Wednesday, January 23, 2008

USnightmAIR -- July 2007

Returning from Montréal was not an easy matter, when using USAirways – it seems that nothing is an easy matter when using that so-called airline. The executives andmiddle management folks at that company need to graduate from using crayons and poster paper to learning how to read and write, understand what a business is, get to know a little about capitalism and how that works, and then they need major courses in learning decency, how to treat people and their plans with courtesy and respect, and lots more.

Will they? Will Hell freeze over?

We were scheduled to leave on an early evening flight. Enough time to get us back to Jason could teach his class the next day. We took a taxi to the airport and that cost $40 (with the exchange rate being what it was, it might as well have been US dollars).

Got to the airport all smiles. (Well my stomach wasn’t smiling, it never does before flying.)

Smiled all the way up to the check-in counter. At this counter the woman told us that the flight had been canceled. In fact, it had been canceled hours before.

NO ONE had called us to tell us the flight had been canceled. They had the numbers to call. They just… didn’t.

I stood there looking at her in disbelief. But she wasn’t joking.

Even sweeter, they could not get us on a flight until 6:55 the next morning. That would have given Jason enough time to get to his class but he’d be tired as we’d have to be at the airport at about four in the morning. But we settled for that and went back home.

Another $40 taxi ride.

Back to the city. We had no choice but to wait. Had a nice dinner and then tried to get to sleep early, since we’d have to get up early.

In the wee hours of the morning, we got a call. The 6:55 AM flight had been canceled! What a record USAir was racking up.

I then got on the phone and for two hours tried making an alternate reservation so that Jason would not miss more than one class. Two hours later we had a reservation for a flight later that evening.

Of course, when we arrived, we got to the gate and I was told that Jason had a seat but that I did not!

Panic mode. The assured me that I would get on the flight but with their record, I didn’t believe them. They said they had “volunteers” enough to get me on the flight. I took that to mean they had people who volunteered to be bumped (because the rewards are so great) and that I’d get on the flight.

That did not inspire confidence. So, when they announced boarding, I went to the front of the counter where the airline rep was taking tickets and checking ID and I stood right nest to her so she wouldn’t forget I was there. I didn’t budge, instead I just stared into her eyes whenever she forgot and glanced up at me.

Eventually, a supervisor must’ve taken pity on me. He ordered her to give me a seat. I have to say that he was one of the most devastatingly attractive men I’d seen. And I’d have gladly rewarded him for his good deed.

Of course, the trouble didn’t stop there.

When we arrived in Philadelphia, the baggage for fifteen or twenty passengers seemed to be lost. A number of bags had been thrown up onto the conveyor belt and began their almost endless rounds. When one fat and unattractive bag was chucked out like a piece of bad meat, the bag slammed onto the conveyor belt and everything stopped.

No more bags were being sent out. Fifteen or twenty of us stood there looking, as though if we stared hard enough the damned belt would get moving again. It didn’t.

We kept staring. The belt did not respond. Eventually we became restless. But no one seemed to know what to do. We stood there dumbly for forty-five minutes.

Then I spied a large long counter with a huge sign overhead: USAir Baggage Information.

Foolishly I thought this would be a good place to start.

I went to the USAir Baggage Information counter where 3 “workers” were sitting, talking, and laughing. When I asked a question, they seemed bothered that I interrupted them (they were there obviously not to answer questions but to chit chat. I realized that they were kind of a USO act but not for beleagured passengers). But I wanted information.

I asked one of the clerks if he could check to see if the plane was still being unloaded or whether it had finished. We’d been there forty-five minutes and it was a reasonable question. He frowned and didn’t really care what I’d asked. He said, “Go fill out a baggage claim.” And refused to look up any information or make any calls though he had a computer and a phone at his disposal. I suppose having them and knowing how to use them are two different things.

I looked over at the claims room – yes a WHOLE room – and there were hundreds of bags, hundreds, all around the floor flowing over everything, with a tiny walkway so one could enter the large glass enclosed claims room and fill out a paper which they probably would shred later.

I decided not to do that just yet and went back to the carousel – not a happy, pretty-horse carousel, but the one that wasn’t getting our luggage to us.

One woman said that she’d been on the flight with her granddaughters and they’d gotten their bags and she hadn’t. We all shared similar stories. It seemed that maybe one whole cart of luggage was left behind and we would indeed have to fill out claims forms.

After another half hour, I went to the clerk again and asked if he had any further information. He said that he did not and that I should fill out a baggage claim. I refused again and returned to the carousel.

About 15 minutes later someone from USAir made an announcement about baggage but it was impossible to hear clearly. So I went to that same clerk, who had been sitting there the whole time (I know because I watched him), and I asked him if he could tell me what the USAir announcer had said. He said, “No. I wasn’t here.”

When I went back to the clerk a fourth time, along with quite a number of people from the flight, he just told all of us to go fill out baggage claims. He refused to look up information or give any assistance whatsoever. Just flung out his arm, index finger pointed in the direction of the sea of bags.

