Monday, January 30, 2012

Road Trip - Cedar Point on Mother's Day

The next day is Mother's Day and we head to Cedar Point Amusement Park, known for it's world class collection of roller coasters. Lest you think that we are bad sons, I should say my mother has been gone for a number of years and my travel partner phoned his at the beginning of the trip and set up a date when we return to assist her in her spring gardening, her request for Mother's Day.

Because of the extraordinary winds that day, some of the roller coasters were not open due to safety concerns. The two wooden ones located near the rear of the park that I had looked forward to riding were not yet open this early in the season. The winds were so strong we are forced to change in the car from shorts and tees into long pants and shirts with sleeves. The trash cans in the park are weighted at the bottom to keep them from tipping over. The winds are pushing them, standing up, down the midways making them appear to have come to life exercising a will of their own.

One ride closed is called the Millennium. This roller coaster's first hill is equivalent in height to a 30 story building. After a long, steep drop it ascends the 2nd hill, equal to a 20 story building. It reaches speeds of 120 mph. My friend mentions that he is glad that it's closed. This way he doesn't have to feel like a wimp for not riding it.

It being Mother's Day and fairly early in the season, attendance at the park is light and lines were short allowing us multiple visits to some of the attractions. When visiting amusement parks with this particular friend one of our first stops is the Scrambler, his favorite type of ride. Having gotten that out of our systems it was time to tackle one of the roller coasters the park is famous for. Our initial choice is tall, white and fairly traditional in form and design. Located near the shoreline it affords you an expansive view of Lake Erie just prior to plunging you down, then twisting you up, around and upside down along it's white track. My friend, seated next to me, declares "oh shit" several times over the duration of the ride. Gluttons for punishment, we returned for a 2nd ride later in the day.

Another roller coaster we visited twice caries you up and over one of the midways that cut through the park. Just as you think the ride is near it's end you feel a chain grip the car dragging it up a hill then releasing it for another go round of flipping and winding relying solely on the laws of gravity and physics.

The majority of people in the park that day appeared to be in their late teens. While standing in line I notice glitter in the matted, windblown hair of one of the girls. I realize that may of the teens may be in the midst of their "all nighters" after their proms the evening before.

The longest line we stood in was for the indoor roller coaster. Neither of us had ridden one before. In this case the anticipation proves to be greater then the actual experience. I realize that, for me, part of the excitement is watching the world speed past you and then having your field of vision turned upside down. The experience of being flung around in the dark is interesting but we both agreed afterward that it verges on lame.

By late afternoon we are fairly spent, having arrived early in the day. We realize that if we departed at this point we would reach Chicago at a reasonable hour saving us the cost of a hotel that night. As we make our way out of the park we pass another ride closed that day due to the unrelenting winds. It is called Superman. It is a hanging roller coaster. It occurs to me as we pass that it's track resembles a long oversized strand of kryptonite green spaghetti.

We pause for a photo op at the park gate. In the photo, the digital sign above our heads reads 52 degrees. It does not indicate the wind chill.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Road Trip - Next Stop Cleveland

We did not have high expectations of Pittsburgh, so we were not disappointed. We had low expectations for Cleveland, so we were presently surprised. Cleveland has been the butt of scores of jokes over the years. A polyester leisure suit with white patent belt and matching shoes was, at one time, referred to as the "Full Cleveland". Then there's that river that runs through the city, so polluted that it used to catch on fire.

We arrive early in the afternoon so decide to while away some time in the National Park just outside the city. When we first enter the park we encounter a tranquil forest where the afternoon sun filters down through the trees. We also encounter a small antique shop so we park and shop.

Continuing on, we come upon a path which winds through massive, moss dappled stones. The path leads us to a high meadow, a large field of wild green grass with  spring wildflowers adding patches of color. As we make our return to the car we stop at an information board where a small waterfall is pictured. We take notes of it's location and head towards it.

When we get to the falls we find a torrent of raging water, quite unlike the gentle stream in the photo that enticed us here. The concrete observation platform vibrates under our feet from the force of the water pouring over the ledge. Locals informed us that Ohio had been receiving record rains resulting in flooding, as well as the ferocious nature of the falls that day. We stayed awhile becoming mesmerized by the power of the frothing water.

