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Wish you were
here!

Wish you were
here!

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An incredibly moving skating program and a performance by the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus remind our PlanetOut correspondent what the Gay Games are for: To build pride and community. "This is a truly special event."

Thursday, July 20

We are past the midway point for the 2006 Gay Games in Chicago. The weather remains warm and humid. Last night, thunderstorms blew open the back door on my apartment and sent my dog running into my lap. Today, I woke up to clouds.

This has been an emotional week. I've never spent this much time away from my partner, Oscar, and yesterday only made me miss him more.

First, I went over to check out the figure skating competition--another one that's hugely popular at the games. The McFetridge Sports Center was packed end-to-end with spectators, and the athletes didn't disappoint. I met a few skaters, and one in particular stuck out: a 42-year old man named Michael Madlener. Michael was from Albuquerque, N.M. Who knew they even had ice rinks in New Mexico?

Michael was skating in a few different events--he even won a gold medal in one. But it was his performance in honor of his recently deceased father that had everyone talking. Michael skated his technical program to Josh Groban's "You Raise Me Up." Suffice it to say there wasn't a dry eye in the entire arena. Michael told me that, after his brother suffered an injury, his father forbid them to skate. Michael decided to start skating again only nine years ago. He and his partner of seven years both skate whenever they can. His family and friends were in attendance, and, Michael said, that only added to the moment.

After getting lost on the streets of Chicago for an hour, I made my way over to the band shell at Millennium Park to watch the choral concert put on by the Gay Games. The San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus sent a small group to the event, and they were amazing. They did a rendition of "It's Raining Men" that was to die for. Then a mass ensemble performed to conclude the evening.

I mentioned that I missed my partner, and that Wednesday was an emotional day for me. I can't really explain it, but seeing everyone at the band shell for this show really did something to me. The couples, the friends, the families all gathered for a night in the park to listen to beautiful music. It stirred up something in me I haven't felt since coming out seven years ago.

Maybe it was pride, or a feeling of acceptance--even to myself--that I have never felt before. I couldn't help crying while seeing the crowd and listening to the music. They were tears of joy, for sure, but also some longing for the companionship with my partner that I have become so used to over our five years together.

I wish you could all be here. This truly is a special event. Even with its shortcomings (of which there are plenty), this is really something that should be embraced by the gay community as a whole. The majority of these athletes aren't the athletes in the sense that we're used to from ESPN, but they are athletes in that they've got a competitive spirit. It's this same spirit and drive that will ultimately bring the LGBT community to the place in the social landscape we all hope to reach.

Wednesday, July 19

I have bitched and moaned about the weather so much that I thought I would tell you it's a little better. Things finally cooled down a little bit after some big thunderstorms rolled through Monday night. Temperatures are in the high 80s, with comfy sleeping weather.

Another day, another event at Northwestern University. It really is a fabulous campus. Yesterday I went to the physique competition. All I can say is: Simply amazing!

OK: During my 12 years in radio, I've worked in "morning drive" quite a bit--and I have to admit that I've made fun of old people. I may never make that mistake again. The biggest thing I learned from this event is that life certainly doesn't end at 50, 60 or even 70.

You would assume correctly that the younger competitors have ridiculously gorgeous bodies. These are the ones that look carved out of pure granite. That's all fine and good, but to see some of the guys in their 60s posing--their amazing muscle tone and definition was truly a treat. The huge crowd was hooting and hollering the entire time.

I spoke briefly with photographer Tom Bianchi after the Masters group (50 and older), and the first thing I did was apologize to him for every "old" joke I've ever made. Tom's images of the male physique--in particular, the gay male physique--have been seen around the world for years.

Well, now he can add his own physique to this collection. I stood next to this man, who was two weeks away from his 61st birthday, and his body looked phenomenal! And I made sure to tell him so over and over again.

The older women also looked spectacular. I think of my mother, who was likely to be found sitting in the kitchen watching "General Hospital" when I came home from school (and I was likely to sit down and watch with her). Then I see these women, old enough to be my mother, on stage with bulging biceps and a six-pack. It is really something to be admired.

I never had any interest the physique competition before, but I have to say, I would go again. You really have to appreciate the kind of effort and education it takes to make your boys look this good.

