Opinion
3 min

The gay arcade (Part 1)

Exploring the dark hallways behind a sex shop

“The Gulch looked like any other smutty sex shop: lube bottles lining the walls, neon signs hanging from above and racks of clearance DVDs.” Credit: Gourmet G / Yelp

Clive texted me for a second time, but I ignored it. It was just past noon on a Monday and he was craving a lunchtime quickie. I needed to stick with my decision to not have sex with him, even though it probably would have helped take my mind off DH. Instead I decided to go to the Folsom Gulch in Soma, a gay video arcade. I’d never been to one before, but San Francisco had a few and I thought I’d give it a try. I’d read somewhere that arcades are sometimes attached to sex shops so customers could  “view” the pornography prior to purchasing it. Who purchases pornography these days? Honestly, I was just hoping to catch some straight guys on their lunch break.

The Gulch looked like any other smutty sex shop: lube bottles lining the walls, neon signs hanging from above and racks of clearance DVDs. The man behind the counter was texting on his phone as I approached him to ask how the arcade worked.

You pay $10 for in and out privileges until 6pm. For an extra $5, you can get in and out privileges all evening. I couldn’t imagine making a night of it, so I just paid the minimum. “Is it just over here?” I asked, pointing to chain divider toward the back of the store. He nodded and continued texting.

I moved past the chains and found myself in a dimly-black-lit hall lit. Tens of guys lined the walls and the shadows of others shuffled about. It was a small space, but it looked busy.. The hallways formed a square, with most of the booths in the center and a couple of them off to the side. As I strolled through the halls, I was captivated by the muffled sounds of porn playing inside the booths and the peculiar hum of the air vents above.

I found a spot against the wall around the corner from the entrance and watched guys circle around the space. They’d try to open each door that they passed, but most were locked. If they weren’t circling, they’d stand up against the wall with me like they were waiting in line at Starbucks. It wasn’t cruising like I expected. Whenever someone would leave a booth, another guy would jump to get inside.

It was hard to tell what anybody actually looked like because of the dim lights, so my imagination filled in the blanks. I wondered how I appeared to them — probably just like everybody else.

A man in his late 40s entered my peripheral vision and stood against the wall a few meters away from me. He was 6’2” with the same sort of build as DH: a strong, thick frame. I looked over and smiled, but he turned his head away and stared at the wall before joining the stream of people flowing through the halls. He passed by me a few minutes later, and this time I decided to follow him..

Having failed to find an open booth, the guy returned to his original spot. When I moved back next to him, he noticed that I’d been following him.  He shuffled about nervously then took off in the opposite direction  like a frightened squirrel. I didn’t think I had come on too strong by just following him. But we were at a gay arcade, so maybe that was enough to scare him. Maybe he was straight.

I didn’t see the guy after that.

Not having been to an arcade before, I assumed guys would hook up in the halls and use the booths to fuck, but I’d only seen one couple go into a booth together. Most went in alone. They couldn’t just be jerking off to porn in there, could they? I joined the flow through the halls again, turning each doorknob that I passed. I went around a few times with no luck, but eventually someone stumbled out of a booth, and I popped inside and locked the door. There wasn’t any porn, or even a screen. It was just pitch black. I reached out, thinking someone might already be in there, but it was empty. It took a few moments for my eyes to adjust. I then noticed a gloryhole on the side and a larger hole above it at eye level. I moved closer to the hole and squinted to see inside . . .

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