When I wrote my memoir, Postcards from Palm Springs, I included a reference to the exhibitionist who would stalk me as I walked my dogs. At first it was funny; then it became creepy. There is something unsettling about being followed by a naked guy with an erection, slowly driving his convertible beside you as you walk down the street. But I live in Palm Springs' Warm Sands neighborhood, where car cruising was epidemic in 2006, the year I began taking notes for Postcards.
My stalker still shows up in the neighborhood, although he has changed cars several times over the years. He always drives a two-seater convertible that rides low to the ground, allowing anyone to easily glance down at his assets. His current parade vehicle is a small white Mercedes. But his appearances are now less frequent, and the streets of Warm Sands have grown quiet.
At first I was puzzled about the change. None of the 11 gay, clothing-optional resorts within blocks of my house had closed, and their parking lots remained full on weekends. Then it dawned on me: Grindr had saved my neighborhood. In 2006, Internet connections took place, but smartphones had yet to be invented. If you wanted to hook up with random guys, you surfed and emailed via computer, a time-consuming and labor-intensive process where the returns were frequently nil. At the time, cruising in cars could logically be seen as a more direct route to success.
Then, in March 2009, Joel Simkhal launched Grindr, a location-based app for smartphones that was specifically designed to allow men to hook up with other men. It is now described in official press releases as "the premier all-male geo-social network app." The genius behind Grindr's formula was that it allowed members to create a free profile and upload a photo, and then locate available men via GPS technology, searching based on the user's cellphone location. It also tells you if a member is currently logged on to the site. Suddenly there was no need to waste time and gasoline, or to engage in lengthy exchanges with someone who was agoraphobic or hiding behind a bogus profile. Grindr is to hookups what Twitter is to essays. You don't just cut to the chase; you cut the chase itself.
Within one month of Grindr's 2009 launch, there were 10,000 users. Now nearly 10,000 new users join worldwide each day. There are currently 6 million Grindr users in 192 countries, and several newer men-seeking-men apps now compete for the Grindr market. In 2012, Grindr's inaugural Gay Travel Awards named Palm Springs "Best Gay Resort U.S." But Grindr's local success may inadvertently demonstrate the law of unintended consequences.
Since 2009, the number of random cars cruising Warm Sands has dropped precipitously. And I can tell you without reservation that the quality of those still circling in vehicles is not excellent. In the age of smartphones and even smarter apps, a guy desperate enough to perpetuate this auto-piloting phenomenon might as well paint "loser" on the side of his car. In 2013, these random heat-seeking missiles are not simply behind the curve; they're beginning to look sort of pervy.
As someone who is now single for the first time in decades, I'm contemplating a Grindr profile myself. I've downloaded the free app onto my phone and discovered a plethora of choices (and a few available neighbors) within shouting distance of my house. If I allow push notifications, anyone nearby looking at my Grindr profile can actually send a shout-out to the cell phone in my pocket. If I upgrade to Grindr Xtra, for a small monthly fee I can load 200 more guys at a time. Yikes!
Back in the era of personals ads, it took me years to place my one ultimately unsuccessful ad. My failure was probably related to the fact that I ended my ad with the tag line: "Don't respond to this ad if you can't use the word 'metaphor' in a sentence without first looking it up in the dictionary." What was I thinking?
I confess that setting up a profile now confounds me. How much information is too much information? Is this really age-appropriate? Should I go straight for some sort of second chakra come-on, or should I disingenuously express a desire to start a relationship with someone I know only from a photo? What name should I use? These issues are perplexing to me. A friend of mine tells me he has adopted the handle "Top 'n Nod." I have to give him props for coming up with a homo homonym that is also a double entendre, but I fear it will be about as successful as my "metaphor" misfire. But my friend is quick to explain, "If I run across someone with the name 'Bruce Shetta,' I'm in business."