Travelangelist

Posted on 02 Apr 2009 at 1:09pm
By Daniel A. Kusner Life+Style Editor

The Rev. Mel White spins 32,000 miles around the globe after Obama’s election and The Amazing Racer says traveling is now safer for Americans


MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: Mel White after parachuting down the Bavarian Alps.

"How are things in Dallas? I’m curious about the Cathedral of Hope," Mel White asks.

Did the former dean of COH hear that three parishioners had their memberships revoked for being too critical?

"Oh, really? No, I hadn’t heard," White laughs. "Well, I got fired for the same reason — for being critical of the cathedral."

Since a CBS publicist patched our call, White suggests we shift the topic to "The Amazing Race," the around-the-world reality show that Mel and his son Mike White were eliminated from last week.

After seven legs — five continents and 15 countries in 30 days — the gay father-son team picked an inept cab driver in Phuket, Thailand, and came in last. Although the game is over, Mel feels like a winner.

"I’m glad we had the chance to show that gays are pretty good parents, and that gay kids can come out pretty well, too. We ended up representing the community that I love," he says.

Mel is the president of the LGBT activist group SoulForce, and Mike is an out director-screenwriter ("School of Rock" and "Year of the Dog"). However, this wasn’t a celebrity season of "Amazing Race." Mel says Mike is an avid fan of the show and sent in an audition tape. Producers wanted Mike on season 13, but his travel partner, filmmaker Jon Kasdan, couldn’t make the commitment. So producers suggested Mike’s dad.

"I hadn’t watched the show and didn’t understand how many people watch it. I went on to be with my son. And now, Time, Newsweek and People magazines are writing about us, which was really unexpected. Plus, I’m getting letters from all over the world," Mel says.

Any hate mail?


AMAZING DUO: Mel White, left, and son Mike.

"Oh, I get that all the time. But not from this," he says. "I guess everybody saw us having a good time. We didn’t fight. We enjoyed each other. I learned how much I loved my son, and how funny he is to be with. It was amazing to have 35 quality days with him."

Mel’s finest moment in the race was parachuting down the Bavarain Alps. Nursing a pulled groin muscle, Mel could either descend the mountain via parachute or by foot. But Mel’s injury meant air sailing. However, the wind was too gusty, and all the other competitors starting downhill jogging.

"I thought I had ruined it for Mike — and on the second leg. I thought, ‘Oh dear. This wind isn’t going to change.’ The producers already started interviewing Mike about how losing felt because of your dad’s bad decision," Mel remembers.

Mel stood at the mountaintop overcome with anxiety. But he wouldn’t allow himself to ask for God’s help.

"The producers asked, ‘Are you praying for the wind change?’ I said, ‘No. God has other things to do.’" Mel says.

Instead, Mel thanked God for the beautiful scenery. And then the wind changed. So the 68-year-old floated across the German landscape and touched the ground as if angels carried him.

"That ebullient, exciting feeling … It was overwhelming," Mel says.

Amazing Racers have to be skilled globetrotters, which means no checked baggage. Everything — preparing for the tropics to the arctic — had to fit into one carryon: a pair of pants, two pairs of underwear, two pairs of socks, couple of T-shirts, a sweater and a jacket. Mel says the backpacking was easy. What surprised him about international travel was how Americans are now perceived.

"The Amazing Race helped me notice how small the world is. Everybody we met is just like us. Instead of fighting them, we could be loving them," Mel says. "During the Bush administration, it wasn’t safe to travel. We arrived back home on Thanksgiving Day. While we were on the race, Obama was elected. And suddenly, Americans were being cheered again.

"Everywhere we went, people held up the victory sign. There was almost universal relief that Bush was gone and that we elected a man who had hope for the future."

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 3, 2009.

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