V6 023 almost YMCA

Volume 6 part 023 Go west young man

International travel became altogether more interesting after Pete arrived.

To match his choice of the Canaries in 2000 we chose San Francisco for a week the following September. In an overt display of Democracy, Pete suggested the destinations and I agreed.

What harm could a week in the USA do?

Earlier in the summer we had been to Brighton for a long weekend where we encountered a couple of West Coast Americans enjoying a beer outside a gay pub and extolling the virtues of California. They liked England and the English but hated the class distinction. I hadn’t a clue what they were rattling on about. I was the boy from a pit village who had done fairly well and by now the principle shareholder in a newly incorporated former partnership of Architects.

We emailed to let the Americans know we would be in San Francisco for a week in case they fancied meeting up for a meal of two. In response, they would be in Chicago although regrettably missing the Fulsome Street fair for the first time in eight years! Peter and I were totally unaware of a “Fulsome street fair”.

San Francisco was Pete’s Alma-Mata. It was the home of the gay and apparently, home of the macho gay! It now also, had some strange street fair that we had never heard of!

On Pete’s insistence I pre-booked a hotel having first argued that the place was full of hotels and best tested for location upon arrival. Not until we arrived in San-Fran’ did we realise how big a-thing the fair actually was and how lucky we were to have made a reservation. The city was full!

We missed a connection in Detroit and in turn, most of the first evening in San Francisco arriving at our hotel at two in the morning. A taxi driver of obscure, but eastern European origin with little command of English eventually delivered us via a decisively dodgy neighbourhood to a “boutique”, Edwardian hotel located on a side street, two blocks or so from Union Square. Too tired to hop straight back into the taxi and head back to the airport, we decided to sleep on it. By the morning the sun would be shining, we would be lounging in bed with a view over the bay and the butch lesbian night clerk of a “quaint” hotel in a dubious district, would be off duty.

Refreshed, awakening by eight in the morning and true to form, the sun was shining. The view of the bay was an eleven storey blank brick wall on the opposite side of an alley, not three meters from our window. I gingerly closed the drapes, awakening Pete from a catatonic coma with a Folgers coffee capsule and ushering him out of the room before he caught sight of the spectacular ancient brick pointing at close range.  The butch lesbian had been joined in reception by a posse of Ukrainian lookalike, shot putters. We took breakfast in a traditional “diner” down the street seeking solace in a plate of Findus Hash-browns, pasteurised egg powder easy over and streaky bacon of an indeterminate origin so crisp you could use it to shovel the oversized portion of authentic west coast baked beans in tomato sauce. Mustn’t complain… we were in ‘Frisco!

By the end of the first day we’d seen almost all there is to see. The cable cars have yellow lines on the floor for which any transgression is punished by public humiliation. Fisherman’s Warf is a tourist rip-off and smelled of pungent mould but has a very interesting souvenir shop selling all manner of embalmed bugs. We still keep a stuffed locust magnetised to the kitchen wall. If you don’t know what a dead sea-lion smells like, take a trip to Fisherman’s’ Walk.

The view of the golden gate is as good as it gets. A boat trip around Alcatraz concluded that we didn’t need to visit Alcatraz and that we should also avoid Oakland at all costs. It took most of a wasted first three days to find a mobile phone shop to confirm that there was no “roaming” signal on the West Coast. China town and Little Italy are just about big enough to be worth a walk-through although in every respect, the one is indistinguishable from the other. This was the first time I had ever travelled west and from what I saw in the first forty-eight hours, probably the last.

By midweek we were sufficiently bored to justify hiring a car. Pete slept all the way to the cascades comparing the Giant Red-woods to a cruising area without cock. He failed to explain what a cruising area actually was, preferring to publicly condemn the place for not allowing smoking… “For god’s sake we were outside” after all! California had introduced the smoking ban inside public places the preceding year but should the trees go up in flames, “what’s a thousand year or so of growth rings anything to write home about?”

