This was my 13th annual trip to Washington DC for Mid-Atlantic Leather weekend (URL). It’s really Mr. Marcus’ (URL) fault: in early 1999, he asked if he had seen me at MAL that year, and when I said no, he told me I should go. So I did.
I often tell people that they should go to IML or Folsom twice — the second time so they can realize that they enjoyed it more the first time. That’s because the scope of those events are so huge, they can overwhelm you the first time, but a second time gives you the chance to evaluate what parts of the hugeness and spectacle work for you and what don’t. In comparison, Mid-Atlantic Leather is to International Mr. Leather (URL) as Up Your Alley/Dore Alley (URL) is to Folsom Street Fair (URL) — still plenty big enough to bring in the critical mass to have a great, memorable weekend, but not so large as to be lost in the mass. (So you should go at least three times.)
I don’t always buy the MAL weekend package — the REACTION dance in particular is a waste for me, and that’s a fair chunk of the price — but this year as a titleholder, I needed to be at the contest and at Leather Cocktails, so I sprung for it.
You can read more about my past MAL experiences here (URL).
Planes, Trains, and Automo… Hotel Rooms
One of the downsides to traveling from the West Coast to the East for events is the time lost in air travel. Unless you can wrangle a direct flight, you loose the entire day leave at 9 am, arrive at 7 pm. (Coming back, of course, you get it all back [except for two tablespoons (URL)].) So I was on the Delta (URL) red-eye Thursday night, into Minneapolis (MSP) and then to Baltimore (BWI).
Fortunately, I’ve learned some tricks for flying a red-eye:
- My usual bed time is after midnight anyway, so I’m heading toward sleep mode when I get to the airport. No coffee in the evening to make sure I’m not kept awake.
- Get a window seat, to have something to lean against.
- Get a travel blindfold and earplugs.
- Take a travel bottle of alcohol (2–3 oz, in your toiletry bag in your carry-on) and imbibe around boarding. This will help knock you out. (For a long flight, going overseas, use NyQuil. I don’t recommend that for an in-country night flight, though, especially one with a plane switch; you’ll be too groggy to function well.)
- For the trips to DC, I have a leather trench coat which I take for that event and otherwise only use a couple days a year. It makes for a nice blanket.
The flight to MSP was uneventful. I slept most of the three hours. I did notice that our flight was the only thing going out of SEA after midnight, meaning that everyone in the airport other than staff was either on an overnight layover or on our flight. Pretty damn deserted.
The woman in the aisle seat of my row, Laura, was heavily pregnant with twins, but still a couple months out from birth.
The flight from MSP to BWI was underpopulated, so we could spread out some. I got a Caribou Coffee (URL) French Toast muffin (yummy) during the layover, but no coffee, and then slept the two hours to BWI, until ugly turbulence near Baltimore woke me up (some of the worst I’ve been in). Laura was again in the same row, but across the aisle. (And coming back to Seattle on Monday, Laura was again on both flights, two rows back on the first leg.)
Breakfast at BWI was coffee and a horrible piece of cheese pizza. I caught the shuttle to the MARC train (URL), and then literally walked onto the train as soon as I got to the platform. (Nice, since otherwise I would have to wait an hour for the next one.) Then schlepped the bags a few blocks from Union Station (URL) to the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill (URL). (The new MAL hotel is much more convenient for train travelers than the Washington Plaza (URL) was.)
My roommate for the weekend was Ed, who lives in Maryland about an hour’s drive away. We met (and played) a couple years ago. He’s also a fister, so he brought his sling, arriving at the hotel about 90 minutes after me. After I did some shopping, I laid down for a nap. Probably 10 minutes later, in came Ed with a play buddy. I told them to have fun, popped in my earplugs, and rolled over. About 90 minutes later when I got up, Ed was playing with a different guy, and I never noticed him come in!
One of the great aspects of MAL is that it is large enough to support a valid vendors market. While not as huge as IML’s by any means, it still has maybe 30 vendors, including the likes of Mr. S (URL), LeatherMasters (URL), Ft. Troff (URL), CJ’s Leather (URL), Rubio (URL), NastyPig (URL), Tribal Son (URL), and many other stores and manufacturers of note. Pretty much anything you want, you can get there.
The exception is porn. When MAL was at the Plaza, DickWadd (URL) would always have a big table, blaring out their bareback porn vids on several screens at high volume. This always irritated me a bit — not just because of the bareback nature, but the audio level was jarring and they tended to cause traffic jams. I know IML has made a point of restricting some of the porn displays, especially the bareback producers, and I assume MAL has done similar. They may have restricted all video porn, given that not only is DickWadd no longer present, none of the other companies have booths there either. (Manhunt (URL) had a table, but they aren’t primarily video porn and had no screen displays anyway.)
