A bouncer herded us out the back door and down an alley. The bar was closing for the night.
I couldn't believe it. Fifty years old and I'd stayed awake long enough to close down the bar. Someone must have been spiking my Bailey's Irish Cream with Ensure.
As we passed the obligatory trash bins, feral cats, and grumbling homeless people, my friend stopped to light a cigarette.
"Do you know what all this reminds me of?" he asked.
I know I should have kept my mouth shut, but I couldn't resist: "Your first time?" I retorted.
The old-timers around us laughed hysterically, but the 20-somethings? OMG: They'd thrown so much glare my way, I'd thought I'd stumbled into a mirror ball factory.
"So sad," one guy whispered to himself. "What a pathetic way to live," opined another.
How I wished that these youngsters had cut me a little slack. They obviously didn't get the point behind my gallows humor: Back in our day, it was extremely difficult to meet people and even harder to find any privacy.
I came of age in a rural town in the early '80s. I had no idea who was gay and who wasn't. The odds of meeting a random partner on the street were astronomical. You had to meet the right guy at the right time, at the right place, under the right circumstances, and drop the right hints. (Yes, there was a pre-Internet version of Craigslist available, but deciphering enigmatic messages scratched into truck stop walls just wasn't my thing.)
If I was lucky enough to meet someone, the next step was to figure out where to go. Back then, few venues were available, so "date night" for me inevitably involved parked cars, lonely country roads, cornfields, barns, and -- in one instance -- a very amused highway patrol officer.
I know, I know; your high-tech, modern-day trysts don't always end on a high note either, but at least y'all get a two-minute warning before the battery in your Web cam goes dead. Back in my day, cops didn't afford us such a courtesy: They liked to wait until the last second before flipping on the klieg lights.
"Why not just hang out at a gay bar," you ask?
I had no idea where the gay bars were. You couldn't just Google their location back then. I searched the highways and byways for years but with no luck.
Then came the breakthough: During my sophomore year in college, the local TV news reported that a shooting had taken place at a certain downtown drinking establishment. While my dorm mates mocked and lampooned the drag queens and other patrons who were being interviewed, I quietly jotted down the bar's address.
A few days later, I stepped into my first gay club. I was 23.
Nowadays you can simply ask your smartphone for directions to the bar. Or print out a Google map. Or call a married Republican senator.
Indeed, when it comes to connecting with other gay people, you young guns have it made, and that's why I'd like to ask y'all a favor: Show us older guys a little empathy. We were young once too, and we did the best we could given the limitations of the day.
JOHN DANIEL lives in Sacramento. He collection of essays, Confessions of an '80s Gaybro, can be found at www.mywoundedmattress.blogspot.com.