Velvet Raging

28 03 2014
Miami Design District

Miami Design District

For about a month now I have been in a constant state of agitation, frustration, confusment. And, worst of all, depression.

South Florida — and all of her quirky games — is weighing on me. I recognize living in a metropolitan, urban area is no piece of cake and there are certain aspects of unpleasantness here that I have come to terms with. (horrible traffic, chief among them.) The attitudes of the gay community has been tough to get used to. For a community that craves acceptance, the judging it can dish out is down right devastating. There are certain pockets of Wilton Manors and Miami Beach I would dare not visit for fear of being ripped to shreads at first sight.

The irony here is I came to South Florida to experience and live in a free and open society. The idea was to relocate from a place where I was merely tolerated to somewhere where I could be celebrated. Dreamy stuff, I know, but, hey, why not? I’m afraid, however, I will leave the Sunshine State with a bitterness I have never held before.

But let’s look to the bright side, shall we. David says my cup is always half empty. He enjoys the difficulties that life throws at you much more than I do. Waiting around for a repair man, fixing a broken appliance or getting stuck in traffic for hours is nothing new to him. His health is also improving after another round with the prostate cancer. I wish I had his patience and caring.

But I do not. We are from different generations. I am driven. Driven by ambition to succeed. To conqueor.

And yet I do not know who I am.

It was the gays who bailed out my journalism career. Credit must be given there. I have reported largely about LGBT issues since arriving here in October and remain truely grateful for the work, the paychecks and the opportunity to return to writing. There are occasions when I am indeed, “gay” or happy as the old timers once referred to it. But I am not a homosexual. I am a bisexual and I am finding this out more and more about myself as I continue on life’s journey.

I miss Ann and what we had in Yellowstone. We chat only briefly via Facebook now. I worry I have broken her heart.

The agitation in my life seems to stem from a desire to do everything by the book, play by the rules and yet still come out ahead. This appears to be a fantasy. My strive for independence has been costly. I am nearly broke once again. Working freelance gives me the ability to set my own schedule and type away on a keyboard in my pajamas, but it does not pay all the bills. Thankfully, David is helping with that — and our partnership has never been stronger.

I suppose when you reach a certain point in life you began to set keener priorities. Getting out of Panama City was the right thing to do, that much is clear. I was blacklisted from working in the region and it was time to move on. It is remarkable I have been able to make such an impact in South Florida during just a six month period. Again, I am grateful to the publishers of SFGN for this opportunity.

I think the root of my depression can be found in my work. In writing about the move for equality for gays and lesbians I seem to be frustrated that I have not found my equal. I wonder if I ever will. I am not worried about making up for lost time and I do not dwell on mistakes of the past or relationships lost. I am not consumed by money, although I still seek a stable existence.

I realize now it is validation I am after. And soon I will travel across this great land of ours in that quest for answers.

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Seattle First Report

22 09 2013

I’m in Seattle. Gloomy clouds linger over the skyline. I have a perfect view from my friend’s flat in Capitol Hill. Ryan and I are former colleagues in journalism from my time in the Florida panhandle. Ryan did four years. I stupidly stayed 10. Glad to be reunited in Seattle. This is my first visit and the city is quite amazing, its terrain much like that of the hilly layout found in West Coast neighbor San Francisco. I have had no problem hiking this concrete jungle, rarely getting winded. Yellowstone has prepared me well.

Ryan has been taking me to some of Seattle’s unique nightclubs and already I have encountered interesting characters. The Queer community here is strong and appears to be well organized. Ryan usually spots a friendly face. I have experienced similar reactions during my daily patrols of the city. People here seem to strive to be nice. I have seen quite a few gestures of kindness and goodwill toward fellow man. While waiting for Ryan to finish work at a smoothie shop in Queen Anne (the rich neighbourhood) I saw this eldery man attempt to drive his vehicle the wrong way on a one-way street. He didn’t get too far. Thankfully. Another man came off the sidewalk, hands waving and yelling for the car to “Stop!”  It did, thankfully,  without incident and was able to turn around and continue on.

Walking in the city has been my mode of transportation. I am reminded of how Stephen Ambrose described Merriweather Lewis as a good explorer, writing that he had “long legs” which allowed him to cover much ground in one day. While not near the level of Lewis’ Oregon Trail journey, my time here is one of discovery nevertheless. My dear Ann is in Chicago, staying at a hostel at last word. I pleaded with her not to go to the south side where there is so much violence and death reported. She probably thinks I’m being an overcautious daddy. She might be right.

