Home for the Holidays

I usually fly home on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day because I’m usually flying standby and these two days are usually much easier. Today, alas, it meant standing in line for 45 minutes before I could get near a plane, thanks to all the snow and ice delays over the midwest and northeast for the past few days.

Fortunately, once I actually got on the plane, it was pretty empty, and I was seated next to a cute enough 20-something. He was little nerdly in appearance, but I don’t look on that as a negative. We didn’t really talk; he was reading something and I was reading my Christmas present from Sarah, a book on Sid and Marty Kroft.

The movie sucked. The meal consisted of some glop masquerading as an omelette, All in all, though, not a bad flight. I even had time for a cigarette in Charlotte.


Upon arrival in Greensboro, I was met by Mom and Dad and my uncle, and we scurried over to the in progress Christmas dinner at my cousin’s house. I was completely worn out and itching for sleep by the time I got home.

Weekend in Greensboro

I really didn’t do much all weekend other than watch TV and hang out with Mom and Dad. For some reason, I always feel really sleepy and lethargic when I’m at home. Maybe I’m bored, but it’s more likely due to the caffeine deprivation (less Coke, more Sprite and Fresca) and to the fact that I don’t smoke as much. I also feel a little funny not having a car.

The Mall

Visited the mall today. I never really go to malls in San Francisco (unless you count the Castro, but I never really go there either). My old neighborhood mall, Four Seasons Town Centre, is a 3-level monster which still seems bigger than just about any mall I’ve seen. I grew up in this mall. I learned how to drink, do drugs, and have sex at this mall. My first three jobs were here. And now it seems so foreign.

Security (and security cameras) are everywhere, so cruising is out of the question. All the kids look like some redneck parody of the gangster baggy look, with a sort of over the top feel which was probably out of style three or four years ago (if this version was ever IN style). Only the black kids got the look right. All the white kids looked like inbred trailer trash with really silly haircuts. But they didn’t even get the trailer trash look right. Visualize Vanilla Ice crossed with Cletus the Slack-jawed Yokel.

Myrtle Beach


We left really early this morning for a day trip to Myrtle Beach, on “Future Interstate 73”, which is basically the same collection of back roads (most of them two-lane) I used to take during that unfortunate summer of 1986 when I lived there.

This was my first trip back to the Grand Strand since about 1987. It’s changed, and it’s really creepy to think I lived in this unnatural, surreal environment, even if only for three or four months. I guess it will always hold memories for me as the first place I lived away from home. My old 2-bedroom townhouse with dishwaher is still there, renting for $525 now. The surf/skate shop I managed has been bulldozed.

I have a long histoy with Myrtle Beach. In addition to living there, it was also the first place I went for a booze-soaked road trip without Mom and Dad in 1981. The next year on my post-graduation trip, it became the site where I came out to a guy I had a major crush on.


The “strip” and the area around the Pavilion seem pretty intact in all their seedy charms, although the crowds were nowhere to be seen, given that it was a foggy December day with a temperature of about 45F (7C). The Gay Dolphin Gift Cove (no…not THAT kind of “gay”…) was open and fully stocked with T-shirts, license plates, and postcards datng to the mid 1970s. A few of the arcades were even open.


Aside from the summer mix of high school kids, where rednecks, preppies, and stoners co-exist with relative ease, Myrtle Beach now also attracts the older crowd with golf, outlet stores, and lots of strip malls. There’s even a Hard Rock Cafe and a Planet Hollywood. And, of course, a Kinko’s. I was really a little creeped out by the theme malls. And I’ve decided that outlet malls are really ugly and completely without any bargains to speak of. I don’t get it.

It’s gotten pretty intense since I left. We hit traffic jams. In December. Odd…


We left Myrtle Beach about 5. By 6:30, we’d hit the magical place known as South of the Border. This place is classic roadside, opened in the early 1950s near Dillon SC, just south of the North Carolina border with a semi-Mexican theme. It’s known worldwide for its billboards and their bad puns (“Pedro’s Weather Forecast: Chili Today, Hot Tamale”).

The place just gets bigger and bigger. There are motels, coffee shops, and various kitsch emporiums. This was my first night visit. I’d expected neon, but jeez…

On the Town

A drought in Greensboro. Everyone’s conserving water, which is surprising given the lack of patience people here have with environmental issues. It was a little disturbing to hear my dad recite that Califonia mantra I first heard at aHaight Street restaurant in SF in 1991: “If it’s yellow, please be mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.”

Of course, the water problems are largely due to overdevelopment on the west side of town, which has also led to a disorienting anti-development mentality in Greensboro, where growth has traditionally been viewed as a good thing and chain store expansions are usually greeted with near-universal excitement. Perhaps there’s hope after all.

Met Jeff at Babylon tonight. It was “swing night”, which made for an annoyingly happy and peppy crowd, all of whom were nerve-rackingly chipper and many of whom would burst into dance almost anyplace (usually right where I was trying to walk). We left pretty quickly.

