I tried to write the story of when 20-year-old me moved to Los Angeles, but first I had to tell the story of how I got to Tucson from rural Michigan. It became a story about the various men, good and bad, that influenced my sometimes drastic decisions. So, I want to say that this is the story about moving to LA and taking an unexpected three-day Greyhound ride from North Hollywood to Flint, but you should know it is also about all of the men that forced me to find my home.
I left Michigan for Tucson with a best friend from home in 1999. He had already been living there and I had gone to visit once. He called me on a Tuesday and said, “Hey I will be in Lapeer this weekend and have to drive a car back to Tucson for my job – you should move back with me.” I said okay, hung up with him, and walked downstairs to tell my parents that I was moving. I then told the boyfriend that I had at the time, but he didn’t believe me. And since he was a 19-year-old alcoholic, he showed up at my impromptu going away party a few days later just to be a drunk dick and really seal the deal on me being happy to leave. The best friend and I were not romantically involved until the drive out to Tucson. Or maybe we fooled around as kids? I don’t really remember. The plan was for me to stay with him until I could make it to LA. Arizona was geographically closer to LA than Michigan, so it made sense. On our drive to Tucson, he made a rule that we would kiss each time we crossed a state line.
Next thing I knew, we were playing house. We had just turned 20 and were living in a tiny apartment, sleeping together, and acting like grown ass adults. I was working as a waitress at Johnny Rockets and we had to dance to specific songs from the customers’ jukebox selections. The songs cost 5 cents each and we had to give the customers a few nickels of our own damn money when they sat at our table. It doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but when you work on a fucking college campus and the entire customer population is drunk 19 or 20 year olds asking for YOUR FIVE CENTS so they can STOP YOU FROM MAKING THE MILKSHAKES THEY ORDERED and force you to DANCE A CHOREOGRAPHED ROUTINE TO RESPECT BY ARETHA, it fucking adds up. I also sold water coolers over the phone. I have no idea how I even landed that gig, but I do know that it was shady as fuck. You know how when you go to the mall there is a raffle to win a free car? It’s a scam. The water cooler sales office rented that new car, put it in the mall, and every person that signed up to win actually put themselves on a call log for WATER COOLER SALES. I did this for a few months and was super good at it. It was weird. Anyway, they gave me a raise and asked me to be a manager right before I quit to work at a fancy restaurant across town. It featured Pacific Rim cuisine (i.e., culturally appropriated wasabi stuffed chicken), had a serious wine selection, and on the shift that I made $250 in tips, I quit. I used that $250 along with the only credit card that had funds available to rent a U-Haul to tow my dead car out to LA.
Dang it, now I have to explain the dead car. It was a cherry red 1990 Pontiac Grand-Am and its name was Hot Damn 100 because when I was 18 that 100 proof cinnamon schnapps was the only liquor that I drank. I bought the car off of a dude that I worked with at the full service gas station back in my hometown Lapeer, Michigan. Yes, I fucking pumped gas AND checked oil all while smoking Parliament Lights. It was 1998 and life was golden. Anyway, I had a perfectly good car that my dad had given me when I turned 16. Instead, I wanted this fancy red car that I drove sideways down an icy dirt road on my only test drive. My dad strongly urged me not to do exactly what I did: buy a piece of shit from a shady dude that wore sweatpants every day of his adult life. So, I didn’t take Hot Damn 100 when I left for Tucson because that move was a super quick life decision.
After being in Tucson for a few months, I decided I wanted my hot ass car and had my two best friends back home drive that piece of shit to Tucson. Super fun bonus story on this: the two best friends that drove my car across the country accidentally tried to enter Mexico because they didn’t have a real map and instead were using playing cards that had individual state maps on them and handwritten directions like “I-75 south to 80 west.” When the border patrol asked them for identification, the one driving handed over a suspended license and the other provided a letter addressed to her for a failure to appear in court and a college ID. Hot Damn 100 died maybe two months after being in Tucson and I kept meaning to fix it, but then I decided to move to LA, and I needed to bring it with me, obvs.