We all trooped over there and stood in line. Now we were trading outraged remarks. Composing letters we would send and just generally venting. We stood in line for twenty minutes at the claims office (which had a line of more than 50 people) when the granddaughters of the woman came running up to say that there had been a jam on the conveyor belt and that the bags were now coming out.

Why did that clerk not know this? More importantly, why did he refuse to try and find out anything? What was he being paid for? Why were there two other workers there also being paid?

I found out later that USAir has the worst lost luggage record: 9.62 reports per 1000 passengers and an 81% increase in complaints each year

It is considered by Forbes to be one of the Top Five worst airlines - On-time performance: 68.3% (third worst), Baggage mishandling: 9.2 per 1,000 passengers

Philadelphia is one of their hubs – they operate something like two thirds of all the flights out of the city. There are more than twelve-hundred flights daily. This means they lose approximately three to four THOUSAND bags a day!

Take a look at these:

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Montréal – Le Village – August 2007

When I first encountered Le Village, it was jaw-droppingly magnificent. It still is.
Le Village is a sprawling area and the center of gay life in Montréal and has been for some time. Stretching from Ste. Catherine est nearly from St. Hubert and running down, west to east, now past rue Papineau – this area has been expanding with businesses and housing every year and there’s no end in sight. The gay neighborhood also runs on a north-south axis off the many streets between the two mentioned above. Gay flags fly proudly everywhere, so you’ll know you’ve arrived.
There’s an abundance of gorgeous men all over the place – in Le Village and other neighborhoods. There’s something about French Canadians that is special. And meeting some of them, at least the gay ones, can happen anywhere. But especially in one of the many gay bars and clubs in Le Village. Parking is large, when you enter you have a choice – the Nightclub, like a neverending circuit party complete with exotic lighting, fog machines, and more; that’s all upstairs and it costs. Downstairs in the same building is the Garage, a themed bar with lots of nooks and crannies, and men enough to fill a small stadium it’s entrance free. I went once some years ago and remember an especially appealing “show your dick” contest in which participants stood behind a wall and stuck their prized possession through a glory hole. Of course, the critique by the drag-queen-in-charge and the reaction of the crowd often led to wet noodle status for some contestants. This time when we went, I met a cute guy who followed me around the whole night.
We also went to L’Aigle Noir, a large leather bar with several floors and more men in leather than you can imagine. It’s lit theatrically and the men are friendly.
Just ambling down Ste. Catherine you find one bar after another and there’s no trouble finding one that caters to almost any taste.
My taste runs to the stripper bars, of course. Montréal has some of the finest on the planet. Some of the finest male strippers anywhere grace the stages in these bars. Campus, Stock Bar, L’Adonis, and Taboo. Each has a set of dancers that is different and caters to different tastes. My taste covers them all!
Stock is an elegant world of red curtains, tables, and multiple stages. Dancers do their thing, which means going all the way down to nothing-left-to-the-imagination, and then they move among the guests. At Campus there are two shifts of dancers and it’s impossible to say which is the more beautiful group of men. L’Adonis and Taboo are much the same with the differences being mainly in the types of dancers they hire.
At all the places the dancers offer private lapdances in secluded parts of the bar. And it’s well worth the price of admission. I have to constantly remind myself how hypnotic it all is – and if ou don’t remind yourself, you’ll end up with a large bill. Which is what happened to me the very first time I did this. I just couldn’t believe it and when I decided to go back to my friends, I couldn’t believe the tab I’d run up! It was worth it.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Montréal Fierté -- July 2007

I went up to Montréal with Jason to celebrate Pride and just to relax. Their Pride celebrations are not to be missed. Fierté is usually the first weekend in August but this year the people who run DiverCité which is the overarching Pride organization, decided that they couldn’t handle all the activities they were sponsoring and a parade as well. So they were about to cancel the parade when a group of people stated that there could never be Fierté without a parade.

So they organized, got permits, and held a parade the weekend before the actual DiverCité activities. And instead of one Pride day there were two, one following hot on the heels of the other.

And it was wonderful. From the guy in the Roman soldier costume, to the drag queens, to the strippers on floats – it was an ecstatic parade. Our friend Brian marched under the banner of his title: Mr. Rubber Montréal and it was fun to see him strut down the street.

It’s impossible to covey the exuberance and the sheer joy that the crowd displayed as well as those in the parade. And Montréal is the type of city where people of all stripes and orientations come to celebrate the lives of others. So far, the gay pride parades I’ve see in that city have been attended by homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. And, many of the heterosexual couples bring their children along. Can you spell enlightened?

As the parade continued its march down Boulevard Rene Levesque, the crowd joined in and marched along to Ste. Catherine where the bars lining the street would hold celebrations late into the night.

