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Early in 1979 word went out to gay communities across America that in October there would be a national march on Washington DC for lesbian and gay rights. Being veterans of many gay activist demonstrations and survivors of a few battles, my lover Frank and I knew that we had to go to Washington. We had learned the value of being seen and heard. Today activists use the term SILENCE = DEATH! We decided that we would make the trip a memorable adventure and began planning a tour of America. This is the story of that journey.Join us!

- Uncle Donald -

Frank and I put a lot of thought into planning our trip. Road maps and guidebooks piled up on the kitchen table. We had endless discussions about what to see, what to pack, and who we could visit along the way, hopefully to get an occasional real bed and home-cooked meal. I focused on making my 1968 VW Bus a dependable and well-equipped home on wheels. Frank went to work making it comfortable. He made curtains for privacy and planned a functional non-electric kitchen. I installed an 8-track tape deck, alarm system, CB radio, sink, stove, gas heater, and a double bed mattress. I mounted a tank on the roof for running water. We planned to go on October 1st.

Frank and Don

Departure day was frantic. We were nearly ready. Frank pushed his Suzy Singer into high gear to finish the curtains. I tuned the engine, changed the oil and lubed the bus. Together we put up the new curtains, made the bed, and packed everything that we could squeeze in. I put a March on Washington poster in a side window and Frank put a San Francisco flag in the back window. Determined to leave on schedule, we finally locked the house and said good-bye to the neighbors around 5 PM. I figured we could make it over the Sierra Nevadas and out of California (about 200 miles) on our first day. BUT NO! We had gone about 50 miles when the engine quit. It turned out to be a loose ground on the distributor but it delayed us until the next morning.

Our first chance to play tourist came in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. We drove through Flaming Gorge which seemed an appropriate name for the first attraction on our queer adventure. It was a gorgeous gorge, by George! But the high altitude and the steep hills made for slow going in the overloaded old bus and the seriously high Rockies were still ahead of us. We made it to Hot Sulphur Springs by late afternoon where we had planned to have our first shower of the trip. Most of the tourist spots with springs had already closed for the season but we lucked out.

We stopped at a place run by a recently widowed old woman. She also was closing down for the winter, but was alone and behind schedule. She and Frank hit it off immediately. So we spent our time helping her move furniture and dealing with other heavy things. In return we got a free hot spring experience and were treated to a photo album presentation of her autobiography. She also fed us dinner and was so grandma-like that it was hard for us to leave.

It was quite dark when we got back on the road and we were ready to find a secluded spot to call home for the night. Before we knew it, the road started up and continued winding up and up. We drove perhaps 10 miles or so without seeing another car or any signs of life. We finally found the perfect spot. By then the moon had come up and we could see quite well in the dark. The mountains were awesome but we were exhausted and crawled under the covers. It was so quiet that it bordered on spooky. We commented on the fact that we had heard no cars at all since we parked. We were just drifting into the arms of Morpheus when a dull roar came from afar. It was like the sound a TV makes when the station goes off the air. Ssssssss . . . ! It continued for several minutes, constantly increasing in volume. We began to imagine the scariest of possible scenarios but had no clue at all what it might be or how we could protect ourselves. We began to hear off-and-on what we thought might be a shouting voice. By the time the monster arrived we were dressed and sitting up front having one last smoke before the . . . we still had no clue. Then in the moonlight we saw it. We saw THEM! There were 15 of them, maybe 20 coming down the road. It was kids on skateboards. They were having the time of their lives rolling effortlessly down the moonlit mountain road!

Denver was a disappointment. We both pictured it as a pristine mountain city with sparkling fresh mountain air. Up-and-down we went all day long, but as we got close to Denver, suddenly we were just going down. It was then that we realized that Denver is not the first city in the mountains. It is the last city on the plains! Apparently the wind blowing over the mountains misses Denver and doesn't blow away the smog.

Driving across Kansas is an underwhelming experience. It was Friday and we tried to figure where to stop for the night, hopefully in a town with a gay bar. Our guidebook listed only one bar in our path. It was in wild and crazy Topeka! We weren't expecting much. After all, we were San Francisco boys who hit the bars regularly. But it would be a treat just to be with other queers. The address in Topeka didn't look promising. It was the burned out shell of a building. Frank suggested that we have a bite to eat and started heating water while I ground some of our favorite blend of coffee beans. (For clever resourceful gay boys, "roughing it" doesn't mean "doing without!" )

We were having an after dinner smoke and planning our alternate evening in Topeka when our gay-dar told us that the two guys walking down the street were . . . uh, . . ."Friends of Dorothy!" Well, we WERE in KANSAS! So we followed them and, sure enough, 2 blocks away they walked into a half-full parking lot, a beehive of activity. We pulled in and, sure enough, we were in the right place! It's fairly common for gay bars in small towns to put the entrance on the back of the building. We felt a bit awkward going inside. It was obvious that we were outsiders. But that often is seen as exotic by people who can't remember the last time they saw someone they didn't know.

