Bilerico guest blogger Louise Larsen, who also writes at Louise on the Left, joined me this past Sunday for a ride on a big gay bus. You see, Out & About Tours recently launched Los Angeles' first and only gay bus tour, which travels through West Hollywood, Downtown L.A., Echo Park, Silverlake, and Hollywood to cover more than 100 points of interest in local LGBT history.
Our friendly neighborhood (or shall we say "gay-borhood") guide was tour CEO and founder Jim Anzide, responsible for dispensing information at a rapid clip during the three-hour event (with one pit stop at a gay bar for libations). Actors Arielle Marie McFadden and Michael Taylor Gray provided banter and good cheer and also performed monologues in the voices of real-life characters in LGBT history. (An acting ensemble rotates on different days.)
After the tour, Louise and I had a conversation about our experience....
PRINCE: How did it feel to be the token straight person on the big gay bus?
LOUISE: I felt "special," but in a good way.
PRINCE: I felt special too, but that was mainly because the tour check-in area was at ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, which houses the largest collection of gay porn in the world.
LOUISE: Really? It did? I didn't see that. I must have been looking for my pink ticket.
PRINCE: Yes, you needed a pink ticket for the alcohol portion of the tour.
LOUISE: I wish I'd had more time to notice this.
PRINCE: You didn't notice the naked-man slideshow that was running when you walked in?
LOUISE: No, I did not. I guess I wasn't looking for that, so I didn't see it.
PRINCE: I'm always looking for that.
LOUISE: If I had known about the gay porn, I totally would've wanted to go back and see it.
PRINCE: Before I get in trouble for spreading false information, now that I think of it, I'm not entirely sure if that "largest collection of gay porn in the world" thing is entirely true. The woman at the gallery may have said something like "most gay erotica in Southern California" or something like that. Maybe I'm just making all this up in my mind. I don't know. Now that I think about it, the "largest collection of gay porn in the world" is probably in my bedroom.... Moving on.... So what was your favorite part of the tour?
LOUISE: I loved just getting on the bus and not having to do anything and being able to just take it all in. It was great because they did not presume I knew more than I did. I was afraid I'd be outed for being such a hetero-clod.
PRINCE: I learned a lot too. There was so much that I didn't know. And I liked being reminded that San Francisco and New York do not have a monopoly on gay history.
LOUISE: Yes, I guess I always knew there was lots of gay history in Los Angeles, but I didn't expect so much of it to be so post-Stonewall.
PRINCE: Nice observation.
LOUISE: I loved the actual tour itself - I mean, the process. I loved the tour guide's energy and information. And the actors were great, especially with the monologues.
PRINCE: Did you like how we were given name tags with the names of famous LGBT people on them?
LOUISE: Yes. It was a good conversation starter.
PRINCE: I usually hate audience participation at shows and events like this, but it was pretty non-threatening on this tour.
LOUISE: Yes, they held up "cheers" and "jeers" signs and prompted us to do hand gestures.
PRINCE: That was fun.... In terms of the history, I especially liked learning all that stuff about gay Hollywood. I didn't know Rudolph Valentino had a male lover! That was surprise to me.
LOUISE: I think Hollywood is such an important part of our psyche that to have this tour right in the heart of where "Hollywood" was key.... Also, I loved hearing about the evolution of the gay civil rights movement throughout the drive too. It really gave me a sense of perspective.
PRINCE: History aside, the drinks and snacks during the tour were a nice touch. I was dreaming about a Diet Coke when they brought a basket full of them down the aisle. Kind of like a plane flight.
LOUISE: The sun was hot, so the ice-cold soda was perfect!
PRINCE: Anyway, I learned a lot about Los Angeles history too. I've lived here seven years, and I didn't know most of the information that was covered.
LOUISE: I was really bummed out that the place my husband and I had our first date was a place famous for being horrible to gays. Not so great.
PRINCE: The piece of info that sticks out in my mind is that the Vista theater in Los Feliz, which is playing 2012 now, used to show gay porn. And I also took note of the specific blocks where all the male and transgender prostitutes hang out on Santa Monica Boulevard.
LOUISE: Why did all that stick out so much? So to speak.
PRINCE: I always want to glom on to the seedier side of history.
LOUISE: Yeah? Is that why you started borrowing my pen?
LOUISE: I did find some of the seedy parts sad, actually - thinking of some of the people who were living this area in the 50s who must have been terrified. I wish parts of the history weren't difficult, but it is important for people to really hear all that. When you don't have to think about being gay, to suddenly hear about the evolution of homophobia in our culture is a little shocking.
PRINCE: Yes, but I think they did a good job of balancing that information out with the high points in gay history, as well as touching on the more fabulous and light stuff. I noticed that they always tried to cap off some dark part of history with a footnote of eventual triumph. It's interesting to look at it from that perspective - the LGBT movement as a struggle, as well as a string of eventual triumphs. As much as we are still embroiled in gay civil rights today, it's amazing to think about how far we've actually come.
LOUISE: Yes, they did a good job of balancing.
PRINCE: So there was a rest stop, a sort of "intermission," at The Other Side, a piano bar in Silverlake. What'd you think of it?
LOUISE: I loved that elegant and dark bar. My dad occasionally used to take me to hotel bars in New York when I was a kid. It brought back fond memories.
PRINCE: I've been to The Other Side before, and I think it's great. I usually don't like bars, but this place is so friendly and low-key. No attitude. We should go there on a Saturday night. There's a black female singer there named Sonji Kimmons who is amazing. She does an incredible version of Chaka Khan's "Making the Story Right."
LOUISE: I only wish I could have remembered the words to some of the Sondheim songs I used to sing at auditions.
PRINCE: I know! You should've gotten up and sung.
LOUISE: If I'd known we were going to a place where we could sing, I would've brushed up a tune or two.
PRINCE: You should always have a song prepared wherever you go. Let that be a lesson to you.
LOUISE: If I go on the tour again, you'd bet I'd sing! I'd do my best Garland and something showtunes-y.
PRINCE: Do you have friends who rehearse before going out to karaoke? I do. I think it's nuts - but different strokes, I guess.
LOUISE: I don't really ever go to karaoke. I just need a shower to sing.
PRINCE: I'm happy we were on the second floor of that double-decker bus. I got to see so much that I don't usually notice when I'm driving on my own through the city.
LOUISE: Being up on the second level was fabulous. I loved that we could actually see behind buildings and into parks.
PRINCE: Oh, I also like the breaks in between the tour when they would just blast super gay disco music on the speakers. What's a big gay bus without super gay disco music?
The tour runs on Saturdays and Sundays and every other Friday. It departs from ONE Archives Gallery & Museum in West Hollywood at 1 p.m. and ends at approximately 4 p.m. Tickets cost $75 per person. There will be food and beverage (alcoholic/non-alcoholic) available gratis at some of the stops. For more information and tickets, visit www.outandabout-tours.com.