Alex woke up before I did. He had a lot less preparation required to get ready for the day- my articles were spread all over the room. I decided to take advantage of the shower, which had the usual hotel 2 in 1 shampoo and conditioner combo paired with a “beauty bar” for soap. The lighting in the bathroom was dim. I took to shaving my face, and was amused by the fact that I could stand with the shower curtain open and see myself in the mirror. I looked at myself- I didn’t appear stronger, I hadnt lost any weight, and I was the same girl I was when I left. My head was tanned while the rest of my body was a pale white.
Alex made me coffee and started his car while I got ready. I was holding him up and making us late to get to St. Marys, Ohio just outside the Indiana and Ohio border. I left the door open to the motel room. It was absolutely sweltering in there. I checked and checked again for anything I might have left behind, listening to Alex opening and closing his hood so he could reconnect the battery cables. His hood latch was busted and we tried many times to get it to stay locked. I even jumped on the hood. The car was a real jalopy, with minor issues at every turn. The best part was his driver’s side window, which would go down but not up. Even though it was frosty in the air, the car’s heating kept us warm.
I lost my GPS, and assumed it was somewhere among the mess in the car. I was completely unable to find it. This was disheartening- I relied on it for elevation data, and where Google maps would funnel me into an unpaved road, the GPS did not. Besides, I planned on gifting it to someone after I returned home, but that gesture could no longer come to fruition. Anyways, we drove out of Fort Wayne and east to St. Marys.
I had never seen Ohio before. It was exactly like every other state I passed- barren, quiet, untrafficked farms lined the roads we traveled. I was disinterested in the scenery and took to staring at my phone. Sometimes I wondered what I would have done without my phone- how would I beg for donations, say thank you to supporters, update my followers, or find new hosts? Otherwise, it was a great distraction from the otherwise boring landscapes I was tired of.
St. Marys was a small town with nothing around it. It was probably the biggest of towns in the area, yet even still the population couldn’t even retain its only department store, K-Mart. The task was simple- hold up a “store closing” sign for 5 hours and get paid. After waiting around for Alex to steal materials from inside to do the job, he dropped me off at a random intersection near by. I had all my winter gear on, yet the frigid temperature nipped at me. I was less than excited to stand around. At least when I was moving the cold didnt bother me.
The hours took forever to pass. My cell phone had no reception, so I couldnt take advantage of my unlimited data plan. I had nothing to watch, nothing to distract me. I read every word on every sign in my area. In the air I smelled cooking, presumably from the tavern next door. Without a way to entertain myself, I began to write. I wrote for hours. I wondered what I would do if I needed to pee or if I got hungry. Instead of actually doing the job of holding the sign to direct potential customers to the store’s closing sale, I laid it up against a bush and bundled up under my layers.
Eventually I did have to pee and eat- almost at the same time my body became uncomfortable and I had to do something about it. I laid the sign against the tavern and intended to go in for a beer and a bite, but I couldn’t see if it was open. The building had two doors, neither of which said to push or pull for entry. The windows were blocked off and there was no way to see inside. Instead of mustering up the courage to make an appearance in a small town’s local tavern, I conceded. Across the street was a gas station, of which surprised me by having a full service cafe inside of it. All the food was mostly just cheese in various forms. I had pizza sticks, mozzarella sticks, and a personal pizza to eat. I knew the dairy was going to upset my newfound lactose intolerance, but it was all I could eat in such a limited area. I bit the bullet.
The remaining hours were torture. The liquidator, also known as the guy who hired us to hold signs, drove up on me while my eyes were closed. He was pissed that I wasn’t standing and waving the sign. I couldnt find a way to care. I would never see him again, never do that job again, and I was getting paid regardless. I didn’t even try to act like I was taking a break to pander to him. I just said, “whatever,” and proceeded to continue sitting down for the remainder of my shift. I realized at that point how disinterested I was in taking orders. Whether it was police or a boss, I decided right then and there that I would never work a job where anything was expected me beyond what I was willing to put in. I wanted to be a writer or a paid athlete, and from that point on I wouldn’t settle for much less. Of course, the confidence to want to make money doing both of those things came from the praise I received from supporters. If nobody told me my writing was great, I probably wouldn’t write otherwise. The motivation to keep skating stemmed directly from the success I had in competition. It took being better than others and being confirmed about it to even make me want to go forward.
Eventually Alex came. I was happy to see him. We dropped off the signs and headed for Columbus, Ohio even further east. I didn’t know what to expect for Columbus, but jumping into another major city meant I had a better chance at getting the things I needed. The lactose intolerance kicked my ass- we stopped at a rest stop and I ran straight into the women’s bathroom. I couldn’t control myself as I let loose the stinkiest, dirtiest, nastiest diarrhea I had yet. Alex waited for me, and he started the car when I walked outside, but inatead I turned right around and laid more nasty poops for the whole state of Ohio to smell.
I was uncomfortable. It became dark as we entered the city, and everything looked like any other city would- loaded with neon signs, busy sidewalks, and traffic to boot. Since Alex was so open minded, we decided that we were going to find a drag bar that was recommended online by people in the moped groups I frequented. I was excited to immerse myself into a gay culture. Personally, other than women I had never made a gay friend. I had few trans friends. I never attended a support group for queer people and I isolated myself often. For most of my life I didnt want to be transgender. I just wanted to be a girl, live as a woman, and be taken as female. However, coming from a nudist colony and getting in a fight at a bar, I mostly just wanted to keep the excitement and new experiences coming.
