Wednesday was my day to roam around and see the city. Highlights included lunch at Krystal (the southern version of White Castle), Little Five Points, a decent thrift store on Memorial Drive, a little time downtown, and my own special brand of aimless driving. Aimless driving is particularly interesting in Atlanta, which has a street pattern not far removed from the country roads and horse paths of 150 years ago. Alas, I was unable to contact the queen of darkness and most sensational drag queen in the world, Lily White. Next time…


I checked into the Cheshire Motor Inn for my initially unplanned second night and promptly napped through my planned dinner rendezvous with Dan and Tony. Fortunately, they waited, and we ate at a surprisingly good Mexican place, Nuevo Laredo. Then I got sucked into “Voyager”…


The nightlife consisted almost exclusively of the Eagle. Just so happens it was “Eagles Nest Key Club” night. Yer humble host is now a member of said club, and membership DOES have its privileges. The biggest privilege is admittance to a most active back room. This back room made up for all the debauchery I’ve missed through the rest of the trip. Lotsa nastiness, including this long-haired “stud boy” who kept attracting couples, both members of which were quick to bend over for him. I was also pleased to see that latex was used in each instance of felonious anal probing.

Checked out the Heretic; it was full of brain-dead disco-bunnies and gym/circuit boys. At Backstreet, where I was planning to look up an old friend, an attempt was made to charge me a $10 cover. I declined, while erupting in fits of laughter at the very thought of shelling out ten bucks to walk into the dump on an off night.

I went to sleep too late. I slept badly. I came to regret this the next day.

Atlanta to Memphis


The drive from Atlanta to Memphis could only be described as unpleasant. It didn’t help that I was cranky and irritable from lack of sleep, but as a special bonus, the roads were from hell and the drivers were pretty damned close to completely incompetent. Repeat these rules after me:

  • We do not pass on the right, even when there are three lanes in our direction.
  • It is unwise to tailgate when going 80MPH.
  • The right lane is the slow lane. The left lane is the fast lane. We do not shift into the left lane and then slow down. This is not good.

A wreck forced me to make a 30-mile detour around Birmingham through some (admittedly pretty) country roads. Alabama has, in general, now replaced Ohio as my most unpleasant state so far. US 78 between Birmingham and Memphis should have been a freeway thirty years ago. And Birmingham itself is smoky, smelly, and generally ugly in a way even I was unable to appreciate.

The road through Mississippi was pretty good. I have no other real observations on the place, except to note that Tuplelo, birthplace of Elvis, is not readily apparent from the freeway which goes “through” it.

Memphis, my ultimate destination for the night, was seedy and fairly endearing in a decayed sort of way. Of course, the “Elvis factor” was in evidence everywhere, and I even stayed in a motel on Elvis Presley Boulevard, not far from Graceland. After the day’s drive, I didn’t poke around much, particularly after taking almost an hour finding a room. By the way, the drivers here are particularly inept…

Memphis to Oklahoma City


The morning brought a quickie tour of downtown, one Elvis souvenir shop, and an unsuccessful search for the very first Holiday Inn on Summer Avenue. I did find an original one, south of downtown, but THE original has either been demolished or remodeled beyond recognition.


And then I crossed the Mississippi River into Arkansas. It didn’t do much for me either. The roads were bad (what IS that shit they’re paved with?), the scenery east of Little Rock was uninspiring, and the letters to the editor in the Little Rock paper frightened me. One of them suggested that a return to complete segregation was in order to fix all the world’s problems. Little Rock seemed a pretty inconsequential place. The scenery got better to the west, but I still shed no tears as I passed into Oklahoma…

What a strangely fascinating place Oklahoma City turned out to be. It’s actually a pretty big sprawling city with some fair attempts at culture and a street system which actually works, although the drivers remain a bit aggressive. Alas, good drivers can be aggressive, but these by and large aren’t good drivers.


OKC was exciting for me because it signaled the beginning of the real meat of my Route 66 odyssey. I covered two versions within the city, one on 39th Street and one on 23rd Street. Some good sights and pictures will follow. Pretty much the next three days will be spent on (or in close proximity to) the “Mother Road”.

