Rice-a-Roni

people on the sidewalk with umbrellasInitially we debated whether to stay up or sleep for three hours, because our flight left at 5:56AM from an airport an hour away. We suspected we had lost our minds somewhere along the way, and then opted to sleep.

For those out there not so educated on this, hearing a clock alarm blare at 3 in the morning is like having a woodpecker attempt to find sustenance in one’s right ear. Definitely not the left ear, and if you feel that, you should call your doctor quickly. I stood up, not sure why, teetering just a little, because I suspect I was only using my lizard brain, waiting for things like my frontal lobe and memory of self to come online.

Susanne was more than happy for me to take the first shower. She’s a clever one.

I remembered to step into the tub, which was orders of magnitude more intelligent of me than I had been just 30 seconds earlier. I knew I was getting on a plane, although I still wasn’t sure why. By the time the water had hit my skin and I realized I needed greatly warmer water, I could recall every second of my life again.

San Francisco, Susanne’s politics wonk conference. My time to explore a place I’d never before seen, but had heard about for years.

It’s mythological, legendary, about lots of people, but certainly for people who have “teh ghey.” Would it be a nonstop Folsom Street Fair, with nary a stitch of clothing because everyone was decked out in leather and rubber and spandex? Would I see lines of rainbow flags, heralding in ships to the Bay? Was there a gay trumpeter? There had to be a gay trumpeter.

I jest, but some of this wondering is serious. When Susanne and I took a weekend trip to New Hope, Pennsylvania in the spring of 2006, I told her to expect a lot of gayness. I’d grown up across the Delaware River and hung out there a lot in high school, usually around the record store and a short line of shops next to the river. I was there for the comradery of friends, true, but I noticed that there were a lot of references to this alternative lifestyle, as I remember it being called then.

Susanne told her friends about our upcoming trip, and one of them who was also from the area, remarked that she’d never noticed any such thing. She was kind enough to stop short of saying I was making it all up, but I’m pretty sure she thought it.

room in new hope, PASo we showed up at the bed and breakfast that was around the corner from the main thoroughfare, The Wishing Well. The manager greeted us with bear hugs and a high-pitched, “Hulloooo! Welcome to New Hope!” He went on to tell us, excitedly, that we were the first guests of the day and if we wanted, we could sneak around the house to check out all of the rooms before settling into ours.

“But of course, you’re in the nicest room,” he said, practically gushing, “the Cathedral Room!”

Before I knew it, I had oohed. I looked at Susanne. Her jaw hung open a little, as she took in the lovely aura of the B&B. The gay aura.

We unpacked and freshened up a little, and still being a new couple at the time, took some time to check each other’s breath. And then we walked to the first cluster of stores. One was charmingly named Suzy’s Hot Shop, so of course I beseeched Susanne to pose for a snapshot, which she was kind enough to do, even as she gave me a withering look, eternally now captured on film. We decided to check out the store.

The proprietor was happy to have customers on what was still a frigid day, and she apparently needed more human contact than she was getting, because she went on about her girlfriend and their two dogs for what seemed like half an hour. We bought a small bottle of Ecuadorian tabasco sauce, and waved goodbye.

“Okay, it’s a pretty gay town,” said Susanne. Next up was a chocolate shop, the man behind the counter flitting and making a happy fuss to show us the freshest chocolates he’d just made that morning. He only seemed bereft of a feather boa, and he could have gone through half the music of La Cage Aux Folles* for us.

We shopped through a few more places, coming back to our B&B for a rest before dinner. I asked our host for recommendations. He led us to The Raven, a fine dining establishment. Many potted plants set near tall mirrors lined the walls, and the two-level dining room was decked out in many, many flower centerpieces and long white tablecloths. We looked around at the diners and it was as if we’d taken the Hot Tub Time Machine to 1976, East Village. I think everyone in there was gay or lesbian. They seemed mostly segregated, the women with each other and the men likewise, although there were a few daring sort who had gone for a mix at their tables. And they were all, every single one of them, over 40. We took our seats and enjoyed a fine, if not fantastic, dinner, a little on the edge of being over-gayed or gayed-out. For those who don’t know what this is like, one wants in these moments, usually, to find a traditional gendered outfit that is also mature or even dowdy (because a pink frilly dress won’t do here), and some country music sung by a man about a woman. Or one could simply make a trip home and all feelings of gay freedom will cease immediately.

But we weren’t quite there yet. We were still amused and to some degree, in shock. I had said the place was gay. I hadn’t say it was a gay explosion.

So I’ve always thought, I suppose, that if New Hope is gay, then San Francisco is sequin-squirting, pink frilly lei, Cher and Madonna GAAAAAAAY. Having gotten to the end of my 30s is as good a time as any to find out, I figured. How nice for Susanne’s discipline to select this city as this year’s conference site.

This, all this, was why I was standing in an off-temperature shower at 3AM. To see if I could surpass New Hope.

We put ourselves together about as well as two people can on three hours of sleep, and I plugged the iPod into the car so that I’d have something other than engine and road to listen to as I drove through utter darkness to the airport. We parked in the long-term lot which is laughably 10 feet and a fence from the short-term lot, and dragged our bags up to the security checkpoint. The TSA officer asked if I needed any help putting my toiletries into a quart-sized bag, and I showed her my pre-made bag. We must have been the only regular travelers that morning, because she visibly relaxed. I wondered if there was anyone left who hasn’t flown post 9/11.

I found out the answer almost immediately.

We boarded our flight, setting our bags on the rack next to the Canadair regional jet, and took our seats, neither of us caring that our necks didn’t like sleeping while sitting. A woman came on after us and clearly had not flown often in her lifetime, and most definitely not in the last 8 years. She had sixteen questions for the stewardess, blocking other people who were trying to board. She sat in her window seat, next to a woman who clearly had difficulty getting up and down. Five minutes later she had another question for the flight attendant, so she got up again. And then she sat down again. And then she got up again, this time to take the open seats behind us. I pretended to be asleep.

Right before we landed in California she tugged on my sleeve from behind. I had actually fallen asleep, apparently.

“Yes,” I asked.

“We’re so low but we’re still over water,” she said anxiously.

“It’s okay,” I said. Again, I wasn’t really in full control of my faculties yet.

“But why,” she asked. She looked mid-30s to me, but maybe she was 6. Maybe she was Benjaminette Button.

“It’s a water approach,” said Susanne, and Susanne is so nice you really have to know her to know she sounds annoyed.

This woman clearly had no idea what water approach meant, and probably figured it meant we were going to pull a Hudson River landing on her.

“The land will start before we touch ground,” I said, smiling so she knew we should all remain calm.

“Oh.”

That little bit of inanity over, we grabbed our bags and cabbed it to the hotel. I saw a sign for San Jose to our south. The song played in my head for the rest of the day.

And now, I’m off to see just how gay this city really is.

*As an aside, I saw La Cage Aux Folles with my mom and sister when I was 15, and I was just amazed that they could get Joan Rivers and Cher in the same performance. And then my mom told me they were all men, and blew my little mind.

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