The Improbable Traveler (excerpt)
These are a few sections of my travelogue about my trip as a 20 year old young man – from NYC to San Francisco, where I knew no one.
The link … http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00T01OYW0
Something odd for San Francisco:
As Mike Kilgallen and I were walking down Polk Street one evening. We were headed toward our hotel, when three bare chested guys came from the opposite direction. One said, “Hey, have I got something for you guys” while grabbing his crotch. To draw our attention to it. One said nothing. While Mike said something to the effect of ‘com’n grow up.’ ‘Cut it out.’ I don’t recall exactly. As we passed them the best looking one turned around and with extreme hatred, malice and disgust says, “You scum.” And I turned around and looking straight at him, said, “Yes, but at least I like him.” Less than ten minutes later a car drives past and as usual I checked out its occupants. When one guy smiles and leans out the window and says “Hey fags” I immediately counter with “hey straights,” though I thought later that I should have said something better and more sarcastic. Though those type of incidents happen everyday somewhere it is very odd to see them in San Francisco, and on Polk Street, and 10 minutes apart, very odd indeed. And after that the relationship between Mike and myself deteriorated, very odd indeed.
Late at night at work, all of a sudden I remembered the flight and first landing at San Francisco airport. Bobby, Karla and mom drove me to the airport in NY, where I said goodbye to Bob at the car, and inside the terminal mom cried, and Karla said to make sure I get a window seat, which I did because I sat alone in the plane. We waited in the lounge for about an hour and a half before boarding, due to the weather. After we finally got on we waited another couple of hours. We were supposed to takeoff at 9:30 NY time, and arrive 12:15 SF time. Instead we took off 12:30 NY time and arrived 3:15 SF time. Still, I was extremely excited by it all. With sixteen hundred dollars in my pocket I was going to the west coast. For the first time in my life going to a place I didn’t know nor know anyone. And also being on a plane for the first time. It was pretty much as I pictured it. But I was also in a state of euphoria, having smoked a joint before leaving home and listening to Stairway to Heaven, thirty seconds before leaving the house.
Just sitting on the runway was great to me, seeing everything through the window of the plane. All the lights of different colors blurred by all the rain, which delayed our takeoff for three hours. Finally the pilot comes across the PA and tells us we are switching runways because of a wind shift, but he says we are still the second in line to takeoff. From my window I can see the planes taking off one by one, and lined up behind us far into the night. Then I see the plane in front of us take off, and the sheer exhilaration of being there at that moment, totally free of all bullshit and hassles of the last twenty years, only having to worry about myself and to think of all the wonderful things that would befall me in the Golden State of California, and in the gay ol’ city of San Francisco. Then the final moment of truth with the pilot saying fasten your seat belts, and that we are going to takeoff, and feeling the plane takeoff, and speed up, and seeing the lights go faster and faster, into a spiraling blur and quickly without warning having the ground drop away from your side, gave me that feeling of inner joy, like I’d like to jump for joy, to run up and down the plane screaming and yelling “I’m out, I’m out,” finally away from all I’ve known, and the hassles of mom handling the fact that I’m gay, knowing that she’d be forced to think of me in a different light while I’m gone. To realize that I am me, a person of flesh and blood who thinks, feels, emotionalizes, and actually has fear, hopes, joys, and love and hate, that I’m not just another sicky test case.
[I suppose there was some tension over the gay thing … but it wasn’t nasty so much as utter confusion on her part. I wasn’t being chased away or told to go away or get out or anything. It was all just emotional claptrap of ‘where did I go wrong’ nonsense. But one thing that did happen in the months before we three boys left is that my mother wanted me to see a psychologist. Whatever for, I wondered. She said something like ‘do you know what you’re doing to your brothers and sister and me?’ and I retorted – ‘I’m not doing anything – you folks have the problems, you go see a psychologist.’ So we all agreed that I would pay for a session with some counselor … and we all went. I spoke first alone with this women for about 10, 15 minutes. She pronounced me a ‘happy homosexual,’ and I was like ‘I don’t need anyone’s damn approval.’ So the rest of them went in … and lo, they had the attitude and adjustment problems, so they all continued for a while longer while I just refused to go. ‘There’s nothing wrong with me,’ I said … ‘there’s something wrong with you folks.’ I’m fairly sure that’s not the way they thought I would respond. But, that’s heterosexuals for you – they think gay people have a problem being gay – and the only problem is really heterosexuals who have a problem. Well, still, like I said – it wasn’t nasty so much as just something new to deal with.
Decades later, in 2013, I found in my mother’s papers after she passed away, a letter from my Aunt Barbara (her sister) from 1978 about me talking about the gay thing and an article on how gay folks weren’t that crazy from the NY Times. It’s so Alice in Wonderland to read such things from heterosexuals trying to figure out gay folks. They still haven’t done it completely … it’s still an enigma.]
Then the stewardesses came around and gave out food and beverages. [That’s what they called them in those days, yep.]
All during the flight I was looking down at the ground, and up at the stars, all the cities looked so small. Even Chicago was a just a few square inches of lights, and the father west we went the fewer cities and lights, which I expected, all the way to California, which is where the lights light up and became strangely beautiful and eerie again.
[I remember asking the flight attendant if we were almost there yet, somewhere during the flight, and she said ‘No, we’re only over Denver, it’s another 2 hours. It was one of the longest flights I ever took.]
Upon landing I walked through the airport like I was there before. I seemed to know exactly where I was going. And needed not to ask any questions. I even found a mail box by myself so as to mail my letter to Charlie. [Have no recollection of what I wrote my brother.]
