Dateline Burbank, California –
Tonight’s entry is coming to you live from beautiful downtown Burbank as that’s where I could get the cheapest hotel room with double Hilton points. These kinds of things become important as you age. It was another relatively easy drive. Down 101 from the Bay area and then cut over to I-5 for the boring part of the central valley and then up over Tejon pass and down into the LA basin. It’s a drive I’ve done dozens of times and one I’ve never been very interested in. During the ten years I was in Sacramento with Steve, we did it two or three times a year with his LA roots and friends so we would run down for long weekends fairly routinely.
Had dinner tonight with the two Waynes. Wayne Moore and Wayne McDonald whom I first met more than twenty years ago through Atlantis Events trips, We had dinner together in West Hollywood at a very nice Brazilian place directly across the street from the Abbey which was very definitely in full swing. (If you don’t know what the Abbey in WeHo is, google it). I sat with my back to the action, which is probably highly metaphorical in some way.
Spending a couple of hours in conversation over sangria and chicken carbonara brought up a lot of memories which are the basis of tonight’s story. This one is important because, in retrospect, it was the beginning of a major turning in my life but I didn’t recognize it at the time. This takes place in the fall of 1997. The winds of academic politics that would shortly destroy clinical geriatrics at UC Davis had started to blow and life was uncomfortable, but not yet the full blown disaster that would take place in the next year. Steve and I decided we needed to get out of town for a bit and we had been told about this relatively new gay tour group, Atlantis Events which bought out club med type resorts for the LGBT community. So, ever eager to try something new, we booked week with them at a resort called Blue Bay about an hour and a half north of Manzanillo.
We arrived at the resort on a chartered bus with dozens of gay men (and a few token lesbians) and, as we were a long term couple who were new to the group (and Steve had already made quite an impression with his force of nature personality), we were asked if we would volunteer to be part of the first night’s entertainment which was sort of an adult summer camp ‘lets make the couples look ridiculous on stage and see what good sports they can be’ event. i don’t remember what all we were asked to do. I think there was some dating game type questions, and pop the balloon between various parts of our anatomies and then we were asked a Broadway trivia question, which, of course, I got in nothing flat.
The half of the four couples (including me) who were fastest on that were taken backstage and told we had to do a drag lip synch number and we were given four choices, including Evita singing Don’t Cry For Me Argentina. I immediately grabbed that one as Evita was Steve’s favorite musical and because of the choices, that was the one that had a dramatic moment and something to play. I was made up, put into the wig and a white dress (and looked remarkably like Patti Lupone) and, by luck of the draw, was the last to go. It was my turn, I was shoved out on stage in front of several hundred slightly sloshed gay men and the music started. I hadn’t been on stage in costume since college, fifteen years before, but I knew the words, and I knew how to be sure the number built and how to sell it and so I did.
Wayne Moore found me the next day and introduced himself (he was part of the entertainment staff) and I can still hear him say “Where did that come from?” and he wanted to know what sort of performer I was. I disabused him of the notion, telling him I was a poor medical school professor on holiday. Later in the week, he had a sing along piano bar show which I went to and, having had a few drinks and being a show queen, I sang along with them all. He told me that he could pick my voice out of the crowd and it wasn’t bad. A seed was planted. It wouldn’t come to fruition for about another six years but a piece of my brain awoke telling me telling me that maybe I could get up on stage in a musical and be at least adequate. So in someways, Wayne is one of those responsible for my late life second career and for that I will always be grateful.
I went on a half a dozen more Atlantis weeks with Steve and more again after he died, first by myself, and then with Tommy early in our relationship. At that point, Tommy and I were starting to age out of their demographic and we took our last trip with them in 2005. The resort at Blue Bay remains one of my happy places. It was miles from anything and became a self contained LGBT paradise for a week, looking out over a little bay where the dolphins would frolic in the evening. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced such sheer joy as dancing on the upper terrace with a couple of hundred other men celebrating the utter exuberance of being alive as the sun sank into the western sea.
The entertainment staff from that period – Wayne Moore, Shann Carr, Russ King, Bruce McDonald and others became a surrogate family that helped me through the most difficult period of my life to date. They were there when Steve was healthy, when he got sick, when he died, when I was alone, and when I found new love. And we got to hang out on tropical beaches, in Manhattan, in Barcelona, in Rome, and Kiribati. And of course, there’s Rich Campbell who is responsible for it all.