Pete took in the view of the roof lining by fully reclining the passenger seat to resume his nap for the drive North East to Sonoma. Sonoma was all a bit “Stepford wives” with old money, originating as far back as the “sisters of America”, doing lunch in a restaurant with a remarkable resemblance to a Swiss Chalet. Two hundred dollars got us two courses and a bottle of local Pinot Grigio masquerading as non-alcoholic mouth wash. The imported version was half the price and twice the quality. If you have to be loud don’t draw attention to yourself while being lovingly fork fed linguini by your “hair-stylist”. The mood darkened immediately that a blob of fluorescent orange pesto hit the shelf created by her amply, if artificially, inflated heaving bosom straining beneath a snugly fitting grey “Chanel” matching two-piece suit. The flurry of lace capping a white silk blouse created the perfect depository for the linguini heading south in the direction of her cleavage in hot pursuit of the sun-dried tomato dressing.

We applauded! The “old money” on the adjoining table, smirked their approval. During the ensuing bonding session we discovered that the “old-money” lunch was in honour of a teacher who was retiring after apparently, having tutored three generations sat around the table. Presumably “old-money” didn’t think enough of the old dear to pay well enough to allow her to retire at an age when she could have actually enjoyed her dotage! “Doing lunch” was their way of making amends, no doubt!

Filled with overpriced plonk, Pete had an excuse for sleeping all the way back to the city. He missed half of the Oakland bay Bridge until the road toll, but was fully awake for the descent of Lombard Street that links Russian Hill to bay town. Free-falling down the winding hair-pin bends is compulsory for any tourist with a hire car and judging by the erratic lane discipline of the bumper to bumper cavalcade, quite a few were British.

I needed to do Ashbury Heights (spelled something different). I was a child of the 60’s. Haights-Ashbury was “flower power”. Along with a thing for the Beatles, It had been the inspiration for a short lived business-venture with my friend David, selling double sided sticky taped potato prints designed to look like flowers to fellow pupils in the Benjamin Outram Fifth Form as bicycle ornamentation. Of the three customers, one of them sold on the psychedelic floral prints to a hairdresser friend and the other two demanded a refund complaining that the tape stripped the paint off their bicycle mud-guards when ordered to remove them by their retrogressive parents.

Castro district – check out the rainbow flags denoting the gay bars of Castro

To fully soak up the experience, we walked. What a hike! All those hills are so unnecessary. On the map the terrain had looked fairly flat and the city blocks relatively compact. Within a hundred meters of crawling into the district of Heights-Ashbury, Pete had scored a hash-buy simply by crossing the street at the first intersection of Ashbury and some slum back-water. A tiny Latino slid him a “teenth” in exchange for a furtive twenty dollars. Peter had followed my warning not to take, by pain of death, his own supply of herbal cigarettes into America. Although I readily provided the twenty dollar bill I was well pissed that the local scouts had ranked his street-cred above my own! The “child of the sixties” had been resolutely passed by…

Save for graffiti above street level, purporting to be street art and shops selling joss sticks at exorbitant prices to tourists eager to re-live their youth there was little left of “Flower power” with the exception of the bongo, jazz players in Golden Gate Park dressed in Thai-dye who should have gone home forty years previous when the hair on their heads wasn’t limited to a gangling of grease tied up in rainbow coloured rubber bands as an excuse for a pony-tail. 

All very sad!

Disillusioned, and resisting the temptation to spend three-hundred-and seventy-five-dollars on a black leather, retro biker’s jacket with a painted Eagle that had seen times that were altogether more innocent, we retreated to Castro, capital suburb of the capital city of the gay world. Taking solace in a pint of “long-Island-tea” I was enjoying the age of fifty yet life had so rapidly passed me by. What had been new and vibrant at aged sixteen was now grey and dishevelled. The petals had truly fallen off my flower power…

Not a day passed without experiencing some jaw grinding, board screeching episode of epic proportions involving insufferable yokels behaving sufficiently badly to have us readily fleeing back to Detroit.

Little wonder that the British gave the Americans their independence!

Waiters considered pressing nose-tip to nose-tip acceptable to congratulate their customer on the excellence of their choice from the menu. Wine selection was tantamount to administering a French kiss complete with bad breath, spraying spittle and a close encounter with magnified nose hair. One more overly expressed, “Excellent choice sir” spat into my lower eyelids and I would have chinned the chap. The same waiter mentioned to Peter during one of his many cigarette breaks on the sidewalk that “he would be as big as his partner if he didn’t smoke”. All I caught of the conversation was Pete’s reply …”any why the F..k do you think I smoke?”. Apart from the overbearing service, the fish restaurant in Castro was top notch and a well-known attraction given that it accommodates only half a dozen six-person stainless steel tables at which only members of the same party can sit at any one time.