We struck gold! The owners of the club, two lovers in their late twenties welcomed us and made us feel at home. Soon word spread that we were from San Francisco. To these small town boys we were worthy of celebrity status. They all knew about the March on Washington and when they found out that it was our destination, we became their heroes. It was as if they wanted us to be their representatives at the march. We were their knights in shining armor, their charming prince, their breath of fresh air. The conversation was mostly about activism and gay rights and such. These freshly scrubbed innocent San Franciscan wannabes saw us as courageous warriors (ok, I embellish a little) because of where we lived. The bar owner told me that they had organized a Gay Pride rally on the steps of the state Capitol and about 100 people attended. To me, that is real courage! I was impressed. It certainly doesn't take courage to walk in a San Francisco gay parade. Groups of 2 or 3 hundred thousand are usually pretty safe in public! 100 queers in Topeka? That was pretty cutting-edge for 1979.

In Topeka we heard our first update on the chartered Amtrash trainload of you-know-what from you-know-where. It was delayed in Ogden, Utah because some demented zealot christian minister laid his blessed body across the tracks and refused to get up. He saw it as his duty to prevent that trainload of sinners from going to Washington. He did this in the name of God! Am I missing something here? Did God really tell him to do this? I don't think so!

There is an excellent article on the 1979 MOW at GAY WIRED.COM, by Jok Church & Adam Cieslelski. It includes the story of the Amtrash chartered train and reveals that a piano had been installed in the lounge car, a big hit, making it the first gay bar on wheels. Before reaching Washington, the bar ran out of everything but (of course) orange juice, due to the boycott of Anita Bryant in Florida. The page also contains 2 audio tracks in streaming Real Audio of sounds from the march.

Later that evening, a ruckus arose in the parking lot and a guy, obviously scared to death, flew through the door. He was attacked by fag bashers right outside in the lot. They tried to follow him inside, but the door was closed and locked. The bash-turds started pounding and kicking on the door and making serious threats. It was scary. Some wanted to go out and confront them, but the owner didn't think it wise. He called the police but they took forever to get there. The homophobes decided they had enough excitement and headed off long before the police arrived. To me, this was a serious hate crime. To these people it was reality. Frank and I both had our consciousness raised in Topeka. The purpose of the upcoming march suddenly came into sharp focus. We had forgotten that we are oppressed. These kids never had the opportunity to forget. They were perfectly aware of the significance of a march on Washington.

I recently (08/00) received this amazing e-mail, titled "OH MY GOSH":
Hey - I just stumbled across your site ... The section on the 1979 march caught my eye, so I read your story -- and was totally amazed! I went to school in Lawrence (about 20 miles east of Topeka) and the Lambda Club was the nearest bar, so believe me, I spent *lots* of time there. I do remember hearing about the attack on the bar that night (it wasn't really all that rare), but we were not there as usual since we too were preparing for the drive to D.C. At the time... I was chairman of the Speaker's Bureau for G.S.O.K. (Gay Services Of Kansas) - mostly we provided speakers to classes when requested by professors on campus - and so was "semi-officially" attending the March on behalf of all the queers in Kansas! Well, at least in my early, early 20's, that's how I glamorized it to be There were about 10 of total from Kansas - which I thought remarkable enough - but I do remember seeking out the San Francisco contingent in the parade just to see what "real queer men" looked like...
Well, anyway, that bar held a lot of history for me (mostly soap opera, actually...), as did the trip to D.C. Thanks for the opportunity to hear your story! Now I'm gonna have to go drag out my pictures, too. Sorry I missed ya' 21 years ago - what a hoot that would have been if I had been there the same night!!! You must have caught me on like one of the very, very few nights I wasn't there...

Being gay in 1970's San Francisco was not all street fighting and pain. There's something to be said for the social and entertainment value of being front-page-news gay activists. For me, one reward was my 15 minutes of fame in Topeka where I was put on a pedestal by a couple dozen wholesome corn-fed sparkly-eyed Kansas farmboys. What more could an uncle want? But I'm talking about the empowerment one feels knowing that network news cameras are on him and his friends as they walk down the street. In the 1970's in San Francisco whenever there was some news item that related to the gay community, the remote studio vans with the dish antennas would begin to arrive at Castro & Market along with their eyewitness news teams. They were there for a story. They wanted something to erupt. FILM AT ELEVEN!

