The other end is popular with another set with a much lower profile in this suburban setting: gay men cruising for sex. Their playing field is the parking lot itself and the goal is a sexual encounter, usually quick and anonymous.
Manhattan may have its gay bars and such traditional pickup spots as the woods of the Ramble in Central Park and the piers of the West Village. But in the less-accepting climate of the suburbs and the boroughs outside Manhattan, gay men often resort to courting one another from the relative safety and privacy of their cars. They troll remote parking lots that become de facto pickup spots well known in gay circles but not to the general public.
Long Island spots include Two Mile Hollow Beach in East Hampton, the Field 6 parking lot at Jones Beach, a rest stop near Exit 52 on the Long Island Expressway and the park-and-ride lot on Route 110 in Melville. Each has its own culture and often its own set of protocols, ranging from parking position to the flashing of headlights or blinkers as mating calls.
The parking lot in Queens seems to be especially popular with men who lead ostensibly heterosexual lives but show up for sex because it is quick, easy to get and secretive, regulars say. The lot, along Hollis Hills Terrace just south of 73rd Avenue in Queens Village, is close to several major parkways, and its location helps make it popular with men who commute between New York City and the suburbs, where they often have a house, a mortgage, a wife and children.
“The vast majority of men who come here are married,” said one longtime parking lot user, who like the other men interviewed there recently would not tell his name because of concerns ranging from embarrassment to fears of gay-bashing.
“I can’t tell you how many guys I’ve had here who were wearing wedding bands, with baby seats in the car and all kinds of kids’ toys on the floor. It’s on their way home and they don’t have to get involved in a relationship or any gay lifestyle or social circles. They don’t even have to buy anyone a drink or be seen in a gay bar. They just tell the wife, ‘Honey, I’ll be home an hour late tonight.’ “
Regulars say that the married men enjoy the risk and recklessness of semipublic sex, which usually means receiving oral sex in their cars or having other sexual encounters in the woods nearby.
“Some aren’t getting it at home,” the man added. “Some say, ‘I’m not even gay. I’m just bored.’ “
Almost any time from noon till 9 p.m., when the lot is officially closed, the scene is the same. The narrow section has two long rows of parking spaces into which the men back their cars, forming two rows of cars facing each other with a thoroughfare between them.
Each newcomer trolls this thoroughfare with all eyes upon him and surveys the other men in cars, who may either perk up and look interested or shut the window and look away. Then with a dramatic swoop, the driver will back his car next to the car of the man he is pursuing.
It all has the deliberate positioning, shifting and movement of a chess game. The parking lot is a fishbowl and the action unfolds like a soap opera each day. Some longtime lot regulars who are openly gay enjoy gathering to observe and narrate the forays and entreaties as they occur. The lot serves the lonely as well as the lusty, they said, helping men seeking friendship and a place to socialize and bond.
“There’s so much loneliness among gay men,” one lot user said. “A lot of guys just want someone to talk to.”
The parking lot’s use as a gay cruising spot goes back at least to the 1960′s, several older men said. “I spent the halcyon days of my youth here,” one said. “This place was paradise back then.”
As for sex, the regulars say that they prefer the parking lot to gay bars since there is little in the way of drugs and alcohol and there is more honesty about sexually transmitted diseases. Many regulars say they make arrangements to go home together or to a motel since a strong police presence makes sex in the car or the woods too risky. They add, however, that for certain men, this risk only increases the excitement and allure of on-site sex.
“You would not believe the guys who come here,” said a 50-year-old Queens man who repairs boilers and is a regular. “You have judges, doctors, lawyers, firemen, cops, sanitation workers. You have guys coming here with totally normal lives, married with good jobs.”
Another set of parking lot users is much more reluctant to discuss the cruising activity. These men begin to arrive sometime after 5 p.m. wearing shirts and ties and driving S.U.V.’s and snazzy sports cars. These men tend to be slightly jittery. Sometimes their cars have tinted windows. Generally, they refuse to discuss the parking lot with a reporter or say they have simply come to read a book or relax in their cars.
While most lots are far from public view, the one in Queens is hidden in plain sight. The lot can be found on Web sites listing gay cruising spots, including one that describes it as a “cruisy parking lot” that “seems safe and private enough.”
The activity seems not to be noticed by nonparticipants. Even the softball players who arrive after work and change their shirts outside their cars do not seem to notice the admiring audience they attract since most of the gay men do not leave their cars.
When contacted about the parking lot, the president of the Friends of Cunningham Park, Marc A. Haken, said he was “totally unaware” that there was sexual activity there.
Mr. Haken said that some years ago there was a well-known cruising spot in another parking lot, farther inside the park, and that many participants often repaired to the woods for sexual encounters.
“You would see one guy in a car and then another head would pop up, or they would gather and have sex in the woods,” he said. The lot was partitioned off in recent years for official vehicles, he said, adding, “I guess that’s when they – I hate to say ‘they’ but I don’t know what words to use – they migrated to the other lot.”
He said that there had been no complaints from park users and residents.
“But I don’t think that 10-year-olds in a parking lot on the way to soccer should see some guy getting oral sex in a car,” he said. One recent evening, a half-dozen mothers stood chatting, waiting for their children to finish soccer. A stone’s throw away, a group of gay men stood narrating the attempt of a man trolling the lot in a tan sedan to woo the cute man parked in the black S.U.V. with tinted windows backed into a spot.
“The guy in the brown car’s a dog, he’s always here,” the man narrating said. “I’ve never seen the black car before. But watch, here he’ll pull right up to him and see what happens.” Within moments, the man in the tan sedan hopped into the S.U.V. and the windows closed.
“Woop, there he goes,” the narrator said. “You go, girl.”
While gay gatherings take many forms in ethnically diverse Queens, from the scene in Astoria Park to the gay bars serving Central and South Americans in Jackson Heights, many ethnic groups have strong taboos against homosexuality.
“Society doesn’t accept us and it’s hard to meet people, sexually or socially,” said a 42-year-old graduate student from Queens visiting the parking lot. “You know, not everyone who’s gay lives in Manhattan and runs in packs like ‘Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.’ “