A question for the natives: what is it that makes the freeways and some of the surface streets in OKC look perpetually slick even when they aren’t? I’m not talking about heat mirages; the streets just look slick. A friend says it may be the recycled asphalt, which OKC was among the first place in the country to use. Sounds plausible, I guess…


I did do the gay thing here to some extent. It’s a very odd scene, most of which seems to cluster around a huge gay motel called the Habana Inn. Most of the bars are located within a block of the place and the actual motel seems to be a pretty fertile cruising ground as well. I saw several penises winking at m through open curtains. I opted against any invitations. I also sensed a pretty heavy slumming heterosexual presence as well as a large hustler factor.

Despite being a fairly large city, OKC suffers from the same “scene identity” problem as many Southern towns, and it’s exacerbated by the close proximity of all the bars. There are no bar “types”; you get the same fags everywhere. Plus, if you’re so inclined, you can pay an additional $5 cover to see these same fags at Angles, the mega-club. I was not so inclined.

One exception was Levi’s, about a mile away from the strip. This is the dive bar, and as such, I took to it immediately. The crowd looked pretty desperate and drunk, and was a little on the redneck side, but they were playing Van Halen. And there’s a cool patio.

No one serves Rolling Rock. I hate that.

One bar featured “foam night”. which meant that the dance floor was covered in bubble bath. I didn’t get it. It might have looked more normal if this were a bigger city, and the crowd were trendier (and drugged), and the music was a little trippier. But I doubt it.


Oklahoma City to Amarillo

This morning, I did the Route 66 tour and hit thrift stores, following breakfast at the Classen Grill, which was recommended by not one or two, but THREE people. It was good, but not the religious experience I expected. Busboys were cute though…


“Oklahoma City is mighty pretty…you’ll see Amarillo, Gallup, New Mexico”…

I’ve moved into the real nitty gritty of Route 66 now. This is a really great part of the trip. I’m no longer worried about the itinerary or the nightlife or what time zone I’m in (except for tonight, when I missed “The Simpsons” and “King of the Hill”). It’s now all about exploring a part of the country I’ve never seen and a road which has as much history as any Civil War battlefield.


On the way into Amarillo, I hit most of the old 66 loops in Oklahoma and Texas. I avoided a parade in Yukon and saw Garth Brooks Boulevard (this was more amusing than thrilling). I had lunch at Pop Hick’s, an institution in Clinton OK, and talked with a very friendly waitress who was most proud of the 66 tourists who stop in. In fact, everyone along the route seems proud of their place in history.


Clinton is also home to the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum. I stopped, of course. Good museum. Good gift shop. Minimal free stuff.

Eventually, Oklahoma became Texas, and before long I was in Shamrock, home of the U-Drop-Inn, some boarded-up gas stations, and not much else. The interstate pretty much ruined Shamrock. The U-Drop is great though, a late 30’s modern/streamline gas station and restaurant. It’s a major Route 66 landmark and incidentally, it’s vacant and for lease…


With Shamrock covered, I began to contemplate food and sleep.


I DID see Amarillo. In fact, I spent the night there last night. It’s an interesting place, which reminds me a lot of Fresno or even Bakersfield: flat, linear, and just a bit behind the times. It’s a tremendously unpretentious place…depressed even. There are great buildings and cheesy motels to look at. Route 66 (Amarillo Blvd.) is a major thoroughfare which goes on forever. There are bars. I opted against, so as to get an early start this morning.

Amarillo to Gallup


On the outskirts of Amarillo stands one of the most unusual and most visited art installations in all of Texas. The Cadillac Ranch dates back to the late Route 66 era and is the creation of Stanley Marsh. It’s a very simple piece (or roadside attraction, should you prefer that term): ten 50’s-era Cadillac buried in the sand and left open to the elements as well as the graffiti artists.


After leaving Amarillo, my first big and exciting stop was Tucumcari, a motel town like almost no other. “Tucumcari Tonight” signs have flanked Route 66 and I-40 for years. It is most definitely possible to avoid the chains here.


A few more loops through small and sometimes almost-deserted towns and I made my way to Albuquerque.


It would have been nice to spend the night here; it seems like an interesting, vaguely nonconformist kind of place, and also appears to be a magnet for scruffy long-haired boys AND skaters. Hmmm…my two favorite flavors…


Alas, something (I later learned it was some kind of Balloon Expo) was going on in town and jacking up all the room rates. Since I’d now hit Mountain Time, I used the extra hour to get to Gallup, after touring the 66 strip (Central Avenue) a few times and looking around downtown and at a thrift store.