Imagine a balmy evening on Castro Street (not that common). That in itself is enough to draw a crowd to the streets. But maybe some threat has been made or an incident has happened on a slow news day, and a bit of tension is in the air. You're sitting in a bar and suddenly the people (lots of them) on the sidewalk are starting to shout and get militant. The bar patrons pour into the street only to find that the floodlights have been turned on by the news people. They're offering free advertising to anyone who'll perform for the 11 O'clock news. I've been seen in news clips several times. So have others that I know. We used to call each other and say watch me on the 11 O'clock news! The point is that some news incidents would not have occurred if the news cameras weren't running. Nevertheless, it feels good to know that the news people think you're important enough to keep the cameras ready to roll in case you should feel like putting on a show.

BUT I DIGRESS! There we were in Topeka being worshipped as heroes by America's youth. The evening ended with an invitation to spend the night at the club owners' house. And we did. The next morning they fed us a wholesome breakfast and sent us off to slay their dragons. I was proud to represent them in Washington. They were my heroes.

We had already squandered a week and still had to spend some time with Frank's family (that's them on the right) in Wheeling, West Virginia, 800 miles away, so we stuck to the road for the next few days. Besides, we weren't likely to hit another jackpot like wild and crazy Topeka. . . . Or so we thought!

Wheeling impressed me as a run down tired city of poor uneducated people, typical Appalachia. The people were really nice and they didn't seem to know that they were deprived. It seems from my travelling experience that the poorer that people are, the happier, friendlier, and the more generous they are. Rich people tend to be suspicious and stingy.

W Va

So, I met Frank's parents and they were charming. My relationship with their son was one of those known but not talked about issues. On Thursday we drove up to Pittsburgh, PA, the nearest airport, to pick up our dear friend Connie, who flew in from San Francisco to join us on the DC dragon-slaying assignment. They knew Frank and she had been very close for several years. I suppose they were praying that their son finally had straightened out, but once again, nothing was said. Frank's father and the three of us got into a long card game that evening and Frank's mom busied herself running back and forth with ironing and clean sheets and pillows. After a while she appeared in pink bathrobe, fuzzy pink slippers, and her hair in curlers. With perfect sincerity she said, "I just want to know one thing. . . . . Who's sleeping with who?"

The next morning Connie, Frank, and I set out in a driving rainstorm for Washington DC, 250 miles away. I've already told the story of the March on Washington on the previous page. Monday, the day after the march, we went to the Capitol and visited our Senators and Representatives to urge them to support equal rights for gays. Then we headed to the New Jersey shore to visit my family. We spent some time with friends of Connie in New York City and then put her on a plane back to San Francisco. Frank and I went back to Washington and spent a few days playing tourist mostly at the Smithsonian and the National Gallery of Art.

Georgia Atlanta was the next city on our list. Driving through Georgia, we spotted this cotton field and just had to stop and take a picture. The thing I remember most about Georgia is that every gas station we went to was staffed by gorgeous young Georgia peaches of the male variety. Service with a smile! We spent Halloween in Atlanta at a big multi-level gay club. Our home in Atlanta was the parking lot of the Club Baths. The friendly staff allowed us in-out privileges so we could shit shave and shower. We also did this in Washington, DC, and it worked so well that we did it whenever we were in a city that had a gay baths.

Driving south out of Atlanta, our destination was New Orleans. A sign on the Freeway said 'LEFT LANES for FLORIDA, RIGHT LANES for NEW ORLEANS'. I knew by this time my parents were already in West Palm Beach for the winter. So I asked Frankie if he wanted to go to Florida. "Put it on automatic and see where it goes", was his reply.

We spent the next week in Florida! Mom and Dad were surprised but delighted to see my van again, even though they had just seen us 2 weeks earlier. It was nice to have home cooking and a real bed. We stayed a few days and then drove to the West Coast of Florida, intending to drive north along the Gulf of Mexico.


We arrived at a gay club in Tampa around dinnertime. We had found this to be a perfect arrival time because the bar would be slow and the bartender would have time to get to know us. Once they found out we were from San Francisco, they awarded us with VIP status. Having come from the March on Washington was also a good introduction but not nearly as good as being real live gay boys from the Castro! By the time the bar started to get busy, we generally had achieved celebrity status, gotten a few free cocktails and knew some of the regulars by name.

In Tampa we happened to get a parking space right in front of the bar, and the San Francisco flag, California plates, and March on Washington poster announced our presence to new arrivals before they even got inside. As the evening progressed, we started giving private tours of the inside of the van to a few of our new friends. We eventually had to invent a signal so we could tell if the bus was already occupied. It was a fun evening, but we had to be on our way because we were expected in New Orleans.

