In the midst of rugged mountains, track homes, and vast freeways hides a surprising counter culture. In Riverside, CA, weird rules. Odd balls gravitate to the suburban sprawl like guacamole to a tortilla chip.
Growing up in Riverside, the counter culture frequented Back 2 the Grind, a coffee shop. It had comfy couches, art, and a dizzying array of books. Back 2 the Grind served as the perfect life alternative to my Catholic school conformity.
It’s where gay kids would hang out. They sipped lattes, listen to bands play, and form wanderlust of a world beyond rugged hills and orange groves. Conveniently, it was located next to a gay bar.
On any given night, disco lights would shine from the bar’s window onto the sidewalk. The Thompson Twins’ campy classic, “Lies” would seduce the gay eardrums. For a teenager (like yours truly), it was mesmerizing. A room full of sweaty, dancing gay guys, it was almost surreal, especially steaming from a conservative upbringing.
Curiosity blinded my senses. I declared, one day, I’d like to visit a gay bar. There were the obvious allures of sex and friendship, but also experiencing a life altering liberation.
After experiencing my first gay bar, it was exciting. Then, I quickly grew out of loud, sweaty bars. I found more liberation in myself rather than an institution.
Living in New York, I preferred cozy dives, where the bartenders knew my favorite drinks and life biography. I also couldn’t stay up super late, anymore. Taking the subway at 3 A.M. seemed as appealing as being chased by ferocious bulls in Pamplona.
Mirroring my Riverside upbringing, I preferred the warmth of a New York coffee house. I adored reading my books and writing on any given Saturday night. One night, I took a time machine ride back to my youth, thanks to a night out in Hell’s Kitchen (New York’s big gayborhood).
Thanks to a few whiskies, I was lured into one of those loud bars with a sizable dance floor. While the room was spinning, loud pop music threatened my eardrums. Oy, I think I am too old for this. Indeed, I was. My bladder agreed with me. I spent most of the night, peeing, which gave me practice in social skills. There was always a bathroom line.
When I wasn’t in line, I tried dancing with friends. Since, I am a wallflower, dancing didn’t come as easy. Then, I spotted a guy. Our eyes locked. He was dressed in a preppy manner, with wavy blond hair and blue eyes. Instantly, he grabbed and kissed me.
I was shocked, but secretly enjoyed it. Does this make me a male cougar? He seems a few years younger, I noted to myself. Instead, I giggled and declared, “why yes, I still have it going on.” He brought out the tiger in me, but it was only a kiss.
Fearing a burst of misery on the late night subway, I took a cab home. Happily, I noted my night out as a life experience.
The next day, I sipped on coffee, listened to an indie band, and enjoyed tacos with my neighbor. I realized that I am still a mellow, Riverside boy. Although, getting kissed by that cute guy will remain a most wonderful memory.