There are motel relics from the past everywhere in Albuquerque; I had to do some serious editing to cut down the number of pictures and move this page along. A few other biggies here included lunch at the Route 66 Diner, crossing the Rio Grande, and seeing highway signs which just read “US 66” rather than “Historic Route 66” or whatever. It made the dream just a touch more realistic.


About this time, I realized that I was getting sunburned. Not, mind you, the sunburn that comes from hanging the arm out the window. No, it was my INSIDE arm which was turning red. We’re talking serious sunshine here. I hate sunshine. So with my arm slowly getting redder and redder, I headed up Route 66 for Gallup NM.


Had dinner at Safeway (don’t ask) and then drove around taking pictures and seeing what was around. I closed out the night watching cable TV at the motel (such a bargain…).

Gallup to Kingman


I’m quite excited with my huge 50-plus-year-old room at the Ambassador Motel (and for only $20). The only problem is that the floor slumps about four inches from the back of the room to the front. Good thing I’m not drinking…

Gallup is an odd little town with a colorful history as the “drinking and boozing center” for a whole region with a large Native American population. This is mostly in the past now, although I couldn’t quite figure exactly what it is that people DO here (aside from run motels). There’s an interesting downtown area and several shopping centers and fast food joints. It’s obvious that this is a town which grew primarily because of transportation, first the railroads, then Route 66, and more recently I-40.


It’s always a special joy to wake up in a strange motel a thousand miles from home, to smoke that morning cigarette, and begin packing the car. What makes it even more fun is that moment when you notice that you have a tire as flat as a pancake.


Fortunately, that trip to Target prior to my departure prepared me for this, as I picked up a can of new “non-explosive formula” Fix-a-Flat. All the same, I was a touch paranoid most of the day, and as it turns out, I’m still losing air. I would not be surprised to be greeted by a similar sight in the morning. Must be my revenge for being so fascinated by those Highway 666 signs…


Anyhow, I’m on my way to Arizona.

“Gallup, New Mexico…Flagstaff, Arizona…don’t forget Winona…Kingman…”


Despite the questionable tire, it was an entertaining day as I crossed Arizona, through the painted desert. First major stop was Fort Courage, a reservation gift shop and “salute” to F Troop. Then on to Holbrook, home of the original (and still operating) Wigwam Village Motel. It seemed pretty deserted on this particular morning, but fortunately I found a maid who let me go in and see what a regulation sleeping wigwam looks like. I was impressed.


I skipped Winslow because I do not break for Eagles references, and I had no desire whatsoever to stand on that damned corner. I did not, however, forget Winona. There’s nothing there, but I visited anyway. It was pretty.


A few miles past the intersction known as Winona, back on original Route 66, I started spotting the motels of Flagstaff. Flagstaff turned out to be a pleasant surprise.


Like I said, Flagstaff was an unexpected surprise. Not a surprise in that I wasn’t expecting it, but in that I wasn’t expecting to LIKE it so much. I’d never heard much about the place pro or con, but it’s a pretty cool town. Very collegiate, but not annoyingly so. Definite boy-watching haven.


I had lunch in the coffee shop of the Hotel Monte Vista downtown, just because I liked its looks as I drove by. As it turns out, this hotel is one of the few “gay-friendly” establishments in town, per Mr. Damron. I THOUGHT that waitress seemed a little butch…

Then I hit a couple of bookstores, looked over the 66 strip, called Deon to apologize about the change in itinerary and headed west, having opted out of the Phoenix/San Diego leg. Why? Because I’m running two-plus days late, because I’m digging this Route 66 tour an didn’t want to stop, and (I admit it) because I’m finally getting a little tired of driving.


This didn’t stop me from deciding on the spur of the moment to visit the Grand Canyon. This stroke of genius was thwarted, however, when I learned of the $20 “cover charge” to enter the park. Seemed a bit excessive for a one-hour visit, so I filed the canyon away for a future visit and went to the Flintstones gift shop at Bedrock City instead. The National Park Service, which seems to be charging a lot for its attractions lately, once again got nothing from me.

