Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Taking Aim at Target

I don’t really have anything to say about the Target donation debacle.

For those who came in late: after the Supreme Court loosened restrictions on corporate giving to political candidates, Target gave $150,000 to a Minnesota candidate ostensibly because of his pro-business policies, but without paying heed to his anti-union and anti-gay stances.  Target has issued an apology, which gay groups don’t accept as authentic, but has refused to either rescind the donation or make a matching one to gay groups, which tends to reinforce why people don’t accept the apology as more than boilerplate.

Actually, I do have one thing to say about the deal: Best Buy donated $100,000 as well, and no one is paying any attention to them in this.  Shouldn’t 40% of the attention be going there, since 40% of the money came from them?

Nonetheless, I found it ironic that Target ads ended up on the Seattle Times webpage for the story dealing with the donation and its backlash.

Friday, August 27, 2010

What Were They Thinking?
    — I Before E, Except After Uruguay

“What Were They Thinking?” highlights products and presentations which just don’t make sense.

This screenshot comes from the BlackBerry developer site, where to download the simulator files to use for testing apps being developed for BlackBerry devices, you have to enter your contact info, including the country you are in.

Apparently the list once used “USA” instead of “United States”, but someone changed the name without updating the sort order.

As they say, “Broken gets fixed, but shoddy is forever.”

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Surprise Shopping: Gay Priests

“Surprise Shopping” highlights online shopping and catalog results which don’t match what you expect.

This was the item that first inspired this series of posts, which made the rounds back in January 2010.  Now, why someone went looking for communion wafers and noticed this in the first place, I don’t know.  (Could even have been a hoax, a jiggering of Amazon results to make the funny connection — just buy both a couple times and you could probably force it.)

Of course, now we’re seven months later and the “Also Bought” statistics have changed so this no longer shows up.  (They do currently include an iPhone battery and a power strip, though.  Not as funny, though.  You never know what people will buy at the same time.  My last Amazon purchase was latex gloves and a book on PHP coding.  How would that look?)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Surprise Shopping: Poppers on Amazon

“Surprise Shopping” highlights online shopping and catalog results which don’t match what you expect.

They say you can buy anything on Amazon.  Sure enough, you can even buy poppers!

(For the puzzled, “poppers” are a mild inhalant drug used primarily by gay men during sex.  They produce a muscle relaxation effect and usually a high or even mild hallucigenic effect; different brands have different intensities and durations of these effects, usually lasting only a few minutes.  Originally amyl nitrate based and intended for treating heart issues like angina, they were sold in tiny glass vials wrapped in a cloth sock; you “popped” the glass to release the drug.  Poppers are technically illegal and their manufacture is unregulated; if you use them, you probably don’t want to think too hard about it.)

Beyond the fact that you can actually buy these from Amazon, though, is what else shows in the list when you search for them.  Check out the screen capture from the Amazon app on the iPhone.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Trip Report: VanQueerDanceDay and Vancouver Pride (July 30–August 1)

Before the Weekend

Several years ago, a couple guys from Vancouver, BC who were visiting Seattle asked me and a friend, “Where do guys from Seattle go when they want to get laid?”  We looked at each other and replied, “Vancouver.”  Not that Vancouver is any more a hotbed of sexy men than Seattle, just that “fresh meat syndrome” is true — a new face in town draws attention.

Vancouver is a 3+ hour drive north, and you have to have a passport or enhanced driver’s license to cross the border.  I get up there a few times a year, especially for Rubbout in April, but I’ve also been up for their Pride celebration a couple times in the past, once to march with their Leather contingent and once just to go.  I’ve also been there several times for New Year’s, just to not be at home at the usual local bar.

This year as well, Not So Strictly Ballroom was hosting VanQueerDanceDay, a day of same-sex ballroom, Latin, and country workshops, competitions, and dancing.  They invited me to come up to teach Country Two-Step.  Initially, Rusty was going to come up as well, and we were going to compete, but he ended up not able to go.  Klint was going up, though, so the two of us decided to compete — mostly just for fun, but also to support the event and get some experience under our belts.  (Our only real rule was to not embarrass ourselves.)  We got together a couple days before and practiced the various dances on my concrete parking area and called it ready (or ready enough).

