Monday, April 14, 2008

A Little Short: By Jimmy Petrol

On the most pleasant little street in Tucson, at the Rainbow Planet Coffee Shop, things are a little slow. Of course, they are slow everywhere, now that the business cycle is on the downturn and the jingle of money in our pockets is copper, not gold.

So it goes, we say....the "best" places will survive the "downturn" and those that have less to offer, are less shiny and new, will fold. So true. And so wrong.

We tend to have short memories and lives too short to even know about life "before." Life before Gays could be "out" without getting beat up or harassed without recourse. We tend to either not know about places like Bakersfield or be too young to remember when Tucson was "closeted."

Bakersfield, for those who are too cultured to get off the freeway there, is the first town north of the L.A. the start of the long, narrow inland sea of vegetables, cattle and oil. It is now a place more than a million strong, almost all suburban. It is a place where otherwise intelligent seeming people quote Rush Limbaugh and blame the cows for pollution.

It probably shouldn't be a surprise that the area is not supportive of "out" establishments. I might not shock you to find that there are no Gay establishments of any sort. What might surprise you is how that happened.

When the economy is all milk and honey, the People of the Tiny Brain relax and adopt a laissez-faire attitude towards our "vice." This is entirely due to the fact that when the Tiny Brained People have lots of money, they can afford a little "vice" all their own, so they are less jealous of the rest of us. But now things are bad. Money has run away from all the good little conservatives and liberals alike....and life is dull and gray for the People of the Tiny Brain. They fret. They fidget and begin to rant about sex in all its ugly, natural forms....they cannot get it for money and don't want it for love, so they are without it and they are mad.

In the last part of the last century, Bakersfield had a bunch of Gay bars. Lots of folks "out" lots of nights....there was a place to “be.” Enter the Tiny Brained Police Force. Imagine sitting in your favorite, safe little Gay bar. All is well; the mood is quiet and festive, the clink of glasses and the gentle buzz of the cognoscenti all a calming balm for jangled nerves. The door opens, and in comes a Blue Suit. Then another. Then a lady cop, all tough and business, and more.....a silent, serious, malevolent troop files silently into the bar....soon all the aisles are filled with them...they are thirty strong and impressive. They say nothing, only stopping at each of us to stare into our eyes, to send the message.

They are there because it is a Gay bar and they are going to close it. Not all at once. No. We sit there, glad we are not wanted, and wait. A few are chosen, escorted they are chosen is a mystery...but they either go to jail or go home when the cops are done with them. That is the message; we will get you if we can.

The Bakersfield Police Department always had a “call” about “loud” or suspicious behavior. They always sent the dozen cars and thirty officers because they were being cautious. Of course. But the upshot is that they closed ‘em. All of them.....they are all gone. The thing that is not so easy to close is the “legit” business, the little Gay coffee shop, the little Gay bistro.

For places like The Planet, to exist is to stand on the front line against the People of the Tiny Brain when they are not rich enough to amuse themselves otherwise. When the Blue Suits get sent to close the Gay bars, they might be able to do it; they did it in Bakersfield. But when they go to close The Planet, it will have to be with a different strategy. It is the "non-vice" establishments like these that really dignify the Gay community; they are unassailable in their innocence.

A community that forgets how easily and efficiently Gays can be driven underground needs to be reminded, go on over to Bakersfield. But I can't come. I'm going to sit over at the planet, on the sidewalk out front, while I can, while it stands.

(Jimmy Petrol can be reached at

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