Back to the highway and on to Seligman, a cute town with a neat Route 66 trading post, where I found a reprint of the 1946 guide to Route 66 which I’ve been seeking for a long time. This was the good part of this stop; the bad part was when I noticed that the tire was still leaking.


I decided that (a) I’d skip the winding, old section of road to Kingman and opt for the freeway instead and (b) I’d spend the night in Kingman and get the tire fixed in the morning.

This was a mildly stressful drive, as it was getting dark, the road wound around lots of hills, and I was nervous about the tire. I also got very reflective about various aspects of my life. Remember Nevada? Something about those damn mountains… Anyhow, I’ll spare you those details for now.

Right now, I’m watching “Hawaii Five-O”. Looks like I may not quite make it home tomorrow…

Kingman to Bakersfield


Got the tire patched this morning in Kingman for only eight bucks. I seem to remember this operation used to cost like three or five dollars or something. I think I even got it done for free once. Times change, I guess. Anyway, I felt much more secure afterward, I must admit.


I stopped by Kingman’s Route 66 Visitor Center, about a week before its “official” grand opening. It’s got potential. And they put me one the right road up the hills. And I mean straight up.


Secure enough, even, that I managed to almost completely avoid the interstate all day. I followed the old road through Oatman; the drive to Oatman was great. The road wound and twisted and went up and down just like Lucy and Desi is “The long Long Trailer”. Trudging along even at 30MPH seemed to push things a little. The town was pretty cool too, if somewhat infested with souvenir shops. I managed to have a passable lunch at a decent cafe.


Had to rejoin I-40 at the Colorado River to cross into California. I tried to find the spot where the Joads stopped and gazed in “The Grapes of Wrath”, but the road construction required a little too much attention, and soon I was back in my own state, smack dab in the middle of the Mojave Desert.


Wow…my last night in the road, and I’m spending it in Bakersfield. Seems a little anti-climactic, I guess. I might have actually driven all the way back tonight, but once I hit Barstow and returned to familiar turf, some of the excitement wore off and I realized just how beat I am. After all, as of today I’ve been on the road for five weeks…

Wish I were more excited to be returning to SF. I am anxious to get home, of course, but the thought of being back in Sodom-by-the-Bay doesn’t fill me with the joy and thrills it used to. But I digress.

After passing through the oasis of Needles, I continued on the old road through Essex and Amboy and Ludlow and a host of other towns which really don’t exist anymore. On one 45-mile stretch I doubt if I passed five cars.

I should have called the return trip from Oklahoma on Route 66 the Joad Memorial Leg. It seems I’m following the route from “The Grapes of Wrath” almost exactly, even as far as the turn north to Bakersfield. Fortunately, thanks to a cold snap, my trek through the desert was less taxing than theirs. Last time I checked, there were no dead grandmas in the trunk. And it’s a good thing I had no problems ‘cuz that’s one severely godforsaken road.


Barstow signaled the beginning of the end of the Mojave Desert. Y’know, I never would have guessed that I’d find myself in Barstow three times in 1997. Before this year, I’d never been there; I’m starting to feel at home now.

By the time I hit Bakersfield, I was tired of driving, tired of smoking, tired of wind, and REALLY tired of brown scenery. I’d forgotten how much I missed the greenness of the east coast and the midwest. When I paid $1.48 for a gallon of gas, my attitude about California did not improve.

But anyway, here I am. In Bakersfield. With the heat on. After five weeks of roasting all over the country, it finally got cold today. For that, I must still love California. Tomorrow will bring thrift stores in Fresno, and then the long drive across the Central Valley, through Altamont Pass and the Oakland Hills and across the Bay Bridge into San Francisco. Then it will all be over…


I guess it’s officially all over now. I’m home. The bags are unpacked (this alone took a good week). The stories and pictures are posted. I’m back into the San Francisco rut.

Was it worth it?

Of course it was! I met great people, saw incredible things, and have a pretty good feel for what’s “out there” in the USA now. I’ve made new friends, and I got to experience things like a local. I’m forever indebted to the people who put me up along the way, changed their schedules for me, showed me around, took me out, and made the trip such a great thing.

Would I do it again?

Damn right! I’d make the same trip again in an instant. In fact I fully intend to, although a five-week grand tour might be out of the question for a while. If I learned anything on this trip, it is that I love seeing new things as well as seeing old things in a new light.

