to Virginia with the Thompson Twins or Vanity 6 blaring from the speakers. I’m a very neat person (generally), and I keep my cars immaculate (usually), but between the boom box and the tapes and the batteries and the bag of snacks I’d bring and the maps I’d keep in the passenger seat because of my conviction I might get lost—a conviction that’s been proved correct more times than I’d like to admit—my car could be a mess when I was making one of those trips home.
Again, in those pre-internet times, picking up men was a very different thing than it is now. These days, if I wanted to hook up on the way back to Virginia, I’d maybe place a Craigslist ad beforehand, or fire up Grindr or Scruff or Adam4Adam on my cell phone when I’d reached a suitable resting place. In those days, I could stop at one of the numerous truck stops or rest areas along the way and try my luck in the men’s rooms. Or I could simply look out the window as I drove.
Oh yeah. Those were the glory days of car cruising. It was not at all unusual for me to find men to fuck around with simply by locking gazes with a man in the passing lane and pulling off at the next exit to drop trou in the woods, or behind a barn, or fuck in a car. Especially when I’d drive through West Virginia or the rural parts of Virginia. One trip, a platonic gay friend of mine was making his way to Florida. I’d agreed to drive him to Richmond, where another buddy of his would be taking him the rest of the way. We crossed the West Virginia state line and the cruising started. Guys were leering and winking at us from their cars. We drove into Virginia and one not-too-attractive fellow followed us for over twenty miles, leaning over to open his mouth and circle his O-shaped lips with his slurping tongue, to indicate he wanted to blow one or both of us. He’d speed ahead, slow down to let us overtake him, then repeat the invitation, over and over again. (It probably didn’t help that my friend kept winking at him to tease him, when we’d pass.)
So I was on the way down to Virginia for one of the holidays—Easter, I think it was. It was fairly warm. I had my boom box playing something embarrassing in the back seat. The greatest hits of Ta Mara and the Seen, maybe. I’m driving down a lonely stretch of West Virginia highway with nothing in front of me when a man pulls up beside me in a red pickup truck. It was like one of those red pickup trucks you’d see in country videos—not too shiny, not too beat-up. Well-worn. Obviously used, and not an affectation. And that the wheel is the most fucking gorgeous slab of beef I’d seen in a dog’s age.
I still remember what he looked like. He wore a yellow T-shirt with the sleeves ripped out so that they showed off his big ol’ muscular shoulders and biceps. His hair was short on top and had been trimmed with a precision level, and a little bit longer in the back. Yeah, he had a mullet of sorts, but they were more fashionable then. Shut up.
Even from a lane over I could tell that his eyes were an intense blue. And he had one those square faces that one sees on professional wrestlers—just big, handsome features so broadly painted that his good looks could be recognizable from a football stadium away.
I had my mouth open, singing along to some cheesy song. I snapped it shut, when our eyes locked. And then I swerved because I’d gone a little astray, and I’d overcompensated in steering back between the lines. Whoops.
He zoomed ahead and pulled in front of me. I followed a while, then passed him. When I turned to look at him, he stared back. He nodded. I nodded in return, with my heart pounding. This guy was a stud.
He passed me again. He looked down in my direction. Stared. My cock throbbed in my pants. My throat was dry. Still looking over his shoulder, he passed me again.
For about twenty minutes we passed each other, back and forth. He didn’t lick his lips or do anything so obvious, but every time I’d pass, he would stare, and stare. Finally he passed me a final time, then cut in front of me. He put on his blinker about a half-mile before an exit, and pulled off onto it when it arrived. I bit the bullet and followed.
He pulled into some kind of former gas station or something, right off the exit. It wasn’t open, and there were no cars there. My heart was still racing. Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck, I thought to myself. I would do anything for this guy and my car is a fucking MESS. I don’t know why it mattered to me; I think I was thinking that he wanted to screw, it’d be easier to do in the back seat. That Malibu was fuckin’ big enough. I could’ve hosted a small orgy inside and still had room left for a DJ. So for a frantic thirty seconds after I pulled into a parking space, I was leaning over in the back trying to dispose of a boom box, D batteries that had fallen out of their paper bag and were rolling everywhere, a grocery sack of snacks, and what seemed like a thousand mix tapes.
There was a tap on my window. The guy had gotten out of his truck and sauntered over. He stuck his thumbs in the pockets of his 501s. My view of him was of a sturdy but trim waist, his big basket, and that tight yello T-shirt broadening out into his big ol’ chest. I unrolled the window and looked out and up into those blue, blue eyes. “Hi,” I said. Only I’m sure it came out more like “H-h-h-h-h-huuuhh-h-h-h.”
He put his hands on his thighs and bent over. I could smell him. He smelled like armpit and motor oil—and that was fuckin' perfume to me! “Hey there,” he growled, in a deep porn star voice.
“What’s up?” I asked, trying to sound casual. I stretched out my legs so that he could have a view of the hardness in my pants.
“I noticed you back there on the freeway,” he said, but my Mental Sex Translator interpreted it as Boy, I’m gonna fuck that slutty little cumhole of yours ’til it bleeds.
“Oh yeah?” I asked. My Mental Sex Translator went Please, daddy. That’s how I need it.
“Yeah,” he said in his gravelly bass. “You should probably know your back left tire’s a little low.”
My Mental Sex Translator had already interpreted that as, Down on your fuckin’ knees, son, and choke on my big fat hog. But then I heard what he’d actually said and I was brought up short. “Wait, whuh?”
“Probably about five pounds flat, I’d guess,” he said. “Maybe seven. Just thought you should know.” He flipped me a two-fingered salute at his forehead, and turned to go, as my hope sank like the Titanic. Then he faced me again. “Oh. By the way.”
My heart went pitty-pat at his about-face. “Yeah?”
“Your gas cover door’s open, too.”
There was the crunch of his feet on the gravel, and then a cloud of dust as the pickup truck started up and turned down the state road.
My dick wilted in my shorts. I’d never felt so dumb in my life.
And I was still finding D batteries on the car floor for weeks and weeks afterward.