As we drive into Cleveland proper, my traveling partner explains his method for discovering gay hot spots in any given city. Stop at the first gay, or gay appearing establishment you come to, preferably retail or restaurant. Chatting up the people within will inform you of the other gay life in town. We find a shop selling leather clothes and "sexual aides" flying a rainbow flag from a staff on the front of the building. This strikes us both as a promising place to begin our inquiries.

We score! The proprietor gives us much information and a magazine with names and addresses of the gay bars in town as well as a description, of sorts, for each We locate a motel, the chain with the bear in the nightshirt and cap as it's trademark, in an  area called Edgewater.

To this day, I do not know if Edgewater is a suburb of Cleveland or a neighborhood in it. Even people I have since encountered from Cleveland seem uncertain. The area is a pleasant, welcoming mixture of mid century homes and modest two story apartment buildings sporting small tidy lawns. The "main drag" in the area is a short stroll away from the motel. It is a broad street lined with funky vintage shops, oddball boutiques and an assortment of bars, some of which are mentioned in the magazine we were given, and restaurants. We spend time shopping and stop for dinner at a Greek restaurant on the strip.

After stopping by our room we pick up the car and head to one of the leather bars in the city. We pass through an area next to the river where the late 19th century warehouses have been reinvented as apartments and chic upscale eating and drinking establishments. The concept well realized but has an elitist edge I find off putting.

We get to our destination and enter the bar. Going through a hallway we find ourselves in the backyard portion of the bar. It is a pleasant spring evening so the outdoor portion of this particular establishment is open. The indoor portion appears not to be. An exceedingly average shirtless bartender serves drinks. We sit off to the side and observe the fetishwear parade as it passes to and fro in the yard. My friend mentions that one man's codpiece sells for $400. I don't pay that for a suit, and that covers a lot more than the leather and metal contraption which holds this man's genitals.

After a time we decide to press on. We return to the motel, drop off the car and return to the street where we had dinner. Earlier we had spotted a bar there. It had been implied that it was the place to go before heading to dance clubs, etc. for the night. It is a large two story place, and, it being Saturday night. is packed. A handsome bartender, whose massive rippling arms and huge defined pectorals are clad in a skin tight tee shirt bearing the bars name serves us. His broad chest makes him resemble a billboard for the bar.

Once again, we become aware that we were the new meat in town due to the excessive amount of attention being paid to us. However, this crowd is quite a bit more attractive the what we encountered in Pittsburgh so the experience is not at all unpleasant.

We cruised, we flirted, we drank and then we returned to the motel and went to bed.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Road Trip - Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cedar Point

Witness the city of Pittsburgh, where two rivers meet to form a third. Our time there was brief. Perhaps best described as a drive through. Although we did park, get out of the car and walk around a bit.

To get to Pittsburgh when traveling, like we were, from West Virginia, one must go through a tunnel. I assume it goes under one of the rivers, but being inside of it I could not say for certain.

My understanding is that on the bluffs across one of the rivers are renovated historic homes which overlook the downtown "V". Our tight time frame, however, did not allow for a visit to this part of the city. Imposing stone office and financial buildings, often classically inspired, dot the area near the small end of the "V". As the "V" widens we found streets lined with narrow row houses. Though prosperous in the past, the city has had it's share of hard knocks. The modest, somewhat shabby condition of these homes are evidence of this. They seem sturdy but tired, like one who has been asked to work too long for too little. Across one of the rivers the new baseball stadium is visible. It's upper decks appear almost terrifying in their verticallity.

We somehow track down a gay bar. As it is Friday, just after many people have left work, it is packed with men getting an early start on their weekend. The crowd is most kindly described as motley. We do not stay for a drink but grab a local gay publication to use as a guide and hightail it out of there.

In many smaller cities gay men know, at least by sight, all other gay men in town. When you enter all eyes turn to you. You are new meat, unfamiliar, this was another reason for our hasty retreat. Deeming the few hotels in town too expensive, we decide to head outside the city in hopes of finding lodging that is more affordable.

We cross a bridge to the side of the river that contains the stadium. Here empty lots share space with once grand and beautiful victorian mansions, now cut up into apartments, which are falling into ruin and decay. About 30 minutes outside of town we find a small motel with rooms priced well within our budget.

