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30,000 ft – This past weekend I was down in San Diego, California to serve as the head judge for the Mr San Diego Eagle contest. As you can gather from the title, this is neither a big regional event nor a huge audience draw. Rather, it is a local bar title that draws a dedicated mix of individuals from the local community. Nevertheless, I came away from the experience with some very strong impressions regarding what community means and just how powerful an impact effective leadership can have on a community. David, the new Mr San Diego Eagle, and his first runner-up, Stephen (pictured above on my right and left, respectively) are both excellent representatives of a vibrant community, and here's why I think so...
First, let me be clear on this point, I judge the strength of a community not by its size but on its cohesion. It's not about how large its numbers are, but rather how tight the people within that community are with each other. The impression I received while sitting on the judging panel was of a group of people well connected and, and for lack of a better word, intimate with each other. Other judges included Southwest Bootblack 2010, Cobi; the legendary Tom Dickerson who served as Mr San Diego Leather in 2002; Jim, the community judge selected during the Meet & Greet Friday evening; and Mr San Diego Eagle 2004, Gary, who many in the local community simply refer to as 'Mom' (pictured from left to right with David and I in the center). It was, in short, a panel that knew its community and that stayed focused on selecting the right individual to represent the home bar for the community. From Cobi's pointed questions to each candidate asking how we might get more boots in the bar, through Gary's gentle encouragement, to Tom's probative questions about approach, the panel worked through a tough decision.
Second, both David and Stephen were strong candidates. Both are personable, approachable and articulate. Each presented a clear vision of building community and bringing people together. Both earned my respect. In the end, for me at least, David was slightly more polished by experience. He was more comfortable on the microphone, on the stage, and generally in his own skin. That doesn't detract from my impression of Stephen, however. He has already made considerable contributions to his community and will undoubtedly continue to do so even though he didn't walk away from the weekend with a title vest. Personally I wouldn't be surprised if he earned one in the very near future.
Third, I am literally in awe of Mike Russell's leadership and the sense of family he has instilled among those with whom he shares his life in San Diego. It is nothing short of inspiring. Mike (pictured right), who served as International Leather Sir in 2003, stepped up to produce the Mr San Diego Eagle contest after the original producer fell ill and was hospitalized. Derek and I stayed with Mike at his place through the weekend and what we witnessed was a home filled with familial bonds and bustling with activity. I had met Mike a couple years before when we sat together on the judging panel for International Leather Sir/boy in 2008 but it wasn't until I saw him in action in his home and in his home town that I came to truly know Mike. This is a man that understands how to build a community that feeds his soul. We are lucky to have him as part of our tribe.
"Remember my brothers and sisters," Roxy Blue said as she MC'ed the contest Saturday night, "it's about family and tribe." Indeed, Ms Blue. And it's pretty clear to me that my brothers and sisters in San Diego get it. I offer my congratulations to both David, our new Mr San Diego Eagle, and Stephen, the first runner-up. I'd like to thank Nicolas, the owner of the San Diego Eagle, and his staff for sponsoring the contest and hosting the events. Finally, special thanks go out to Chris who took such great care of Derek and me through the weekend in addition to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence who came out in support (gratuitous picture left).
And for the record, the way we get more boots in the bars is by encouraging each other to gear up when we go out and by telling that hot guy or gal we see in gear that they look fucking great in it. The days and nights of dress code events and venues are fewer and farther between. We can't simply rely on our bars to enforce our aesthetic... it's time to employ a little old fashioned peer-pressure.
And speaking of getting boots in the bar, you can catch my boy Derek and me at the Hole (under the Jackhammer) this Friday night in Chicago and at Boom in Milwaukee on Saturday night. Come share a drink and conversation... or bring a question. We're always open to hanging with old friends and making new connections.