I can’t recall either my sixteenth or eighteenth birthdays, milestones in most people’s lives.
In 1982, I spent my twenty-first birthday partying in a gay bar on San Francisco’s Polk Street. I only remember leaving with a couple of guys I’d met that evening, being helped (or rather, carried) into a cab, and waking up the next morning in their apartment in the Mission District.
For years, I’d celebrate at SF Pride, weeks after my actual birthday. A couple of times, I celebrated at Los Angeles Pride, held in West Hollywood. Once, at Detroit Pride (in Ferndale), plus Lansing Pride, Chicago Pride, and Phoenix Pride.
A favorite celebration took place at my Michigan home in Bamber Woods (Mount Pleasant). When my husband Mike asked what I’d like, I jokingly answered a cake every day, from the first day of June until my birthday. Yes, he baked (and decorated) a different cake every day for ten days!
The past few years I haven’t asked for anything besides cake. There’s not much I need (or desire) other than improved health. This year, instead of a cake I asked for mini cupcakes.
For my 62nd birthday I made a small wish list: a pink linen suit, bottle of my favorite cologne (since 1980, Jacomo de Jacomo), and an afternoon cruise on Lake Mead. Of course, thanks to a loving husband, all my wishes (plus) came true.
This month-long celebration peaked with a weekend getaway to Reno, Nevada, and California. Specifically, to attend Diana Ross The Music Legacy Tour, at Grand Sierra Resort & Casino, and at Hard Rock.
Calling it Hard Rock Sacramento is a bit of a stretch, considering it’s more Wheatland (or Olivehurst), a forty-minute drive north.
I worked and played in Sacramento for years and know the area quite well. So much so, before driving back to Nevada I asked Mike if we could stop for breakfast at a diner in one of my old stomping grounds, Del Paso Heights.
Decades ago, the Heights were rough. When my eldest son was in high school, I asked him to drop me off (using his mother’s car) at leather bar The Bolt’s Sunday beer bust. He was reluctant to leave me, asking “Dad, do you really want to be in this neighborhood at night?”
I was a regular at Bolt, before that, Wreck Room (where I spent practically every Sunday at its legendary Pig Out).
My wife picked me up more than a few times, including once when I lost my 501’s. Imagine her reaction when seeing me exit the bar in only briefs and cowboy boots! When I returned the following day to retrieve my jeans, they were sitting atop the Pac Man machine. This was before Wreck Room moved to Broadway, when it was near the Spaghetti Factory.
I’ll confess to going into Mercantile Saloon in uniform late at night to pick up dates. Once, after my shift ended at a construction site I walked into the Merc, and without saying a word, started kissing one of the bartenders. I think he wanted to marry me after that!
While in high school, and before it became a punk bar, I’d go to Bojangles (on Folsom Boulevard). However, the first gay bar I ever went to may have been The Underpass (on Broadway). Both had dancefloors. I swear it was tradition at Bo’s to end the evening blasting Diana Ross dance-floor hits No One Gets the Prize and The Boss!
My original LGBTQ haunts were in downtown Sacra-tomato. Most of my friends lived in what is now known as Lavender Heights.
During my divorce, I had an upstairs apartment in a Victorian-style house at 19th and F Streets, blocks from the home of notorious serial killer Dorothea Puente. Before she was arrested after bodies were found buried in her yard, my friend Nick (who lived closer, and could see Puente’s home from his kitchen window) would ask his husband, “Why is she spraying air freshener outside?”
The capital city’s three most-popular gay bars (Faces, The Western, and Mercantile Saloon) were two blocks from where I lived. One could find a date just strolling around the neighborhood. And boy did I!
Writing about one’s life can be depressing at times, especially when remembering stories involving those who have passed. In my case, almost everyone I knew and loved from the late 1970s through 1990s, have died.
The HIV/AIDS pandemic wiped out most of my friends during the Eighties and Nineties. Growing older without those who shared memories can be lonesome. When LGBTQ hero Jerry Sloan died, I believed everyone I knew in Sacramento were gone.
Mike agreed it was a nice idea to stop for breakfast before heading back to Vegas, and for some strange reason, the voice inside my head kept suggesting Lil Joe’s on Del Paso Boulevard.
First, we confirmed the greasy spoon was still in business. Although Sacramento has changed considerably, without a map or any assistance, I drove to the diner relying only on memory. Gone, are the boulevard’s adult bookstores, replaced by gentrification.
We were seated in a booth with window facing the sidewalk outside, when I noticed a cowboy crossing the street and walking towards the entrance of the diner. He looked familiar, yet I couldn’t quite recall who he was, until the waitress greeted him by name. Unable to break my stare as he walked past and sat in the booth next to ours, he looked at me and I asked, “Are you…” to which he replied, “Yes.”
I didn’t expect him to remember me, despite my having been in his (Folsom) home, over four decades ago. I was a teenager then, “dating” the doorman (and later, one of the bartenders) at a bar/disco he owned. I’d also hung out in the club while it was closed, as they performed maintenance.
But “TS” was all smiles once I told him I partied at Bojangles when I was in high school. He reminisced about it being the first of several clubs and resorts he owned. For me and countless other boys and young men, it was a place for discovering who and what we were, free from condemnation and homophobia so prevalent in that era.
I’ll never forget a huge outdoor party at his resort along the Sacramento River, with late-night performer arriving by helicopter. I went as guest of a Judy Garland impersonator I was dating (while still married), and danced with abandon under the evening sky.
After introducing him to my husband, and chatting over breakfast, TS offered his cell phone number; inviting us to spend a week at his place in Puerto Vallarta. This chance encounter was a nice coincidence between my birthday and Pride. Maybe we’ll spend my 63rd in Mexico.
It was great seeing Diana Ross in Sactown again, the other being thirty-six years ago in 1987 at Arco Arena.
In my fifties, when asked my age I’d tell people I was almost sixty. Now, whenever someone asks my age I tell them I’m almost seventy. Not quite, but the compliments are nice!