We decide our Pittsburgh gay bar experience will consist of a visit to The Pittsburgh Eagle, in large part because it is the bar located nearest to us. In all, I have visited 4 of the Eagle bars across the country. They are, for the record, San Francisco, many times during my years there, Pittsburgh, Phoenix and Chicago, again more that once since I now live there. The Chicago bar no longer exists. I understand the Phoenix bar has also closed. I do not know the fate of the other two. The bar is housed in an old building which sits across from a highway overpass. I seem to remember the area as being almost uninhabited outside of the bar.  It had tin ceilings, 2 floors and not a lot going on. After 2 drinks we decide to cut our losses and return to the motel to rest up for the next leg of our trip.


Degrees of Seperation - Etta James - In Memorium

I had not intended to post this segment so early in my "Degrees" series. However, due to her passing this month, I am writing this as a tribute.

Etta James was residing in San Francisco during at least a portion of the time that I lived there. Contrary to many people's perception, San Francisco is a small city and paths cross easily there, sometimes crossing and recrossing until they occasionally resemble a plate of spaghetti.

I had hosted a party one Saturday night. One guest, an extremely cute, extremely well built friend of mine stayed the night as he was too intoxicated to get home across the bay to Oakland safely. To be completely frank, we had "enjoyed each other's company" on more than one occasion. As I said, he was cute, fun and had a body as hard and solid as a brick wall. I would have been a fool to not take advantage of these opportunities when they, well, arose. But on this night, drunk beyond all reason, we merely slept together.

The next morning we were walking to get coffee to help clear the spiderwebs in our heads brought on by the previous evenings revelry, when he stopped, went up to a building and without explanation rang a doorbell. A voice answered, my friend unidentified himself and we were buzzed in.

Once inside, we knocked on a door and were ushered into a beautiful vintage apartment by the extremely handsome, deeply tanned occupant. A redwood chair rail wrapped around the living room topping off redwood wainscoting. Molding graced the ceiling surrounding the period light fixtures. Morning sun poured in through generous windows.

The apartment's occupant proved to be intelligent and gracious, not to mention very easy to look at. He and my friend had met once in a donut shop and had "enjoyed each other's company" several times. I need to express that in San Francisco in the early 1980's our actions were not as slutty as they may sound today. He had, in the recent past, been Etta James road manager. He regaled us with an accounting of a party he had had featuring a group of hardcore punks in the kitchen, Etta in the living room and a reporter from Women's Wear Daily scurrying about busily recording and notating the various goings on.

When Etta first asked him if he was interested in being her road manager, he queried, "I don't know, what does a road manager do?" To which she replied "You'll find out."

Several months later Ms. James was scheduled to perform at the smallish yet legendary dance club I frequented in those days. It was a major event for the club. "Are you going" became the question of the day at San Francisco's lone gay video bar as they interspersed clips of her performing among their usual fare. I met up with, by chance, a friend of mine who knew her and we claimed a position directly in front of the low stage. Midway through her set he shouted to her that they were prohibiting him from photographing the event. She explained that the flash would be too disrupting and, as a consolation, dedicated her next song to him.

Upon hearing of her passing, I emailed a dear friend of mine, who was my roommate in those days, that I didn't quite know how to deal with losing a one of a kind talent like hers. He replied, be grateful for being able to hear and be grateful for the wonders of modern recording.

My wish is that her soul finds the peace and contentment it so richly deserves for her gift of bringing so much beauty and enjoyment to so many.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Degrees of Separation - Step Nieces

I have decided to embark upon a recurring segment to these posts regarding degrees of separation. As the well know play and movie theorize, everyone can be connected to anyone else, however loosely or vaguely, by six degrees of separation. While I doubt the truth of that, it is entertaining to occasionally explore how close to other random people I can come. Having spent much of my adult life in retail, and all of my adult life in densely populated cities, I have perhaps encountered more people than average. Therefore, it may be easier for me to "connect the dots" than others. However, if you begin to think on it you might be surprised at what you can come up with.

I'll begin with 2 encounters involving "step nieces".

As a retail manager one of my tasks is to make the bank deposits for my store. There is a teller there I gotten to know. One of her aunts was married, at one time, to the actor Victor Mature. Although she has never met the aunt, or Victor, she has connected me, loosely and vaguely, to the well known movie star.

