I stand on the subway platform in my boots and leather vest waiting in the heat for the next train headed west. Two hipster gays across the tracks stare and whisper something to each other as we all mutually check each other out. The train arrives shortly after with its roar and squeal and as I get on several heads turn look me and my gear up and down. It’s Thursday night and I’m on my way to the Eagle. This is the time to show people that Leathermen still walk the streets.
The little tradition I do every Thursday night is to head west to 8th Ave/14th street by subway and then walk north and west through Chelsea to 28th St between 10th and 11th Ave–the location of the Eagle. This route takes me through what I consider the gayest streets of NYC in Chelsea, past the cute and mundane bars and restaurants, past the nice apartment buildings where former hook ups live, past project housing and the city clinic, and finally into the (gradually changing) industrial area just beyond the bright center of things to the Eagle. This is a walk I almost always do alone and in gear and it has become a sort of sacred pre-CODE stroll.
The origins of my walk came from a time before Leather when I would go out alone to some bar in Chelsea and wait for it to get late enough to then proceed to the Eagle. This usually took place on a weekend when none of my friends then had an interest in going to the Eagle with me. The solitary stroll was a little thrilling as I passed by all the hot men in Chelsea and then headed deeper into the gloom of the west side and finally onto the remote 28th street.
Today, this route is bordered by the glowing High Line with its ambient lighting and charming couples smiling down, but the quiet introspective walk is still a valuable time for me to decompress after a long week and reflect on where I am in life. When you walk the same path every week you get to compare all those former selves and marvel at the changes in yourself…and also marvel even more at all the parts that remain so constant.
This walk is also a great time to show the queens that Leather’s heart is still pumping and moving. Cruising in Chelsea is rampant on any day, so I’ve come to see all those hungry eyes as an opportunity to showcase a part of gay culture that everyone is familiar with, but fewer and fewer people actually know. I’m a subtle ambassador for Leather walking past with a knowing smile and a glint of mischief in my eyes. I see the scanning eyes take me in, hear the occasional comment of “where you going tonight?”, and stride onward hoping to pull someone into my wake.
I love this walk. I love the sound of my boots on the sidewalk and the way wearing gear makes me walk with a more confident step. I love that I have a fun, friendly bar waiting for me at the end. I love who I’ve become over the years along this walk.