Lining up a hotel was very difficult.  A week out, there was nothing reasonable available, and not even anything lightly unreasonable.  That is: nothing in the downtown core under close to $300 per night!  (You can usually get something around $100 at other times.)  I checked various sites and individual hotels, but nothing.  No availability at all.  But I also knew this was a lie: stuff was locked up with reservations which would cancel and other blocks which would free up if they didn’t fill.  Sure enough, by Wednesday, stuff was starting to show at about $200 a night (lightly unreasonable).  I had hopes that stuff would continue to drop, but by Friday morning, I was forced to go with the Best Western Chateau Granville (2 blocks from the dance studio, which was great) at what ended up being $225 per night including tax and parking.  With Klint sharing with me, doable if not nice.

The Trip Up

I rode my Kymco People S scooter up.  I’ve been looking forward to doing a long road trip on it again for some time.  (I had to pass up two trips on it to Portland this summer because it needed some significant maintenance — air filter, belt and rollers, rear tire, etc., not unexpected at 12,000 miles — that had it in the shop on and off for a few weeks.)  I did the ride to Vancouver for Pride on it two years ago, and last year rode to Bellingham for Pride, about 2/3 as far, so this wasn’t a new trip.  (And of course while I was dating Cliff, I took several trips on it to Stanwood, halfway to Bellingham.)

Two years ago, when I had only been riding 3 months and wanted to avoid the highway as much as possible, I had taken Lake City Way around the top of Lake Washington, then Highway 9 through Lake Stevens to Arlington, then Pioneer Highway through Stanwood (right past Cliff’s house, before I knew him) to Burlington, and Chuckanut Drive to Bellingham, with my only significant highway time being once I got into Canada.  That ride took 5 hours.

(Many people are stunned that I could or even would ride the scooter all the way.  The biggest thing is that they don’t realize that mine will go highway speeds, cruising along between 55 and 65 comfortably, barring hills or wind.  I just stay in the rightmost lane most of the time, since I’m going slower than most traffic but still at legal speeds.)

This trip, I did the highway all the way to Burlington (about 70 miles, stopped for gas in Marysville), then Chuckanut Drive through Bow-Edison and along the coast (I don’t want to do the Chuckanut Mountains pass, since I would slow down to sub-highway speeds there), and then up to the Lynden/Langley crossing (where I only had to wait for 1 or 2 cars).

(Somewhere on Chuckanut Drive, I took off my clip-on sunglasses and in the process, popped out one of the lenses and voomp, it was gone.  Toss those.  I also had a can of energy beverage in my pocket which wasn’t there when I got gas in Marysville; I hope it dropped out when I stopped before getting to the highway back in Seattle, rather than flying out at speed and maybe hitting another vehicle!  I also have a volume booster device that goes between my iPhone and my helmet speakers, to make the sound more audible, but it wasn’t working and was in fact working in reverse, bringing the volume down!  So I couldn’t use it on this trip.)

Once across the border, I made a mistake: rather than go to Highway 1, I decided to take 1A, the Fraser Highway, which eventually turns into Kingsway between Burnaby and Vancouver.  This is like taking Highway 99 through Seattle — fine on the viaduct, but then you end up on Aurora for miles of lights and 30 mph zones.  (Or like driving El Camino Real the whole length of the San Francisco peninsula.)  So what would have been about a 4-hour trip ended up a bit close to 5.5 hours.  I found that after about the 4.5 hour mark, my lower back started bothering me, probably due to the lack of support; at every light, I was standing up while stopped, dancing my feet around, stiff and sore.

But I eventually made it fine.  In the end, I’m not really sorry I took that route.  I had the time available and saw parts of the Vancouver metro area I never have before (although Cliff and I had hit some of the Burnaby thrift stores on a previous trip, so I recognized some parts), but I usually just want to get where I’m going (and repeated stop lights aren’t a lot of fun).  So while I’m likely to do Pioneer Highway and Farm Road near Stanwood again some day, Fraser Highway and Kingsway aren’t apt to get another visit to just ride them.