Whether it be in a restaurant or a bar, it transpired that taking a place on the opposite end of a table that seats eight but occupied by a chino clad couple of “Clones” is an invasion of privacy. The pair objected vociferously in an animated South Westerly drawl but that failed to deter us from joining them. Mr “Gay Oregon 1979”, resident cruiser in Daddies Bar, well noted for their half priced, pint sized drinks- offers filled us in on the protocols surrounding territorial boundaries in public places although his familiarity didn’t extend as far as enlightening us as to what he had been doing in the intervening twenty-one years since winning his accolade. We could only assume it was spent giving etiquette lessons to itinerant Europeans. The barely legible “1979” badge on the back of his faded denim jacket was as washed-out as the personality who wore it. It was time for him to follow the advice given to the Thai-dyed bongo player, to go home.

Three well dressed “Bostonians” taking a break from the bar during the five o’clock happy-hour going for a smoke on the “sidewalk” outside the Sunset Lounge excelled themselves by very loudly letting it be known, that fashionable gays had “made Castro” and that fat people “should be kept off the streets”. A rather rotund lady in a fashionable, floral print with a leather-bound twink in tow couldn’t avoid overhearing the verbal assault. The poor dear was mortified yet defenceless, coming to a stand-still eyeballing the trio at point blank range whilst her boy-toy strained on his leash in a futile attempt to escape. I was equally relieved when a cowboy from North Dakota who had helped himself earlier to one of my “Marlborough lights” intervened by threatening the boys with one last trip to the Cascades face down in the back of his AMC pick-up truck. By the time he had wrestled the smallest of the pretty boys into a damp tarpaulin the other two had beat a hasty retreat inside. The Good-Samaritan called it a day, allowing the soiled chinos and dishevelled polo shirt to dismount from the rear of his truck unimpeded in favour of extorting yet another “Marlborough Light”. I recall that he also kept my lighter, but who’s arguing?

I calmed the old dear by congratulating her on the delicacy of her daisy print dress and matching house boy. She went on her way having reclaimed her share of Castro. Some tourists also excelled at anti-social behaviour barging around tiny souvenir shops oblivious to staff and other customers alike. The irony is not misplaced! Being poked in the back for stomping on my right foot for a second time the excuse proffered was “I’m from North Carolina” as if that exonerated bad manners. “Nice for you! Do you still eat black people in North Carolina?” sent the white boy through the door as quickly as flushing a toilet. Without exception, American toilets have particularly impressive flushing systems.

With the exception of the patrons of “Daddies”, tea time in Castro”, was largely preserve of the smart but casual after-work cocktail crowd. By sunset the dress code mutated into blue jeans and replicated checked shirts. Knotted neck scarves or loosely draped hand-kerchiefs of various colours protruding in a flourish from either arse pocket provided entertaining decoration. Pete prided himself in breaking the kerchief code. Under the influence of the pint sized Long-Island-Iced teas I could only remember that yellow signified “water sports”. Yellow handkerchiefs were off the menu irrespective of which pocket they peered from. I believe my colour of choice was “blue” but being unable to remember from which pocket they should hang made the speculation far too risky to test. A high percentage of punters were garnished with moustaches.

The boys from Polk wore too much make-up and leopard skin print. They didn’t like the men from Castro. A case of mistaken identity probably accounted for the poor service we received in Polk but in reality the bar boys in this part of the world are fairly nasty and to be avoided. In every sense of the phrase they are well and truly up their own arses.

By midnight the cow-boys were out in force on “Market”!

Market is a street.

