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Lima Goes to Hollywood and The Power of the Grey Man

Amidst all the media attention surrounding my Babywearing and Carrying class was a call from CBS’s show, “The Doctors.” They thought my class was interesting and wanted to fly me out to California to talk about it. It took me a few days to get to the place where I decided to take the trip. I said yes on Tuesday, had a travel itinerary on Wednesday night and was on a plane on Thursday.

This is the first solo trip I’ve taken in a very long time to a destination that doesn’t include rendezvousing with friends or family or a firearms class.

No lie, the idea of two days in Hollywood by myself was very appealing though the reminders to be careful started in earnest along with concerns of, “Aren’t you nervous to be traveling by yourself?”

I don’t subscribe to that kind of worry and fear. Lots of people travel by themselves. Lots of females travel by themselves. I’m a pretty secure and confident individual who enjoys doing new things and new experiences.

I was not even worried that I had to leave my gun at home. I don’t have reciprocity in California and while I contemplated bringing my firearm anyway I figured it would be more trouble than it was worth seeing as how I couldn’t carry it (not legally, anyway).

I arrived in downtown Hollywood at around 7 pm local time. I noticed something immediately. I was tragically underdressed. Jeans, t-shirt and flats are as out of costume for Hollywood Blv as if I were dressed in a towel. I was establishing my baseline and already I was not fitting in as a “grey man.”

The head-to-toe glances of the natives made it obvious they recognized me as an outsider.

I was scheduled to go on television the next day so I spent the evening organizing and preparing myself in my hotel room and went to bed at a reasonable time.

The next morning I was up with the sunrise and out to breakfast at 7:30. The diner I chose was right on the Blv and allowed me to watch the people coming and going. In other words, to keep establishing my baseline.

My hotel is on the right. The Chinese Theater on the left.

My hotel is on the right. The Chinese Theater on the left.

The tourists were easy to spot. They got distracted by the names of the stars on the sidewalk, they took pictures of everything. The people who seemed to be local ignored the tourist attractions entirely or pushed the entirety of their belongings around in plastic tubs and shopping carts muttering to themselves.

The blv was practically empty at such an early hour aside from businesses polishing store fronts and setting up kiosks, vagrants milling around, the occasional jogger and hurried individuals dressed business casual, checking cell phones as they hurried off to what I can assume was work. I took that moment to do my tourist thing. Still dressed in flats, jeans and a tank top with no makeup and my hair in a ponytail, armed with hot tea, a knife and pepper spray I walked around taking pictures of the things I found interesting, enjoying the gorgeous weather and being slightly annoyed that absolutely nothing opened before 9 am.

I wasn’t scheduled for pick up until 11:30 so I had lots of time. I looked like a tourist and I knew it. But it was okay. I was a tourist.

When 9 am hit it was like an eruption that spewed people and cars onto the street. They were, literally, bussed in by the dozens. In the course of a half an hour it went from ghost town to shoulder-to-shoulder. With the tourists dressed in t-shirt and jeans and tennis shoes, came the street vendors selling maps and actors dressed like actors trying to entice tourists to tip for pictures.

My status as a tourist was so obvious I was accosted by both a Thor and a spiderman. Vendors hounded me to buy maps and trinkets and take pictures and give hugs. One man followed me for a block telling me I was beautiful and that he had to know “the beautiful redhead.” I found it interesting that he kept asking where I was from. It was clear to him that I was not a native. I fought my way through the crowds to get back to the hotel to get ready for the show.

I spent any time I had left by the hotel pool relaxing. I had been put up in an expensive hotel right on the blv that would not have been common for your average tourist. This allowed me to observe the people who “belonged.” None of them were dressed casually. Even at the pool the women were dressed in heels, their hair and makeup was done and they wore jewelry. Laying out to relax was more of a carefully orchestrated display than resting.

I took note and went off to the show. More on that later.

Even at the studio I took careful note of the staff–the people one could easily peg as local. The males could easily be described as “hipster.” Skinny jeans, graphic t-shirts, wild hair, random piercings and leather jewelry and an occasional hat that never seemed to fit in any form of function. The females, on the other hand, were all wearing heels, dresses and jewelry. There was no one dressed practically despite the hustle.

Upon arriving back at the hotel I wanted to go out again but not be subject to the endless requests to buy or take pictures or answer questions as to where I was from. I wanted to blend in, to be the grey man. My hair and makeup were already done so before leaving I made two very important changes to my wardrobe. I added a pair of comfortable heels and a string of pearls. The things that many would assume would attract more attention.

Heading out for my "grey man" experiment.

Heading out for my “grey man” experiment.

On the contrary. It made me invisible.

Having done all of the picture taking and sight seeing I was also no longer distracted by the sights which freed me to walk directly to and from my destinations with the determination of seasoned locals.

For the next hour of walking on the blv I was left entirely alone. Not a single street vendor or actor-of-actors bothered me. They looked right past me. It was as if I didn’t exist. Even going back to the hotel, the up-and-down glances I’d received when I first arrived were replaced with a passive indifference to my existence simply by changing my shoes and putting on a necklace and not washing my face. Even when I went out to the hotel bar for some more time to relax by the pool with a drink, I was completely ignored.

To continue this social experience, the next day I wore heels and jewelry and did my hair and makeup for my trip home.

In Long Beach I continued to enjoy my new found camouflage. Arriving home to a place where practicality in dress prevails above all things and the only women you see in heels and full makeup on a Saturday are those going to weddings, made me the odd woman out again. The up-and-down glances returned and people stared at me from corner booths wondering who I thought I was being so dressed up.

I live and run in particular circles where practical dress and weaponry are expected. Cover garments, practical shoes and “blending in” mean 5.11 gear and a whole lot of khaki. Women are admonished to wear practical shoes and leave jewelry home that might attract attention. I can no longer say, however, that we can paint a clear picture of what blending in may mean based upon one costume. I’m pretty sure I would consider divorcing my husband if he ever tried to wear skinny jeans and an impractical hat just for the sake of blending in but if putting on a pair of loafers instead of tennis shoes or a graphic t-shirt instead of a button up makes you go from “look at that outsider” to invisible, it may be worth it.

Being an outsider (even if that outsider is practical) draws attention to you and being a grey man may mean balancing a different wardrobe than your used to to keep that attention at bay. Yes, there will be times when you won’t be able to blend in no matter what you do. Race, language, accents, overt cultural differences, limited time to establish norms, can all combine to make it impossible to blend in to some environments. It may also be impractical to completely change your wardrobe by purchasing clothing and items you wouldn’t normally wear for a brief stay. In which case you must accept your outsider status and what comes with that.

Heckling, unwanted attention and even violence can be bestowed on the outsider. Decide for yourself how much you need to change to blend in and whether or not it’s worth it to try. At very least, you may be able to avoid being hugged by Thor.

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