We parked behind a bar called the Bossy Grrl Pin Up Joint. I found them online and noticed they were hosting a show that night, themed around the popular show Archer. I never saw the show, but it wasnt going to ruin my experience. Walking in, there were three people: a black gay woman, a tall latino gay man, and a white queer woman behind the bar. They were surprised to see us- I was excited to see them. For once in my trip I didn’t need to explain my gender to feel welcomed. Everything about them screamed gay as hell, and I was beyond ecstatic about it. I was free to be myself.
Even better than that, I found out that they were doing karaoke. Alex and I tried a few different local beers, of which we realized we both liked our beer differently. Alex liked brown ales, I loved pale ales. I also greatly appreciated sours but finding them at a bar was difficult. Listening to everyone take turns at karaoke got me excited. My body uncomfortability disappeared with the first sip of beer and I was ready to take the stage. Usually when I do karaoke I laugh because I look very femme stepping up, then unleash my heathen voice as I wail into the microphone. This time they didn’t expect me to have some hyper feminine voice- I was free to be me.
My first song was “Bodies” by Drowning Pool. My audience of 4 loved it. I signed up again and again, alternating between fun songs like Garth Brooks “Friends in Low Places” and getting raspy with “Lightning Crashes” by Live. I was fully in my element, and encouraged by everyone to keep going. Slowly more and more customers came to the bar- some were older, likely cruising for a younger man to take home with them. Others were about my age or younger, and all very outwardly queer in appearance. I was happy to learn of the immense gay scene of Columbus.
Walking outside to fetch some grub from a food truck, a man immediately began to beg for money. The bartender told me about him and how he was a great guy, yadda yadda yadda, so I listened to him talk and presented a $10 bill for him to take. He groveled to me about being thankful and said something about God being good for putting me in his path. At some point I felt good about it, but on the other end I had to recognize that being homeless was mostly a choice. He could live in a tent and find a job, just as easily as I did. Not even a day before I too was begging for money though, so I understood his plight. As soon as he scampered off, a woman approached me and asked to “borrow” $5 that she would return in an hour. I didn’t expect her to return the $5 to me that she was using for whatever it was she rambled about, and unsurprisingly, she didn’t. I didn’t feel like a good person giving away $15. I felt swindled by my innate desire to be a good person, because so many people were good to me. At the end of the day, if it took being a deceitful jerk to take money from others, they probably needed it more than I did.
The food truck asked me what I wanted to eat and I said, “Just fuck me up bro” so that he could make me something absolutely fantastic for the money I gave him. I liked everything on the menu and would have eaten all of it, so I was excited to see what he would put together by mixing them all. I received a bowl of mashed up tater tots with cheese and guacamole and meat among other things. My drunken mind loved it. It really hit the spot- drunk food is always the best.
Inside, the show was beginning to start. I was fixated on this one performer- I thought she was just a man doing drag, considering I was in a drag bar, but I was pleasantly surprised that she was a trans woman just like myself. I also learned that it wasn’t a drag bar at all- they called it a Burlesque venue. Semantics aside I was ready to enjoy the show. Marla, the bartender, gave Alex and I $5 each to pay the cover price for the show. She really wanted us to see it. Since it was themed around a show I never saw, I was honestly less than interested, but I loved watching Astrea, the woman I was fixated on earlier, walk around and prepare. Besides, I wqs waiting for Sam, an internet friend who offered me a place to stay, to show up.
Sam and I recognized each other instantly. I was being boisterous among the other customers and he said that he wouldnt expect anyone but me to be like that. I was laughing that my reputation online matched exactly who I was in real life. As far as he went, I knew nothing about him. I speculated as to who he was, but anything I guessed would have been wrong. We met in a mutual group on Facebook for downhill skateboarders, a group aptly named “purgatory” because of how horrible it was in culture.
Sam and I connected very quickly. For a white man in an Ohio city, he was open minded and up for anything. We shared drinks and my drunkenness began to show. Sam didn’t want to stay for the show and I was afraid if I stuck around I’d ruin anything the people thought about me that was positive. Marla put my business card on the wall- she really made me feel special. I felt bad for blowing off the show she wanted me to see, but I was honestly no good in public after my 15th beer. Alex didn’t want to come, so we decided we would meet up later on to find a place to sleep. I think we both knew that was never going to happen- that was the last time I saw him, and didn’t even get to give him a hug goodbye.
The rest of the night became a blur. Sam and I snuck out the back of the bar, and climbed under a wire fence to get out. I had to pee but was unwilling to go back inside. I hadn’t said goodbye to any of the friends I made and couldn’t go through the process of embarrassing myself. The sheer amount of people inside was enough to make me anxious. Large groups scared me, especially drunk. I knew how I was when drunk: loud, reactionary, aggressive, confrontational, but otherwise confident.
Instead of going inside, I told Sam to turn around so I could pee in between the cars. I said to him, “You ever seen a grown woman’s dick before?” and between the two of us it was the funniest thing that could have been said in a situation like that. Sam was very much not gay nor did he have any gay friends to speak of. Hanging out with me was the furthest he strayed from his typical genre of friendship.
From there, we went to another bar but I was so far gone I couldnt even drink. I ordered a beer, gave it to Sam, and had a water instead. I was falling asleep on the bar stool. From what I remembered, there was not a huge crowd in the bar and for that I was thankful. Sam decided it was time to go once the bartender caught on. At the time I didn’t feel so bad about it, but in retrospect I probably made it an early night for him and friends who were ready to have fun.
Sam took me to his apartment, I couldn’t tell you if I walked or we drove. I couldnt have told you my own name at the time. In his apartment, I unloaded my giant sleeping bag and hit the hay faster than I did at any point in the trip. If I thought I was at my drunkest in the fight in Fort Wayne, I had truly put the notion to shame: that was the drunkest night I had in the last few years.