Sunday, March 15, 2015

Yesterday was March 14, or...

...Pi Day, and as good a prompt as any to begin recalling my trip to Los Angeles last month.

(To be exact, yesterday was 3/14/15 -- the first five digits of pi. I even heard Jewel was selling pies for $3.14! Nice gimmick.)

So what on earth does Pi Day have to do with my vacation? Well, on Thursday, February 12, near the end of my "spring break" in LA, my 72-year-old gay roommate suggested -- no, insisted -- that I accompany him and his gay senior men's group on a hike through Griffith Park. The payoff, at the end of the trek (above), he assured me, would be "the best rhubarb pie you have ever had."

Whoa, whoa, whoa, you're probably thinking. Back up! 72-year-old GAY roommate??? As Ricky Ricardo would say, "You've got some splainin' to do!"

Okay; fine.

First of all, exhale: I'm still the boring old white guy you have come to know and love tolerate. But I'm also still one of the cheapest people you'll ever meet. (Just ask anyone who knows me.) And when planning my trip to LA my wife suggested I look into getting a weekly rate at the hotel we stayed at last time in West Hollywood. No way, I thought. Let's go on Airbnb and see what I can find there.

Since Airbnb had worked so well for my family last August when we traveled up to Minnesota to see my mother, I thought I'd give it a shot for my trip to LA. (The four of us had the first floor of a vintage house in the very cool Lowry Hill neighborhood of Minneapolis. It had three bedrooms -- everyone had their own bed -- a bathroom, kitchen, dining room and huge living room with a smart TV. It was great. I'd recommend Airbnb to anyone: beats the heck out of two small hotel rooms!)

So I went on the website and searched for rooms within walking distance of my son's place in West Hollywood. Now, in case you don't know, WeHo -- as the locals call it (or at least as I call it) -- is the gay neighborhood of Los Angeles. (Anyone who watched Johnny Carson back in the day would know that.)

I could have made things easy on myself by renting a room from a woman or a couple. Or, I could take the rock-bottom price of $60/night that "Brad" was offering. Hmmm. I checked Brad's picture. Is this guy gay? Could be. Then again, my "gaydar" hasn't been very reliable of late. But sixty bucks is sixty bucks and the location was perfect. I'll take it!

I arrived on the evening of Monday, February 9, and met Brad. He was much older than his picture on the website (that's good!) and told me he was originally from North Carolina. "Oh, really?" I asked him as he showed me around the house. "How did you get out here?"

"A boyfriend," he responded. Aw, Jeez -- here we go!

"We're no longer together; he went back to Texas. I could look him up I suppose..."

So this would be my opportunity to show the world (and myself) that I was not homophobic.

(It reminded me of the last time I visited my son. He has a good friend from college whose roommate is both black and gay. He explained that it proves he isn't racist or homophobic.)

And I thought, Hey, I'm a liberal Democrat! I live in a big city. I have a lesbian business partner. I can handle this! 

Brad turned out to be a nice old guy and was the perfect host. But that's not to say we didn't have our awkward moments. Or at least one.

Each morning, I would get up first and bring a cup of coffee and my iPad into the living room. As if on cue, Brad would come running out of his bedroom to talk. (I think he was lonely.) We conversed easily, though, and shared our life stories. Brad was very personable and had no trouble talking about his life as a gay man. And why wouldn't he? He's been living as an openly gay man for thirty or forty years in a gay neighborhood in California for crying out loud. What else would I expect?

On the first morning, after about an hour or so, we walked over to a local spot, Ed's Coffee Shop on Robertson, for breakfast. But as we were finishing our French toast, the conversation took a turn for the, well, uncomfortable, at least for me. Brad recalled a time when he asked his brother if he had a big penis. He then mentioned that he himself "had a good one."

I think I almost spit out my coffee like they do on TV.

It was time to go anyway, so I asked for the check and we left. I had a big day planned and it was time to get moving. But for the rest of the day I agonized a little: Are we going to have to have The Conversation? You know, the one where I make it clear that I'm happily heterosexual and not the least bit interested in experimenting? Sheesh! What was I thinking? My cheap-skatedness had finally caught up with me!

But, as it turned out, we never had to have The Conversation after all. I don't know if it was because Brad never meant anything by his remark, or if it was because I kept talking -- and talking -- about how long I've been married to my wife, etc., or if I was just imagining the whole thing in the first place. But after that one awkward moment at breakfast (and almost a full day's anguish), it was just fine. I even ended up meeting Brad's boyfriend, Ron, on my last day there and he was a nice old guy too.

But more than once, I have to admit, I lay awake at night thinking to myself: How many people do I know could DO this? Rent a room in a gay man's house! What would my brothers think? What about MY DAD? (That last question was just too laughable to consider.)

But about that hike. And the pie. (It's never a bad idea to talk about pie.) Brad, either from a sense of duty to act as a tour guide or because he wanted the company (and I suspect it was the latter), was constantly suggesting activities for us to do together. I kept making excuses, though, partly because I had my own agenda and partly because, let's face it, I didn't come to LA to hang out with an old gay man. But I finally relented on that Thursday morning. Since I planned on meeting my cousin for lunch in Pasadena and Griffith Park was on the way, I thought: What the hell, let's go on this hike with Brad and his buddies.

And I had a really good time. About eight or ten older gay men were waiting for us when we arrived at the entrance to the park on Fern Dell Drive. We shook hands (they were all very friendly) and I got the impression that it wasn't unusual for one of them to bring along a token straight guy, kind of like Show-and-Tell. It was a little weird, at first, to feel like a minority, but I got over it.

The hike, in fact, turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip (and there were a lot of highlights). A guy who was originally from Chicago -- I think his name was John (on the right) -- walked with Brad (on the left) and me and peppered me with questions about the current state of his hometown. (I insisted to him later that he might be just a little homesick.) But he was a very intelligent and interesting man and the three of us had a great conversation between huffing and puffing as we climbed the steep trail to the observatory. After completing about a three-mile loop we ended up at the Trails (at top) for an iced tea and that piece of rhubarb pie that Brad promised. He wasn't kidding, by the way; it was to die for! (Or at least go on a hike with a bunch of old gay men.)

The group disbanded after a while and I got into my car for the drive out to Pasadena. But it was funny: for the rest of my trip, whenever I told anyone about my hike with a gay seniors group, I admitted that it wasn't so much the "gay" part that bothered me as it was the "seniors" part.

And as for Brad, he really was a great host. He even gave me a hug when I left and told me he'd miss our breakfasts at Ed's. I would definitely consider staying at his place again.

Unless I can find something cheaper!

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