Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Trip Report: CLAW 2016

This was my second trip to CLAW — originally Cleveland Leather Awareness Weekend, now Cleveland Leather Annual Weekend (although I’ve heard at least one other expansion of the acronym as well).  For years, I had heard about what a great event it was, often in the same breath as Mid-Atlantic Leather, and thus figuring it was similar, Norm and I attended two years ago.

It had its good bits that year, but it wasn’t what I had expected and had projected to Norm.  We had stayed at the overflow hotel, which was a several minute shuttle ride from the main hotel.  It had a great vendor mart, and we went to a couple good workshops, but we found the evening scene to be a bust.  There was no “lobby bar” scene like at MAL or IML and we weren’t overly thrilled by our night at one of the bars, including dealing with smokers.  (And we had had travel annoyances both coming and going.)  Obviously something had been missed, but I didn’t come away from it feeling that it was an event I could recommend to my leather clan in Seattle.

This year, as an International Mr. Leather contestant, I found out at MAL how much everyone was looking forward to it and to being together as a class, so with a bit of “titleholder guilt” involved, I told the guys I would try to attend.  “It will be good for me,” I told myself.  “I’ll be more visible.  I’ll be able to bond with the rest of the class.”

When I got home, there was an advertising email from CLAW saying they were still looking for workshop presenters.  “Hey, this could be good.  I’ve done a number of workshops, so that could help encourage me, give me a center for the weekend, etc.  Deadline Sunday night… and I got the email on Monday.  Crap.”

But hey, the presenter submission form was still up.  Maybe… maybe they were just getting back from MAL as well.  Couldn’t hurt to try, so I pulled out my bio and workshop descriptions from when I taught at Northern Exposure (Anchorage) and International LeatherSIR (Dallas) and submitted.  And hour later: “Yes.”  Yowza!

This year, they had it at two hotels (about 1/4 mile apart, walkable if you needed to), and with events split between the two — workshops, playspaces, and meals at one, vendors and cocktail parties at the other — which ensured that neither was “just a hotel.”  And they’ve done something right — attendance was up 50% this year!

I taught two workshops — one on Play Parties, mirroring the one I taught for Seattle Men in Leather in January, and one on Fisting, like the one for FlaggersPDX in February.  The first was Friday at 10 am — ugh, that’s 7 am Seattle time, and it meant I had to come in on Thursday, with the extra day of vacation and such, but it’s nothing I haven’t dealt with before with teaching country dance workshops at the hoedowns — and the room was mostly full, a few seats empty, but first workshop of the weekend, that’s no surprise.  (And it was the very first one listed in the program, too!)  The workshop went without a hitch, ending right on time.  A few people gave me in-person compliments later on the weekend.

The best workshops do one of three things: they teach something better than anyone else (which isn’t really likely, let’s be honest), or they teach something no one else does (which was my target on the Play Parties workshop), or they teach something in a way no one else does (which is how I do my Fisting workshop — “You gotta get a gimmick," as the song says).

The fisting one was originally supposed be be 2 hours on Saturday, but got changed to 1.5 hours on Friday at some point.  As I was walking into the hotel, I got a frantic phone call: “Where are you?  We’ve got a room full of people waiting for you!”  Crap — I was on time, but I should have been there earlier because attendees of popular workshops learn that they need to arrive early or they won’t get in.  I got lulled into a sense of security from the morning workshop, but lesson learned for the future!  (And at least 10–12 did get turned away, I’m told.  Sorry guys!)  Because of the reduced time, I didn’t get to do a demo, but I did get to cover all the content I had planned (and I considered that more valuable, although it would have been good to show of some of what I had spoken of).  If we had done a demo partway through as I half-planned to do, I would have gotten lost in Don’s butt, I’m sure.  (It’s an awfully nice one, you know.)  But it’s an idea for next year: if they want to schedule the workshop in a larger room, I can do a fisting workshop for twice as many people and not violate any nudity and sex regulations.  (What, a fisting workshop with no fisting?)  All weekend long, guys were complimenting me on it, including one who told me in the play spaces on Saturday night that it was the best workshop he had ever attended.  (Blush)