Later today, I'm checking out figure skating. I can hardly wait. Johnny Weir is my obsession, but I'm sure I will find something to take my mind off him here in Chicago. I've been a fan of figure skating for quite some time now.

This evening I'm headed for the Gay Games Chorus event in Millennium Park. This is the first outdoor event I've had the chance to cover, and I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, July 18

For the second straight day, my travels took me to the gorgeous campus of Northwestern University about 30 minutes north of Chicago. I went there to check out the diving competition. As you could imagine, they didn't have any trouble filling up this venue. Give a little flesh on some boys with swimmers' builds, and you're set to go.

I have been critical of certain aspects of these Games, but I have to say the people at this site, for this event really had their act together. They were able to get me close to the action and made athletes available to me after they had competed.

I spoke with one young man named Noah. He seemed to be the heartthrob of this entire competition. He was a student at a college that will remain nameless. Noah wanted it that way because he didn't know if competing in the Games could jeopardize his eligibility at school.

It was Noah's first Gay Games, and he said he'd love to do it again. He tried far and away, the hardest dives of the competition--and was rewarded for his efforts: He finished first in a couple of different categories.

As amazing as Noah was, I was also impressed with the slightly older competitors. If you make one slight miscalculation in diving, you can break your neck. But that didn't matter to some of the competitors in the older age bracket. They were outstanding--and the crowd gave them big-time cheers for their efforts.

What's amazed me most in every competition I've watched is the friendships that seem to be forming among these competitors from all over the globe. These are ties likely to last a lifetime. Years from now, they'll remember competing in these Games.

Today I get to cover two things I admittedly know little about: synchronized swimming and physique--neither of which I have, or can do.

I want to try and find out what makes synchronized swimming so popular in the LGBT community. I'm a gay man, and never really got into it. Then again, I'm just one guy.

I am anxious to see the physique competition too. There should be big crowds for that event. I am being granted some special backstage access at this venue and hope to have some interesting pictures for you as well [You can see Jason's photos at PlanetOut.com. --Ed.].

Monday, July 17

Day 2 at the Gay Games was exhausting--lots of driving from site to site, as the Games are spread out over a wide area in and around Chicago. I've already learned the city streets quite well. Yesterday, I ogled some powerlifting, then made my way into Boystown for the first time since the Games began.

Powerlifting took place on the campus of Northwestern University (about 30 minutes north of Chicago), and they had some really big boys. These guys were strong, so I kept my jokes to a minimum. They could have squashed me like a grapefruit. Chris Morgan was outstanding. He grabbed four gold medals.

I also caught a guy by the name of Ellis Turner. His story was interesting. With his partner watching in the stands, Ellis dead-lifted 600.75 pounds -- just looking at that much weight made my back ache. It was his first competition in four years. He told me he had been struggling with injuries over the past several years. He took the top spots in his weight class for both the dead-lift and the bench press. Way to go!

All these in-shape guys are giving me a huge complex. I played a lot of sports in high school: I was a baseball star, and excelled in basketball, tennis, golf. These days, it's bowling (hoping even to bowl a few pro events in the fall or early 2007). But I've let myself go a little, and that has me feeling a little down on myself. Maybe coming to Chicago will give me the motivation I need to make some improvements.

After powerlifting, I made my way back to the city. I took a trip down Halstead Street and found parking on the street right in the middle of Boystown. That's a minor miracle considering how packed the street was with Ls, Gs, Bs andTs.

I stood at the corner of Halstead and Roscoe, across from the famed Roscoe's Tavern. I had more fun outside than I could have ever had within. The "scenery" was fantastic. It was a "take your pick" sort of night: Guys from every country, every color and every background filled the street. Of course, I looked like a geek standing there with a microphone in my hand, talking to strangers in hopes of grabbing an interview.

Then, there was the tripping. It seems the street corners in Chicago aren't really corners. They're rounded, so the actual sidewalk starts a few feet after you think it does. I wish I had a camera to chronicle the 20-plus people who wiped out on the sidewalk, all of whom glanced around afterward like they had just splattered on the Emmy red carpet in front of Joan Rivers and millions of viewers. Priceless.