Was it awful traveling alone?

Actually, there’s no better way to travel. I think I hit just the right balance between my need to set out on my own and the need to have people around. It would’ve been nice to have had a guide in one or two places, but I think I did OK.

Traveling alone allows some big benefits. It’s not always necessary to maintain a rigid schedule. I pretty much chose my own pace. Compromises were limited. There were no fights over the radio station. And boy did I have time to do a lot of thinking. Usually this was great. In Nevada and parts of New Mexico, I must admit that it got a bit oppressive, but I survived.

Any regrets?

If I had it to do over again, I’d spend more time in a few places, of course. I hate that I didn’t hookup with a few people I was supposed to meet. I would definitely spare my dad the kidney stone he developed when I was home. A little more money might have been nice too. But all in all, I’m pretty satisfied.

Was it an absolute religious experience?

Keep in mind that I’m not a particularly religious or “spiritual” person. That said, the answer would be “yes, it was pretty damned close to a religious experience” but a personal one as well. And I’m still not sure exactly how to write about that in this particular context. Maybe I’ll save that for the book…

Anyhow, it’s time to move on. Thanks again to all who provided me with shelter, who sent suggestions, who emailed me on the road (and before and after), and especially to Bob in Indianapolis, who convinced me to do the whole thing.

It’s been fun.

Celebrating Our Sexuality

A recent flyer from the Alice B. Toklas Gay and Lesbian Democratic Club informed me how nice it will be to “celebrate our sexuality” in a new GLBT community center. Why does this phrase annoy me so?

“Celebrating our sexuality” brings to mind the image of some pagan sex ritual. I visualize a circle of Radical Faeries dancing around a giant phallic symbol on a pole and then retiring to the bushes. Sounds kind of fun, but sadly, I don’t think this is the image the authors had in mind.

Just what the hell does the phrase “celebrating our sexuality” mean? Should I be celebrating the fact that I have a sexuality or just the fact that I have a specific TYPE of sexuality? Since the goals of the community center — as stated in the article — pretty much suggest that this is supposed to be a sex-free, cruise-free environment, just how am I supposed to celebrate it?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting shagging in the community center. I’m just annoyed by yet another warm and fuzzy — but ultimately meaningless — cliche. I’m balking at the idea that sexuality implies something more than…well…sex. And I’m questioning the idea that people who share a certain sexual orientation must, by definition, share any other particular bond.

“Gay pride” is starting to grate in a similar way; how can I be proud of something I had nothing to do with? I’m quite happy and satisfied that I like sex with boys better than with girls, but I’m not especially proud of this fact. I like the fact that I have brown eyes too, but it’s not an accomplishment which I celebrate on a day-to-day basis.

A large measure of pride can obviously be taken in triumph over adversity and discrimination, but simply being proud of an inborn characteristic itself is a little ridiculous, isn’t it? To me, “celebrating sexuality” sort of implies that we should start throwing orgies to commemorate the onset of puberty. And dammit, I’m really pissed that I missed my party!

Frankly, it could be argued that the idea of a GLBT community center in San Francisco is a little ridiculous from the onset. Just what we need: another “safe space” in which to ghettoize and ignore the outside world and vilify those nasty evil heterosexuals. It might make sense in Des Moines, but in San Francisco? Gimme a break…you can’t walk a block here without seeing another “safe space”.

I used to fantasize that San Francisco was a world where people could move beyond defining themselves solely in terms of who they sleep with. I fantasized about a place where an individual could have a number of interests, one of which might happen to involve screwing members of the same sex. Unfortunately, I now find myself in a place which — in many ways — is even more segregated than my hometown in the south.

Silly me…I didn’t understand that here in the ghetto, people are even MORE self-conscious about sexuality and race and gender, mainly because we’re constantly calling such attention to them. And making such a big, divisive issue of them. And letting these traits define us so completely…

“Celebrating” them, even…

Eventually, it becomes possible to avoid having one’s own identity at all; just adopt a few characteristics of “the culture”, learn to speak in cliches, and you’re all set. In some ways this is even worse than the poor souls whose sole self-definition stems from what they do for a living.

I think I’ll throw my own “celebrating our sexuality” party. Should there be cake? A buffet? Balloons? And how should I explain to my straight friends that they aren’t allowed to come?