We pulled into Spokane, and I did the first thing I always do when I get to a new city: I opened Tinder and started swiping. It's an anthropological experiment (or at least that's what I tell myself). In Copenhagen, the men are square-jawed and straightforward and direct. In New York, they are either stylish metrosexuals or guidos from Jersey who wear wraparound shades and message aggressively. In Seattle, they are very wan, very passive, and very meh.
Since I was the only one of the Stranger crew who had my own hotel room, I got to work and started swiping left and right.
I'd set my parameters to get men from 30 to 43—and I was now seeing so many pictures of children, I thought I was looking at an ad for a day-care center. Apparently, there are a lot of single fathers in Spokane, and they put their kids front and center in their profiles, which I found both inappropriate and also charming.
Also, guns: so many guns. In the main profile photos and secondary pictures, there were images of men holding guns and shooting guns—rifles, handguns, guns I'm not equipped to identify. One guy just had a photo of an unloaded gun with magazines as his main image.
I was expecting to be swimming in a sea of red MAGA hats, but the ratio of conservatives to hipsters did not appear to be as high as I had anticipated. I did come across a gentleman who had a profile picture of Duck Dynasty that read, "We Stand with Phil," and who sported a ZZ Top beard. (Dan Savage's advice: "Don't marry him right away.") I did not swipe right.
After an hour, I had actually managed to swipe through all of Spokane. Tinder panic, which I had not experienced for a long time in Seattle, set in. There was no one left, and I felt terrible on behalf of the women and men of Spokane. A friend who flits between Spokane and Seattle confirmed that pickings are slim, especially if you aren't Christian and conservative. There are fewer men than women in Spokane (48.8 percent to 51.2 percent, according to US Census data) and a higher percentage of both single men and women with children than in Seattle.
Surprisingly, Spokane's Tinder appeared to be more racially diverse than Seattle's. Though only 2 percent of Spokane's 210,000 population is black, the ratio of men of color seemed to be much higher than the numbers would indicate. I swiped right and wondered: Does the algorithm know something about the desires of white women in Spokane versus the desires of white women in Seattle?
After an hour of not getting any matches, and feeling dejected, I started matching. One guy who "wasn't looking for hookups" clarified that he had only written that he was Italian in his bio so that he could explain he had a "big wang." Another didn't really drink but would have met me for a date at the gym. I didn't have any gym clothes, so I couldn't meet him.
Finally, I began to message with one person who didn't seem insane. He's an artist and works as a counselor for children. He's been in Spokane for 13 years, with a stint on Capitol Hill in Seattle. We made a last-minute date and met at an empty wine bar downtown. Spokane is small enough that earlier in the evening he had actually been at the restaurant the Stranger writers had intended to go to. We made small talk, and he gamely told me about Spokane and how the art scene has grown over the last decade, going from something that was straining for credibility to one that's burgeoning and almost exciting.
He told me how he bought a house for $70,000 in 2009 or 2010, and it's worth a little more now. He has a couple of part-time jobs and that's okay. He can do art and photography and raise a kid in Spokane, and traffic is nearly nonexistent, and it's enough of a city, but not really. He called it a country-city. This seemed accurate.
It was late and the Stranger crew had driven all day and I was tired. The streets were nearly empty. He offered to walk me to my next destination, and I felt the air get crisper and colder as the minutes passed. "We have four seasons here," he explained as the Lyft pulled up. We hugged. I got another message from him when I got back to the room. We're following each other on Instagram.