Monthly Archives: May 2015

Chevy Van (part 1)

Boom!! Clak Clak Clak Clak!!

Damn!! I thought, bad timing! Fast lane on the 405 freeway going South was no place for this to happen! Just threw another cotter pin in my distributor. It had happened at least twice before shearing the pin connecting the distributor with the cam shaft. Damn! I thought again seeing no openings to the right towards the shoulder as my van was now effectively coasting. I steered the dead vehicle into the center breakdown lane against the barrier.

“Shoot! This is bad” I mumbled to myself taking stock of the situation. My 1967 Chevy Van was not only my transportation but my home. Everything I owned in the world was in it or like my Schwinn mountain bike up front, strapped to it. I was on a spontaneous surf trip heading South towards Trestles, hoping to catch some South swell there. I looked around for a sign to figure out where I was relative to West LA where I worked and went to school. Looking through the large front window I could see the dark green “Los Alamitos” exit sign down the road just a quarter mile from where I’d broken down. That was at least 50 miles from Westwood I figured. “Too far.” I thought.

I looked around the van. My bed with the simple blue bed spread sat neatly behind the front seats. 2 surfboards hung above it suspended in the curvature of the roof. My 10 foot Hansen longboard and my 6 foot Craiger. Oak wood paneling lined the walls. A book holder filled with drawings books and papers about halfway up on the window side. The 2 windows were tinted dark so no one could see in framed by green bamboo patterned curtains my sister had made for me. On the floor near the door was a red and white igloo cooler which held the cold things I bought daily. On the wall next to it a wire basket with a brown bag holding the dry goods. A small toggle switch next to the matching side doors controlled the dome light overhead. That was a big deal on those long Winter nights when I’d hunker down inside alone either reading or drawing for hours on end. Blue astro turf lined the floor. I’d cut that to fit just recently. A nice touch I’d thought and easy to sweep the sand out of. A large portfolio filled with drawings from my Art classes sat at the foot of the bed near the back door squeezed in by my single 2 by 4 foot locker containing all my clothes in the world. Storage under the bed contained all my tools and spare engine parts. No room to access that from the passenger side since that was next to the fast lane and a steady stream of cars were whizzing by at 70 miles an hour. I certainly knew better than to try that so I crawled between the seats over the center mounted engine compartment to the back. I reached down unlatching the small door under the bed. I fished inside. I just managed to pull out the large red plastic toolbox then the plastic tool holder containing spare parts. I lay this down on the bed next to me. “Didn’t think so.” I mumbled to myself. No more Cotter pins. I’d gotten 3 last time I was at the Auto parts store. Not easy to find them either for this 20 year old vehicle. I’d driven to half a dozen auto parts stores before I had found those 3.

“Okay then, plan B.” I sighed. Nothing to do now but wait for a CHP and a tow truck. I hoped I had enough money for it or my home would be impounded. I looked in my little cash box under the driver seat. “250.” Thank God I’d waited tables the last 4 nights. I pulled the money out and put it in the cheap black leather wallet my sister’s boyfriend had given me. I put that in the front pocket of my blue jeans then turned the keys in the ignition to ‘Acc’. I looked in the cassette case I kept on top of the engine compartment.  ‘Bob Marley.’ I thought, perfect for my down trodden mood. I popped it in the cassette player. “No Woman No Cry…” Bob began to sing.

Within 10 minutes I saw the CHP officer pull up behind me on his motorcycle.  I turned the music off, pocketed the keys and stepped out the driver side next to the center divider. The officer approached. “Not a Good idea to sit in your vehicle in the breakdown lane.” He advised as he came along side the van. ” Oh?” I asked. “Yep, people get killed all the time doing that. Drivers are drawn into parked vehicles for some reason.” “Car trouble?” He asked. “Yes.” I replied. ” I guess I’ll need a tow.” “Already on the way.” He said making notes on his pad the scene reflected in his mirrored aviator shades. “Hang tight, I’m going to call this in.” Ok.” I replied.  Just then a tow truck came along the passenger side and pulled in front along the divider and then began backing up. The white truck was adorned with “Los Alamitos Salvage.” painted on the door. A stocky white guy with about 3 day beard, bushy mustache and grease stained work shirt stepped out. ” Need a tow huh?” “Yeah.” I replied. The officer left as my home was hitched up from the front and the steering wheel tied off. I explained my financial situation to the tow-truck driver on the way. He seemed to empathize and said he knew the right place. It wasn’t far and the tow would only be 50 bucks there. “Great.” I had relaxed a bit then and we had driven the 10 minutes into an industrial part of Los Alamitos against the freeway overpass. I’d thanked him when he deposited me and the van at “Norms Auto Mechanics.” Norm had been kind and taken all my info giving me an estimate of 250 dollars. I was short, but he said call tomorrow and he’d let me know the full damage. I could pay when I picked it up. I guess it was fairly obvious this was my home and I’d be back. “Do you have a phone I could use?” I asked. “Sure.” He said.  “Over there” he said pointing to a filthy desk covered in papers. ” Thanks” I said walking toward the small office. I had to try and cover my shift waiting tables tonight. It was only 10am. but I was at least 50 miles away and all I had was a Schwinn 10 speed. No chance I could make it by 4.

