My Hiace alternator issues were cured with a day to spare, I wasted no time getting to Los Angeles, hitting the van through the inky blackness enveloping I-10 as fast as the turbodiesel me allowed it, determined to make it in the cooler air on the other side of the desert. A road trip through the southwest can feel like a trip to space – vast expanses of nothing inhospitable, and you in your tiny survival chamber. A nighttime explosion between Arizona and California only strengthens that connection.
I stopped at a rest area for a quick nap about 100 miles out of town, then headed for the early morning rush hour in LA to my stop for the next few days in Long Beach. The weather was absolutely perfect – I had heard it would be beautiful, but it was beyond that. It was an ideal climate for the development of humanity.
[Editor’s note: Writer Victoria Scott is taking off to travel the country this summer and explore car culture in a JDM 1995 Toyota Hiace, and we’ll be chronicling her adventures through a series on The Drive called The Vanscontinental Express. It’s natural to yearn for the open road at a moment when it feels like the world is waking up from a yearlong daze. But as a trans woman looking for her place in the world, Victoria’s journey is anything but your average road trip. This is part nine; you can read parts one through eight here.]
And finally I got to my temporary guesthouse in Long Beach and got ready for the big event I was looking forward to and worked so hard to make sure I was ready (and present) . Mercedes-Benz R&D North America had invited me months before to speak at a Pride Month panel discussion about my experiences as a trans woman in the automotive industry. My contact (who hosted me part of the week; he had graciously offered to let me come to his place after explaining my nomadic lifestyle to me) was a gay engineer who had read and enjoyed my previous writings on the ‘intersection of self and cars, and wanted me to present my take on the importance of being comfortable in your workspace in order to thrive as a person and as an employee.
It was a defining moment for my career. As I said before, one of my only goals that I can define at this early stage is to want to help my community. Speaking at a Pride event for a major automaker – directly to high profile bosses with the ability to influence change – about the importance of acceptance in the workplace seemed like one way to help. Achieving something of this importance so soon is something I share not to brag about, but because I am always in awe of actually being able to accomplish my contribution to the larger gay rights movement, in any way I can, and so on. was a step in the right direction.
The presentation went wonderfully and I found myself amazed at the level of acceptance and the type of questions we asked during the post-panel Q&A. They were genuine and caring, clearly hoping to learn how to put their colleagues at ease, a dynamic that was absolutely unimaginable in my previous corporate jobs. I felt like I had accidentally stumbled upon another slightly better plane of existence, and found myself more optimistic about the future than I had been in a while.
This better plane of existence seemed to permeate all of Los Angeles. After the event, I went for brunch at a cafe that promised via a cacophony of stickers and posters that trans customers would be respected and welcomed. Later that evening my new friend from Mercedes took me to a pizza place and I saw a trans flag for the first time fluttering in the breeze. Mine is relegated to my room; I wanted it to fly outside so badly, but I was really worried that my car would be vandalized in the much more hostile environment of suburban Houston.
The surreal feeling that underpinned my entire experience in LA did not come just from symbolic symbols of acceptance; it was a significant comfort that I had never felt before. I never realized after the pandemic as I traveled through Texas and the rest of the South, in my first few times as Victoria, how tense I was all the time. It wasn’t until I finally let my guard down that I realized how constantly strained my mental state was, and LA finally let me relax – a strange feeling in such a hectic city.
Obviously, I don’t mean this in the sense that I have found a peace here that I couldn’t find in the desert, or that I wander down dark alleys at night with my camera gear and don’t look at myself. don’t worry about the world. What I felt in Los Angeles was that I could finally have the same worries as everyone else. I walked around with the concerns of a nobody rather than as a trans woman. And I didn’t need to separate myself from the others or stay only in the two bars where I was tolerated; I was able to walk around and enjoy the city as I had dreamed.
And did I appreciate that, my God. Before June, I had never set foot in LA, my whole idea of the metropolis defined by the media I had consumed had settled there. Video games, books, films, music, all are loaded with references in Los Angeles. It seems like the hub of American pop culture. And I wanted to visit the myth; in the same way that I hoped the desert would give me a spiritual experience of solitude and peace although I never laid eyes on it, I wanted to experience fantasy in physical form.