Tony goes to Texas

I went to Texas. And wrote about it. Part of this post is serious. Part of this is just me lamenting my misfortune. Enjoy.

I love traveling for work. I really enjoy exploring new places, and I especially love cities. Usually, though, when I travel to a city, I’m working 12-hour shifts and I rarely have time to explore.

So when I saw an opportunity for a trip to Houston where I would have a little more free time, I jumped at the chance. I’ve never been to Texas, and I’m trying to get to all 50 states. So volunteering for this trip seemed like a no-brainer.

After I learned a little more, I realized that my hotel would be right by Reliant Stadium, where one of the world’s largest rodeos would be starting the day I arrived. Once I got my work schedule, I saw that I was done working at 9 p.m. on Saturday and wouldn’t have to go back in until 4 p.m. on Sunday. So I would have a chance to go out and have some fun on the weekend. I got even more excited. Things were shaping up for this to be one of my better work trips.

I set the bar way too high.

Thing started going south (see what I did there) when I got to the hotel, and the parking lot was completely full. I had to park my rental car in the fire lane along with a few other people. Texas Parking Lots 1, Tony 0.

On Friday, I was working the night shift, from 3 p.m. to 3 a.m. so I explored a bit during the day. I walked around the stadium, which was huge and cool. Then I decided to grab a coffee before heading into work. I found a Starbucks not far from the office, so I moved my car from the fire lane and headed down the street.

The rodeo was starting to pick up, so there were lots of people out and about. Apparently, Starbucks at 2:30 p.m. is the place to be, as the parking lot was nearly full. After I got my coffee, I went back to my car, and the drive-through line was backed up, wrapped around itself and had entrapped my car. Overall, it was a poorly designed parking lot and drive-through. I was stuck there for a good 20 minutes while everyone stared at each other and tried to squeeze around cars. I thought everything was bigger in Texas? Apparently not parking lots. Texas Parking Lots 2, Tony 0

After my 12-hour shift, I left the office at 3 a.m. and hopped back into my car. The gate to the office park was closed, and I was given a code to get out of the parking lot. I punched in the code, nothing. I tried again, nothing. Eventually, I had to squeeze under the fence, sucking in my gut to make it through, and open the gate from the outside—since luckily the code worked from the outside. Texas Parking Lots 3, Tony 0.

Magically, though, when I made it back to the hotel, there was a spot right by the door! Texas Parking Lots 3, Tony 1

The Texas Medical Center in Houston. It’s basically its own city, with 49 separate medical institutions.

Oh well, I thought. I had a crappy first day. Saturday would be much better. I had to work for a few hours and then I was done at 9 p.m. I looked up the Houston gay scene online and found out that they have their own Boystown-like gayborhood called Montrose with a bunch of gay bars right next to each other.

I planned to head back to the hotel, grab a bite to eat and hop in a cab. Of course, the hotel lot was full and I couldn’t even park in the fire lane. I wound up parking in the grocery store next door, under a sign that said “Customers only, all others will be towed.” Texas Parking Lots 4, Tony 1.

Once I ate some dinner, I called Yellow Cab. After sitting on hold for five minutes, an angry woman answered and simply said, “Pickup address?”

So I said, “I’m at the Courtyard at 7702—“

“Sir, I need your full address,” she cut me off. Oh, hell no. Where was this southern hospitality? I hung up on her and tried a different cab company.

I got through to United Cab and gave them my pickup address. A cab showed up a few minutes later and I hopped in. The driver appeared to be middle-eastern and asked me where I was going.

“JR’s on Pacific,” I said.

That’s when it got scary.

The cab driver gave me the most hateful look I’ve ever seen in my life.

I assumed he realized that I was going to the gay bars and was very resentful toward gay people. He stared for way too long, while my heart raced. I wondered if I was going to be the victim of a hate crime. I debated whether I should just hop out of the cab and run back into the hotel. It was really the first time I was ever afraid after I (essentially) told someone I was gay. It was perhaps the longest 10 seconds of my life.

Then, he simply said, “I have no idea where that is.”

He was just confused. And his puzzled face just looked a lot like hatred. What a merry mix-up! (I’m eagerly anticipating the phone call from my mom telling me to never take a cab by myself again.)

He turned out to be a pretty nice guy and he got me to the bar pretty quickly. But that moment will stick with me for a while.

Then, I realized that the terrible feeling I had for those few short seconds must be something that gay Texans deal with regularly. And I could tell that things were a little different when I got to the bar.

Everyone was friendly enough at the bar, but nobody really would talk to me for more than a few seconds. After they realized that I was legitimately just looking for conversation and that I wasn’t going to go home with them, they tended to walk away. Keep in mind, I wasn’t at some sleazy dance club (not really my thing). I was at the neighborhood, happy-hour sort of bar—the bar with the pool tables and darts, not the bar with the dance floor and go-go dancers. It was kind of like Shamrock in Madison.

So I was a little thrown off when all anyone at that bar wanted to do was hook up. Yeah, you expect a little bit of that at any gay bar, but I can usually find some nice guys to simply chat with. Regardless, it was a nice break from work, and I got a bit tipsy then hailed a cab back to the hotel.

Once back at the hotel, I decided to log onto Grindr to see who was nearby. Again, there are plenty of people who just want to hook up on Grindr, but there are also good guys on there who just want to chat and have a drink. But apparently, Houston is lacking the latter group.

I even saw the guy in the screenshot below. I got a good laugh and shared this with my friends back home.

But then I started thinking. Yes, this guy is completely misguided and he is doing a terrible thing to his wife. But I think I put more of the blame on the culture. The simple 10-second fear I felt in that cab is probably what some gay Texans deal with regularly.

So is it really a surprise if some of them refuse to acknowledge their own identity, forcing themselves into lives and marriages that are lies?

In high school and college, I was headed down that path, too. I refused to acknowledge the fact that I was gay. I dated women and hoped to eventually get married to a woman and have kids and live a hetero-normative life.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I didn’t want to become the guy in that Grindr profile. I knew I couldn’t suppress it forever. If I wound up marrying a women, it would be a lie—a lie that many gay men before me unsuccessfully tried to bury. It never ends well, and the women and family always wind up hurt.

I didn’t want to be that guy.

Luckily, I found myself living in one of the most LGBT-friendly cities in the country when I realized that I didn’t want to be that guy. I’ve never had a problem in Madison, and I don’t anticipate ever having a problem in Madison.

Going to Houston made me thankful for places like Madison—mostly because of our vast parking lots but also the gay-friendly population.  But my trip also made me feel bad for gay Texans. Hopefully, that federal judge has triggered a cultural shift in the Lone Star State.

And yes, I realize that not everywhere in Texas is homophobic. Heck, Houston wasn’t even that bad. And I also realize that not every gay man in Texas is like the guy in that profile. But men like him exist. And the fact that men like him exist means that we have more work to do.

So keep telling your stories, everyone. Each little bit helps.

(And oh yeah, I got stuck on the runway for four hours trying to get home thanks to an ice storm in Houston. Houston Parking Lots/Tarmacs 5, Tony 1)

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