Okay, back to the LA story. While living in Tucson, I flew back to Detroit to see family and met a girl on the plane. Her name was Katie and she was coming from LA to visit family in Michigan too. She was my age and a student at FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising). We exchanged numbers and then a few months later I stayed with her in LA. I went on a road trip with some friends that I worked with at Johnny Rockets, one of which was also from LA and was going to see her mom. They offered to take me along to show me LA and I could look at apartments. I stayed a night with Katie and her roommates and they had a party. It was at this party that I discovered how small our damn world is.
The apartment was on the third floor of a complex and while standing on her balcony, I could see across the courtyard into the apartment directly across from us. It was full of people smoking out of a standing hookah. I was drunk and wanted to do that too, so I stumbled out of her apartment, following the hallway around to end up knocking on what seemed like the right apartment door. (I was fucking fearless as a young adult, I would never do this shit now.) A young man opened the door and the weed smoke billowed out behind him. I told him that I came from a party across the courtyard, had seen what they were doing, and wanted to join in. I was welcomed in and within a minute I hear someone shout, “Hey, I know you!”
I didn’t recognize the guy who insisted to know me, so it turned into two drunk and stoned kids trying to figure out a connection and GUESS THE FUCK WHAT! These dudes were celebrating the fact that they were in LA to record an album. They were from a town only 20 miles from my own rural hometown. THEY WERE THE BAND THAT MY DRUNK EX WAS KICKED OUT OF JUST BEFORE I MOVED TO TUCSON. They remembered me from dropping his ass off at band practice. We talked about how sad it was that he was such a drunk and how exciting it was that they were recording an album. I thanked them for the weed and stumbled back to my friend’s apartment. I made a few other friends that night that helped me various times during my first year in LA. Specifically one guy named Brad who was a beautiful hippie that was trying to make it as a model and was truly the kindest soul ever. If anyone knows where he is, please send him my way, I still have to thank him for driving me to Long Beach for that job interview.
While touring around with the Johnny Rockets friends in LA, I found an apartment. It was a very poorly advised situation where someone recommended that I check out the Penny Saver, and I am still to this very day shocked that I didn’t end up on some show about catching a predator. Remember this is all taking place in 1999 – there was no Craigslist, although that site is essentially the same concept as the Penny Saver. We depended on newspapers and printed ads for this sort of information. What I found was basically a man renting a room in his house in Van Nuys (in the valley of Los Angeles). I met him, he seemed nice enough, was much older, and explained that he had three rooms: the master was his, the second was rented out to a young woman like me, and the third was available and was in my budget. I told him that I would think about it and get back with him after talking to my boyfriend in Tucson. That’s not what happened though. After this LA trip, I went back to Tucson, quit my job, and rented the U-Haul. By the way, the U-Haul guys totally ripped me off; they talked me into getting the biggest truck they had because I supposedly needed it to tow the trailer for Hot Damn 100. So, I got into the truck with my dead Grand-Am in tow and my two boxes of shit banging around in the back of a 16-foot truck and arrived to my room in a house in Van Nuys.
The house owner was very pleasant at first. Looking back now, I see that he was too pleasant. He wanted more than a roommate. In the moment, it just felt like this man wanted company and I didn’t know any better, so I accepted his dinner invitations. I noticed shit was getting weird during a dinner with his friends where he tried to get me to drink more wine. I wasn’t even 21. I wasn’t comfortable drinking around him and instead told him that I didn’t like drinking. He was embarrassed in front of his friends and scolded me on the way home.
“I take you to a nice dinner and you didn’t even appreciate the fact that you were being offered expensive wine.” I apologized and said that I was not aware that it was a fancy wine because I wasn’t even old enough to drink yet. My retort caught him off guard and he relaxed for the drive home. I want to be clear – he never touched me. But, I want to be even clearer – this does not mean that this was not the shadiest situation I had put myself in as a woman. I kept asking about the other roommate and he gave the same answer: she is busy with her acting jobs and now has a boyfriend so she stays with him a lot.