I made a couple of phone calls to fellow waiters but no one could do it. ” Shoot.” I began to wonder what to do. I couldn’t afford to lose that job. ” Maybe I can make it.” 50 miles”. “That’s less then 10 miles an hour.” I could probably do that I figured. I went to my van again and grabbed my tan canvas back pack. I filled it with my Waiter uniform, a sweater and my tooth brush. I unlocked my bike from the front bumper bike carrier lifting it off. “Which way to PCH ?” I asked Norm. “That way.” He said pointing to left under the overpass. “Kind of far.” He said. “I got the time.” I said rolling off. “Thanks.”

“Damn, he was right.” I had to admit after riding due West for about 45 minutes having still not crossed PCH. The ride had been through some of the most hideous industrial wasteland I’d ever seen. Auto mechanics, salvage yards, heavy manufacturing and wrecking yards in Los Alamitos had evolved into the Oil refineries and holding tanks of Carson. I traveled alone on my bronze mountain bike, the black road and bridges otherwise empty except for the occasional big rig hauling a load of fuel. It stank of oil and the refineries burned the excess off 200 foot smoke stacks with 50 foot flames.  Like something out of a post apocalyptic movie. “It’s gotta be close. ” I hoped. I’d never ridden more then 10-15 miles at one time in my life. I began to realize this journey may be longer than the 50 miles I’d estimated. No map, operating on dead reckoning. I reasoned to just ride West and then North. It seemed simple enough but I was beginning to wonder if there was some flaw in this thinking. I was beginning to really doubt my logic when there it was, Pacific Coast Highway. The oily non-descript industrial buildings that marked the corner felt at least a bit encouraging. I felt relieved to at least to now have some idea of where I was. I hung a right and headed North.

The minutes and miles ground by as I pedaled under the hot sun through Carson past the gigantic Harbor area of San Pedro, one of the largest port cities in the World. The light commercial traffic grew into a constant line of semis blowing by me often only a few inches from my left handlebar. “This is insane” I thought feeling like a bug dodging an army as it marched by. I put my head down and pedaled blocking out the fear. Slowly the traffic morphed and became lighter commuter traffic. People busy going about their lives indifferent to my own slowly unfolding epic journey. The road left San Pedro behind and began to climb the bluffs of Palos Verdes. I looked at my watch. 3 hours, I was already feeling wasted. I saw a liquor store and pulled up. I grabbed an OJ and a power bar. I could feel the sweat and grime drying on me as I gulped the juice down. The coolness inside my throat so wonderfully different seemed to be absorbing into every cell.᤾

“1pm.” I said to myself looking at my watch again.” “Maybe 2 more hours at the most?” I guessed as I got back on my bike synching my backpack down. Having never been to this intersection even by car, I had no way to know I was still only half way. I rode off again joining traffic and began the slow climb. Retail buildings transitioned into homes and then nicer homes. Street lights became trees and lawns. By the time I reached the top of the bluff a few miles later there were only multi-million dollar estates with spectacular views of the Pacific now sparkling off to my left. Even as tired as I was I couldn’t help but marvel watching the bluffs descend steeply to the empty rocky shores. I cruised easily settling into a rhythm for the first time as I rode along the almost  level road. I spun past more beautiful coves and steeply winding trails now an occasional person or small group visible at the bottom. Past the decaying ruins of  “Marine Land” it’s gates and former arenas surrounding only empty pools and the memories of cheering crowds applauding the very first performing sea creatures on the planet. The gates leaned precariously and the bright blue and green paint now peeling and faded. My own memories surfaced revealing a day when I was here as a small boy.

