If I made movies instead of writing stories and novels, this little slice of middle-class gay life might be just the thing for a turn on the silver screen. Because what do people love more than road trips, wild animals, and the quest for sex and sun? Um, well … scratch that. People like plenty of things more than that. But single gay men with useless Italian roadsters might relate! And some otters might dig it. And some Miami sex workers. Maybe …
One snowy January day not too many years ago, I stooped into my restored Pininfarina Spider. What’s the point of owning a totally impractical little roadster if you never drive it from Detroit to Key West?
Ah, you are quite right. No point at all! I swear it seemed like a good idea.
Really it did. Drive my feather-weight little puff-of-nothing with an aluminum engine thousands of miles through ice and snow, over mountains, and into that subtropical Shangri La of gay fable, that land of endlessly flowing cocktails and cheesy piano bars.
Why? So I could put the top down and impress the boys.
I set out well before sunrise. Ohio and Kentucky kick my ass. I‘m not driving, I’m sliding, hydroplaning over slick highway like a penguin on a glacier.
To reassure myself, I rub my bottle of Coppertone SPF 50 as if praying to the gods of surf, sand, and flat gay abs.
Finally, Tennessee, and the roads are clear. I think about putting the top down, but maybe later. Lunch? Sure, next greasy spoon I spot. No fast food for this fabulous fairy.
I’m high in the mountains now, winding slowly and peering over guardrails into vast abysses. Lots of overlooks with benches. There’s one up ahead. Crowded.
Let’s take pictures!
I pull in and step out, glad to uncreak my legs. Ahhhh, didn’t realize how stiff I was.
How come everyone is staring across the road and into the woods instead of taking in the vista? Dunno, but I grab my camera and cross the road to find out. Why is everyone shouting at me? Don’t care. Fuck em.
Then I see him, backing down off a tree to snuffle and roll in the grass.
I have to have to capture this on film! Seriously, when do you EVER see a bear cub this cute in the wild? But as I raise my camera, what do I hear but a crashing and a roaring from deep within the forest. Coming closer!
I do not run.
I levitate, nay, teleport back to my highly polished little ride, and then I do some roaring of my own, right down the mountain and on into Alabama.
Was the mama bear really charging, you ask? I don’t know, the tale grows taller in the telling. Let’s just assume she was, shall we?
Then to sleep. Who remembers where. Some crusty Motel 6, most likely, with soggy bags of boiled peanuts for sale in the lobby.
Alabama and Georgia kick my ass. Nothing to see except boring red clay and then horrible traffic in Atlanta. Two hour delay in the smog.
On to Florida!
Now I’ve got the top down and Coppertone coats my nose. Summer! Glorious sun. Orange groves. Traffic. Oh, my god, the construction. It takes me all day to drive down as far as Naples.
Can’t I at least have some fantasy about a strapping Latino baseball wannabe and his randy coach?
I’m as bored as you must be by now. And yes, I can hear your impatient questions.
Where are the damn alligators, manatees, and sex motels?
Yes, I know I implied such marvels, and fear not, oh feckless reader, for we have arrived.
I turn left to wend my way through the Everglades toward Miami. What a desolate stretch of road! Beautiful but utterly deserted, just an asphalt ribbon with drainage ditch and swamp on both sides.
I pull into a little rest area and notice a sign.
Walk this way for the nature trail!
I trod along planked boardwalk for about a mile into the depths of the glades. Fresh 2x4s, handrails. It’s louder than I would have expected. Screaming and squawking, and God only knows what else. The sun is hot and the air smells thick and green, with a side of decay.
I reach the end. Now I can see into the water, into a little pool with muddy banks. Basking on those banks are primordial monsters, scales gleaming in the sun, all colors of the rainbow. Did you know that alligators are beautiful like that?
And what’s that in the water, circling and circling? Two manatees, calm, lazy, and graceful. Sea cows. They even look like cows. An otter darts about, diving and emerging with shellfish in his mouth.
I’m not even going to attempt photos here. This picture is one of the most perfect moments of my life. I’m so fortunate to witness this. I stand and stare for an hour or more.
I watch the otter laugh as an alligator lurks. The otter knows that gator stands no chance. He frolics and fishes with abandon.
I tear myself away as the sun begins to swell on the horizon.
Key West awaits. To hell with nature. It’s men I seek. But not tonight. Tonight I must sleep. I’m deep in Miami somewhere. I pass several motels that don’t look quite inhabitable. I keep driving, nervous.
Finally, I promise myself I will stop at the very next one I see. I do. Hm, doesn’t look bad. The parking garage is fancy. The lobby is opulant, which doesn’t match the cheap price I saw posted on the sign.
Red seems the primary color of choice. Deep red. Valentine red. Oh, my.
A maid leads me to my room.
Yeah, a maid in fishnet stockings and a bodice that leaves nothing to the imagination. My bed is in the shape of a heart. Satin sheets. Mirrored ceiling.
She hands me a … what? Menu, I think. Yeah, no.
The menu has pictures of girls on it.
Available girls. I’m in a brothel! I frantically page through the offerings. Sigh. As I suspected. A totally heterosexual brothel.
I tip the maid and she leaves, looking a bit confused. I might as well sleep. I’ve paid for the room.
Flip on the TV. Double sigh. Nothing but porn. Straight porn. I’m in Little Cuba for God’s sake. Can’t I at least have some fantasy about a strapping Latino baseball wannabe and his randy coach?
Oh, no. Not a chance.
But Key West awaits! White sand beaches brimming with bronzed beauties. I must suffer in order to attain paradise. All the best religions agree.
The next day finds me tooling down Highway One and across the Keys. Magnificent, if you’ve never done it. Spectacular. Stunning.
I’m now dressed in fashionable shorts and a nice silk shirt. The roadster has been freshly detailed and polished by a couple of hot Cubano lads in Miami — whom I grossly over tipped. I’m a sucker for a Spanish accent.
I pull onto Key West, finally, and breathe in hyacinth-scented air. Sublime. I find my guesthouse with a minimum of fuss. Right on the main drag. Right behind the Hemingway House. Divine. There’s even a pool.
I nap. Dinner is served at 8:00. Conch and key lime feature. I’m in heaven.
The waiter brings me my check. He’s pretty hot and he’s swishing enough to fan the sultry air with his hips.
“Tell me, hon,” I say. “What’s the best beach here for, you know, mixing with the boys?”
“Beaches, honey? Who told you we got beaches here? You want beaches, you gotta turn around and go back to Miami, baby.”
Yup, I lied. Sue me. There isn’t a single speedo-clad lad in this entire tale!
The Hemingway House was fun, though. Especially the seven-toed cats and their in-ground tavern urinal. Oh, that server? No idea what he looked like in a Speedo, but in sexy boxer-briefs sliding into bed, he looked mighty fine.
But that’s another story!
James Finn is a long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Act Up NYC, an essayist occasionally published in queer news outlets, and an “agented” novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to email@example.com.