Friday Night

Friday night was the Vancouver Men in Leather Social at the “Leather Loft” at Numbers.  (That’s the name of the upstairs space on this leather night only.)  Usually, this would be on the 2nd Friday, but they did an extra one for Pride (or rather, moved the August one up a couple weeks).  Good big crowd, but I’ve only been there for the Rubbout ones in April, which is another special event, so I don’t know how it compares to a regular on.

The center of Davie Street was blocked off for a street party — beer and people and stage acts, I guess — which had traffic snarled all over the West End and had Davie way crowded.  After the Social, I went over to the PumpJack Pub, but there was easily 100 people in line at 10:45, so I gave up rather than wait for what could be an hour or more.

Went back to the hotel, and then to M2M to get laid.  I was apparently stiff or tense from the ride up though, so I didn’t have quite as much fun as I would have liked.


Not So Strictly Ballroom, one of the GLBTQ dance groups in Vancouver (Vancouver Timberline Dance Society is the country-western one) hosted the VanQueerDanceDay on the day before Pride.  This was a morning of dance workshops, an afternoon of dance competitions, and an evening of awards and dance entertainment and open dancing.

Next year, this same weekend, Vancouver will host the North America OutGames (which happens on the two-year interval between the World OutGames), and DanceSport (which includes ballroom, Latin, and country) will be one of the 20 competitions being done.  So VanQueerDanceDay partly serves as a lead-in to the 2011 competition.

The morning workshops were Argentine Tango (which I skipped; needed the extra 30 minutes of sleep!), Country Two-Step (which I taught, with Klint’s help), and Salsa (which as a group lesson, merged into Casino Rueda, which is a “called” form of Cuban salsa — like square dancing, more or less).  I had probably 15 or 20 couples in the lesson.  Started with absolute beginner, then into beginner, and then into something more intermediate, to hopefully provide value for everyone attending.  We seemed to have some of each set.

During the lunch break, we got hot dogs from a vendor between the dance studio and the hotel, and Klint and I decided on what shirts to use (we had brought several), and I tried to nap.  Maybe got 20 minutes, tops.  (The fancy hot dog I got was wrapped in bacon; we referred to it as “uncut”.)

For the competitions, there was little actual competition.  Only about 6-8 couples total — Kirstin and Carol were also up from Seattle — mostly in either separate divisions (Newcomer [first time] vs. Intermediate) or in different dances.  So we competed to the same song/at the same time as Kirstin and Carol, but in a different division.  We did have another couple to compete against in West Coast Swing, and there was a trio of dances for ballroom which had two couples competing, but all others were one-offs.  Klint and I competed in Night Club, Jive (double-rhythm East Coast Swing), West Coast Swing, Country Two-Step, and Shadow.

After the competitions, we rode my scooter up Davie to go to Little Sisters bookstore, Priape (the leather and underwear store), and I got a beer at the PumpJack.  I cam back to the hotel for another try at a nap, and Klint hung out with some of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence who were up from Seattle.  For dinner on the way back to the studio, I had a piece of pizza.  (Ooh, excitement.)

After dinner, in and around some open dancing, were three line dance competitions: D.H.S.S., MMMBop, and Chill Factor.  (All three non-country, I notice.)  The four of us from Seattle did the first one, then Klint and I and Todd from Vancouver for the second, and Marek joined the three of us for the last.

The awards were Mardi Gras beads with gold/silver/bronze stars attached to them.  Cheap and blingy, but just fine for this sort of a low-key competition.  Klint and I won all five of our couples dances, including the West Coast Swing.  I took gold in D.H.S.S. and silver in the other two line dances.

Our primary goal for the competition were to get a little experience at competing under our belts — I’ve done line dance comps for many years, but no couples comps in over a decade and even then just a couple Jack & Jill/Pat & Chris competitions (where you get paired with another dancer pretty much at random).  Secondary was to not look bad — that’s why we didn’t do Waltz; we knew that even if it was country, it would be too slow for what we are used to.  We also want to be able to take the experience back to Seattle and encourage people to compete at the OutGames next year, and then when we host the IAGLCWDC competition in 2013 in Seattle.

(Okay, we might have looked bad during the Jive competition, when a table-top move resulted in me head-butting Klint in the stomach and knocking off my glasses.  I left the glasses off for competitions after that.)

