What good is hibernating alone in your cave? Come see the Bears play! (And then, feel free to jump right into the fun...!) Bear-alicious couple Randy and Tony, the "Travelin' Bears", aren't exactly what you'd call homebodies. Are you the kind of guy who counts down the days until the next Southern Decadence in New Orleans, or who never misses events like CLAW in Cleveland or IML in Chicago? If so, chances are you may have already met this handsome duo anywhere from the bourbon factories in Lexington, Kentucky to the downtown bars of New York City's West Village. Through their interactive Travelin' Bears Facebook page, the two share their stories and photos about their wild and woofy adventures throughout the year with their fellow Bears and Bear admirers. Randy and Tony are proof that a couple who plays together stays together. They started dating in 2001, and they cemented their commitment by "making it official" in New York City's Central Park last April. Their wedding was officiated by Will Harrell, AKA drag performer/activist Candy Samples, "Queen of the Bears"!
The two took some between packing for their next trip to speak to me about "The Travelin' Bears"!
JR: Hello gentlemen. Thanks for speaking with me. So, where did the idea for "The Traveling Bears" Facebook group come from?
Tony: We love to explore new cities. But after suffering one too many bad meals, it occurred to me how much time we spend trying to figure out the best place to stay, which bars are fun, and which local attractions are worth the price of admission... and that it would be great if there was one place where we could record our good experiences and ask our friends to do the same.
After trying a few stand alone apps, nothing really fit the bill. Then I thought, Why not use Facebook? All our closest friends are already active on "the 'Book".
JR: How true! Or, at least until "the next big social networking thing" comes along, right? (Laughs) So, what was the craziest or most surreal experience that you two have had in your travels?
Randy: "Surreal bad" is easy. When we were planning our New York City elopement, we were looking to maximize the trip by going as cheaply as we could. We found a hotel listed online, right off of Times Square that said "old, clean, great staff, but really, really small." And I should add, "really affordable". So against the recommendation of our awesome Travel Agent, Troy Richardson of DecacentDucks.com, we booked it. Surreal it was! I could touch the wall with my foot while touching the other with my hand. I had to wake Tony up in the middle of the night to use the restroom because there wasn't enough space between the bed and the wall to walk.
JR: Oh my!
Tony: The most surreal in a sexy way for me was when we attended our first CLAW (Cleveland Leather Awareness Weekend) event in 2013. The surreal moment came when we went to the RECON party at the building that connects Cleveland's Mean Bull Bar (now one of my favorite Cleveland bars) and the Cleveland FLEX Club. The RECON party hit all of my budding BDSM hot buttons with play areas for every imaginable fetish. Now, I will admit that golden showers is not one of mine. But faced with the decision to go wait in a long line downstairs at the bar, I was encouraged to just walk back to that stall and expedite matters. I did so. It was empty, and I began to take care of business. I will admit when the hot boy hit the floor and lifted his legs to direct his ass at my stream, I finally figured out what all the fuss was about! One of the hottest moments of that event for me!
Randy: For me, it was getting stripped naked and groped by a big group of Bears in the central atrium of the Clarion Hotel at Midwest Bearfest last year. Or, was it being mostly naked (just my leather jock and harness) in the lobby of the Marriott Hotel at IML (International Mr. Leather Weekend) and getting groped and fondled by a big group of Leathermen. Or, was it being stripped naked by a big group of hot men on the balcony of the Omni Royal Orleans hotel during the Sunday parade at Southern Decadence last year while hapless straight people eating at the balcony restaurant across the street got a show with their dinner! Are you sensing a theme?
JR: Yes, I sure am! Woof!!! So, out of all the Bear and Leather events you guys have been to, which one was your favorite?
Tony: Hands-down, my favorite Leather event is CLAW held each spring in Cleveland. Having already gone to IML, one of the Travelin' Bears members suggested we try CLAW. We really loved the experience. If you are interested in exploring the leather and/or BDSM community, CLAW is great because the focus is on education and socializing. We met a lot of great guys.
Randy: It's all of the hot fun of IML, without the Contest elements. The vender mart is smaller, but we still manage to find some "must haves" for our growing leather collection.
JR: Yes, I agree. There's always more luggage on the return trip! So, what's a yearly event that you NEVER miss?
Tony: While not strictly a "Bear" event, Southern Decadence in New Orleans is absolutely, positively, my favorite event of the year. Next year will be my 12th and will be Randy's 14th. What makes it the best "Bear" event for us is that when we went back for the first time post-Katrina, Randy found these pictures online of these hot Bears all at a pool party. He emailed the poster, who turned us on to the Decadent Ducks. Over the past seven years, the Ducks have become some of our closest friends. Meeting up with them at Southern Decadence is the single event I look forward to each year.
Randy: He's not kidding. He does a countdown each year during the 100 days leading up to Southern Decadence and at all major holidays beforehand. When others are saying "Merry Christmas", Tony is saying "Only 249 days to Southern Decadence!"
Tony: It drives some of my FB friends crazy! I've even lost a few over it. But my fellow Ducks get it! Seriously, I try to describe what the Ducks mean to me by saying "Imagine going to a family reunion if you really liked everyone in your family!"
JR: (Laughs) What city has the hottest and hairiest Bears?