The disappointment with the opening ceremonies was obvious. Everyone I talked to seemed to think they were too political, and many wish Margaret Cho had been on the stage for more than five minutes. So far, these Games seem to be getting a C+ grade from the athletes.

The bars last night were impossible: lines snaking around the corner, and getting in was a sport in itself. Guys would wait forever, then walk out 30 minutes after finally getting in, complaining it was too hot and crowded.

Walking into Boystown, I passed by a group of 10 from San Diego in a restaurant -- all of them sipping away at their drinks and talking happily about their athletic accomplishments. When I stopped in on the way back, they were still drinking, but their smiles had evaporated. Their food took forever, and they vented that on me. But then they asked me to share a drink and the rest of the evening with them -- and one fellow in particular made it very clear he wanted to sleep with me.

That four in two days for those keeping score -- not a bad percentage. The guys all seemed to be tennis players, and they invited me to watch them in the coming days. I hope I have time. Tomorrow I'm already booked up spectating wrestling and diving (and I won't miss those even for a hot tennis player). Then, perhaps, I will make it back to Boystown, this time without my microphone.

By the way, boys, it's a microphone, not a dildo.

Sunday, July 16, afternoon

Sunday afternoon in Chicago--it's 98 degrees, and the skin may very well be melting off my bones.

Saturday was just as hot: 96 degrees and disgustingly humid. The only plus was the shirtless guys everywhere. The Windy City hasn't been this gay since--well, it's never been this gay.

A little bit about yesterday.

I attended an event run by Peter LaBarbera and his ultra-conservative Illinois Family Institute. Charming people, I must say. They brought a bunch of "former homosexuals" to educate me and the rest of the gay world on how to become straight. "Find Jesus," they say. I plan on taking their advice, well, maybe just screaming His name after I get it on with one of the cute athletes from Thailand.

But I digress. I notice when they cameras are shut off and the microphones disappear, a lot of the right-wing nuts become a little softer spoken, and they seem to let their guard down a bit. It was the first time I have attended one of their press conferences. How much of what we see from them is a big act? Just pawns moving around in the political game.

Saturday, July 15

Opening ceremonies were fantastic. But I gotta say, the people running this thing from site to site were a bit clueless.

For instance, this afternoon I find the Chicago Hilton swarming with LGBTs from all over the country. I approach a hot guy and--just my luck--he can't even speak my language. He nods politely when I ask him for directions, but says little else.

Then I finally find the media room and it's empty. Everyone has gone to Soldier Field for opening ceremonies. So I wait. And wait. And wait. Finally I get some attention, and my credentials to cover the Games for Sirius OutQ radio and PlanetOut, and my own trip to Soldier Field can begin.

After paying 30 dollars for three hours of parking, I hop in my car and head to the field, where I have to spend another 35 dollars for parking. I get out of my rental and look around. Um ... where is Soldier Field? Turns out the stadium is still another mile away.

So I have the pleasure of lugging tons of radio equipment wearing dress pants and a polo -- trust me, not a pretty site. When I finally arrive, I'm locked down in a waiting area by some 18-year-old twink who's enjoying his first taste of power. I call my bosses with Sirius, and they make things happen. I get to the field and do my thang.

The Opening Ceremonies themselves were good but not great. Gay Games officials estimate 32,000 people showed up today, and it seemed that most of them hung around for the whole event. I have to say that if I weren't being paid to be here, I probably would have taken off a couple of hours into the four-hour marathon. How much Andy Bell can one stand?

Jody Watley made an appearance--for more people than she'll perform in front of for a whole year. I got to chat with my friend, former NFLer Esera Tuaolo.

I think it's OK to get political at an event like this, but some people crossed the line. Shrieking into the microphone isn't something that's all that pleasing to the ear.

A highlight was the athletes marching out onto the field. I'm originally from Connecticut, and I have to say I was mighty disappointed with the Nutmeg State. Only six people from Connecticut? Hell, Delaware had three times that number. (Is Delaware even a state?)

Oh, there was a streaker, too. That was cool. But even cooler was Games ambassdor Margaret Cho's response to him: "I was so glad I got to see the streaker up close. Sitting by the field, balls whizzing by my head, oh yes, this is the Gay Games." I wonder if he got arrested.

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