Without any scientific validation, to test the comparative efficacy of Tinder versus Grindr whilst lolloping across middle America.
Sitting in a rustic restaurant in a ranch where all the other patrons are dressed in militia-chic camouflage, and a sticker plastered above the door proclaims "Impeach Bill. Jail Hilary", you get a sense that this might not be the usual US package holiday. Last time I went on a nice weekend break to New York - or took in some Floridian sun - I don't recall any nearby signs proclaiming, "Eat Beef. The West Wasn't Won on Salad".
But I'm done with identikit holidays. The interchangeable hotels where the biggest thrill comes from that initial inspection of the bathroom to see what calibre of miniature show gel you've landed.
After months cooped up writing a book, I needed to drink-in different sceneries and experiences. To see the open road and eat in vitamin-free diners. I needed to drive across America; to scratch that itch that we all bang on about after a few pints and scenically-arousing episodes of Fargo/Breaking Bad/last series of Mad Men. And why not spice that drive up with a little competition?
Driving across America with a spurious mission needs four things.
A route. A companion. A hypothesis. A car.
Route: for a fortnight's holiday, driving across the whole width of America is do-able but daft, assuming you want to get out of the car at some stage. Lop a third of the 3,000 miles off - which handily leaves the distance from New Orleans to Los Angeles.
Companion: you reach an age where, with most of your mates nestled in domesticity and a world-away from being able to hit the road, you're grateful to have resolutely single gay friends who can go motel-hopping on a whim. Thelma had Louise, and I had my old friend Jimmy.
Which gave our trip a hypothesis to empirically explore across the test tube of mid-America: can Tinder even get close to Grindr?
A duel that would take place in the crucible of a tank-like Cadillac CTS sedan that left no bodily crevice unheated.
Before jet-lag even had a chance to unpack, it was evident this was a flawed experiment. Tinder is no match for Grindr - it is an unfair competition. It is to pitch a non-league minnow against a Champions League winner.
Whilst Tinder elicited intermittent and ultimately futile reactions such as "how long are you in town for?", "it's a shame you aren't here longer", and "I don't want to meet someone who is just passing through", Grindr was met by a barrage of instant cock/ass/torso shots and immediate invitations to meet for instant intercourse - replete with menus of what acts of gratification would be on string-fee demand.
Red state, blue state, swing state - it was a whitewash. Tinder was routed. The experiment abandoned - and more sensible, life-affirming conclusions could be drawn about what was an epic adventure which started in New Orleans, passed through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, southern California and ended up in LA. That winged its route as we went - dictated only by trying to avoid the main I-routes where possible.
- The HBO show Treme is spot on. Post-Katrina New Orleans is in the midst of an existential wrestle with its soul. The devastated lower ninth ward has seen only a third or so of its residents return; houses sit surrounded by vacant plots like teeth in barren, rotten gums. Yet, nearby, post-Hurricane gentrification has swept hipsters into town - and sees modest houses going for half a million-plus dollars. True to the show, the Treme Brass Band will blow the socks of even the most devout jazz non-believer.
- Texas has spectacular scenery. Look beyond the deliciously stereotype-affirming roadside Redneck Snack Hut and the gas station café where the tattooed fella in dungarees tells you that life is about "guns and beer"; the drive from Louisiana into Texas is a breath-taking meander through stunning forests and soulful lakes.
- Austin is a super-hip, liberal enclave that's also fighting off the existential threat of developers - whose Jenga-like constructions threaten to out-price the musicians and artists from town. It's also home to a stark homeless problem; in the freezing holiday season, there was almost a post-apocalyptic air to the streets - where the only movement on pavements was scores of shuffling homeless people pushing trolleys.
- If the heart of Shoreditch were to be transplanted to the deserts of western Texas, it would beat in Marfa - a tiny city where residents and art galleries are about as numerous, and art deco abounds. On the way out of town, there's a fake Prada shop installation - though the giant migrant-spotting blimp is more jaw-dropping. Speaking of which...
- Good luck with the wall, Donald. Driving from Marfa to El Paso - skirting alongside the Mexican border, through tiny towns that are all but Mexican in nationality - is to reinforce the scale and beyond-words lunacy of building a border wall.
- New Mexican scenery tops Texas. Some of the cities en route - like El Paso and Phoenix in Arizona - might not be that much to write home about, but the visuals take on new dimensions as you head west. Through the cacti-populated landscapes, lunar-style white sands (close to where the first A-bomb was tested), ski resort-style Alpine passes and deep ruddy canyons. Americans can almost be forgiven for not bothering to leave their shores. And then you hit the Joshua Tree in California - landscapes of biblical proportion that even make you want to listen to U2.
- The best food was found in the most unprepossessing of places. The tortilla soup to die for from a rusty food van in Marfa; the plantain salad in a café run by an ex-Marine in the back of the Mobil garage in 29 Palms.
- No matter how ropey some of the motels you end up in - like the one whose main selling point was that its remote controls are wipe-down - the sheer thrill of gulping down raw unfiltered culture, ever-changing landscapes and following whatever path you like the look up makes you forget even the poshest of miniature shampoos. Or the death of right swipes.
Tim's book Who Stole My Spear? comes out in MaySuggest a correction