This entire flight process was a mess from start to finish. When I arrived at Charlotte Douglas International and went inside, there was a very long line from the check in desk to halfway down the terminal. Fortunately, despite the fact that there was a long line and only two people processing the passengers we were able to get through with relative speed. I reluctantly handed over my bag of clothes and rushed off the the security checkpoint. That’s when the shit began. Had to take off my vest, belt and shoes which I anticipated from previous experience. Then I had to take out everything from my laptop bag and separate it into individual bins which was annoying. I get into the X-ray scanner and immediately remember that my iPod is in my left pocket so I have to go back and take it out and put it in a bin of its own. I was so embarrassed and anxious at this point I wanted to cry. I went back in the X-ray, passed inspection and hurriedly rushed to collect my things, nearly dropping my shorts and showing my off my ass in the process because my belt was off. After gathering my bag and shoving everything back in, I grabbed my bag and and tried to put my belt back on missing a couple loops above my butt. I finally, FINALLY, get to my gate – A8 – and am greeted by the fact there are no seats open and a fellow passenger tells me there’s a delay of an hour because of weather in Philadelphia. Matty tells me there IS no bad weather in Philadelphia so we’re all left wondering what the fuck? Turns out we leave on time after all which makes me wonder why the “delay” but I don’t care at this point. At this point I’m ready to scream. While I’m loitering around the gate I do notice a shorter than me bearish guy giving me ‘the look’ but as soon as I catch him looking at me he looks away. Twice. Maybe I still got it, ha ha, but who am I kidding? Being the only leather clad, rainbow sporting person on this flight I’m pretty sure it’s glaringly obvious what I’m going to Philly for so I find it a bit silly that people ask me what I’m going there for.
First flight in 6 years. It still fascinates and terrifies me to sit in a plane and watch and feel it take off. It’s amazes me that we, as a species, have achieved this marvel. Passing through the clouds (and quite a bit of turbulence) it feels like you can almost reach right out and touch them. Flying through them is fascinating as I have been an earthbound creature the majority of my life. Watching the earth fall away beneath me and seeing roads become small trails and cars like ants, trees become an endless sea of green twigs and houses and buildings become small squares on the ground. It was an amazing shared experience with the rest of the passengers as we collectively watched this all unfold together.
But next time I need to remember to bring Dramamine
The entire flight I wasn’t really worried about anything other than ‘I hope my checked bag is on the freakin plane’. Oh, and whether or not we were going to crash because there was a LOT of turbulence.
After a long, scary and miserable time in the clouds, we finally break free of the soupy canopy and I can see the ground again…and Philadelphia! My initial reaction wasn’t what I had imagined it would be. I had felt that, upon laying eyes on the city I might burst into tears in front of the other passengers. But instead, I felt a sense of calm wash over me as though a long time wandering lost in the dark had suddenly and abruptly ended. I was back.
As we coasted down the runway, I landed to the tune of Total Eclipse of the Heart [Mobius Loop Mix] and began to be filled with intense anxiety at the thought of meeting Matty’s family and friends and the unnameable dread at the minuscule possibility of running into any of Jeff’s old friends while I was here.
I decided that whatever was about to happen, was going to happen and that it was out of my control an to just ride the waves of the storm as they came. Once we had landed and made our way to the gate, I sat rather impatiently and watched as the other passengers exited the plane. I was on the next to last row so I had a rather lengthy wait. We were told to find our baggage at carousel 6 and I had nightmares of the last time this happened – not knowing I was to pick up my checked bag in the breezeway outside the plane and walking on my merry way to find Jeff, only to be told I was supposed to pick it up as we left. I raced through the airport, stumbling at the end of each of the moving walkways, toward baggage claim. Once there, I anxiously waited for my duffel bag to appear and lo and behold it rounded the bend just as I approached. I grabbed the bag and dashed out on to the busy, loud street. The pulse of the city was alive and well and it coursed through me, filling me with the energy that I’ve never felt anywhere else but at the same time, I was tired from the journey here and was definitely ready for some solitude and quiet time.
