Traveling Queen

You know I love me some queens, but it is difficult to get into the city if you are me. ICYMI I’m a woman who uses a wheelchair for my main form of mobility and those descriptors combined are liabilities for traveling alone. I have hoodwinked my friends to give me rides to the clubs. They loved every minute of it, but jobs, sleep, blah, blah, blah. If only Erik Koral lived on this coast, not in Los Angeles, and had launched his www.drivingisadrag.com Lyft idea out here! I’d be set , because in the end it is all about me, right?

Alas, Erik, known in drag as Erika Simone, was between jobs after leaving a digital marketing position and needed to pay his bills (get the money, hunty!). He delved into the make-your-own-hours app world of Lyft, a car service much like Uber in which drivers connect with passengers who need a ride via text message. At the same time Eric was also experimenting with trying on his drag persona. Viola! @drivingisadrag was born!

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Erica Simone and @venusdlite

Others have begun building their businesses on the Lyft platform, too, but none as glamorous as http://www.drivingisadrag.com . There is a @DISCOlyft car whose Twitter profile boasts being “the pioneer of the #LyftCreative movement”. There are also @hihoplyft, @MomLyft, and @drawlyft, among others. Those sound fun, but imagine the surprise of passengers that see Erik’s photo on their Lyft app image only to be greeted by Erika. Plenty of customers have walked right by the car not realizing their ride had arrived, because they are looking for someone that looks like a male driver. In those cases Erika Simone leaps out of her driver’s seat, leans against her car in her sky high boots, and yellow taxi driver get up and asks, “Need a ride, honey?”. The reaction usually goes: shock (People have been known to drop shopping bags), awkwardness (lots of nervous giggling), and acceptance (We still need a ride after all). Everyone fills the car, has a good laugh, gets a few selfies, and sometimes gets posted on Erika Simone’s Twitter feed. Genius, right?

All kidding aside, Erik is aware of the safety issues in driving in drag. He was scared the first week out, but took appropriate precautions to ensure his own safety by choosing neighborhoods he felt were safe and only driving from 2 pm to 10 pm. He has not had any problems as of yet and finds his biggest fans are straight girls. He is sharply aware of how unfair the facts are that he needs to take these things into consideration, but that is the whole point of his business.

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The gangs all here and ready to go!

Of course, neither Erik nor Erika are satisfied with one Lyft cab. Erik is an entrepreneur, not a performer (perhaps the only one in L.A.), and wants to expand his business. If you do see Erika Simone in a drag club she will likely be hobnobbing with the likes of Morgan McMichaels about safe rides for people of the LGBT community and not heading on stage to rock it out. The big vision is @drivingisadrag in every city. Erik and his alter ego hope to join forces with groups like The Trevor Project, “a hotline for gay and questioning youth”, and GLAAD to gain visibility and assist in creating a safe form of transport within the LGBT community, which can also extend out to anyone. The pinnacle of this business would include the ultimate party bus in every major city in the United States and a non-profit to help those in need of a ride, such as people traveling alone or hospital patients with no family support.

I sure do hope so, because summer is coming and the sooner @drivingisadrag gets to the Philadelphia area, the better. Because this girl is a big fan of drag queens, but not such a big fan of the speedline.

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Looking: Wigs, Wigs, Wigs

Drag queens wear wigs! Well, when they perform, most of the time they do. I have seen a few queens all pained without wigs on, but that is a different icon from a queen aiming to look as womanly as possible. Since wigs are the crown jewel of the queen’s outfit I went to a salon store to check some out with a hairdresser friend.

We entered Not Just Wigs a salon store in the Berlin Farmers Market and are greeted by hundreds of foam heads topped with varying lengths, colors, and styles of wigs. The shelves from the floor to about 2/3 the way up all three surrounding walls are stocked with hairpieces, hair accessories, and hair products. Above that all around the perimeter of the store/stall are two shelves that run parallel to each other one above the other. Here is where all these heads from white faceless foam to darker brown with eyes, lips, and noses. Stare down at us. I am so mesmerized by the selection and the way it is displayed I absently roll behind my friend who bee-lines it to a glass counter where a worker is stationed. She asks to see two types of wigs and only after the store clerk goes to get them do I ask her what we are going to look at.

“There are basically two types of wigs,” she says, “Real hair and synthetic. The real hair is usually human, but some are made of animal hair  and synthetic is the fake stuff.”

