Gustav Blows Off Southern Decadence

September 15, 2008

My usual tip for friends visiting New Orleans is: Never drink anything named after a natural disaster. Now I would add this friendly bit of advice: The best way to encounter a hurricane … is from a distance.

Evading Hurricane Gustav by a day, the husbear and I arrived back home late Sunday afternoon on Labor Day weekend, returning early from our holiday trip to New Orleans for Southern Decadence 2008.

We were two of nearly two million people evacuated in the Gulf region, and two of several hundred daddies, bears, leathermen, and other homomasculine guys and hunters whose “decadent” plans were dramatically altered by the prospect of a hurricane directly hitting the city — not the kind of blowjob savored by the thousands of queer men partying on Bourbon Street over the long weekend.

Queer or not, NOLA residents and tourists alike were keenly aware that Southern Decadence was cancelled during Hurricane Katrina three years ago.

Major gay/bi men’s events scheduled during the weekend were interrupted, including Bear Decadence, a fundraiser hosted by the New Orleans Bear and Bear Trapper Social Club (NOBBTSC). Fortunately, the parties start Wednesday, and like us, dozens of other butch homos came early enough to enjoy a couple of decadent days before flying out by Sunday 6pm, when the airport would shut down.

We arrived in N’awlins Wednesday afternoon, staying at the charming Frenchmen Hotel, located on the eponymous street just outside the French Quarter. Normally we would stay at the Auld Sweet Olive, the gorgeous guesthouse owned by our pals Dale and Dave — I proposed to my husbear there five years ago — but they were booked for the event.

As the husbear lounged in the whirlpool at the Frenchmen, I hiked about ten blocks into the heart of the Quarter, to the historic Omni Royal Hotel, home to Decadence Ducks, an older gay/bi men’s travel group, led by the handsome Troy Richardson of Vermont.

I dropped off some book donations as raffle prizes, while a dozen men happily shuffled around tables assembling welcome packages for the Ducks. Troy said they’d had a few cancellations of the 350 bears and bear-trappers booked for the event, but right then it wasn’t bad enough to mar the event, he hoped.

We then hit our fav bar in the Quarter, Lafitte’s in Exile, for several delicious ultra-salty Bloody Marys, watching music videos, getting plenty of eye candy as hot older guys from both the Bears and Ducks groups sauntered in and got friendly.

At the Thursday night opening party for Bear Decadence at the Rawhide, we saw Danny, founder of NOBBTSC, bare-chested in all his royal macho hairy daddyness, proudly wearing a sash, sceptre, and crown on his last day as Mr Decadence 2007.

Danny’s a pal who’s part of a long-term triad — or quad, as it turned out! Danny introduced me to their fourth partner, and we chatted about their unique dynamics of male triads and quads among domestic queer relationships.

Back in the hotel lobby, cable news was tracking Gustav and, as we watched the weather develop that day and the next, we realized we stepped into the path of a massive hurricane and needed to scram – especially when the mayor announced at a press conference Thursday, “Get your butts outta here!”

Friday morning, I rebooked us for a Sunday 1:10pm flight out, which still gave us two days to relax and enjoy Decadence before the airport shut down.

Friday night’s Leather Block Party hosted by Lords of Leather was held outside the infamous Phoenix/Eagle bar on North Rampart Street in the Marigny. Though it was way too swampy hot to wear much of anything, most guys donned some leather, rubber, uniform, or trashy bear duds, seeing old buddies from down the street and making new ones from everywhere else.

Guy, a sexy cigar-smoking leatherdaddy from Baton Rouge in chaps and a “Size Matters” t-shirt, informed us that the hot real on-duty cops prominently stationed outside the street party were all gay.

Saturday noon brought the delightful Bears & Bubbles champagne brunch, hosted by the bearclub at the Sweet Olive B&B. In the kitchen after brunch I dried glassware while catching up with Dale, laughing about our impending evacuation.

That night was the Sire Ursus contest, held at John Paul’s, a nightclub located across the boulevard from the Phoenix. The dinner buffet was served upstairs, where earlier that day Bear Films had shot a pornvid (yes, they cleaned up after shooting).

Returning from the contest was like walking through a ghost town. Way too early the next morning we left the hotel, the last guests out, on a surprisingly easy cab ride to the airport at 4am, just as the highway contraflow began.

Over the prior four days we’d seen plenty of sexy older butch men around the Quarter, but we weren’t prepared to find the airport liberally littered with bears, daddies, and other gay/bi/queer male tourists who enjoyed the first part of Decadence and were getting the hell outta Dodge.

Southwest did an incredible job packing us into one of several planes rereouted to grab as many evacuees as possible. Just on our flight to Tampa, there must have been two dozen gay/bi men snuggled together over ten rows, with unsurprising practicality, clustered companionably close to the middle emergency exit doors.

Back home, we were glad to enjoy perfect weather, watching the hurricane from a very safe distance. Cable news showed rainbow flags flapping outside Lafitte’s and the Bourbon Pub on an otherwise empty street, where a day before we were partying among throngs of revellers celebrating Summer’s last sweaty throb, and where a day later Gustav would hit.

Like the big bad wolf trying to blow down the pigs’ brick house, Gustav wimped out, and even though he blew off Decadence, he couldn’t knock it down completely. Still, it was quite a queer adventure in the Big Easy!

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