Bourbon St Before I met Frank, I had an affair in SF with Paul, a handsome man from New Orleans. He moved back there in 1977 but we kept in touch. He invited us to visit him during our tour. He lived in the French Quarter, around the corner from Bourbon Street. Once again, we scored the best accommodations in the City at the lowest price!

This time our favorite bar was the Bourbon Pub. It was very popular gay bar, and only a block from Paul's house. Frankie immediately locked eyes with Greg, one of the bartenders, and once again we were VIP's. Frank spent a lot of time with Greg. This gave me the opportunity to rekindle my romance with Paul, our host.

By now you've realized that Frankie and I had a very open relationship. We met in 1973 and quickly grew a strong bond. We were secure in our love so jealousy was not a problem for us. I think it would have been very difficult in those days in San Francisco for a gay couple to maintain a successful monogamous relationship. Those were the days of sexual liberation and San Francisco must have been at the top of the list of most sexually liberated cities. A coincidental series of circumstances occurred which encouraged the liberated sexual climate. The hippies had opened the door of the sexual closet in San Francisco, a city well known for its liberal atmosphere, and the gay community raised public sex to an artform. The influx of gay men during the '70's was more like an invasion and resulted in an unprecedented new community with lofty ideals and a strong sense of unity.

The rapidly growing Castro community consisted mostly of well-educated white men who had good jobs, were financially secure and very single. Almost all had come from places where sexual activity for gays was either very limited or non-existent. In their new home, the majority of the residents were the kind of people they previously could only fantasize about. They had moved into the proverbial candy store! On top of all this, the size of the gay community rapidly grew into a powerful block of voters that politicians couldn't afford to offend and still remain in office. This didn't have much effect on the law but it did encourage officials to look the other way where sex-related issues were concerned. The percentage of gay voters in the city has been estimated to have been over 25% in the late 1970's. It would have been extremely interesting to have seen how this situation would have progressed if the AIDS epidemic had not altered its course. Bourbon St

Houston On to HOUSTON! The couple pictured on the left is Allen and Eric of Houston. Allen showed up at Bo's door a few days before the gay parade (last Sunday in June) each and every year. He is a charming man and we grew to love him. During his annual visit in 1979 he insisted that we come visit him in Houston during our tour. We ran into him at the March on Washington and promised that we would visit him soon. He lived in a huge old house on a tree-lined street in a story-book-perfect neighborhood. It was on a corner lot and featured several stained glass windows.

It was encouraging to find that Houston had a sizable gay community and a thriving little Castro of their own. Allen was the perfect host and visiting him was a mini-vacation in itself, but it was getting on toward the end of November and we still had nearly 2,000 miles to go.

Texas is huge. It seemed like we'd never reach the other side! It went on for days! Somewhere along the way, in some nameless little Texas town, I saw this sign and had to stop and take a picture. The only other thing I remember about Texas is the Alamo. It was interesting for it's historical value but not a major must-see. Fortunately San Antonio had a nice gay bar which we reached right around suppertime!


white sands It seemed like we were making progress when we finally entered New Mexico. We celebrated by squandering an entire afternoon playing on the pure white dunes at White Sands National Monument. They rent snowboards and encourage you to enjoy the dunes. There's nothing else to do there, and no one else was around, so we got naked and played in the sunshine. The sand doesn't stick to the skin. It is actually gypsum. Besides being lots of fun, these barren, pure-white dunes were magnificent and wonderful.

white sands

Sauaro ARIZONA! Only one state away from California! I had a friend Tom, who moved from SF to Tucson in the summer of 1979. He urged us to put Tucson on our list of places to visit and gave us the phone number of Robert, a friend who he would initially be staying with. When we arrived in Tucson, it appeared desolate in the dark. It was quite late and we were reluctant to call, but we really needed a shower, so we did. Robert answered and told us that Tom had moved away a month earlier, but we were welcome to visit. Robert treated us like family. He's a wonderful guy and we remain good friends today.

The desert around Tucson is gorgeous. The giant cactus in the picture is Saguaro (sue-war'-o) which grows up to 40-feet in height. It was featured in old cowboy movies, many of which were filmed around scenic Tucson in the world's largest forest of saguaro. In the springtime the desert blooms with amazing color and beauty!

We said goodbye to Robert and Tucson on November 30th and headed home. We still had about 800 miles to go and planned to take two days, but crossing the border into California was like a religious experience. We wanted to go home. The closer we got, the more we wanted to keep going. Two months and ten thousand miles after we left, we crossed the Bay Bridge and entered San Francisco with tears in our bloodshot eyes and joy in our homesick hearts because . . .



This page created March 28, 2000, modified August 16, 2000
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