First stop was the “N” Club, a new nightclub opened in an old downtown theater. Pretty place with an alarmingly white, straight, young crowd. The door people were assholes with the charm and demeanor of street pimps. There was a metal detector. We didn’t stay long.

At the Palms, still my favorite Greensboro queer bar, there was a drag show and the same two ex-fucks who seem to be there every time I visit. I picked up each of these major mistakes in the Palms right before I moved west in 1992 and it seems as if they’ve never left the bar since. At one point, I found myself sandwiched between the two of them at the bar. Fortunately, at least one of them didn’t recognize me.

The Cafeteria

I’ve eaten at an awful lot of cafeterias on this trip. Cafeterias are a phenomenon relatively unfamiliar outside the south, it seems. They’re far too inexpensive and unpretentious ever to really succeed in California, even though SF had a big one in years past (now replaced, appropriately enough, by a Gap and an Urban Outfitters, two peas in a pod).

In southern cities, whole cultures develop around them. Older couples (“empty nesters”) often seem to take most of their meals there, and actually know many of the other patrons. Families congregate there, as well as college students looking for a cheap feed. The food is good and cheap, the vegetables are fresh and often make a complete meal in themselves, and there’s no tipping. Someone should do a study of Southern cafeteria culture.

I continued the tradition of New Year’s Eve at home with Mom and Dad and was spared hearing “1999” even once.


Off to Charlotte this morning, as Mom and Dad dropped me off with my friend Duncan. Mom and Dad like Duncan, and I sometimes think they’re as happy to see him as I am.

After a little time in Charlotte, where I lived through 1986, 1987, 1988, and 1989, eating great food, hanging around in Duncan’s great (and cheap by SF standards) house, and hitting a few bars which were less objectionable than I remembered, I thought briefly that living here again might not be so bad. Fortunately, I remembered some of the reasons I left, however, and came back to my senses.


Charlotte is perhaps the symbol of the “new south”: rapidly urbanizing and becoming more cosmopolitan and diverse. However, the Republican banker mentality is just as strong, as is the oppressive religious sentiment. The current gag in SF surrounds the ubiquitous “WWJD” (“What would Jesus do?”) stickers and buttons around the new Bank of America headquarters in Charlotte. I’m not sure how much of this is true and how much is sour grapes from a city pissed off about losing one of its major institutions, but I did catch a “WWJD” bumper sticker or two.

The original plan called for a side trip to Atlanta, but an ice storm made this unwise, so we sample Charlotte nightlife, ate some really great food, and watched “Rock and Roll Jeopardy”. and I installed an revamped web site at one of the TV stations I work for, thus makig the whole trip deductible. All in all, not a bad trip.

Charlotte and Ice


Ice, ice, baby. Ice all day. We didn’t get out much. We definitely didn’t risk Atlanta. I actually got to watch the TV stations I do web sites for. Big breakfast at home. Big dinner at Gus’ Sir Beef (the name doesn’t really fit). We braved the rapidly thawing ice to hit the nightlife again a little after 11.

The Charlotte bars seem a lot more pleasant than I remember them, although it could be the “change of scenery” factor. Oleen’s was as odd as ever. Chaser’s was a tad creepy, with a really small crowd, really flooded bathrooms, and a bartender who resembled a prepubescent junkie. Guess it’s feeling the competition from the new bar across the street. The Masquerade features strippers too and is without flooded bathrooms.

Had a great time at the always “hit or miss” Brass Rail, drinking cheap, playing “Shiny Shiny” on the jukebox, and getting cruised by a couple (only one of whom I was interested in). Then there was this strange game of “surrogate strip pool” in the back. As I have respect for the Brass Rail’s liquor license, I’ll skip the details.

All in all, though, it’s annoying as hell bar-hopping in Charlotte. That southern queer bar tradition of “always a cover” can easily result in spending more at the door than at the actual bar.

Late night food at Athens. I love Athens. I loved it even more when I only lived a block away.

Charlotte and Greensboro


Charlotte has definitely grown. We saw a good bit of it today after a most incredible gumbo at the Bayou Kitchen. There’s construction everywhere and a new freeway has completely obliterated one of my favorite old strips (as well as one of my former homes). A second 70-story phallic symbol is about to be built downtown, the next round in the Bank of America vs. First Union “mine’s bigger than yours” competition. Walgreen’s is back in town after about a 50-year absence.

We drove by my old apartments and my old store. The apartments look pretty much the same, but my old surf/skate shop is now somebody’s middle-eastern market. The massive mall across the street is on the skids; Charlotte has finally hit that point where its postwar suburbs are becoming its inner city.

Took the train back to Greensboro. Travelling by rail absolutely rules. If I could manage never to fly again, I’d be truly happy.

Big Band Night

Why is the Winston-Salem paper so very much better than the Greensboro paper, even though Greensboro’s the bigger city? I guess it’s sort of like San Jose’s paper being so much better than either of San Francisco’s, even though SF is the “dominant” city.