I texted Matty and waited for what felt like an eternity though it was only a few minutes. As I watched car after car pass by, several with Lyft logos in the windshields, I saw nearly every car get rear ended as they all drove impatiently through the pick up area. Finally, a friendly face appeared in the sea of strangers as Matty and his friend Craig pulled up to whisk me away. Craig shook my hand and took my bag as I awkwardly handed it off to him and then he jumped in the back seat. Finally, the man I came to see was here before me at last. As we left the airport, it felt wrong somehow that I wasn’t heading to center city, to Jeff’s house, but instead heading out into the Philly burbs to Matty’s place. It reminded me of some of North Carolina: run down houses and old businesses, left to crumble under the weight of years and the onslaught of nature’s wrath. We chatted for a bit on the way and thankfully Craig didn’t say anything about my southern accent. We dropped Craig off at his house and continued on our way home, but first he gave me a kiss. I felt warm and tingly at the brief touch, but satisfied all the same. The rising anxiety at meeting his mom came in waves, but I held it together as we stopped at a store so I could pick a few essentials that I didn’t feel like fighting to carry on a plane (read: adult butt wipes and lens wipes). Afterward we continued on to home.
We pulled in the driveway as his sister was pulling out to leave. His mom was standing on the porch. His sister pulled back in to say hello and Matty sighed deeply in irritation. I was about to meet the woman who, a year ago, ‘wanted my muffins’ and I was both tickled and nervous. We chatted briefly about my flight and I recounted the boredom and turbulence then finally went in the house. Matty’s mom was both what I expected and not what I expected at the same time. The wear and tear of her life was clearly visible on her face, but she was as welcoming and sweet as I imagined her to be. We talked, again, about my flight and I gave her a hug then we finally retreated to the upstairs to the sanctuary of Matty’s bedroom so I can put my bags down, finally. This was when I accomplished the first task I set out to do while I was here and that was to return the pair of his underwear to him that he (somehow) left at my house last year. The house is two story and very well kept to the point that I’d never have known that it had been burned down without them telling me the tragic story. I’m in love with the hardwood floor, the upstairs bathroom with its tiled floor and shower, but not so much the stairs. Every time I cross the hall to go from Matty’s bedroom to his game room (and vice versa) I have terrifying visions of falling down the steps and breaking something like my leg or the front door. Speaking of Matty’s game room, walking in here was akin to this:
Seeing his collection that we’ve talked about, and that I’ve seen random glimpses of in photos, in person is awe inspiring. I’m amazed at the love and dedication spent amassing such a collection. I can only say wow at what I have seen and can only think that collecting all this is true dedication personified. I can only hope to one day have such a collection myself.
We finally relaxed on his couch in his room surrounded by games. I feel welcomed here and relaxed, but a bit out of place for some reason. Needless to say at this point, the majority of my anxiety had passed and it was time to finally relax for the evening with my bubster and begin our vacation together, because tomorrow was our first Pride event.
I didn’t really know what to expect from a Pride event beyond a ton of people and lots and lots of symbolism everywhere. I had always imagined Pride to be a huge, extravagant affair with over the top characters and people everywhere. The reality, however, was much different from the fantasy. These were just ordinary people like myself and Matty, just declaring that we’re here and we matter and we’re just people like you. But I’m jumping ahead a bit. First we have to actually GET to Pride.