Queen Mary (part 2)

“I’m George.” the man said extending his hand. “Jennifer.” the voice said. “So Jennifer I don’t think I’ve seen you here before. First time?” “Is it that obvious?” I replied feeling that insecurity rising again.. “No, let’s just say I’d remember those eyes if I’d seen them before.” Wow, That felt really good I thought blushing as the drinks arrived. “This is Jennifer.” George now said addressing the bartender. “Frank.” The bartender said leaning forward to take my hand. ” a chante.” he said as he kissed it. “Jennifer’s first time.” George said lifting his glass. Frank picked one up from behind the bar. “To new friends, gorgeous bitches and the poor saps who love them. “Welcome!” said Frank. I chuckled raising my own glass to theirs. “Thank You.” I said our glasses clicking. “To the Queen Mary.”

Queen Mary (part 1)

I peeked out the door peering up and down the road. 28th street looked quiet. Just parked cars lining both sides of the dimly lit urban neighborhood in Southeast Santa Monica. I stepped out locking the door behind me and descended the 3 stairs to the walkway. I made my way around the small brick planter that held our miniature patio and well loved garden. The cool breeze under my skirt exhilarating and new as I stepped up to the little red car in our driveway. I inserted the key and slid in quickly shutting the door. I put the same key in the ignition starting the motor then quickly reached over and shifted into reverse. As I backed out and pulled away my neighbor Bill came out of the small apartment complex walking his dog. “Whew!” I thought. “That was close.” None of my neighbors knew about this side of me. I wasn’t sure any of them would understand why I was wearing a short black skirt, nylons, heels, sheer white blouse with full wig and make up. Realistically I barely knew myself. I just felt happy this way. Deeply happy. I left the apartments and small homes of 28th street turning the corner shifting through the gears with the unfamiliar hand in long red nails. I pulled up to the light at Centinela. Traffic crossed in front of me and I began to relax. No one out here would know me even if I was” read” as a man. Unlikely I figured for cross traffic to be looking very hard at a car they passed in an intersection anyway. The light changed and I pulled out making a left and then merging right to the 10 freeway onramp. Once safely transitioned from the 10 to the 405 North I looked at the little clock set in the black plastic dashboard. 10:45 it read. “Not bad.” I thought considering getting shaved, plucked, made up and my nails glued on took 2 solid hours. “The price of beauty.” I mused. I hadn’t started getting ready until after my wife Inga had gone to bed. She wasn’t very happy about it but was trying her best to support me exploring this need. I felt so guilty even asking if she minded me going out again. It had been a month since my meeting in Orange County. That had been my first encounter with other “cross dressers” like myself. It had been a revelation as well as a quick education. There had been about 15 “girls” there. Many had been members for years and went out regularly. My outfit of a denim mini skirt, furry white sweater, white nylons, ankle socks and white heels had been the subject of quite a bit of big sisterly advice. I hoped my conservative and tasteful outfit would be more appropriate tonight. A couple of the girls had spoken of a bar in Studio City with a Cage Aux Folles stage show and “girl friendly” bar. They chuckled about the “Powder Puff” meeting we were attending as “stale” and rigid.” I had to admit, it was pretty lame standing around in the hotel meeting room under fluorescent lights drinking punch  discussing hair and make up. “Where is this bar?” I had interrupted keenly interested. They had looked me up and down seeing me for the mess I was but the large blonde in a light lavender dress and matching heels answered. “It’s in Studio City on Ventura Blvd. just off the Cold Water Canyon exit.” I knew that area well. I worked all over there travelling nearby regularly working as an illustrator and animator on various projects. I merged from the 405 onto the 101 going East now. “Getting close.” I thought feeling a sudden wave of butterflies. These freeways were always crowded and tonight was no exception. Friday night at 11pm and the 6 lanes were full of drivers merging and jockeying in a dizzying 3 dimensional race to their different destinations. I found mine in a few minutes. I crossed onto the ” Cold water Canyon” exit coming to a stop at the bottom next to another car. I suddenly felt exposed the driver next to me able to look across and perhaps notice I wasn’t really a woman. “Just focus ahead.” I coached myself calming my sudden anxiety. The light changed and I turned right onto Coldwater Canyon drive a main artery in this part of the Valley. I merged left and pulled up again next to a different car at Ventura blvd. feeling slightly less anxious I made the left past the Alpha Beta and began to travel East, nicer retail clothing stores, restaurants, small shops and the occasional bar lining the 4 lanes of busy traffic. “Keep your eyes open.” I thought scanning for the bar. I had no address, but the “girl” from Powder Puff had said it wasn’t too far East on Ventura from Coldwater. I drove a bit more and then suddenly there it was. “Queen Mary.” A 