He would ask me to watch a movie with him and would get offended when I said I preferred to write in my room. I lit incense once and he came into my room unannounced to ensure that I was not smoking weed. I told him that I was not and that he had to knock before entering. That is when he informed me that it was his house and I was living by his rules. I called my dad after this and told him that I felt weird about the situation. My dad put a call in to one of his friends that was a private investigator. He let me know a few days later that this guy had no criminal record and that there was nothing alarming, but to leave if I was uncomfortable. (I can’t imagine the hell that I put my parents through during these years. I was 3000 miles away so they couldn’t just stop by and fix my problems.)
One day I was home and he was not. I heard some noise and so I investigated – low & behold: the missing roommate! She was packing the rest of her stuff to move out. She said that I needed to get out quickly, that he was super weird, and she was luckily able to move in with her boyfriend. We shared a beer while she packed and she made me promise that I would leave the first chance that I got. The next morning I woke up to find him standing in my room, watching me sleep, and that was the morning that Hot Damn 100 saved me.
I had been sleeping on a pile of blankets on the floor since I did not have a bed. It was obviously alarming to wake up and find a man standing over me, but the fact that I was on the floor made it more terrifying. I screamed, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN HERE?” and he replied, “Oh sorry, I thought I heard a noise so I came to check on you.” He left the room and I called my parents and said I was coming home. I don’t know where the idea came from, but I looked up junk yards in the phone book and got a guy on the phone that promised me $200 cash for my Grand-Am. I said he’d have to come and get it. The tow truck arrived maybe two hours later. I had already packed a bag and met him outside. I asked him if he could drop me off at the nearest bus station. So he put Hot Damn 100 on the back of his tow truck, handed me $200 and I hopped in. He dropped me at the North Hollywood Greyhound station. I got a bus ticket to Flint, Michigan and was told to wait for the next bus to downtown LA.
Let me be clear as fuck here: this bus ride was probably the biggest learning experience of my life. I was 20. I was adorable. I was alone. The bus driver in LA hit on me so much that an older man on the bus said he was worried about me and to stick with him. His name was Kevin and he was older, gray hair, sipping vodka out of a flask, and he’d eat cinnamon Altoids after each swig to try to mask the smell. We got off at every stop together, smoked cigarettes, and sometimes would hit a joint from whomever was sharing it at the bus stations. We stopped in shitty places like Barstow and Laughlin, some dude asked if he could lick my ass in Omaha and Kevin barked at him until he walked away. Kevin was riding all the way to Connecticut which meant that we parted ways in Chicago. He gave me a copy of Charles Bukowski’s Tales of Ordinary Madness and wrote his name and number inside the cover. I had never read Bukowski and to this day I can’t remember exactly what Kevin looks like because I always picture him as Bukowski. He passed me off onto another man on the bus that sat with me until Flint. It is funny to think that because some of the men were terrifying, I was using other, far less terrifying men to keep me safe.
I called my parents from the payphone at the stop before Flint to let them know I needed a ride. After explaining everything that had happened, I was exhausted and slept for a whole day. When I woke up, I decided living in LA was a ridiculous dream and that I was not ready for it. I was trying to figure out a way to get my shit back home when the phone rang. I don’t know exactly how the creep got my parents’ number, but he called to tell me that if I was not back to get my stuff, he was setting it on fire.
I had to get to LA, and fast. A best friend was finishing art school in Pittsburgh so I talked her into driving back to LA with me. I had to first drive to Pennsylvania to help her move back to Michigan. Then after the drive to PA from MI, we got back to MI and took off for LA in my dad’s 1987 Cadillac. We drove straight through and were completely bananas by the time we got to Tucson. We stopped there to say hi or maybe get weed, I don’t remember, but we made it to LA before my shit was on fire. I was going to turn around and go home, but somewhere along the way, my dad talked me into trying it a little longer. He said that there was no way to accomplish my dreams of being a successful comedian from home. So my friend and I drove around LA with all of my shit packed in the Cadi looking for a place to live.
The story of the second place I lived in LA is a whole other mess that involves old white women dressed as clowns, living in South Central while thinking it was just “downtown,” and following a dude named Loose to my first real job in LA. I will tackle that story another day because now I need to process the fact that men, whether intentional or not, got me to LA.