I have perused the Pike’s public market these last two days. Fresh fruit, chocolate, cheese and fish in abundance. From the docks you can take a scenic cruise into the bay or beyond with a chance of seeing whales. Everyone here seems happy. It is quite touristy, but the workers do a good job of entertaining. An old hippie playing a wooden piano in the center of the market earns a good living. Music is a major part of Seattle. While still a baby compared to its European contemporaries, Barcelona and Krakow, perhaps, Seattle is definitely an emerging travel destination. Rooted in a grungy style of rock & roll with favorite sons such as Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix, Seattle, certainly, has its place in sound. So far I have only experienced those talents of a record dee-jay although I hope to see a band perform soon.

Despite its socialist tendencies, Seattle does require money to live in as I’m finding out. Ryan works two jobs and lives in a fabulous neighborhood, neatly mixed with brick apartment complexes and wooden row houses. The locals call it Capitol Hill or “The Hill” for short. There are pretty coffee shops and retail shopping nearby as well as that big bank bastard BofA. I like the bus stop just a few blocks down le rue. Lots of cultures here as one bus ride will tell you and it takes a true talent to drive one of those things up and down some of these hills. On my ride down to the Space Needle our driver must have thrown at least five people off the bus. Just by his driving alone. He looked like a crazy mad scientist type, just back from resurrecting Frankenstein.

Gotta go. Write later.

Pike's Place

Pike’s Place





What’s next after Yellowstone?

15 09 2013

My Yellowstone experience is coming to an end. I can now safely say it has been a wonderful summer, filled with adventure, achievement, learning, and, not to be forgotten — love. There are so many stories to tell, episodes to write and characters to develop, I don’t know where to begin.

We’ll start with the stars. They are incredible here. At 7,000 feet, the Milky Way is quite visible to the naked eye (with the help of glasses.) I’m still wearing Clark Kent style frames courtesy of that great American retailer, Sears. A few nights ago, I put on those glasses and joined my Canyon colleague Kirk for a late night ride into Hayden Valley. Initially we had planned to just blow off some steam after work, but it turned into an amazing evening of star gazing and elk listening. With no moonlight, the stars were spectacular and the constellations all there, although I’m still trying to figure out where Ursa Minor begins and ends. Kirk says it reminds him of a “planetarium” he went to in high school. Kirk, I’m finding out, had a privileged childhood.

The elk bulging made the night cooler. These beasts are in their mating period or “rut” as it is known in slang terms. The males are seeking to create harems and cry out in the darkness for new members. We are told to stay far away from the bull elk during this time as their behavior can get quite aggressive. Mammoth Hot Springs, where we stayed during training, is typically overrun by the elk this time of year.

Meanwhile, the fires that had been burning in nearly every section of the park have subsided, but it was scary for a while there. Dry and windy conditions coupled with lighting strikes had set Yellowstone ablaze once again. Apparently, this is quite a common occurrence with some years — 1988 comes to mind — being worse than others. During “Fire Season” this year we were greeted each morning by the smell of burning pine trees and sage brush and a sky colored in hazy pink. Some of us were lucky enough to have a front row seat. From my post inside the ticket office at the Canyon Corrals, I could see the Alum Fire raging across Hayden Valley. Tourists, rightfully so, were concerned.

“Why don’t they put it out?,” they kept asking me before saddling up for their one-hour horseback ride.

In Yellowstone, what happens naturally, stays naturally — including fires.

But the fires weren’t the only thing burning in Yellowstone. My relationship with Ann was heating up by the day. Our hitchhiking adventure led to more hikes into the backcountry and soon we were spending all of our free time together. This was not something I had expected nor pursued. It just happened, naturally and I find myself searching for ways to describe these feelings.

We met at a difficult time in both our lives. “I thought there was no love for me in this world,” Ann revealed.

I understood. On our hike to the Canyon’s brink of the lower falls, I shared with Ann my spectacular fall from grace in the summer of 2008. The story of greed, ignorance, betrayal and ultimately, ruin. Much to my surprise, with each devastating detail, Ann pulled me closer as we made our descent, hand in hand. The brink of the lower falls is an amazing sight to see and because of its steep drop, it is not a trail many visitors to the park take on. But I had become accustomed to crawling out of canyons and compared to last year’s hikes in Arizona, this was a piece of cake. At the brink, you witness the full fury of the Yellowstone River as it crashes 309 feet over the falls and into this deep and colorful canyon. This is where we kissed, passionately and so much so that a nearby tourist offered to take a picture of the, “love birds.”

As happy as I am for this blossoming relationship, I have no idea what the future holds.