As I’ve noted before, after 20+ years in leather, there’s little in the way of major items I don’t have that I want to buy. This generally saves my wallet in the vendors mart. Last year, my major purchase was a rubber apron. This year, I bought a belt from The Bonding Company (URL), a butt plug and some nipple suction toys from Ft. Troff, some inhalants, a pin and a leather flag motorcycle license plate frame, and so on.
The most prominent purchase I made this year was a pair of neoprene wrist cuffs from Mr. S, to use with a boy I’ve been playing with who is vegan (and thus isn’t a fan of leather cuffs). As a side-effect, the rubbery nature of these means they will slip less when in use; you’ve probably seen how tugging on leather cuffs will slide part of the cuff out and loosen things or pinch the skin, but these don’t do that as much. I also investigated a neoprene hood for him, with removable eye and mouth guards, but they only had medium size. (So I ordered a large one a couple days ago.)
Manhunt was giving away scarves with their logo in them. That’s a good awareness of the time and place of the event — temps hovered just below freezing all weekend. I will now store that scarf with the trench coat and be using it at MAL every year for some time to come. They were also giving away peppermint lip balm (“chapsticks”, but that’s a trademarked name), also a great idea in a dry winter climate. Good marketing, Manhunt!
Cocktails and Contests
Mid-Atlantic Leather grew out of an event called “Leather Cocktails” (URL) started by the Centaurs MC some thirty years ago, and that still forms the centerpiece of the MAL weekend. Today, Leather Cocktails is a semi-formal event — get into the dress(ier) leathers, leave the slut attire in the room — and arguably the premier fancy leather event of the year.
The event is what it says it is, a big leather cocktail party, with a hosted bar and fancy appetizers (brie and cranberry pastry, multiple types of hamburger sliders, risotto with bay scallops prepared at the table, and so on; sufficient options to make for a light dinner). This year, they either had really good dessert options or way too little of them prepared, because I never saw but one person with a plate of them, plus the empty dessert table.
I initially debated whether to treat Leather Cocktails as a sash event (URL) — I haven’t been to it in a few years, and my previous titles didn’t have sashes anyway, so I didn’t have a touchpoint for the trend. I initially just wore the title vest, plus a leather shirt and my leather-accessorized Mac Leo kilt (URL), with tall boots. Half an hour later, seeing the trend, I fetched the sash.
As an aside, I was pleased to see broad acceptance of kilts on the scene at MAL — and in DC in January, to boot, since they can be equated to “shorts weather” attire. The kilt fad has faded in Seattle — not gone away but down to a normal level, no longer a “fad” (unless it’s set to bounce back this year!) — but I remember when it was at its height in Seattle but almost unknown in other parts of the country. I wore mine to the bar at IML — in 2004 or so? — and you’d swear I was in drag, the number of guys who took a sudden interest in the ceiling. This year at MAL, I didn’t detect any of that attitude.
The contest was held on Sunday afternoon (and that’s definitely a sash event). This year, there were nine contestants — not a record, I think, but on the larger end from my memory of attending the contest in years past.
One of the unique items with MAL’s contest is that the contestants are asked a non-pop question: they get the question the day before (so they have a day to work on it) and craft it into a speech. I can’t speak for the judges, of course, but as an audience member (and with a low tolerance for avoidance and bullshit), I was surprised that a couple of the contestants didn’t really answer their questions, one clearly dodged his, and one wandered all over the place for a couple minutes before finally answering his right at the end, almost as an afterthought. While it’s valuable to tie in your personal leather themes and all that, remember that the audience expects you to answer the question, and if you don’t, you are letting them down. (And the judges are partially paying attention to how the audience reacts to you.) This isn’t just a matter of public speaking skills, it’s about keeping your goal in sight and actually getting there.
(Hell, you’d swear they were in a multi-candidate presidential debate: “How would you address the immigrant problem?” “Immigrants aren’t nearly the problem that public funding for abortions are and this is how I would address that…” Really, WTF?)
I spoke to one of the judges the next day, and he confirmed that the first and second place contestants were very clear in his scoring, and presumably for most of the judges, but third place wasn’t clear. From the audience side, crowd reactions were clear matches for first and second, and probably for third (but I knew Matt a little personally, having met him at Folsom in September (URL), so his placement seemed reasonably clear to me but might not have been so to others). This wasn’t just about stage-entering applause and such, though — in general, those three had good stage presence, character, and speaking ability in their question/speeches (including carry-through of question to answer, mentioned above).
Not strongly noted at the event, this was back-to-back wins for Pittsburgh, Matt Bronson following Doug (NAME) (who was a runner-up at IML).
Here is The Leather Journal’s coverage (URL) of this year’s event.