Randy: Chicago. You will always find the hottest bears at the Sofo Tap in the Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago.
Tony: The Sofo has become our second favorite Chi-town hang out. The guys are so hot and we've met some of the friendliest Bears there. And if you are lucky, you might even find some of those Bears down the road at Jackhammer or Touché letting it all hang out.
Randy: And, you can count on seeing a few of them again on Sunday singing along during "Showtunes Sunday" at Sidetrack in Boystown. If you are fortunate enough to spend a Sunday afternoon in Boystown, after brunch, the place to be is Sidetrack. If anyone ever creates a 100% gay church, you know it will feature showtunes!
JR: As well it should! Showtunes are great for raising spirits! So, tell me a little bit more about you two. When did you first meet?
Tony: We used to joke that we met at a church picnic, but the truth is: We met online. This was way before Grindr, Growlr and Scruff.
Randy: It was even before Facebook or even MySpace!
Tony: I'm not afraid to admit it - we met on AOL Chat! Back in 2001. After we first met and he asked for my phone number, I thought "Right, like this hot young guy is gonna call me." And then, he did. Let's just say, I fell fast and hard!
Randy: I literally had to stop him from saying those three little worlds-- after like three dates!
Tony: And when I finally let it slip, we were coming out from our weekly "Will and Grace" viewing party at a local hangout. As we parted, it just slipped out and I started to freak. In my mind, I was like "Shit! He's told me it's too soon, and now I've messed it up!"... and he was so sweet. He was like "It's OK! I love you too." My heart melted into his hands, and he's had it ever since.
JR: Please, guys. I'm gonna start crying. And Leathermen don't cry, at least not in public! (Laughs) Now, while we are on the subject: You recently got married in New York City, right? Congratulations! What was that experience like?
Randy: It was absolutely perfect for us.
Tony: I wouldn't change a thing. It was exactly as I dreamed it would be.
Randy: When DOMA was overturned, we decided it was time. And since neither Kentucky where we live or Ohio where we work allow for marriage equality, we decided New York would be the perfect place to elope. We are very fortunate that both our families are supportive, but we knew it would be a financial hardship on many of them-- and not wanting to exclude anyone, we decided eloping was best.
Tony: Last fall, we asked one of our best friends, Will Harrell (AKA Candy Samples) if he would witness for us since he lives in NYC. A few weeks later, he decided to become ordained and asked if we would allow him to perform the ceremony. We were so honored. Now that we needed witnesses again, four of our closest Cincinnati friends asked if they could join us. Randy indulged my Beatles fixation and agreed to hold the ceremony at Strawberry Field in Central Park. And on a sunny Tuesday afternoon in April, on the 13th anniversary of the day we met, Randy and I were wed.
JR: Congratulations again! As two sexy guys yourselves, what do both of you consider sexy in a guy?
Tony: We both like a wide array of men. For me personally, I have two giant weaknesses - the guy with what I call the "froopy doo" - short hair with just a little spike at the center (which Randy was sporting the day I met him!); and, any and all gingers! Ginger muscle men and ginger Bears especially.
Randy: For me, my weaknesses are bald men with facial hair, furry men, and guys with hot asses!
Tony: While we are on gingers, I have quite a thing for Blu Kennedy... so Jed, if you can help with a introduction, I'd be forever in your debt!
JR: (Laughs) I'll see what I can do... Maybe as an anniversary present for the two of you! So, lastly: Where is the next destination for The Traveling Bears? And how can we keep up with your experiences?
Tony: Up next is Midwest Bearfest in Indianapolis begin held December 11th thru the 14th. This will be our second time attending and this year. It sounds really cool.
Randy: They have rented an indoor water park and will be holding special "Bears only" events that weekend. Lots of hot guys and lots of wet fur!
JR: Well, I always loved the wet look! (Laughs)
Tony: Following that, we are on a budget hold until we see how Uncle Sam treats us in the spring, then we'll start planning out the summer.
Randy: We've not made it to Las Vegas in a few years so that 's a possibility. This past winter we explored Fort Lauderdale, and it was a great break from the winter cold of the Midwest. We had a blast staying at the Cabanas all- male guest house. So, returning there... or maybe Key West where QMitch Jones' Gay Bingo is a must do.
Tony: I'd also like to make it for the AIDS Walk NYC event this spring. The past two years, I've been a virtual walker on Candy Samples' Candy Wrappers team. I'd love to really walk with the team this year.
JR: Yes! As you know, I worship at the altar of Candy Samples!
Tony: Our Travelin' Bears Facebook group is the best way to keep up with us. And as I always do with our members, I encourage you to join and share your travel adventures. My dream is for the group to be a rich collection of "Best Trip" advice: where to go, where to stay, what to eat, and where the best hangouts are.
Randy: It's also a great place to post candid shots of any man-candy you encounter! We've got some pretty dedicated "bird-watchers" who contribute shots of the best men sited in a given city.
Tony: And for those "not safe for FB" shots, I also have a tumblr account for Travelin' Bears at www.DecadentDude.Tumblr.com.
JR: Yes, I took a look. Whoa!!! Thanks for speaking with me, gentlemen! And "Keep on Travelin'"! ...