When he was president, Franklin Roosevelt liked to escape to Warm Springs, Ga., for a respite. It was the place where he learned, not really to walk again, but rather how to live and navigate his disability from polio. Because of Roosevelt's visits, Warm Springs became, and still is, a vacation destination.
Harry Truman was famous for his southern jaunts to Key West, Fla., and as a result, Key West gained additional notoriety from its days as Ernest Hemingway’s haunt. Truman’s Little White House is a tourist must-see in Key West, nestled on Front Street, just a stone’s throw away from the many bars, restaurants, and gay nightlife that make Key West an LGBTQ+ destination.
Similarly, John F. Kennedy and his famous siblings getaways to the Kennedy compound put Hyannis Port, Mass., on the map, as did George H.W. Bush and the Bush family’s summer estate at Walkers Point in Kennebunkport, Maine. From a distance, cars line-up outside the former presidents’ acreages and snap pictures of their iconic homes that face the Atlantic Ocean.
Now comes another president’s seasonal home that faces the Atlantic, farther south from the Kennedy and Bush mansions, and less ostentatious than their sprawling manors. President-elect Joe Biden’s getaway home is at Rehoboth Beach in his home state of Delaware. Soon, tourists will begin to take notice, and once the pandemic stops, hopefully start visiting this lovely resort town that also is a thriving queer mecca.
Rehoboth has a special place in my heart, because during my formative years, just out of college, and new to Washington, D.C., the beach town served as my safe harbor, and was also my secret destination during many summers, where I would go explore the gay bars, albeit not always — or ever — in a sober state.
During my six years on Capitol Hill, I had shares in straight beach houses in Dewey Beach, Del.,which is about a mile and a half south from Rehoboth. Dewey is the secret wild-spot beach town on the East Coast that is not always mentioned in the same breath as other party havens like Ocean City, Md., Stone Harbor, N.J., or Myrtle Beach, S.C. If you have ever been to Dewey, you know of its zaniness, and if I had a nickel for every beer I consumed at Dewey, I would have my own estate on the Eastern Seaboard.
Dewey Beach they say is where you would meet your wife, and Rehoboth, just down the way, is where you and your wife and family would end up vacationing. Obviously, I never had any intention of meeting my wife in Dewey, but I had dreams of meeting my man in Rehoboth, and us buying a place there just like the Bidens. Fortunately, dreams don’t always come true, so I never met Mr. Right in Rehoboth, but I met my slew of guys there, and the circumstances around those dalliances, and clandestine visits to Rehoboth were always less than admirable.
You see, during the day and early evening hours, I was Mr. Dewey Beach — literally, and we’ll get to that in a minute; however, when darkness settled, and when I became drunk enough to throw caution to the wind, I would sneak away from my friends in Dewey, escaping to the Rusty Rudder, Bottle & Cork, or the Starboard, and hop on what’s called the Jolly Trolley which is the main form of travel between Dewey and Rehoboth.
Once on the trolley with similarly drunk young people, all of them straight, I would delight the riders and the drivers with my renditions of famous TV show theme songs. I knew them all, so during that approximately 15-minute ride, I would dare someone to stump me. No one ever did, and as the trolley made a sharp left hand turn once we arrived in the Rehoboth providence, and while the riders had their eyes shut with laughter, I would magically slip off, disappearing into the darkness of the night, and reappearing at several of the gay bars in downtown Rehoboth, most prominently the Blue Moon or the Frog Pond.
I was not always welcomed with open arms, and now I understand why there was so much trepidation when I walked in the doors of Rehoboth gay bars. Nobody really likes dealing with a drunk guy. But there was a reason for my inebriation, and that was the tremendous trepidation I felt during that time, and at that age. I was deathly afraid to walk into a gay bar, or be seen near one, lest someone think I was actually gay. Getting blind ass drunk melted away all that apprehension.
There are way too many stories to recount here about how my behavior in Rehoboth turned into lost nights, myriad hook-ups, and embarrassing situations. Once when I suppose the trolley wouldn’t do it for me, I grabbed a housemate’s bike, and in between dozens of falls, finally made it to Rehoboth and threw the bike into the bushes outside of the town library. The next morning, I woke up in the parking lot of Cape Henlopen State Park (Biden’s home is just outside of that parking lot) cuddling with the bike, and a half-eaten Big Mac as my pillow. I had a horrific ride home, and a tough time explaining to my housemates where I was, and why ketchup was pasted all over my hair.
Then there was the time I won a Mr. Dewey Beach contest. Trust me, it wasn’t for my muscular physique or dashing good looks, but rather the honor earned from being a fierce partier with a big mouth. Again, that night, I took a celebratory ride to Rehoboth on the Jolly Trolley with my sash. I thought that sash would be man bait once I arrived at the Blue Moon. When I walked in, two guys looked at me, and without missing a beat, one of them asked me, “Who did you steal that from?”
All of the wild debauchery aside, Rehoboth stole my heart, and as I got older it became a place where friends had their weddings, the favorite vacation place of my aunt and god-mom and her partner, and where I spent a wonderful Christmas with my partner, complete with dinner and dancing at the Blue Moon. That night, I brought Mr. Right to the Blue Moon, rather than leaving with one. I guess the silver lining with my excessive drinking is that it prevented me from finding someone else, allowing me the time to meet Justin.
When I go to Rehoboth now, I always recall those wild days and my attempt to have it both ways with my sexuality. Rehoboth is almost like a cornerstone in my life as a proud gay man, where I came to gradually become more comfortable being outwardly and openly gay, and to be happy about it.
Now when I visit, I take long runs, first through Poodle Beach, the gay gathering place on Rehoboth’s shore and ogle all the hot guys, then I jump up on Rehoboth’s stunning mile-long boardwalk passing Grotto’s Pizza where I famously sang Frank Sinatra classics for their grand opening.
Then, I angle off the boardwalk, and scamper down the long road that runs parallel to the beach and where Joe Biden’s house sits, and run — not bike and pass out — into Cape Henlopen Park. During those runs, I also skirt by the infamous library bushes, the McDonald’s where I would go if I left the Blue Moon rejected and empty-handed, and the pink Boardwalk Plaza Hotel where I shared a secret romance with my best friend’s brother.
I’m so happy that someone I love, like Joe Biden, has found a home in Rehoboth. The last time someone this prominent showed up in Rehoboth it was Mr. Dewey Beach — so I’m told. Having President Biden as a resident will do wonders for that community.
Over the weekend, I noticed that he and Jill took a bike ride through the Cape Henlopen parking lot. Perhaps, the next time, he might keep an eye out for a set of keys? I left them there on that infamous night along with a Big Mac wrapper. Joe, if you find those keys, let me know since I likely won't be sleeping there ever again.
John Casey is editor at large of The Advocate.