Bil Browning

31 Days: Phil & the Stonewall Inn

Filed By Bil Browning | August 28, 2011 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Jillian T. Weiss, Phil Reese, Snowpocalypse, Stonewall Inn

This photo's backstory is behind the jump.

stonewall-phil-reese.jpg

I'm doing a series of posts for 31 days that will feature a photo from my personal collections and the backstory behind the picture. I'm trying to stick with shots that have not appeared on the site before. I'm using the stories as a writing exercise to help me prepare for writing a book. You can find the rest of the series posts here:

Back in February of 2010 I was honored to be asked to host a gathering of LGBT journalists and prominent bloggers on behalf of the Haas Foundation in New York City. The event brought together experts on immigration reform with LGBT writers for an on-the-record meeting with no holds barred.

The gathering turned raucous a couple of times, but was generally considered a success by both the journalists and the organizations alike. Mother Nature, however, didn't make things easy for us. It was scheduled for the same weekend as Snowmagaddon (or was it Snowpocalypse?) 2010 - when a blizzard dumped feet of snow along the eastern seaboard. Many of the out-of-town attendees weren't able to come after their flights were canceled; some of us were stranded halfway to NYC but still managed to drag ourselves over the finish line with a little help from our friends.

At the time Phil Reese lived in Illinois and I lived in Indianapolis. Since Jerame wasn't going to the meeting, Phil flew out of Indianapolis on the same flight I did so we could be travel companions. Even though the big day wasn't until Saturday, we were flying out on a Friday morning since I was the host of a small reception at the Stonewall Inn that night for attendees, communications workers from local LGBT organizations, and other activists.

The blizzard was forecast to hit with a bang late Friday morning, but we were hoping our Trans Air flight would beat the storm. When we got to the airport, we had one glimmer of hope. All other flights to the city were canceled, but our was still showing on time. We were the last plane out of Indy for the Big Apple.

It was starting to snow by the time we were in the air but we made good time to La Guardia. The nervous crew and passengers were relieved to hear the captain announce our descent into the airport. Partway through the drop though, the captain brought the nose of the aircraft back up and told us that they'd just closed the airport. We wouldn't be landing then after all.

We circled around La Guardia for a while since we were next in line to land according to the captain, but after over an hour of circling the captain told us we didn't have enough fuel to continue circling and we were being diverted to Baltimore instead. When we got off the plane in Maryland, airline employees eventually told us that they'd hired a bus to drive us the rest of the way to La Guardia airport. Come hell or high water, they were going to try and get us to our destination.

Phil and I got something to eat, called our significant others to check in, and I started coordinating with other attendees on whether or not they were getting to town okay. Cancellations were starting to come in and with the airline still unsure when the bus would arrive, it was looking doubtful that we'd make that evening's party.

Neither Phil nor I had actually been to the Stonewall Inn. In fact, it was Phil's first time in the city at all. We were both a little bummed out at the turn of events and I started complaining to Jill Weiss over text message. I was supposed to host the party!

Suddenly the bus arrived and we were on our way to the city again. As we went rolling down the nearly deserted interstate it became obvious that several passengers would have to change directions again to come back to New Jersey. We'd have to backtrack when the bus stopped to go back to the Stonewall.

When some of the travelers convinced the bus driver to pull over in Jersey at a travel stop and let us out, Jill volunteered to drive to the truckstop, pick us up, and drive us to the Stonewall Inn for the reception. Going directly, we'd save a lot of time and our only luggage was our carry-ons we already had with us.

Jill drove like a woman possessed in the middle of that snowstorm to pick up Phil and I and she delivered better than the US Mail; we arrived just in time for the festivities. Several colleagues were able to meet for the first time and those who had been able to beat the storm mingled with those who lived in the city.

When Phil and I jumped out of Jill's Jeep in front of the Stonewall we both had our picture taken in front of the neon sign. It may not have been the Himalayas, but Phil and I had survived the storm.


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