Overall, I was very impressed by the event.  It was fairly simply put together and Michel moved things along well (except for the brief power failure when we tripped a breaker in the middle of one of the line dances).  We’re talking about doing a similar one-day event in Seattle after next year’s hoedown, to push competition at the OutGames.  We should be able to do that pretty easy, I think.

Saturday Night

Dinner had been just that single piece of pizza on the way to the dance, so I supplemented with poutine at Megabite Pizza on the way back to the hotel.  The poutine from the Frites place on Davie near Gravnille is better.

The PumpJack has last Saturday leather nights (well, sort of — “we hope you’ll wear leather, but you don’t have to” nights), with line privileges for guys in leather (because there is always a Saturday line, so you get to jump to the front).  Line privileges last until 10:00 usually, 10:30 this weekend, so I tried to get there in time.  Alas, Davie Street was still blocked to traffic (no street party, though), so I had to park several blocks away and didn’t quite make it.  But I was still close to the front of the line and waited only 5-10 minutes.

Curiously, almost as soon as I got my beer, they closed the back patio (at 11:00, I guess).  Not sure why, maybe for noise reasons or maybe it’s harder to police when it’s dark.  Good crowd inside, though, and it turned out my ex Cliff (and his new boyfriend, Rob) were up for the weekend.  I’m sociable with them, but I’m definitely finding that the breakup still hurts when I see them together, so I sort of avoided them (that is, didn't spend much time hanging near them).

After three beers, I headed out, back to the hotel and then to M2M again.  Had a better time tonight, ride-up tension and dance competition stress were gone.

Pride Sunday

As noted above, I’ve attended Vancouver Pride twice before.  About 6 years ago, Rusty and I marched with the leather contingent.  I confess that I don’t really remember much about that year; it must have been okay but not particularly notable.  Two years ago, I just watched the parade from somewhere on Denman, a little past the halfway point.  Watching the parade, of course, gives you a view of only a tiny slice of the attendance; in comparison, of course, being in the parade gives you only a tiny view of the parade, no more than a handful of groups.

This year, there were apparently two leather contignents.  Knights of Mantra (previously known as Knights of Malta; link is for the Seattle chapter, since the Vancouver chapter’s site is dead) was the color guard, carrying the flags immediately after the Dykes on Bikes.  They sent an oddly worded invite to Seattle Men in Leather, inviting us to march with them (and for our President to possibly carry the US flag); oddly worded in that it seemed to have a slap at Vancouver Men in Leather as part of the invite.  The other contingent was a flatbed truck from the pansexual club Metro Vancouver Kink, with Vancouver Men in Leather and others marching along with them (including the current Washington State Mr. Leather and the crew from Rubbout, probably 10-12 leatherguys in total).

The parade started at 12:00 noon, although we didn’t step off until probably 1:00 pm; we we’re somewhere in the middle third of the groups.  Not So Strictly Ballroom also had a contingent, and Klint marched with them; they were in the latter third of the parade.

In the past, many parades have required vehicle wheel monitors for each vehicle in a contingent, something that has always seemed a little odd, given distances from the vehicles to the parade watchers.  No longer odd after this parade.  The first couple blocks on Robson was through a crowd of primarily Asian attendees.  Thousands and thousands of them, with no respect for staying away from the vehicles.  The gay attendees usually cluster on the sidewalk, sometimes crowded there or standing several deep, but these attendees came clear off the sidewalk, past the parking lane, and crammed into the first driving lane on each side of the street, leaving only a single lane for the truck and marchers to come through.  Wheel monitors were very necessary here, to corral the people back so they literally didn’t get run over!

After we were through that gantlet, things largely settled down to a usual placement of people, thankfully.  But I was very impressed by the number of attendees.  The route (Robson/Denman/Beach) felt twice as long as the Seattle parade route (but was really only 10% longer — I mapped on Google; I can’t say how far we traveled to the technical start of the route, though vs. the Seattle parade’s leather contingent’s path).  The number of people on either side, while it did fall off noticeably toward the end, appeared to be 3 to 5 people deep on both sides for most of the route, and was still a solid wall of people all the way to the end.  The official numbers said about 600,000 for Vancouver and 400,000 for Seattle, I think, but Vancouver felt much denser, at least three times the size of Seattle’s parade attendance.