She goes on to say she doesn’t use animal hair wigs, because she is never knows if the goats they get it from are treated humanely. I start to imagine a billy goat with a head of long red curls and giggle to myself. I shake off the thought as the clerk brings the two wigs to the counter.

My friend takes them both and turns them inside out. “The other thing about wigs is how they’re made.” She is showing me the inside of a blonde bob. I quickly scan the shelves to locate the bald head where it came from, but she calls my attention to how the construction of the wig before us. “This one is a lace-front cap. Every single hair is hand-tied in place, so it looks real, moves more like real hair, and looks like is grew out of your head.”

I exam the delicate sheer fabric and imagine how long it must have taken to tie each hair in place by hand. Then I spy the price tag attached inside and realize all that work is reflected in the price: $289! I mention the price to my friend who is checking out the other wig. She informs me that is actually on the low end as she has seen real hair monofilament (one strand tied at a time) hand-tied wigs go for anywhere from $650-$2000. Drag queens are not kidding at all when they talk of how expensive a quality wardrobe, including high quality wigs (yes often more than three), can be. I put the blonde bob right side out and back on the counter. I get a little nervous considering I haven’t washed my hands and have been touching the tires of my wheelchair.

The next wig we look at is a much longer, dark brown, curly one. My friend has it inside out too. This is what is called a basic wig. Instead of the lace on the inside there is a cap made like a lattice work and wefts, or long reams, of hair are sewn into the cap. wefts are what people often think of when they imagine hair extensions. These basic wigs can be made of human or animal hair, but the one before us is synthetic and therefore costs a lot less than the others. It’s still too pricey at $69.99 for me though.

My friend has to leave to go to work, so we thank the young woman who helped us and let her know we are done looking at the wigs. On the car ride home I ask about taking care of these expensive creations. I guess right when I think I probably could not throw one of these wigs into a plastic bag and hang it on a nail until I am ready to use it again like the cheap wig I picked up at a party store for Halloween decades ago.

“Synthetic wigs are easier to take care of then real wigs, but after a while you get a routine going for either one,” she begins, “With the real hair you have to comb them gently to get any knots out first literally with a fine tooth comb. Then you wash it like you would your own hair with shampoo, but you have to be sure not to get the cap wet. Once you rinse that out you condition it and rinse again. Real hair can be blow dried, but not synthetic. Synthetic hair will melt or shrivel up in heat. No curling irons, straighteners, or hair dryers for fake hair.”

Synthetic hair has to be replaced on its stand a foam or plastic head to dry. Luckily, because it isn’t human or  animal hair it won’t absorb the water and will dry quickly. There isn’t as much versatility in styling a synthetic wig contrasted against a real hair wig, but they can still look very good and natural especially on stage.

As my friend leaves me at home and drives off, I think about my mild obsession with wigs. I would like to go back to the store some time and try a few on. A wig can really bring out a persona, which is why queens use them.  Between the cost and the care though, I don’t think I will be rolling out of the store with a new persona anytime soon.

Post 3 – Hair and Reflections

Description of a Head of Hair
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While I am sitting in the student center Pit noticing the pattern of the carpet, blue and green leaf pattern, and the lights, groups of three cylindrical lamps suspended high above, a young woman sits at the next table. She swoops passed me, drops a large bag on the floor, and places her laptop on the table. She settles herself into a chair facing the pit and back to the wall. Her full, dark brown, almost-black-in-this-dim-light locks are cut in layers around her circular face with the longest layers in the back grazing her mid-upper arm. It cascades toward her face and into her eyes like curtains in a breeze. It is mostly straight from the roots down, but twists into fist-size curls at the bottom. She flips it out of her face over her left shoulder daintily with her left palm down fingers together in a tai chi slow motion. Then she rakes the fingers of her right hand from the roots at her forehead through her center part to the whorl on her crown. It’s a real supermodel move. The dim lighting showcases the iridescence of the thick and plentiful strands, dark as pitch one moment then suddenly streaked with browns: chestnut or bronze.