I’m not sure just how many from the IML class were there — I countered 30 in the contestant round table on Saturday morning, and there were at least 4–5 who didn’t get to that for various reasons.  (We had 25 at MAL, both were record numbers.)  As I write this on Sunday May 1, we don’t know the exact registration number as the deadline to submit an IML application is today, but we are expecting around 60 total.  (60 is the total, we now have confirmed.)  As anticipated, it was a great time to bond with brothers.  Dave hosted our second naked group pic (again with Aurora).  Just about all of us were volunteers or vendors during the weekend — I think I was the only presenter, but Dave and Mark were workshop assistants, Rob sang and hosted the cigar party (not at the same time!), Russell hosted the pool party, Jeremy worked in the vendor mart, a bunch of them strutted their stuff for Strip Bingo, others hosted various other events at the hotels and the bars, and I don’t know who all else did what.  I got to have dinner with Mike from Texas and Harry from San Francisco, and brunch with Jay from Ottawa, and shared a cupcake with Mike and Russell from Minneapolis.  Really, you couldn’t go 25 feet without tripping over someone from the class!  Or the “sash wives” — Randy, Chuck, Jeff, Tim, and I’m forgetting a few and didn’t meet others.

It was, of course, also a weekend of (re)connecting with friends.  I shared a room with Lucky from Portland.  Doug and Will and Ken from the Seattle are were there, and Josh and Dan, Pounder and Ryan, and Scott from Portland.  Had Thursday dinner with Mario, Mark, and Bill from San Francisco — I’ve known Mario for nearly 25 years.  Jey from Montréal, in our “Men of IMsL” shirts.  Mark and Stephen from Southern California.  LE, Aurora, Bud and Randy, Tim, Bamm Bamm and Ryan, I don’t know who all else I’m not remembering right now.  Joe and JR from the Leather & Lions trip to South Africa.  And new friends like Brian, Daddy Rick, George and Anna, Hope, Nathan, Josh, Tim, and more.

One thing I found curious was that I was apparently in “top” mode.  Not that I didn’t want to play both sides of the sling, but all my play this weekend was top only.  Is that because of being “on” as an IML contestant (must put on the best show!)?  Maybe.  Could also be because teaching workshops puts me in that zone as well — that was the case in both Anchorage and Dallas, as I think of it.  Oh well, the next two weekends will balance that out!  (grin)

CLAW has a decent sized vendor mart — a little bigger than IMsL, smaller than MAL.  Even with my packed-full leather closet at home, I can always find something I “need”.  This year, that was a new harness from Barking Leather (which might end up on stage at IML) and I wanted a new pair of pants for Formals at IML, which I thought would not happen with Tarsus moving to Palm Springs, but George and Anna at Northbound assured me that they could do them for me.  Their off-the-rack ones fit me almost perfectly, and with a bit of taper on the legs and color changes of some the parts, they will be darn close to what I was after in the first place.

CLAW also has a nice silent auction.  I didn’t realize that each day’s stuff was separate, so I may have missed out on some great options on Friday and maybe Saturday.  (Darn, would have liked that lava lamp!)  But on Sunday, I came away with two fisting DVDs, a Rubber Pride flag (that is, a flag of the rubber pride design, not one made of rubber), and two passes to FistFest in Georgia in October, which I will hope to use to get more guys from Seattle to travel and attend.

There was even a bit of “lobby bar” at the Holiday Inn this time (way more than two years ago at the old hotel).  Next year, CLAW will be at a single hotel, the Westin downtown, and I expect great things and and even more congealed event.  In all, a great weekend — obviously way better than last time! — and I will undoubtedly be back.

(There was one downside to the weekend.  Someone hit my rental car in the parking lot, hit and run with no note.  I’ll undoubtedly be on the hook for a couple thousand dollars in repairs on that as result, but I won’t find the details out for a couple weeks — which the cynic in me says allows them to collect more rental fees by it being out of service by dawdling, but I can likely fight some of that.)

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