We had an early start that day. Getting up, showering and getting dressed. I had bought a leather vest because I knew I was coming to this event and originally wanted to come in style, but style has a pretty hefty price tag so I ended up coming on a sort of budget. I wore some camouflage shorts with a white shirt and my leather vest on top, leather hat and leather cuff. I had a feeling it would be warm with all this on, but I had no idea what I was in for. After leaving the house and making a pit stop for breakfast at the local Wawa we headed to the train station to meet Matty’s friends Craig and his husband Dean. I had met Craig briefly the day before and thought he was nice (and cute) but I hadn’t met Dean before and didn’t know what to expect. We arrive at the train station and wait for a minute until we see Craig and Dean pull up in their car. While waiting we spot a small group of young lesbians (at least we assumed) laughing and waiting for the train. We get out and wait with Craig and Dean until it was time to get on the train. Dean is a big, gruff looking daddy bear but he’s also very friendly to me and gave me a hug. My anxiety was starting to abate, finally. It felt good to finally be able to let my guard down and take off the mask I wear all the time back in North Carolina. We get on the train and, before getting there I had a feeling I should’ve been carrying cash, so I had to ask Matty to buy my ticket. I was so embarrassed. We pass the time on the train talking about movies and games and such. Dean and I have a small duet of a couple songs from Rocky Horror after I mentioned that Matty had never seen it before. We exit the train, finally, and go to street level. I drop my sunglasses case along the way but fortunately some random guy chased me down and handed it back to me. Once we get to street level I’m greeted by the sight of city hall, just as I remember it. I follow along with Matty and the others and as he reaches out to hold my hand as we walk, I feel a certain sense of love and pride and acceptance that I never feel back home. Once we reach the sanctuary of the gayborhood, I’m a little excited and realize that no matter how much I perceive myself negatively back in North Carolina, here I’m one of them, I’m accepted unconditionally for who I am. The phrase ‘go where you are celebrated, not tolerated‘ rings in my mind as we stand and wait for the parade to start. We stand and wait for a while until the signal for the parade is given, at which point the thunderous roar of motorcycles comes to life and fills the streets with a rallying cry. What followed was a colorful march of people from all walks of life, all shapes and sizes, all nationalities and sexual natures. I tried to photograph and video as much of it as I could, but I also wanted to be in the moment with the others instead of constantly living things behind a lens. One of the many stand out moments from the parade was a couple of guys peddling pride t-shirts, advertising them to the shouts of “GAY FUCKING PRIDE!” as they walked through the crowd. I turned to look and, sure enough, the words ‘gay fucking pride’ were plastered across the front with a lengthy slogan on the back that I didn’t catch all of. I turned my attention constantly between Matty, the parade and our friends Craig and Dean. Occasionally, one of the marchers in the parade would hand out (or throw) pride items like beads, wrist bands and such, so often, watching the parade quickly turned into a game of duck and cover. I was lucky enough to be the target of a pair of bead necklaces at one point, so I quickly separated them and gave one to Matty as a memento of our first Pride event. During the parade, some cowboys came through on horseback, but none of them really did it for me and one of them looked terribly uncomfortable. I hoped that the horses didn’t shit but, unfortunately later on, the stench of horse poop filled the air. For the next few minutes, life was a bit unbearable with the scent of horse shit, weed and whatever the guy near us was huffing out of his vape. After a while, Matty and company spotted their friend Butch in the parade and tried to get his attention but unfortunately he didn’t hear them and kept on going. Not long after that, the parade was over and it was time to head to their favorite watering hole: The Bike Stop.
The following bits are NOT safe for work and not intended for all audiences. Proceed with caution!
Now, years ago, when I first came to Philly to see Jeff, he took me to the Bike Stop telling me things like I had the looks to fit in at such a place and how it was kind of a cruisey spot. I was prepared for it and didn’t expect much, but the Bike Stop that we entered didn’t look a lot like the Bike Stop I remember from back then. The place I remember had brighter lights and sort of a ‘rated R’ atmosphere. This place was dark and seedy, and I definitely felt like I was on the set of a porno. We were the first to arrive so we took seats at the bar and the drinking began. My tolerance was low since I had mostly given it up after Jeff’s passing, but I decided a little booze might help me relax and be less tense and open up a bit more since I had been fairly quiet most of the time since I was kind of an outsider here. We had a few drinks, swapped stories and stared at the sexy men scrolling across the screens. I admitted to the others my feelings of anxiety at meeting them and Matty’s family and they told me not to worry about it. After all, what was I so worried about? After a while, the alcohol got the better of me and I had to go pee. Dean (maybe Craig, I can’t remember who) was kind enough to escort me since I was a bit tipsy and we went to a very small, dark room with a trough filled with ice. I did my business and went back to my stool at the bar and continued drinking. As more and more people filed in and I continued to drink, I finally worked up the courage to ask the bartender where he got his harness since I had been eyeballing him like a piece of meat for a couple of beers. He told me that one of the patrons had made it custom for him and I thanked him but I never followed through with finding out about getting one of my own. Still not that brave with being partly naked like that with my body in its current shape I suppose. After a while, and a few more beers, I ended up having to pee again this time Matty went with me since he was a little worried since I was not feeling so great. We went into the same small, dark room, only it had been a while since I had been in because all the ice was gone. Matty did his business and walked out leaving me there in my drunken state to pee. Suddenly, some topless strange guy walks up next to me and asks, “Are you pee shy?” and I honestly tell him “No, I’m just drunk.” Then he asks me the strangest question any man has ever asked me, and that was, “Mind if I have a drink?” and in my drunken state I’m like “Sure.” What’s the point of going to Pride if you’re not gonna have some fun right? The next thing I know, I have the sensation of a hot mouth on my cock and I just empty my bladder into his wet, hungry hole. It’s the most curious and pleasurable new sensation I’ve had in a long time. Once I’m done filling him up and emptying myself out, he keeps on sucking me. I’m thinking to myself ‘shit, I’m gonna get my dick sucked in a public place…!’ but apparently the fun was over just as it was getting started because he pulled away and thanked me for what I gave him and walked out.