10 by 20 foot white sign with red Elizabethan letters glowed above a crowded parking lot on my left. New much larger butterflies now swirled in my stomach as a drove past the bustling bar a small line of men and women at the front door. “Wow.” I sighed recognizing the size of my new challenge. I would have to stand with that line of people dressed as a woman. “I didn’t do a this to chicken out.” I reasoned turning the car at the next left then merging West going back towards the Queen Mary parking lot. I once again drove past the front door and pulled up to the driveway entering the lot. I rolled my window down as an attendant waved me in. “The lot is full.” said the handsome middle-aged man with dark caramel skin, kinky salt and.pepper hair and dark suit. “You’ll have to park over by the mall he said pointing further West. “Okay.” I said hearing myself speak now suddenly very aware of my deep male voice. I rolled the window up driving through the lot to the alley way behind making a left towards the mall he had pointed out. I crossed a quieter side street to the mall and parked next to the dark mom and pop shops that lined the large lot. I looked in the mirror and checked my make up. “Are you ready?” I asked the woman in the mirror. Returning home without going in was impossible I admitted gathering my purse and keys then opening the door. I stepped out and shut the door scanning the lot. A couple on the other side of the lot were walking to their car but it was otherwise empty. I put my keys in my purse slinging it over my shoulder trying to remember how I’d seen women do this. “Good thing I’ve been practicing walking in these shoes.” I said to myself as I heard the 3″ black pumps clack and echo as I walked purposely through the lot towards Ventura Blvd. I crossed the small side street almost catching my heel on the uneven asphalt. “Be careful.” I noted changing my stride slightly taking smaller more feminine steps. I stepped onto the sidewalk near the corner in full view of the steady line of cars whizzing by on Ventura Blvd. I could see the lot now and the small group at the front door. I walked deliberately focusing on the sidewalk in front of me. ” Hey dude!” I suddenly heard nearby startled. I turned quickly and saw a young man maybe a few years younger than myself leaning out of the window of the dark BMW as it rolled slowly by. “Hahaha!” He laughed as they sped off down the road. I wanted to run feeling suddenly awkward and ridiculous. “Welcome.” I heard off to my left. It was the parking attendant. “Joining us tonight?” He asked warmly holding out his hand. ” Yes.” I said in a new higher voice. “Let me escort you.” He said holding out an elbow. I took his arm. “First time here?” He queried softly. “Yes.” I nodded now smiling. “Well you look lovely.” He said his teeth smiling under the groomed  mustache. “Right this way.” He added escorting me through the lot away from the front door. “Isn’t the front door that way? I asked now mildly alarmed sizing him up physically. Maybe 6’2” and not very athletic. I figured I could take him if necessary. “Oh, that’s the straight entry.” he chuckled. “You don’t want to go there.” “Oh, okay.” I said relaxing a bit. “I’m Ron.” He offered. “Nice to meet you I replied looking into his soft brown eyes and seeing only warmth. ” I’m Jennifer.” Very pleased to meet you Jennifer.” He said opening a non descript brick colored metal door on the rear alley. I looked in. A cute blonde with large toothy grin and bobbed hair sat on a stool at the top of a short flight of stairs in a Jean mini skirt and pink tank top. “That’s Karla.” Ron said kissing me on the cheek. “Have fun.” I couldn’t believe what had just happened. I man had kissed me and I sort of liked it. I walked up the stairs and stood in front of Karla even cuter up close. With bright red lips and quite convincing look. “5 dollar cover hun. ” she smiled. “you look nice.” She said as she exchanged a stamp on my hand for my money. “Have a Good time she said pointing to her left into the dimly lit bar. From here it looked like any bar but as I began to walk deeper among its patrons I realized that the woman were all like me, men in drag. Some glanced up as I negotiated my way closer to the actual bar. Some looked up and smiled their glistening lips on straws or chatting cheerfully. All looked amazing dressed to the nines in gorgeous long  gowns, cocktail dresses with sparkling jewelry or in short clingy club dresses. Some were absolutely unbelievable. I found out later many were performers from the stage show up front. One woman in a short frilly black chiffon dress and diamonds giggled as 3 male admirers vied for her attention. A spot opened at the bar when a girl with long straight blonde hair spun and walked away. “Is this seat taken?” I asked the gentleman sitting in the adjacent seat. “Please. ” He said holding the seat out for me. I smoothed my skirt and sat down the motion coming from some deeper part of me. “May I buy you a drink?” He asked. He was probably 40. Short dark hair lightly tanned wearing a gray turtleneck and black sport coat. “That would be nice.” the new voice replied. “Vodka Cranberry.” I said smiling at him. “Vodka Cranberry he said to the large comfortable gray haired bartender. The bartender nodded spinning to make the drink from the well stocked shelves that stood in front of a mirrored wall.