Market Street was only a few blocks from the Bijou walled garden passing for a hotel which we had made home for the week. Folsom Street was just below Market, or in the vernacular “south of Market”. The gay guy that split shifts with the lesbian concierge speculated that “Market” might be more up our street than either Polk or Castro. The “Lone Star” bar appeared in all the mag’s as the place to be on a Thursday night. A queue of just four Stetsons highlighted the entrance to the bar. Assuming they were outside for a smoke, Peter and I walked right-on-in! Sensing some gingham clad Neanderthal was attempting to communicate I allowed eye contact. Repeating in a deep throated roar “Thare’s a slaarght laarn t’tha lerft!” in an incomprehensible southern drawl failed to bridge the communication gap. At the risk of having to recruit a translator we excused ourselves with an apologetic, “terribly sorry, I only speak English” and made it through to the sparsely populated bar with no further interference.

It transpired that a “slaarght laarn” is a queue! Apparently “there’s a slight line to the left”. The purpose of the queue to gain access to a bar with a population of four remains a mystery.

A vast, poorly lit lounge was home to a dozen or so, ‘Sisco clones propped with their backs to the counter watching “South-Park” on a giant roll down, back projection, TV screen! I hadn’t travelled half way across the western hemisphere to watch cartoons with a bunch of allegedly nob hungry clones, clearly without the balls to do anything about it!

A young man sitting at out end of the bar dressed as a replica “Paul Wella” sympathised. His name was Michael. He was an IT expert recently re-settled from LA. He liked “the Jam” and everything English and particularly the men. He was off to meet an English date in another bar and who had shagged him the previous evening, volunteering to show us the sights on the way.

There wasn’t a single customer in the first bar of the tour, probably because it smelled of shit due to the toilet cubicle being open to the bar yet having no toilet-pan. “My Place” is not to be recommended… it is literally a dump but apparently a busy dump on Saturday evenings. Michael suggested the “Power-House” as an alternative if we didn’t mind a crowd. It was his final destination. The Power-House was only a few doors walk away located on the corner of Folsom and somewhere. The bar area was heaving overlooked by the stage featuring a combination of boot blacks and barbers!  Men paid customers to be allowed to clean their boots. Customers paid men for a haircut while other customers paid to watch. Whatever turns you on! By far the busiest place in the bar was the smoking room with a constant stream of two-way traffic ducking back and forth through a plastic curtain draped over a small opening in the side wall of the bar I guessed opened into aside alley. This was to be expected as the anti-smoking rules were rigorously observed in California. I could take or leave a Marlborough if it meant leaving my bottle of “Bud” unattended at the bar for any length of time.

While Pete disappeared into the smoking room I took up position with an elbow casually draped over a newel post sporadically sipping from the neck of a bottle swinging between thumb and for finger. They didn’t serve beer in glasses. Totally unsolicited and absolutely uninitiated a junior” Jock” approached and with a smile that could blind a camel was making a play.. (text censored – see the book for the full gossip….)

Probably my finest hour!

“Paul Wella’s” boyfriend turned out to be a minute muscle-man who, by coincidence, Pete had christened “Macho-Macho-man for strutting his stuff in the Gran Canaria “Cruise” Bar earlier that season. The nick-name was a by-product of biceps preventing his arms from dangling less than thirty degrees from vertical. Pete ruined Macho-man’s holiday in San-Francisco as successfully as he had done in the Canaries only six months earlier.

Macho-man was in “Frisco” for the Folsom Street Fair accompanied by his boyfriend who didn’t get out much. The boyfriend was a police Superintendent, allegedly stationed in Huddersfield. He didn’t like gay bars, was here attending a conference, wore a suit and on the single occasion he joined Loz for a drink, proved to be a thoroughly decent sort. “Paul Wella” lost his bit-on-the-side after macho-man traded our silence for a few glasses of JD and Coke. As if we cared, his real name was Lawrence.

With so much talk of the “Fair” we simply had to go!

Peter in the thick of it – Folsom street 2000

The Folsom street fair is NOT a craft fair. It is as close to a village fete as Good Friday is to a Moscow, May-day, military parade. Red Cross stalls are strategically placed next to the S&M booths doing a roaring trade in the disinfection of whip-lash wounds. For a mere five dollars a shoe-shine licked your boots clean, even obliging Pete who was only wearing flip-flops.

There was no discount for flip-flops which was hardly surprising given the condition of Pete’s feet. A chronic athlete’s foot condition had been under treatment since he removed his converse boots in the back of the Landrover on the first 1999 Christmas wing-ding to Italy.  Bubble had the particularly acute sense of smell shared by all the family except for me with the biggest nose. She had retaliated with a bulk-buy from the Dr Scholl’s discount bar at the Aachen Walmart but eight months on, the therapeutic effect was barely noticeable. To the shoe-shine boy, the variation from Cherry Blossom and Bees Wax was simply seasoning on a hearty meal.