Then there is the occasional customer in our store. Although she has thousands (and thousands and thousands) of dollars worth of jewels in her safety deposit box, she will wear our faux pieces due to the exorbitant insurance costs associated with wearing her real things in public. She is from a wealthy family with middle east connections. Her aunt was married to the Sultan of Brunei.

Although I have been referred to, and sometimes refer to myself, as a queen, I think this is the closest I may ever get to true royalty.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Character Study - My Roommate

In my postings about my Christmas holiday in Cincinnati I often mentioned my roommate who I made the trip with. Although our 3 years sharing our rambling San Francisco flat were filled with many moments both madcap and somber, there is one singular episode which might characterize him best.

One evening friends of mine, one of whom was a longtime bartender at the club I frequented, picked me up on the way to an art showing at the club. My roommate asked if he could hitch a ride with us as his destination that evening was on the way to ours., After dropping him off the bartender said to me, "I didn't know he was your roommate." I replied that he was and had been for a couple of years at that point. The bartender replied "She was a real madwoman in her day." I could barely wait to get home and relay this to him.

Upon telling him he instantly owned the comment and wore it as a badge of honor. For weeks afterward he was informing everyone he met, gesturing towards me, "One of his friends said the nicest thing about me".....

The Magic of Fall Colors

I San Francisco there is no real fall color. The mild wet climate will sometimes allow half of the leaves on a tree to turn a mottled brown, half of these may fall off, the others will cling to life until the spring sun revives them and returns them to their former verdant state. There are certain trees that exhibit moments of drama. In the backyard of an ex boyfriends neighbor stood a 6 foot tall poinsettia. In winter, shielded from the ambient light of the street, it's leaves would transform into their well known Christmas red. In spring the cherry trees in the Japanese s gardens of Golden Gate Park produces a week long spectacle of fluffy, delicate blossoms. A short distance form the city are the famed California Redwoods. Their towering majesty and great age can make one feel tiny and insignificant by comparison. In the Oakland hills the scent of eucalyptus fills the air from the groves growing there. While not native, they were transplanted from Australia, they seem at home on their sun drenched slopes.

At the age of 27 I moved to Chicago, and, after going through my first, unpredictable spring, common in the Midwest. And sweating through my first blazing summer with it's occasional, spectacular lightening and thunder storms, also common in the Midwest, I experienced my first Midwestern fall. At the time, I had not the money or means to travel far from the city. Chicago was not as well forested as it is now, thanks to a  massive tree planting campaign during the tenure of Mayor Daley the city today boasts a lush shady landscape, the leaves turning from summer green to their myriad of colors was magic to me and remains so to this day.

After several financially tumultuous years my fortunes turned and I was able to venture to other areas and broaden my fall vision. The colors of the eastern seaboard, from the pictures and descriptions I have seen and heard are vibrant due to a profusion of maples and other trees which produce bright fall hues. The autumn pallet of the Midwest, by comparison, is soft and muted, almost as if it was created by a French impressionist. Various shades of yellow and brown mix with bright orange mimicking the gourds and pumpkins stacked outside the farms along the winding country roads of Michigan and Wisconsin.

A large forest covers much of Michigan, sweeping up the shoreline of it's namesake lake. In the forest, scattered along the shore, you come across small victorian harbor towns which seem to be untouched by time. As you approach each one, your first sight are the church steeples rising above the thick tapestry of the tree canopy. Small streets lined with modest vintage homes give way to picturesque squares and tiny business districts. Churches are large, venerable, solid structures of stone and intricate stained glass. Equally solid, almost formidable gothic courthouses dominate the downtown areas of county seats. Grand, gingerbread laden homes have been converted to Bed and Breakfasts to accommodate the weekend visitors enjoying the warmth and nostalgia of the tree shaded streets.

In rural areas farmstands vend freshly harvested produce. Hay bales in the yards of farmhouses entice children to romp and adults to take in the seasonal scents and fresh air of the countryside as the varied colored leaves rustle in the autumn breeze.

Each year, we are treated to one last, warm, sweet, sunkissed moment before the leaves fall and the trees begin their winterlong nap.