When the plane taxied over to the terminal seeing the words ‘San Francisco International Airport’ made me get that feeling of extreme happiness, even thought the words looked so fake, like a movie, or a mirage. Waiting for the luggage took about fifteen minutes, during which time I observed a few cute guys, and the fact that everyone was being met and picked up. There was involved kisses, hugs, jumps, salutations, and words of love and other appropriate exclamations.
Then I went to an expensive hotel, near the airport. There I crashed out for a few hours, since I was still on New York time. I arose at nine o’clock, but I had to be out at 11 anyway. I checked out and stood around waiting for the bus to the city. I missed it because I expected some writing on the vehicle, which there was none. So I took the hotel’s bus to catch a Samtrans, which is the bus line for the San Mateo county transit system. It cost 1 dollar and thirty five cents. Upon first getting into the city it looked so strange. It was something I had never seen before. Nor had any idea of what it looked like at all. I was standing on the corner, and must have looked so perplexed that an old Chinese man asked me what I was looking for. He helped me find a hotel near to where I was, which was at the East Bay Terminal. Since I didn’t know where any hotels were I was greatly appreciative of his efforts. He finally suggested two places a few blocks down on Mission street. Which I now know pretty good. I went to the Pickwick Hotel, which cost seventeen dollars, which I realized was far too much for me to survive for any length of time on. I stayed there two nights. The first night I was walking around in circles looking for Polk Street and some action. I didn’t meet anyone the first night. But on the second night I met this forty year old guy, with red hair, from Oregon. He was a teacher on vacation, or so he said. Anyway he told me about the Grand Central Hotel, which I said I’d check out, which I did and I stayed there for my month in San Francisco, after he had asked me to his room, which I politely declined. I left him and met Jimmy Neely, which is described elsewhere in this book.
My hassles with the bureaucracy of California during the day I attempted to establish a checking account and bank account [blew me away.] Banks were easy enough to find, the problem arose in that I didn’t have a picture on my identification, and all I had was a board of elections card. When trying to explain to several different bank personnel that New York State did not issue ID cards nor any form of ID with a picture on it it reminded me very much like talking to a brick wall. And then came up some bullshit that I had to be twenty one to open a checking account. I said forget it, shove it and thanks but no thanks. I then went to the DMV which is on Gough Street, and the directions the lady gave me were hopelessly inaccurate. And really had nothing to do with what was going on. Anyway, the scene was even more hopeless than NYC’s DMV. But not to worry, for they wouldn’t give me a card because I had no idea what they needed, a birth certificate for one. I lied and told them I had none and none ever existed, but the thing behind the counter kept repeating the same thing over and over and over and over.
At that point I decided to say fuck it with moving to San Fran. And I decided to make it a vacation. Secure with that knowledge, I went back to my hotel and started cruising. Right here I should include the fact that the water gave me a slight case of the blahs. So slight I couldn’t eat for one full week after arriving, not until my body and digestive system acclimated itself to the different water. As soon as I decided not to live there I went back to the bank so as to get a safety deposit box. Now you’d think it would be easy to get one, as you pay for it immediately, and all you do is put money or belongings into it. Not so my friends, first of all you need ID, with your picture on it. Then comes the ever present fatal question “Are you over 21?” – “What the hell for?” Do you ask who knows and who cares? Whatever the reason, I had to beg for them to give me the box, it had to be OK’ed by the section manager. I’m surprised they didn’t ask me to get the president of the company to approve it. By this time I was getting mad, here I am with 1500 dollars in my pocket, cash and travelers checks, in American currency, more than willing to open an account with them, so both of us can profit from the transaction and I meet up with:
“Are you twenty one or over, young man?”
“Well, no ma’am.”
“Then I’m sorry, your money is no good.”
“Your ID has no picture on it!”
“Well, yes I know, but New York State does not issue ID with pictures nor does it issue ID’s.”
“Well, then I’m sorry you don’t exist.”
It really got me disgusted. Anyway I would never live in California for that reason alone
[That I went there with the intent of staying for a while was just dashed on the 21 and ID issue – I was flummoxed. But I had no intention of returning to NY … so it became an open ended vacation, as this book recounts.]
The Seventh Annual San Francisco Gay Day Parade, June Twenty Fifth, 1978.
To commemorate the raid on the Stonewall Inn and subsequent riots in Sheridan Square, Greenwich Village, NY. It started at 11 AM in the morning, and is to whenever. It wound down Market Street from Main to the City Hall Plaza and Civic Center. There were people already lining up at nine, which is when I left my hotel and went to see what I could see. I saw a few drag queens, and folks on skates, and kids and a few nice guys on skateboards, it was all very festive and entertaining. The official police estimate was two hundred and forty thousand persons. Most would agree that it was closer to three hundred thousand people. There were contingents of gays from almost every state, and from several major cities. Also doctors, lawyers, business men, clergy, drunks and every imaginable type of person. It was just as disparate and overwhelming as a Baldwin Fourth of July parade, only longer and with more people. It was most political and passionate, and passive, at the same time, and it really showed the diversity and creditability of gays. Watching that even I was very proud to be a part of it. I understood most of what one and all went through. And I knew the pains and the joys, the hopes and failings, the aspirations and disappointments. I really felt a part of a parade for the first time, except maybe for the several national marijuana day parades I attended in NYC.
The floats ranged from beautiful to funny, to political to just plain great. There were floats to disco music, and to anit-Briggs campaigns, and to oh so many different things. And during the parade is when I found out about Gays Under 21, though for some very strange reason I was unable to introduce myself to anyone at the parade. While in the place where there were booths and shows I lay down and rescued a rose from the passing crowd, and I still have it pressed in an envelope. [Strangely, I still do have that rose pressed. Anyway, it was the first gay pride parade I had ever been to, and I didn’t quite know it was going to happen until it did. I mean, I didn’t plan my departure to be there for that time.]
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