When I was growing up in Pocatello, Idaho, Upper Ross Park was known as the Fruit Loop. Men would meet behind evergreen trees, shrubs, and lava rocks, to have sex. I’m not sure how I came to know that, but I did. Queer knowledge has often been communicated undercover, via word of mouth, covert gestures, shared cultural touchstones.
Before I ever took a drink I also knew that there was a gay bar in Pocatello called Charlie’s. Years later I spent a lot of time in Pocatello’s one LGBTQ+ bar, which was no longer named Charlie’s. The bar had burned down in a (likely hate-fueled) arson fire. In its place rose The Phoenix.
Decades later, I am back, living on my parent’s farm outside of Pocatello caring for family. The LGBTQ+ bar has moved locations and is now called Club Charley's. Upper Ross Park is no longer a gathering place for queer men. Families and disc golfers now crawl over the rocks and into the underbrush that once shielded covert lovers.
These days many of us don’t have to rely on subterfuge to find other queer folks, although as legislatures around the country (including Idaho) burn through a string of anti-LGBTQ+ bills, I worry we may be cycling back to the repression that first drove us underground.
These days Charley’s can display a rainbow flag year-round, and instead of following rumors of fruit loops, queers can turn to dating apps to find sexual partners. One of the newest, Sniffies, the map-based cruising app, helped show me where the boys are now. It’s an undeveloped public park with dirt trails and bushes shielded from the road by trees.
The first time I walked there I was with my mom. As I waited for her to slowly exit the vehicle, I noticed a folded piece of paper on a log. I picked it up, unfolded it and read, “I love to suck dick.” It included a phone number.
I didn’t pocket the note. I didn’t call the number. But I did carefully refold it and place it back on the log like it was sacred. It had made me smile. It helps me to know other queers are here. It makes living on a small farm in a conservative community a tiny bit more tolerable. It helps me to know there are gay guys getting blown nearby. Even if I never meet them.
This piece initially ran in the Wanderlust section of Out Traveler's Fall 2022 print edition.