I visited some friends at Greensboro’s brand new Kinko’s today. I saw Anne and Jeana and Tim, all of whom I knew from my years working at the old Greensboro store. And I saw Maggie, who I know from San Francisco (long story there…) Greensboro’s now a “two ways to office” town. Imagine.

Tonight, I hit “Big Band Night” at a local club with Mom and Dad. I was a little apprehensive about this, but it turned out to be fairly interesting. Apparently, it happens the first Monday of every month. There’s an orchestra and food. The crowd was pretty much 60-plus, but they were a pretty lively bunch. It was most definitely not a depressing “old folks night”.

Of course, most people who know me well are aware that, despite my rock and roll exterior, I have a certain affinity for this music, and I didn’t hear a single song I didn’t recognize. It was sort of nice, too, talking with people outside my normal age bracket, and watching my aunt and her new beau take to the floor. Mom and Dad were out there a few times too.

I was impressed with one couple in particular. The wife had emphysema and carried a rolling oxygen cannister. I imagine that even walking does not come easy to this lady, but she loves to dance, and two or three times, she rolled that tank right out on the floor and did all she could. You have to admire that.

Stopped by the Border’s on High Point Road on the way home. It’s kinda cruisy there late in the evening…

iMac Watch ’99

This afternoon, I watched a lot of TV with the folks. We were waiting for Steve Jobs to spill the beans about the new iMacs, since my mom was planning to buy one. We must have looked like an odd neo-techno version of the Waltons, huddled around the radio waiting for FDR to give a Fireside Chat. Or at least it seemed that way to me at the time.

After the announcement, I took pictures of abandoned motels. Why should this be any different from any other road trip, after all?


Drag and Nostalgia

Lunch today with Mom at Libby Hill. ‘Twas a nice thing eating the real southern version of fried fish. It’s one of the things I miss most. We hit the branch on Summitt Avenue, which used to be a Hot Shoppes drive-in (the chain from DC which evolved into Marriott Corporation).


Tonight, I did the nightlife thing with Jeff again. We met at Babylon, fled the perky Swing Night crowd as quickly as we could, and headed for College Hill Sundries and New York Pizza, two of my old UNCG hangouts. Then it was off to the Palms, where Jeff was working, and the ever-wondrous Marilyn Rivers was on stage.


Every time I come home, I get progressively more and more nostalgic. In my warm and comfy bed, with all that free Mom and Dad food, I start thinking “Greensboro is not such a bad place”. Eventually, I have a revelation and come back to my senses. This revelation usually happens at the Palms. Tonight was that night. All of a sudden the “I gotta get the hell out of here” light started flashing. I fled.

Another day and half and I’d flee town altogether.



I stayed an extra day because the flights were tight and because there were one or two more relatives to visit. Instead of the relatives, though, we took the back road to Winston-Salem (NC’s own Route 66) to see some urban decay and a mall.


Mall first. We shopped. We looked around. I watched more scary redneck kids. Security stopped me (with Mom and Dad) and told me I was not allowed to videotape in the mall. I told the rent-a-cop that was fine because I was through anyway. She didn’t look pleased. I didn’t look like I cared. We left. See the “concept shots” which so threatened the sanctity of the mall above.

Then we headed downtown to the factory district. This was the area where R.J. Reynolds used to make Winstons and Salems and Camels, until they moved to a new plant on the edge of town. The area is threatening to develop into a high-tech office and loft condo area, but a major fire a few months ago delayed some of the plans.


Parts of this area resemble Detroit. Lots of abandoned and boarded-up buildings are surrounded by large open areas, the result of unsuccessful urban renewal in the 1960s and 1970s. If I lived in Winston-Salem, this would be my neighborhood.

Winston-Salem is kind of an interesting place. As one might guess, it was formed when the towns of Winston and Salem merged. Until the 1920s, it was North Carolina’s largest city, and it still retains an older and more urban feel than Greensboro, even though Greensboro is now a much larger city.

Last Day

Had the traditional late night “last night at home” talk with Dad last night. I miss having my parents nearby. The older I get, the more I find that I really like them (not that I doubted it before). I think it’s time to move back to someplace which is at least a little closer to home. Not Greensboro, probably not even North Carolina, but maybe Richmond or Atlanta, or Baltimore, or Philadelphia. Who knows? This brings up the same old “what am I going to do with my life” anxiety which I’m not in the mood to deal with right now.

Everything just seems so much saner away from San Francisco. The stress level is so much lower. People live in actual houses, with big rooms and porches and heat that works. No one feels trapped at home by the fact that leaving the house means giving up your parking space. Gas is cheaper. Cigarettes are cheaper. Food is cheaper (and better). Rent is cheaper. Everything is cheaper.

I’m sitting in Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. I spent an hour checking in and almost had a heart attack running to the gate with five minutes to spare, only to find my flight delayed 90 minutes. Now they’ve added another half hour on top of that.

I just spent $3.00 and ended up with five sticks of gum, a newspaper, and a cheap Bic pen. Then I shelled out $2.50 for a Coke at the bar so could smoke. I hate airports. I hate flying.

I’m going home to San Francisco. For a while, anyway…