First-aiders administered complimentary sun-screen or antiseptic ointment for those burned by the September sunshine or getting too amorous with the giant size penis shaped Ice sculptures. It was a mixed crowd ranging from Clones, with or without leather, to traditional families with baby buggies. Clothing for all groups was optional and frequently avoided particularly by the overly exposed jack-off brigade starring in their own home made pavement porn movies. Slaves were accessorised with chains and all manner of pointy sharps piercing any or all saggy bits including the unmentionables. The blades and the chains were frequently combined.

The Bull-Whip competition finished me off! A semi-naked woman was strapped to a crucifix whilst competitors challenged each other to stroke her nipples with the tip of finely cut strip of leather from a thirty yard starting line. A whip, tipped with tiny razor blades fashioned into the shape of fish hooks raised the loudest applause. The woman’s’ heart was visibly pounding out of her chest as the reeling leather inched closer to its target.  I looked away, entertaining myself on a soft porn stall… not literally… until Pete made his get-away. He re-joined me in time to witness a trio of competing bleached blond porn stars, well past their best-before-date, simultaneously ejaculate onto a group of happy clapper, hill-billies who had been selecting a combination of dried flowers and pot-puree on an adjoining stall. Not so much disgusting… as sad. The whole place was fairly sad.

Precisely on the dot of six pm, the riot police moved in on horseback. What had been a de-regulated anything-goes, free-zone for eight hours switched instantly into a police-state straight out of “1984”. Flailing police batons hurled plastic pint-pots containing varying amounts of overpriced, under-strength local beer from hand to gutter with the accuracy and alacrity displayed by the Argentinian National Polo team. Punters too slow to dress were being rounded up and herded like prairie cattle into a gated compound. The stereotypical gays sought refuge within the surrounding bars, ignoring any remonstrations regarding the “slaarght laarn t’tha lerft!” Families and discernable tourists were given safe passage. By eight pm the only remnant of the Folsom Street Fair was a lady, down on her luck pushing a shopping cart full of cans for recycling. She was a hundred bucks away from a down payment on an apartment. She spoke with a terribly posh east coast accent giving us a sob story that she lost her job and apartment when paying for Cancer Treatment. The speed with which she downed my JD and Coke suggested she was no stranger to Mr Daniels but I preferred she enjoyed it than losing it to a policemen practicing croquet with my right hand. After an exhausting day that had commenced well before noon, the bars were thinning rapidly. Feeling grubby we decided to head home for a crap and a clean-up before returning to take up our position with the late night crowd over a few “smokes”.

On the walk back to the hotel, just south of the City Hall we came across a collection of policemen crammed into a fast food outlet devouring every kind of donut imaginable. It was all so stereotypical but it was true! Policemen do eat donuts. They are fat and greasy, mostly white and bad for your health…. just like the donuts. We took a selection box of nine with a mix of toppings and fillings to replace dinner. Lunch had been an equally nutritional blend of artificial hot dogs laced with a variety of multi-coloured carcinogenic compounds dispensed from high-pressure, hand pumped, piping bags all washed down with a gallon or so of carbonated gnats piss.

Suitably refreshed we were back on the streets before midnight in anticipation of a scintillating Saturday night that would extend almost until dawn. Unfortunately our fellow revellers hadn’t got the message. The majority who had drifted off in the early evening under the duress of police pressure after a day’s revelry failed to re-materialise. Loz made it for a nightcap having missed the “Fair” under orders from above. Young Michael was spending his Saturday night out with his sugar-daddy who had arrived from LA for the week-end. We had the “Power House” to ourselves which rather defeats the objective of a Gay Sleaze Pit however, six nights of bar crawls, culminating without exception in the same dive is sufficient sight-seeing for any tourist. Seven days and enough is enough!

We didn’t see “Barbary Lane”, Mrs Madrigal, Mouse or Mary-Anne Singleton, yet it would take a lot more than Amsted Maupin to get me back to the city by the bay.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.