Monday, October 12, 2009

'To Wong Fu' I blame U for missing the National Equality March

Over the weekend hundreds of thousands of queers activists marched in the National Equality March on Washington DC, and I was supposed to be there. For many months Join the Impact Chicago has worked on organzing a massive project to get as many Chicago LGBT activists as they could to DC for the March.

They successfully sold out 4 busses in a short period of time and even had peole on a standby list. There were many many dedicated people looking forward to being involved in a piece of history, and I was looking forward to doing the same thing.

On Saturday evening we gathered in the shadow of the Art Institute, surrounded by feet high chain link barriers that had been put in place for the next mornings marathon. We signed in, talked with friends and got our "boarding passes" for the bus. I and several of my friends grabbed boarding passes for Bus #1. We loaded on our bus, found our "spots" for the 15 hour journey ahead of us and started imagining what lay in front of us. The day we had all been waiting for so long was here. The mood on the bus was electric, people were chatting, getting to know each other, make new friends. We were ignorant of the fact that the first stop we made on our long journey would also be our last.

Unbeknownst to us, the bus was having problems from the start, it was rattling and vibrating very badly - we just thought it was the road, and a few times along the way it seemed that the engine "cut-out" but it was never anything that stopped the bus. Some on the bus twittered jokingly that perhaps we should "enjoy them."

We happily watched several episodes of Maude and her dealings with racial tensions and kids playing doctor in the 70's, we watched Hocus Pocus with the Divine Miss M who had some nasty bucktheeth and were halfway through To Wong Fu, Thanks for everything, Julie Newmar" when it was time for a food break. The last big city sign I had seen on the side of the road was for Dayton/Toledo.

When we pulled into the Wyandot Ohio Turnpike Oasis, about 4 hours outside of Chicago, we had no idea that it was going to be our last stop. Apparently the bus had much larger problems than any of us had imagined as we waved goodbye to our friends on Bus #2 as we watched load up and continue on their journey. We all assumed that we would be right behind them, but as we sat hour after hour waiting for another bus, our dreams of making it to DC became dimmer and dimmer.

Several members of Join the Impact Chicago (JTIC), many who had worked tirelessly for months to organize this event, were on the bus with us. They handled this very difficult situation with tact, grace and professionalism beyond their years. They attempted to organize multiple modes of transportation - another bus, vans, rental cars, I'm sure even a cart pulled by a goat was considered, they tried to do everything possible when you're 400 miles from home and stuck in the middle of nowhere.

While we waited we tried to keep ourselves entertained. We played Boggle, we made new friends, we caught up with old friends, we chatted about everything under the sun, read books, joined voices in song, we even playing a rousing round of "Adult Duck Duck Goose" to keep our energy and spirits up. We consoled each other and kept filling our paper cups with caffeinated carbonated beverages from the self-serve fountains to keep us awake, cups we had gotten with our combo meals, when we thought that we were only going to be there for enough time to inhale a burger and some fries.

Somewhere around 2AM doubt started to arrive, we knew that we still had more than a 9 hour trip ahead of us once we got on a bus and we wondered aloud if we would really make it to DC. To raise our spirits, some lovely ladies pulled out a huge banner they had been carrying with them that said Civil Marriage is a Civil Right and started to unfurl it. Someone else grabbed a sign they were making for the rally and we all huddled behind it for an impromptu rally of our own, right there in the middle of the Food Court at the Wyandot Turnpike Oasis. We hugged each other, we cried a little bit, and we shouted "What do we want? Equal rights" just once, but it was enough!

We couldn't do more than that though because the posters that we had made from photographs of Harvey Milk taken by Jerry Pritikin more than 30 years ago, banners that we were supposed to carry stretched across the street as we walked in front of the White House, flags that we were to wave as we marched to the steps of the Capital, were all "stuck" in the storage compartment of our bus. Stuck, along with our dreams of making it to DC. We did keep our spirits high though because we knew that three other buses were on their way to DC to march with hopefully hundreds of thousands of other queers and straight allies.

At 3AM, JTIC told us that we had a drop dead time of 4AM for the buses to arrive and for us to potentially arrive in DC in time to make the rally portion, if not the march. Suddenly images started to swirl in our heads of the bus flying through the hills of Pennsylvania with someone on the phone with a direct line to Cleve Jones saying "Hold the rally for us" and crowds parting like the red sea as our bus navigated the streets of DC on two wheels just in time to drop us off in front of Lady Gaga addressing the crowd. We needed those images in our heads to make us laugh instead of cry, to console ourselves from what "could have been."

Sometime later, I can't recall exactly as many of us were sleep deprived and becoming delusional from drinking so much high fructose corn syrup, we held a group meeting. In that meeting we had one decision to make - When the bus arrives, do we continue our journey or do we head back to Chicago. On the first vote it was 24 votes to return to Chicago and 22 votes to continue on our journey - too close to call, and too close to say it was one way or another. Someone from the audience spoke up and said "Ok, now that we voted, we need to discuss why we we voted as we did." Impassioned speeches flew from our mouths of why we should continue our trek - or why we should abandon our dream and instead head back to Chicago and join others at the Solidarity Rally already scheduled for later that afternoon in Daley Plaza. After a few minutes of speeches, another vote was taken. It was an almost unanimous vote that once the bus arrived we would instruct the driver to take us back to Chicago.

Around 5:15 someone came over to our table and told us to start gathering our belongings, the bus would be arriving soon. We reluctantly cleared our tables, repacked our bags and started to reassemble ourselves into the protestors we had hoped to be that day. Some of us felt that if we didn't pack up, if instead we stayed put, perhaps we could still make it to DC, that somehow the Wyandot Turnpike Oasis had become our island of hope and that if we didn't leave we could continue on to our dream of marching in the National Equality March. But we knew it was a pipe dream. We packed our bags, we cleared our mess and we said goodbye to the janitors and food workers at the Oasis and loaded our bags and weary bodies onto the bus, to only return home.

As we settled into our seats a voice from the back of the bus piped up and said "Can I suggest that we don't watch any more movies about drag queens getting stuck in the middle of nowhere?" Everyone laughed and we settled in for a long ride home.

Dreams were shattered at the Wyandot Turnpike Oasis, but our spirits were not destroyed, if anything it made us all stronger! Our next stop was the Solidarity Rally at Daley Plaza!

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