July 2007


I’ve been moving around quite a bit this summer. Almost every weekend I’ve been in a different location: Calaveras Big Trees State Park, Philadelphia, Montréal, New York, Washington DC, Delaware shore, Guerneville, San Diego, LA, Hawaii. Usually, when I write ‘travel’ entries, it’s because I’ve traveled to some far-off location (Vietnam, Central America, Bahamas, etc.). But this summer, I will only leave the country once while managing to rack up considerable miles. The map below charts my east coast travels in June and July. I might post another map of all my travels once the summer is in the books.


East Coast June/July

Robbins and Brian Gottlock
The Newlyweds
(courtesy nytimes.com)

Old Montréal
Old Montréal
(courtesy gupshup.org)

Amtrak Adirondack
Adirondacks Amtrak Route

While on the east coast, I spent some quality time with the family, including my adorable nephew, and made the regular visits to various east coast destinations. One of the main reasons I stayed on the east coast for so long was a string of family-related events that were close enough together to make it hard and expensive to fly back and forth from San Francisco.

The “big” event on the east coast was my brother-in-law, Robbins’ (on the left in the photo above) wedding to his long time partner Brian. They married in Montréal. A destination wedding, part out of necessity and part out of fun. More on that in a minute. First I had to get to their wedding.

Montréal By Train

Based on my sister’s recommendations, I elected to take the Amtrak train from Philadelphia to Montréal. The trip was a whopping 14 hours, but was a completely gorgeous and relaxing time, despite the fact I had to rise at 4:30 am. After a brief ride up to Penn Station, the Adirondack route follows the full length of the Hudson, winding along cliffs, through pine forests and misty hills, past West Point (an institution very familiar to generations of Maurys and Bunkers, but thankfully not me). There are several stops along the Hudson, but once north of Albany, it’s nearly a non-stop trip the rest of the way. I secured two seats to myself and was able stretch out, nap, relax, read and watch the scenery roll by. Intermittently on the northern route, I got some work done. This train ride is highly recommended if you have the time and disposition.

Once in Montréal, I met up with a bunch of the wedding goers who turned out to be quite fun and entertaining. I wasn’t able to really take in the city, but what I saw I liked a lot. The old French influence and the European architecture gave me the sensation of really being in a foreign country, even though I was only an hour from the border.

My favorite area of the city was probably the Latin Quarter, where we went the first night for Robbins’ bachelor party. One thing I found remarkably backwards about Canada (or Quebec/Montréal more specifically) is that many of the gay male clubs can and do prohibit women from entering. How can a society so ahead of the US in so many ways still have rules like that? Mind you, it didn’t impede our determined group, as about 25 men and 10 women stormed one of the gay strip clubs and proceeded to watch really buff, hairless men stroke their johnsons on stage. After the strip club, we went upstairs to a club, called Unity, and proceeded to get down on the dance floor. Our party knows how to party – we promptly had about 5 guys dancing on stage, and kept going until about 3:00AM. This was the first dance episode of several that would mark the high points of the weekend, and my trip back east.

The Wedding

The following day, at a civilized 4:00PM, we all met at the St. James United Church, crowded in, took our seats, and the ceremony commenced. Despite the whole “gay” thing, the wedding was the most traditional I’ve attended in years. The ceremony was in a church, ‘traditional’ vows were exchanged, one husband is taking the other’s surname, all the guests showered the newlyweds with bubbles as they left the church, and the couples sped off in an awesome chauffeured car.

The reception was held at Le Centre des Sciences De Montréal, overlooking the fleuve Saint-Laurent (or Saint Lawrence River in English). The food was delicious and the wedding band was off the hook. They played all the predictable wedding songs, but it almost didn’t matter what they were playing, as the wedding guests, myself included, were ready to dance the night away.

By about 1:00AM, they kicked us out of the reception, and we found another club that was willing to let us dance until about 3:00AM again. I’m sure we made quite the site – about 15 of us, dressed to the nines, wearing sunglasses (for some reason), we come in, find a place in the back of the bar, and proceed to go crazy. In no time, there were people dancing on tables, shirts were gone, the dancing got dirty. Three bouncers monitored our group closely, but we committed no offense so heinous as to be removed from the club. All around, one of the funnest weddings I’ve attended since my cousin Brooke’s in Texas in 2005.

Reflections on Same Sex Weddings

I can’t write up this travel log without articulating my frustration with why we had to travel to a foreign country to witness the union of these two wonderful and loving people. This is the first of four wedding-related events I will attend this summer, and it was the second same sex wedding that I’ve attended. As I watched these two people marry, and as I’ve reflected on this topic over the last couple of weeks, I’ve grown increasingly frustrated with the U.S. legal position on gay marriage, the general population’s aversion to it, and the leading presidential candidates’ failure to take a firm position one way or the other on this issue.

One evening in Montréal, a few of us were discussing the presidential race, and one person opined that her primary issue, the one that will determine who she votes for, is the candidate’s position on gay marriage. I thought at the time this was an extreme position to take — after all, the candidate has to win a general election, and gay marriage is not supported by a vast majority of Americans. But the more I think about it, the more I agree with her. Fundamentally, gay marriage is a civil rights issue with far reaching consequences. When will our national politicians stand up and fight for equal rights? When will they decide to lead, rather than pander to the polls on this issue?

The first gay wedding I attended was in San Francisco, on the first weekend that Mayor Newsom legalized same sex marriages in that city. People came from all over the world to marry in San Francisco. The feel in the city that week was unforgettable. It was hopeful, exciting and celebratory.

We all had the sense that we were taking part in something revolutionary and historic. As most readers will remember, the state Supreme Court ordered a stop to the unions, effectively annulling the thousands of weddings that took place (although the vows and the promises made remain the same). But the political and moral point had been made. I believed then and I still believe today that this issue is the civil rights battle of our era. It’s a long struggle and won’t be won overnight. States can annul all the marriages they want, Congress can pass all of the amendments and resolutions they want, but they can’t stop the steady progression of thought. I’m confident that my children will look back on our society’s perspective on gay marriage in much the same that we regard the prohibition on interracial marriage – as backward and plain ignorant.

But until that time, gay couples remain relegated to travel – across the country, across state lines or to another country – if they wish to trade vows. Our enlightened neighbors to the North have not only legalized gay marriage, they have embraced it socially. The marriage I attended in Montreal felt like any other marriage, it was a union of two people who love each other very much, and a union of their friends and communities. Here’s to the day when we attend destination weddings solely for the fun of it, not out of legal obligation.

I’ve been getting shelled with comment spam recently, so I just added a CAPTCHA plugin (called reCAPTCHA) that will hopefully weed out all of the annoying links to bad porn sites, viagra offers and online gambling sites showing up in my mailbox. Readers have been saved from this annoyance because I moderate all of my new commenters, but it’s starting to wear on me.  Sadly, this will also mean no more ‘cool’ comment spam, but that’s life.

CAPTCHA stands for “Completely Automated Public Turing Test to tell Computers and Humans Apart,” and is basically a way to weed out bots by using a simple ‘reverse’ Turing test that sets up a challege/response that a computer will most likely fail and a human will most likely pass. It’s a very practical application of Artificial Intelligence techniques (although applied for the opposite reason – to see how stupid a computer is, not how smart it is).

This particular implementation is cool because, while it does require an additional step for users who want to enter comments on my blog (aka, Jeannie), each successful ‘pass’ of a CAPTCHA on my site will help advance the cause of digitizing books. Cool, right?