One thing that I found frustrating during the weekend was the low presence of other ILSb-family titleholders at the event, either last year’s or this year’s. I met last year’s SIR and boy from Northeast, and last year’s boy and Bootblack from Mid-Atlantic. Last year’s Northeast bootblack and this year’s Illinois Bootblack were also in the Parade of Titleholders, although I didn’t get to meet them directly. International LeatherSIR Alan Penrod was also at the event, although I only saw him briefly, as was ILS 2006 (CHECK) Michael Congdon and apparently ILS 2010 Hugh, although I never saw him. (I know he was supposed to be there and I’ve seen Facebook evidence, but we never ran into one another. Hugh gave me a hard time at my contest this year about him seeing me once and only once at MAL 2011 — with the implication that I was busy playing the rest of the time — so I guess we’re even now).
I don’t have a handle on which feeder contests have occurred so far this year — Great Lakes, Northwest, Western Canada, others? — and I haven’t been seeing details on results or upcoming event dates. As with the lack of ILSb family titleholders at Folsom last September, I would like to have the chance to meet some of my competitors (and the boys and bootblacks) ahead of the competition in July, but it doesn’t look like that will happen (unless I maybe get to CLAW (URL), but my April is going to be such a nasty mess that I don’t know if I can swing that).
Take Off Your Damned Hat
One thing that dismayed me during the contest was the number of guys in the audience wearing hats (oh, excuse me: “covers”) who apparently never learned that you take your hat off when the American flag is brought in and the National Anthem is played. (Technically, military personnel in uniform are supposed to salute instead of removing the hat. Few did that, likely because few have actually been in the military.)
Just in case you’ve got a question on this, here is the pertinent section from the government pamphlet Our Flag (page 11 of this PDF):
Title 36, Chapter 1—PATRIOTIC CUSTOMS
§301. National anthem; Star-Spangled Banner, conduct during playing
During rendition of the national anthem when the flag is displayed, all present except those in uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. Men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should render the military salute at the first note of the anthem and retain this position until the last note. When the flag is not displayed, those present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed there.
Take off the damned hat, or salute. Show some respect.
(Boy, if this bit isn’t contest interview bait, I don’t know what is!)
Of course I’m going to save this subject for last. How else an I’m going to get you to read the rest if I don’t use it as foreplay? (grin)
In a nugget, this was the best MAL to date for me in terms of sex. The last few years, I’ve gone to the FFA fisting parties (URL) more than once each weekend, technically keeping it as a reserve option if things weren’t looking good for play, but falling back to it regularly. (Not that I’m saying that is a bad thing. I love the FFA parties, and I missed seeing and playing with some of the guys I’ve met there the last few years.)
Part of having more and better sex this year is due to Ed having a sling in the room, although I actually only made use of it twice (and it’s not like you need a sling for fisting). Possibly MAL was just sexier this year; I know The Leather Journal proclaimed this year better than last, the first year they were at the Hyatt. I’m sure a bigger component of it is the title, though: not that I had more and better sex this year because I have the title, but because having the title encourages me to put myself out there a little differently, a little stronger.
Best Sex Coincidence: playing during the Miss America pageant, during the talent competition, and getting out of the sling just as Miss Wisconsin was announced. (I’m mildly surprised emcee Frank Nowicki made no parallel of that to past MAL Alvin York during the contest. Maybe Alvin wasn’t at MAL this year and the comparison would have been lost…)
Best Place to Have Sex at MAL: apparently my hotel bathroom after 2 am, given that I had sex there all three nights (after Ed went to bed). You can manage quite a decent amount of kinky play in those small spaces, and the closed lid of the toilet makes a rather effective replacement for a sling.
Best Noisemaker: that would be me. I’ve long joked that I need to record the audio from one of my play sessions, chop it up, and make a demo tape to send to Hollywood to get a job doing cartoon sound effects. Thanks to Andrew videotaping a session, I now have a sample that could be used for just that. (You think I’m kidding, don’t you? (URL))
That all said then, special thanks for a great time to Allan, Andrew, Bud, Dave, Jonathan (and his rubber catsuit), Mark (one less fisting cherry in the world now), Michael (now when can I get to Münich? Maybe August 2013…), Randy (not Roger!), Spike, and Steve (I promise you a good fucking next year!).
And of course everyone else I met, chatted with, made out with, fruitlessly cruised, and so on during the weekend. Congrats to Matt Bronson, the new Mr. Mid-Atlantic Leather, and way to put the pressure on your sash wife for IMsL! Steve Ranger, keep up the good work as president of the Centaurs. Tom McCoy, Dave Rhodes, Michael Congdon, Roger Klorese, all the sexy rubber boys in the cold weather, Dean Ogren, Tom Savage, Boy Tyler, the list goes on…
Truly had a great time this year!