I hurriedly turned to face the wall to shove my dick back in my jock strap and stumbled out of the bathroom to find someone in my seat at the bar next to Matty so I decided fuck it and wandered off to sit by myself for a minute. I sat on a section of floor near the pool table and after a few minutes of people watching, Craig saddles up and asks me if I want to go with him downstairs. I said ok, and walked with him to the door and faced a perilously steep set of steps that went down into a very dark room. I was both scared and excited at the same time. Craig helped my drunk ass down the stairs and what greeted me was not at all what I had imagined. The room was very small and claustrophobic and lit only by a string of red lights that encircled a recess above the bar plus the light that came from the upstairs and the stock room at the back. Craig bought me another beer, that I knew I shouldn’t have had, but I decided screw it, I’m on vacation. That was a choice I was going to shortly regret. After spending a few minutes in the downstairs with Craig, getting a little more drunk and felt up by random men (and Craig who, once he found out about the sensitivity of my nipples kept torturing me but not finishing me off) I was greeted by Matty’s face appearing in the dim light and giving me a kiss. I was a little relieved to see him in this sea of strangers. I had a little more to drink and started to feel a little sick, so Matty helped me back to the upstairs to cool off and sit. I think I scared him (again) a little bit, so he suggested that we go grab something to eat and I said ok. We went down the street to grab some pizza and I inhaled my two slices while we walked back to the bar. I admitted to him what happened to me in the bathroom after he walked out and he laughed and said that guy was notorious for that sort of behavior around the Bike Stop. I still feel a little weird that I let him do that, and that I enjoyed it. We make it back to the bar after getting slightly lost to find Craig downstairs making out with random men in the back corner along with Dean. We stand around for a while and join in the debauchery or groping and kissing, hugging and rubbing, but because of the heat and my dumb decision to wear leather on a hot day, I start to feel overheated (and a tad self conscious) so I tell Matty I’m going upstairs to cool off for a bit. I walk out on to the street and lean up against the building and do a little people watching until Matty appears outside to stand with me for a while.
Checking my phone while I had the opportunity, I realized that he’d been looking for me while I was outside. At this point in the day, even though it’s been an amazing experience for my first ever Pride, I’m kinda over the crowd and the noise. We’ve made our outcry to a massive city where we’re barely a blip on the radar, just a group of rabble rousers proclaiming our existence and place in everything, our right to exist. We have allies everywhere, but we still look out for each other. That’s why we call each other family. We gather our friends and start the long trek back to the 7pm train home, and I watch as they reluctantly tell their friends goodbye as we make our way out of the gayborhood sanctuary and back into the urban jungle. I watch as several young kids laugh, play and race along the streets and wonder what it must be like to grow up in such a place. Certainly it must be better than where I grew up because you have more exposure to different people and cultures and ways of life instead of only getting the smallest glimpse of such things in an academic setting. We make it back to the train station and wait for the train to arrive. We haul our exhausted selves on board and take seats together, placing our tickets in the seat tabs so the conductors can see. I take off my glasses and curl up, pulling my hat down over my eyes. I’m tired and feel like a gross, sweaty man whore and I don’t want to be touched by anyone until I’m able to wash away the sin and debauchery of the day, knowing full well that there’s no water hot enough that will cleanse me of what I’d done. But you know what? If I had the opportunity I’d do it all over again. Nearing our destination, Dean says he has to get off and use the bathroom, it can’t wait. So I watch, sadly as my new friends get off the train leaving me and Matty on our own in the big wide world. Reluctantly, I put my arm around him (I still feel really gross) and we ride the train into the night back to where our day began. I hope I can make it back for Pride next year!