My Hiace alternator woes cured with a day to spare, I wasted absolutely no time getting to Los Angeles, punching the van through the inky blackness enveloping I-10 as fast as the turbodiesel would let me, determined to make it into the cooler air on the other side of the desert. A road trip through the Southwest can feel like space travel—grand stretches of inhospitable nothing, and you in your tiny survival chamber. An overnight blast between Arizona and California only solidifies that connection.
I paused at a rest stop for a quick nap about 100 miles from the city, and then headed through the morning rush hour of LA to my stop for the next few days, in Long Beach. The weather was absolutely perfect—I’d heard it would be nice, but it was beyond that. It was an ideal climate for humanity to thrive.
[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 arrived at my temporary guest home in Long Beach and prepared for the big event that I had so eagerly looked forward to and worked so hard to ensure I’d be ready (and present) for. Mercedes-Benz R&D North America had invited me months prior to speak at a roundtable panel for Pride month about my experiences as a trans woman in the automotive industry. My contact (who was hosting me for part of the week; he’d graciously offered to let me come stay in his home after I’d explained my nomadic lifestyle) was a gay engineer who had read and enjoyed my previous writing about the intersection of self and cars, and wanted me to present my take on the importance of being comfortable in your workspace to thrive as a person and an employee.
This was a watershed moment for my career. As I’ve said before, one of my only goals I can define at this early stage is that I want to help my community. Speaking at a Pride event for a major auto manufacturer—directly to higher-level bosses with the ability to affect change—about the importance of acceptance in the workplace felt like a way to help. Achieving something of this importance this early is something I share not to brag, but because I am still in awe that I might actually get to accomplish my furthering some small piece of the broader gay rights movement, in whatever manner I can, and this was a step in the right direction.
The presentation went wonderfully, and I found myself floored at the level of acceptance and the kind of questions we fielded in the post-panel Q&A. They were genuine and caring, clearly hoping to learn how to make coworkers feel comfortable, a dynamic that was absolutely unimaginable at my previous corporate jobs. It felt like I had accidentally stumbled into another, slightly better plane of existence, and I found myself more hopeful for the future than I had been in a while.
This better plane of existence seemed to permeate the entirety of Los Angeles. After the event, I went to 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 parlor, and I saw a trans flag flying in the breeze for the first time. Mine is relegated to my bedroom; I wanted so badly to fly it outside, but I genuinely worried that it would get my car vandalized back in the much more hostile environment of suburban Houston.
The surreal feeling that underpinned my entire LA experience wasn’t just from token symbols of acceptance; it was meaningful comfort I had never felt before. I had never realized post-pandemic as I drove through Texas and the rest of the South, in my first times out existing as Victoria, how permanently tense I was. It was only when I finally let down my guard that I realized how strained my mental state constantly was, and LA finally let me relax—an odd feeling in such a hectic city.
Obviously, I don’t mean this in the sense that I found a peace here that I couldn’t find in the desert, or that I walk around unlit alleys at night with my camera gear and no cares in 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 person rather than as a trans woman. And I didn’t need to sequester myself from other people or only stay in the two bars I’d be tolerated in; I got to walk around and enjoy the city how I dreamed I would.
And did I enjoy it, my God. Before June, I had never set foot in LA, my entire idea of the metropolis defined by the media I’d consumed set in it. Video games, books, movies, music—they all are riddled with references to Los Angeles. It seems like the central hub of American pop culture. And I wanted to visit the myth; much in the same way I hoped the desert would give me a spiritual experience of solitude and peace despite never having laid eyes on it, I wanted to experience fantasy given physical form.
My first stop was to hang out with fellow automotive journalist Daniel Golson, who had been someone I’d admired from long before I’d chosen a name or imagined becoming a writer, because he is openly out and phenomenal at his craft, and he seems to really love Los Angeles. I hoped that he would help me understand how this city was so alluring. He did.
