For all its glitz and carefree attitude, Las Vegas is seriously lacking in gay culture. There's a string of businesses near the intersection of Paradise and Harmon that I've driven past, but aside from them, I suppose that the female impersonator revues are as overt as it gets. I'm not sure why I care about a city having gay culture; maybe I'm slightly influenced by that book How the Homosexuals Saved Civilization, where the author probes the phenomenon in which the mainstream keeps stealing and incorporating gay influences, leaving the homosexual community to constantly innovate. Even in Las Vegas, the absence of such a vibrant culture makes the city as a whole appear stagnant.
By comparison, the Western cities I've seen recently have had predominantly gay communities worth visiting. San Diego has Hillcrest. Los Angeles has West Hollywood. Seattle has Capitol Hill. And until now, I thought San Francisco had all of San Francisco: great gay-influenced or gay-owned stores, restaurants, buildings, pet groomers, and performance venues everywhere, with a primary concentration in the Castro district.
My mistake. San Francisco is no different from those other cities, at least now. For the first several days, all I saw that indicated the city was even gay-friendly were a few scattered rainbow flags. No same-sex pedestrians holding hands. No gay agenda billboards. Not even a Queer Eye action figure set at Urban Outfitters! (Did that sound gay?) To tell the truth, I was somewhat disappointed.
I felt strangely relieved when I finally saw the Castro district, but it was smaller than I'd imagined. Back in my salad days, when I listened to Green by R.E.M., I learned about the San Francisco of the past in books by the late author Randy Shilts: The Mayor of Castro Street, And the Band Played On, and Conduct Unbecoming. While I wasn't expecting the return of bathhouses, I thought I might find some relic of old times long gone.
What I saw was pretty typical: trendy stores, trendy restaurants, trendy bars. My sister pointed out that even the names of the places were no longer unique: once the mainstream had co-opted snazzy names like "Curl Up and Dye," the local salons adopted boring names like "Every Six Weeks." Now I can't tell which is the bigger gay landmark: the giant rainbow flag at the corner of Castro and Market, or the giant Diesel store next to it.
So that night I bought 2 bottles of Finlandia and poured them on the street, in honor of the creative gay people who've moved on to other cities.