Tuesday, April 7, 2015
Finding the Mormon Missionary of Beaver Utah
In the summer of 1980, I left my first boyfriend in Omaha and drove cross-country 3 days to Los Angeles, looking for a safe place, with no idea that I would one day be moving there. One the way back to the Midwest, I spent the night in the Delano Hotel in Beaver, Utah. I had a five-minute conversation with the night clerk, whose name I forgot. I called him Eli.
He was about my age, handsome, muscular, with short black hair and brown eyes, on his way to Brazil to be a Mormon missionary.
And, at least in my memory, we cruised each other:
I asked about "guy-only fun."
He said, "You can get anything you want in Saint George"
I protested that Saint George was too far, and he said, "It comes to you, if you're patient. I'll be here all night, if you get lonely and want to talk...about God and stuff."
I fell asleep before I could muster the nerve to call, and the next morning he was gone.
I've been kicking myself for the missed opportunity ever since.
Could I use my internet sleuthing skills to find him again, and determine if he was actually gay?
Clue #1: "You can get anything you want in Saint George."
Cruisingforsex.com lists 3 cruising areas.
Clue #2: "My church is sending me to Brazil in September to be a missionary."
You had to be 19 to become a missionary, so Eli was probably a year out of high school, a 1979 graduate of Beaver High School.
I managed to scrounge up a copy of the Beaver Utah high school yearbook. I removed guys who didn't look anything like him (or how I remembered him, anyway), and got a list of four prospects.
The Beaver Kid is an underground movie by Trent Harris, who blogs on Utah oddities. In 1979 he met a young man named Groovin' Gary (Richard LaVonne Griffiths) in a Salt Lake City parking lot. Awed of the boy's impressions of Sylvester Stallone and John Wayne, Trent agreed to come to his hometown of Beaver and film a local talent show at the high school -- where Gary performed in drag as Olivia Newton-John. He's not great.
Afterwards the harassment of the conservative Mormon townsfolk forced Gary to flee Beaver for Salt Lake City, where he worked in electronics and later as a truck driver. He died in 2009, a practicing Mormon with a wife and children.
Ok, so Gary wasn't gay, and of course he wasn't Eli -- wrong job, wrong hair, wrong age. But Eli would probably have been in the audience. Or on stage -- the guitarist looked a lot like him!
One of the four possible Elis from the yearbook looked like the guitarist. His real name was Derek, and his goal in life was to"become a Christian Billy Joel."
Next, classmates.com, facebook, and reverse white pages, looking for a Derek (with his distinctive last name) from Utah who was around 54 or 55 years old.
Found one! No wife listed, a good sign. Living in Yuba City, California, not a good sign.
Of course, he looked quite different, and his facebook profile gave no indication of gayness. Was he the guy from the hotel? Was he gay?
I shot off an email saying something like: "I happened to stumble across your profile, and you reminded me of a guy I met in Beaver, Utah in 1979. He was a night desk clerk at the Delano Hotel, and he was planning to become a Mormon missionary. We had a conversation that had a big impact on me."
Cool, huh? Noncommittal -- could be about either spiritual discovery or sexual awakening, in case he turned out to be the wrong guy, or a redneck homophobe.
"Guilty as charged! I worked at the Delano that summer. Wow, was that a long time ago!"
Further emails revealed that Derek is indeed gay. He's now married to Rodney, his partner of 15 years. Still hot, a white-haired muscle bear with impressive beneath-the-belt gifts.
And he remembers me!
"You were that cute college kid on his way back from California? Wow, was I ever into you! I wanted to come to your room, to bring you more towels or something, but I kept chickening out. I've been kicking myself for it ever since!"
I'm not the only one who missed an opportunity that night.
Derek invited me to come to Yuba City for a visit. Maybe I'll take him up on it.
See also: The Mormon Missionary of Beaver, Utah