For queers living in San Francisco, weekend getaways to the Russian River are the things that define the summer. Just a 90 minute drive north over the Golden Gate Bridge, is a serene wonderland of cascading mountain streams, rippling vineyards, heart-stopping mountain vistas, and redwood trees that tower impossibly high over quaint log cabins.
And every summer weekend, the gays take that pristine scene and turn it into a two day bachannalia of disco, drugs, and fucking in the woods. It's what we do. The Russian River is San Francisco's Fire Island. Its Rehoboth Beach. Its Provincetown. Only without the elitist cachet of "shares." And with the non-elitist cachet of "rednecks".
One glorious summer Saturday morning, my friends and I packed up my Honda Civic with the necessary supplies to survive two days in the wilderness: water, beer and disco CDs.
Next to me in the front seat was my fuckbuddy Darrin. In the back, our good friend Larry and his new boyfriend Ron. Larry was a pilot for America West, we'd only met Ron a couple of weeks earlier. Darrin and I were worried that it might be a little weird to have Ron along on this trip, Larry tended to be the catalyst of our little group, and we were pretty sure than having a boyfriend along would tone down Larry's behavior, which we did not want to happen.
Traffic was pretty bad before we even got near the approach to the Golden Gate Bridge, as half of the city began the Weekend Flee. We inched our way up the crawling on-ramp and rolled the windows down to enjoy the brisk ocean breeze. Larry launched into a hilarious account of a near disaster on one of his recent flights. Only Larry could make the almost-crash of a 747, including the words "violent explosive cabin decompression" into a funny story.
He was just finishing up the story, when Darrin snapped his cell-phone shut and shushed us.
"Get out of this lane, we have to turn around," he said.
I hadn't even noticed him answer his phone. "Why? What's happened?"
"That was Mike, he wants to go now," Darrin replied.
Mike had been looking after his ex-lover, Dennis, during his final stages of AIDS. For the last few months his life had been turned upside down while he shuttled Dennis between home and hospitals, and finally into a hospice. Dennis' final weeks had been particularly gruesome, and while none of us had known him, we were quietly relieved for Mike when Dennis mercifully passed away.
And although we didn't really think that Mike would be up for a weekend at the River so soon, we invited him just so he knew we were thinking of him. And as expected, Mike had declined.
"Mike changed his mind? Fantastic!," I exclaimed, as I started squeezing the car over to turn us around.
"Who's Mike?" Ron said. He sounded a bit petulant.
Larry started to give Ron a quick rundown of Mike and his recent situation.
Ron interrupted, "So we're gonna turn around NOW? We've already been on the road for 20 minutes!"
Darrin and I exchanged looks in the front seat.
Larry said, "Well, we did invite him. It's not that big a deal to go back and get him."
Ron slumped back dramatically, "Well, I just HOPE that we get up there in time for me to get some sun!"
Darrin rolled his eyes at me. I tried to get a happy banter going in the car on the way to Mike's, but there was definitely ice forming between Larry and his new beau.
Mike was standing on the sidewalk in front of his building on Market Street. I pulled into the bus lane, Mike tossed his backpack into the trunk and took the front seat when Darrin hopped in the back with Larry and Ron. I repointed Jane north, and we were off again. (Yes, I named my car "Jane". Get it? It was a Honda? JANE HONDA? Oh, forget it.)
Traffic was moving quickly until we got onto the bridge, where it came to a near-dead stop. Some idiot dressed as Superman was standing on the city side of the bridge waving at cars and holding up a sign advertising some website. Ah, the heady days of the dot-boom!
As we crawled past Superman we could see that his tights were insanely, well, tight.
"Jesus, you can totally see his cock!," Larry said.
Darrin laughed, "No kidding. Superman looks very SUPER this morning!"
Ron chimed in, "SuperCock! Able to leap tall drag queens in a single bound! More powerful than a line of crystal!"
He leaned out of the window and shouted, "Heeeeeeey Superman! I sure could use a Man Of Steel around MY house!"
Superman lowered his sign and waved at us uncertainly, his smile fading.
We all cracked up. Except Mike. He'd been almost totally silent since we'd picked him up. I wanted to ask him how he was doing with the Dennis thing, but decided to wait until we were alone up at the River.
Darrin leaned forward and tapped me, "Hey Joe! If you were a superhero, what would your superpower be?"
I thought about it a second, "I don't know, flying? Invisibility?"
That was Ron. I turned around part-way and said, "OK, smartass. What would YOUR gay-ass superpower be?"
Ron smiled, "My GAY superpower? Now that IS a good question! If we were gay superheroes, what would our GAY superpowers be?"
Darrin said, "I'm with Joe, flying. Definitely flying."
Larry jumped in, "What so gay about flying? Everybody would want to fly. What would your GAY superpower be? Pick something uniquely gay."
Ron got excited. "I know! I know! I want to be able to go to one of those week-long circuit parties, you know, like Winter Party? And go to every event and to the beach everyday and do tons of drugs and stay up fucking and dancing the entire time....and STILL LOOK FABULOUS!"
Everyone agreed that that was a very gay superpower.
Darrin said, "I'd like to be able to get hard instantly, ya know...and fuck as long and as often as I wanted to."
"Not gay," scolded Ron. "Every man in the world wants that."
"OK," countered Darrin. "How about if I have to power to make OTHER MEN hard when they see ME?"
"Excuse me, I happen to already have THAT power," Ron purred.
"Oh, puh-leeze Mary. You wish!," snapped Larry.
In the rear-view mirror, I saw Ron give Larry an astonished look.
"Good for you, Larry," I thought. Ron had been a whiny bitch all morning, and I knew that after this trip, Larry would be cutting him loose.
Ever the peace-maker, Darrin shifted the attention to me. "Joe, what's yours? Let me guess, you want to be able to make the DJs at clubs always play the song you are thinking of?"
I laughed, "Actually, that would be a GREAT one for me! I'll take it. What's yours, Larry?"
Larry frowned. "Well, the uniquely gay requirement makes this harder, but I was thinking that maybe it'd be fun to be able to hurt people with my words. You know, see somebody dressed all wrong and say 'Oh, honey! What were you thinking with that shirt?' And then they'd get a little electric shock."
"That's horrible!" said Darrin.
"Maybe, honey...but I'd have this town dressing right in no time at all!"
Mike had been silent throughout all of this, looking out his window. I'd never seen him so withdrawn.
Ron jiggled Mike's seat from behind, "Well, how about you Mr. Front Seat Man? What's your gay superpower?"
Mike didn't answer.
Ron shook his seat again, "Come on....we know you have one. I'm sure it's something freaky, you strong silent types always are! Tell us, tell us, TELL US!"
With each 'Tell us', Ron's voice had risen an octave until he was screeching. His final 'TELL US!' reverberated around the car. Mike clenched his jaw, his face reddening. I was starting to tell Mike to ignore Ron, when he spun around.
"You fucking wanna know MY superpower, you asshole? Let's see, you pathetic faggots have already taken fucking, dancing, drugs and bitching. What the fuck else is left in our world, anyway??" Mike screamed, his face twisted with anger.
Ron sat back, "Well excuse me for trying to bring you into the conversation."
Larry put a finger up to Ron's face, "Drop it, Ron."
"But I just-..."
"I said DROP IT!"
It was quiet for a minute. Mike's face was mask-like, but his eyes were full of tears. I reached over to put my hand on his leg, and he turned back around to face the backseat again.
"Actually, there is a gay superpower I wish I had."
"I wish I had a healing touch."
He turned back around and rolled his window down. Traffic cleared and we sped up onto the open road.