After the parade, I wandered the festival booths and got some food (roasted corn! Carribean meat pies! mini donuts!).  Because I had got a blister on my heel the previous day, I had managed to buy a pair of cheap rubber sandals on Friday afternoon, which I wore the entire route.  I had my boots with me, and carried them over my shoulder with the laces tied together, but finally got a red shopping bag from Air Canada which made toting them a lot easier.

Eventually headed back up to the Davie Village, where I waited in line at the PumpJack for about half an hour and had a beer.  Said some goodbyes and trekked back to the scooter.  The parade route is U-shaped, so while I had walked a couple miles during the route and then back to Davie, my scooter parked at the front of the parade route was only about 6 blocks away.

On the way back to the scooter, I realized that Vancouver meters run on Sundays as well as other days.  When I parked, I was between two other cars, not in a clear meter space.  When I got back, both cars were gone, leaving my scooter by itself in the parking spaces, but for whatever reason, I had escaped any parking tickets.  Whew!

The Trip Back

Riding back was more straightforward.  I picked up my stuff at the hotel and left at about 5:45 pm.  (So that Klint and I could ride to the parade start, and store the helmets in the scooter, I had checked a bag of my stuff at the hotel, and stashed an additional bag in Klint’s car — the stuff I knew I wouldn't need for a few days until I got it back from him.)  I left an hour later than I wanted, so the heat of the day was already starting to fade.

I took Highway 1 out to Langley, where the Greater Vancouver Zoo is.  (I always wonder how much business they get, 45 minutes outside the downtown core, in the midst of wineries and farms.)  Saw a little coyote in the grass near the road on the way from the highway to the border; you never notice things like that in a car.

After crossing the border, I pulled off to get an extra layer on under my coat, since it was still cooling down.  I also had a touch of sunburn which was probably also making my temperature fluctuate.

Stopped in Bellingham for coffee and a snack, taking 20 minutes to sit and relax a bit.  Got gas, then went through Bellingham city streets to the north end of Chuckanut Drive; the highway to Fairhaven would have been a quicker route, but I wasn’t sure of where to go to get there.

I intended to stop for gas in Burlinton/Mt. Vernon, but missed the exit, so I ended up going all the way to Smokey Point, where I also had a hamburger at Five Guys; again, a 20-minute sit-down break.  After dinner, even though it had gotten a little warmer as I got away from the Sound, I added a leather vest under my coat, since the sun was down now.

Stopped again for gas at Northgate.  Stupid pump design would only give me one gallon (my tank holds 1.5+ gallons).  I’m concerned that my gas mileage — it dropped a lot in April/May/June and prompted the maintenance session at the scooter place — had popped back up but now seems to have dropped back down to right at 60 mpg.  I’ll have to monitor this, but there may be more work needing to be done.  Or it may just be an aging scooter thing.

Stopped in at the Cuff for a beer before heading fully home.  Got to the Cuff at about 10:15, so 4.5 hours since I left Vancouver.  If I hadn’t had the length of the two stops and the city streets jaunt in Bellingham, it would have been right around 4 hours, or about 45 minutes longer than the trip would have been in the car.  That’s reasonable for the scooter, I think.


Monday at work, I had a massive leg cramp that lasted a good 15 minutes and almost had me crying.  I’ve also had sore feet and calves for several days.  I think the latter are from all the walking on Sunday, in the rubber sandals (with no arch support), but the former may be from the long riding.  I’ll have to watch for that.  (A couple weeks later, no further instances of the cramp.)

This coming weekend, Rain Country is again supporting the Alder Street Hoedown in Portland.  I wanted to ride down for Portland Pride and for the mid-July ASH dance, but the scooter was in the shop.  I’m right now not going to the August 21 dance, so this ride will be it.  Weather looks possibly rainy in Seattle but sunny in Portland for the weekend, so we’ll see.

This will be my first long ride to Portland.  Portland is about 170 miles, a bit longer than Vancouver at 150, but with no border crossing, it should be about the same trip length on the scooter, 4 hours.  I have to study my route and find the right roads to take to bypass the plateau for Olympia, and plot out my gas stops, but it shouldn’t be too hard.  Looking forward to it!— Stay tuned for a trip report.