The day before was a huge street festival – Ste. Catherine was lined with booth after booth representing all of the many groups Montréal has to offer. From a gay aerobics group to ethnic groups to much more than most other places I’ve visited.

We had dinner at some great places, saw some prime strippers who were as friendly as ever I remember them to be.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Gay Night at Six Flags Hurricane Harbor Water Park -- July 2007

While in New York at the Eagle, Jason picked up a brochure about a gay night at Six Flags Hurricane Harbor and decided he wanted to go and see what it might be like. Jason has enlivened my life and gotten me into things I’d never imagined doing. And I’m glad and grateful. Not that I’m a stick-in-the-mud, but we all have issues with ourselves, don’t we? Jason has begun to force me to face some of those issues and attempt to grow. He’s got a long way to go with me but I’m a willing student.

Trusty old friend that I am, and curiosity/adventure seeker that I also am, I agreed to go along. I had my doubts about what it might be like and also wondered just what kind of demi-gods attend such events. I’d seen circuit boys and party boys, go-go boys, and just plain old bar patrons at some other events and occasions I’d attended. But this, I thought, might attract a different crowd.

We arrived after a longer than expected drive and pulled into the nearest (which was a long drive in itself) parking lot to the Hurricane Harbor section of Six Flags where the gay night would take place. Both of us were taken aback by the price they charged to park. But what choice did we have? We’d already paid for the tickets. We saw other gay guys parking and unpacking themselves from their cars. And it didn’t look like an intimidating crowd in the least.

Next came the “crossing the entry” phase. Entry from one part to another is restricted because you can’t do the whole park on one ticket. They are huge megaplexes – different areas, different themes, different entrance fees. These theme parks are a strange breed of entertainment, though I’d been to versions of these parks (their less muscular and far less capacious ancestors) and this had a similar feeling. But there was some indefinable difference also. It was kind of haunting.

The strangest thing I noticed and felt on a visceral level occurred as we passed the turnstiles and began to cross what looked like a bridge between the mundane world and the land of Six Flags. The voice of authority came over the hidden PA system and wafted through the air telling the day patrons that it was time to leave because a special, pre-ticketed event was about to take place. As we walked across this bridge/road, there was a steady stream of straight families going the other way, back into the mundane world. Strange looks were exchanged, they undoubtedly knowing that gays and lesbians would be filling up the park, and we all wondering what these people could be thinking.

There wasn’t any tension, at least not on the surface, but there was an inexplicable weirdness about the moment. As if one group of passengers had been asked to leave their nice quarters to make room for a different class of voyagers. And, in some way, that’s true.
We made it across the bridge. Went to the booth to claim our tickets and there I was confronted with the gaily gorgeous and the gorgeously gay. Hunks, of the outdoorsy type, picking up tickets so they could ride the rides and stroll the grounds. They wore their knee-length shorts as casually as if they’d been born to the aristocratic beach life. I looked around wondering if there were a magic bathing suit salesman who could gave me a suit that would hide my extra pounds and fill in the few wrinkles that had crept up on me. No luck. I tried wishing my way into a new look. No luck. So I decided to just accept myself and my twenty extra pounds and those few flaws that I’d gotten over the years.

We went into the park and watched the guys enjoy some of the rides and attractions. There was the Cannonball, Wahini, and the Jurahnimo Falls seemed like the most frightening – though it probably wasn’t all that bad. It’s a kind of water slide, actually a body slide, three separate ones as part of the same “ride” – that deliver your body over and under and around until you come flashing out the other end at bullet speed and plunge into the waiting water. It was interesting to watch gay guys of all stripes from twinks to hunks submitting themselves to this. They’d enter one end and then when released you could hear them screaming all the way through to the other end, where, eyes bulging, throats raw from screams, they would be pumped out into the waiting water. Oh, yeah, I was gonna try that. Not!

Or, Hurricane mountain which features two or three person toboggans which were hurtled through waterways with heart thumping speed, all passengers screaming, as the toboggan came shooting out and into the water.

Maybe you’d like the Big Bamboo Reef Runner or other rides – all a little tamer, all equally wet. My choice was the Blue Lagoon – a gentle wave ride where you could sit in an inner tube and float peacefully through. But it was not open at first and by the time I did see some cuties floating around, we’d decided to leave.

We walked around – the grounds were nice, the clear night punctuated by screams of fun, and the moon was big and silvery bright. We sat and watched a number of small groupings attempt the various rides, or some little hotties, wet and sometimes scrawny but still attractive, running delicately through the park in search of towels or something else.

Elsewhere in the park, the disco was getting going – loud and raucous – and, at least when I looked, not well attended. But I was sure that, like moths to a flame, the boys would cluster in the dance area. And sooner rather than later, the energy high, they would whirl and gyrate, jump and jangle, until everyone glistened with sweat.

At some point we decided to leave. I don’t know if the “party” was that well attended. I just remember seeing the same guys over and over as we traversed the park. But it was fun, the air was refreshing, and the men were cute.