Soon, Ann will return to Italy and continue her studies in hopes of one day becoming a teacher. As for me, I am unsure where life will take me next. I have a little money in my pocket again, a plane ticket to Seattle and a strong desire to return to journalism. Last year, my summer in Grand Canyon emboldened me for the campaign trail. Having survived six months in the desert, I was able to enter the hostile Florida panhandle with no fear and carry out a “boots on the ground” winning effort.

I wonder what a summer romance in Yellowstone will lead to?

Yellowstone Canyon Lower Falls

Yellowstone Canyon Lower Falls





Hitchhiking with Ann

22 08 2013

We hitchhiked around Yellowstone with a little angst, a lot of luck and ultimately much joy. It was Ann’s idea and I protested all the way. She had done this before with her girlfriends, but I had yet to try my hand at thumbing a ride. I’m cautious. It comes with age.

Ann hitching a ride.

Ann hitching a ride.

Ann, her 21-year-old spirit beaming, was intent on getting to Old Faithful for the first time. Maybe that was another reason why I was dragging my feet on this little outing. Having spent nearly two months at the location, you could say I was quite geysered out. Ann, however, had never seen Old Faithful erupt and thus her Yellowstone experience was incomplete. I proposed taking one of our bus tours to Old Faithful, but Ann rebuked the notion by stating those tours — those precious tours I sold — were for “families and old people.” She said we could get there faster by hitchhiking. And she was right.

No longer than five minutes after standing roadside holding a makeshift cardboard sign with the words, “Old Faithful Employee” scribbled across it, Ann got her ride. As the truck pulled over she raced ahead to greet it, yelling back at me: “In your face!”

People love to prove me wrong.

The driver, as it turned out, worked security at Canyon and he and a buddy were on their way to Chico Hot Springs, Montana. They carried us to Norris, where we got off and started hitchhiking again. This time a young British couple came to our aid, picking us up quickly. Again, Ann rejoiced in my skepticism defeated. We would reach Old Faithful in just over an hour’s time. Surprised, I was.

Being back at Old Faithful wasn’t the most pleasant feeling. The crowds are still huge, by far the largest in the park. There must have been a couple thousand people huddled around the geyser, not a bleacher seat left. The boardwalks, likewise, were crowded and the kids were annoying. And yet Ann wanted the whole tour. We stopped at geysers, hot springs, steam vents and thermal pools. I also took Ann into the Old Faithful Inn so she could see where I once worked. It was near noon and the place was a madhouse as usual. Buses unloading, people scurrying in and out of the gift shop, artists selling paintings and photographs in the lobby while flashes from cameras flickered across the historic wooden structure. Ann was impressed, letting out a few “wows” as we walked around.

After lunch we hitched a ride to Lake Yellowstone, again getting picked up quickly, this time from some fellow Canyon employees. Two middle aged women, one from Minnesota, the other from Mississippi. The one from Mississippi gave us a good scolding about the dangers of hitchhiking. I can’t say that I disagreed with her, but in Yellowstone with so many international workers and those, like me, without wheels, hitchhiking is an accepted practice. And we were exceeding at it.

Now this wasn’t the first time I had hitchhiked, but it had been a while. I was about eight when I decided to ditch the summer camp I was attending in Central Florida and hitchhike home. Thankfully, a nice man and his teenage daughter picked me up and called my parents, who, understandably were shocked. They were angry at me, but also at the summer camp staff for allowing me out of their sights. All because I didn’t want to take swimming lessons. To this day, my mother loves to tell that story as an example of what a weird kid I was growing up.

Back in Yellowstone, the women dropped us off at Lake Hotel just as rain drops fell from the sky. We went inside and visited with Terry (aka Mr. Fantastic) at the concierge desk. Terry and I basked in the fact we were “survivors” of our original training group and, the good Lord willing, we were going to make it to the finish line. Ann wanted to relax in the lobby of the hotel so we found a comfy couch and enjoyed the beautiful view of Lake Yellowstone, the largest alpine lake in North America, its deep cobalt blue water mesmerizing to gaze upon. Lake Hotel altogether feels like something out of the Great Gatsby era, elegantly outfitted employees, fine fixtures and the soothing sounds of a string quartet in the evening hours.

Unfortunately, we wouldn’t be hanging around to hear the performance. Nightfall was just hours away and we did not want to get caught in Hayden Valley hitchhiking after dark. So we strapped on our backpacks and made our way through the sage brush along the trail to Fishing Bridge. The rain had subsided, but a new smell suddenly  filled the air the closer we got to Hayden Valley. It was the unmistakable odor of burning pine trees. Those clouds in the distance were not rainclouds at all, but rather large, puffy clouds of smoke.

Yellowstone was on fire.