Iranians just wanna have fun

“Young people don’t really go to the mosques,” said a 23-year-old man in eastern Iran, cheerfully exaggerating. “We want more ways to have fun.” He said he drinks — alcohol is illegal but everywhere — and, until recently, used drugs. Iranian officials have suggested that perhaps 10 percent of the population uses illegal drugs, traditionally opium and heroin but increasingly methamphetamines as well.

This man had joined the 2009 democracy protests, but then, he said, he was detained and beaten for several days, losing a tooth in the process. That soured him on political activism, and, like many others, he now just wants to go abroad…

You wouldn’t think a New Yorker could be made to blush in Tehran, but I was taken aback by the hookup scene of one-night stands: young men with flashy cars troll for women, chat them up and then drive off with them. There is also prostitution, and Tehran’s former police chief was arrested in 2008 in a brothel together with six prostitutes…

My road trip across Iran leaves me convinced that change will come here, too, if we just have the patience not to disrupt the subterranean forces at work: rising education, an expanding middle class, growing economic frustration, erosion of the government monopoly on information. My hunch is that if there is no war between Iran and the West — which would probably strengthen the regime — hard-liners will go the way of Mao, and Iran will end up looking something like Turkey.