I have been observing from afar, but go up to her now. “Excuse me,” I start and then explain I am a graduate student who has to observe someone’s hair for later description. Would she mind if I ask her a few questions? She has about five minutes before she has to go to work she says, but will answer my questions. I ask her the color and as she describes it as a transition between a dyed black and her natural dark brown I try to concentrate but am mesmerized instead by the darkness and thickness of her hair close up. I cannot see the highlights and lowlights she is describing and that I saw previously from the adjacent table. Her hair is everything mine is not. I innocently covet thick dark masses of mane, reams of Rapunzel ringlets I can braid into ropes and configure into elaborate updos. This is why I have developed an appreciation for wigs. I realize I am lost in her hair, not looking at her, and redirect my eyes to her face nodding at what she is saying about not using any hair products beyond shampoo and conditioner and some anti-frizz serum in the summer. I engage in the conversation again asking if it is normally curlier and she says yes. I tell her it reminds me of my daughter’s hair and imagine it wet and sprung up and out into spiraling tresses as my daughter’s much lighter brown hair does after a bath or in the midday heat at the beach. I jot down keywords and thank her for her time. She wishes me luck on my assignment and I leave her to her laptop and locks.

Reflections on Observations

In thinking on my experience of observing and taking fieldnotes in the student center I have come to the realization that initially I felt anxious and probably went into the ladies room because of that anxiety. On second review, however, I know that I was reflecting the feelings of some of my group members and regressing to the more timid and apprehensive self I was in my late teens and early twenties. I soaked in the intimidated energy of my group and manifested that in my own approach at first. That would soon change though.

I felt uncomfortable and annoyed waiting for the handicap accessible stall as I normally do when an able-bodied person uses the stall. I think it is only fair if there is a line and an able-bodied person uses the stall as long as she is ahead of me. When many general stalls are open though I get aggravated. This is why I added my comment “I observe there is only one handicap stall” to the banter of my cohorts humorous comments. It’s probably why I mentioned that the person who used the stall did not wash her hands, something initially that one of my classmates noticed.

Once out in the hall above the Pit I was confused about how to get down. I initially assumed I would use the elevator, then noticed the chairlift only to find that was out of order, but finally to be directed to the more modern chairlift/elevator. In the past I would have been agitated and frustrated by the fact that it was not readily transparent to me how to get down to the Pit. Now however, after years of using my wheelchair I find that whoever is with me is usually more upset about the lack of handicap accessibility. The fact that two people were willing to point me in the right direction , literally, helped me feel relieved. It also made me feel appreciation for their kind and friendly assistance without even being asked.

Using the chairlift harkened me back to a time when I have used other chairlifts at my previous place of business and gotten stuck midway up or down a staircase. I pushed passed that though and did not let it deter me. I followed the instructions on the wall even though in instances in which I am unsure in public I get nervous. I blocked out the fact I was in a public place as is my coping skill to do and got myself into the chairlift/elevator and down into the Pit. I even felt a little giddy at the fact that I got it all to work without help, much like all the technology I am learning these days from my research class to PARCC testing in my own classroom.

In the Pit it was comforting to see my classmates and instructive to follow their lead in finding an unassuming spot to observe from. I never settled in one place for too long because I had lots of energy coursing through me by that time. The longest I stayed still was first while talking to the worker who was closing down the Starbucks Café and she told me the medallions around the Pit’s uppermost walls were club insignias. I learned that she heard that during orientation. The second time I sat put for a bit was while observing the young woman’s hair I described above and then a few minutes later while taking to her.

I was glad and proud of myself for speaking to her, because I proved to myself what I already knew. I am no longer as timid and anxious as I used to be even if I tend toward more reserved behaviors in most instances. I was able to glean more information about her hair and observe it up close. I did briefly consider asking her to touch her hair, but I did not want to get so bold as to border on creepy. I was genuinely impressed that she uses minimal amounts of product because my sister, a curly haired girl I grew up with, was always trying different products to tame her hair.

I appreciated the muted lighting and could imagine getting comfortable on one of the upholstered chairs and having a cold or hot drink from the Starbucks when it is open. The environment reminded me of when I was working on my undergrad degrees and how as a commuter I never really felt part of campus life unless I was in the cafeteria or the library. I became sentimental about being a commuter and my thoughts that I do wish I had lived near campus at leat one year.

Soon I reconnected with classmates who were winding down or finished their own observations as was I and we headed back to class. I was comfortable on the chairlift/elevator on my way back up and am glad to know it is there for  future use. Once back in the room we were using for the evening I decompressed and let the “on” energy of the assignment drain out of me as I relaxed and began to reflect.