I dressed up to match the occasion as best I could, and headed to Daniel’s house where he whipped out the car he was reviewing that week—a China Blue ’21 Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG, the ubiquitous urban tank of choice for the city’s wealthy. We hopped in, loaded up a soundtrack, and from there we hit the streets of Hollywood and downtown LA, culminating in a cruise through Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills’ iconic palm tree-lined boulevard where the wealthy strut and shop. This was the dream that my media-soaked visions of Los Angeles told me of. You can cruise Rodeo in any kind of car you want, but a $187,000 brand new Mercedes Benz with the seat massagers buzzing as Katy Perry blasts out of the head unit is definitely the platonic ideal.
And I am not wealthy. I was wearing a $10 dress from Modcloth I had bought on sale; my shoes were still covered with dust from the dirt trails I had driven through just a few days prior. I was in a car that I did not own and cost more than most houses I could afford to rent. But in LA, those things do not matter. The mirrored glass of the high-end shops reflect the light shone at them, regardless of who you were before or who you will be next; there is an undeniable truth to what you see in them. I saw two young auto writers living their best lives in a beautiful blue Mercedes when I finally dared to look.
And so I stepped out of the G-Wagen into the bustling streets of Beverly Hills and allowed myself to feel desirable for the first time. It did not matter if I was attractive or dressed correctly or if I owned a Mercedes or not. There’s an immediate confidence that being here—surrounded by people who would accept me at face value, in a city built to chase dreams—instills.
It was no longer vanity I was indulging with dressing up and hitting Rodeo; it was letting myself feel a sense of inherent worth. The horizon was just a little broader here. I could be attractive. I could be successful. Every wild dream and closest-held hope was just a bit closer to reality for a few hours.
And that energy seemed to stay with me; call it positive thinking or the magic of Los Angeles or pure luck, but from the moment I stepped out of the G-Wagen and felt that pride and satisfaction, continually surreal experiences fell into my lap that left me permanently stunned. I saw one of the most incredible automotive selections of my life at a Cars and Coffee at Griffith Park.
I visited the still-closed Petersen Museum, one of the premier auto exhibitions on the planet, and was invited to walk the empty halls and shoot photos to my heart’s content, including the coveted (and usually no-photos-allowed) Vault collection. Visiting the Petersen had been a bucket list occasion for me; walking through the silent hallways, having private moments with cars I’d dreamt about for decades was beyond any fantasy I’d ever let myself imagine.
From there, I took a trip to visit Matt Farah of The Smoking Tire and gaze at the towering lifts loaded with the most desirable cars of every country and era at WCCS, his gleaming car-storage facility in the west side of Los Angeles. An afternoon spent wrenching and discussing the ins-and-outs of having a platform—and doing good with it—with Nolan Sykes of Donut Media capped off an absurd week of meeting icons of automotive media and realizing that I truly am part of the industry now, despite the fact I still feel like a novice in so many ways.
I watched the fog roll in off the ocean that night from the mountains north of Santa Barbara, and then hopped an Amtrak from the station on the beach all the way down the coast to Oceanside to see an internet friend just because I felt like it. Trains are fun, and Eri was someone I really wanted to meet in person. I didn’t have a plan, but I didn’t need one. Nothing had been mapped out to this point in SoCal; why start now? We went to one of the only lesbian bars left in America and did burnouts in a Tesla-swapped Maserati and cruised the beaches together in her slammed Benz.
It just worked out. Southern California seems to.
Shortly after riding the Amtrak back to the city, someone tossed me the keys to my very first brand new car to review, a completely unimaginable situation for me just months ago as I dipped a toe into writing full-time. I picked up a 2021 Honda Ridgeline, complete with the rad Honda Performance Development kit, and off-roaded it through the hardest trails I could find, hauling some friends along so they could experience the joy of the wilderness. I drove Angeles Crest Highway and the 101 and the 5 and the 10 and the 405 in it, bouncing from one incredible sight to another, sleeping in the mountains every night overlooking the sparkling vast city I ended up falling in love with.
Afterwards, I took Marsha down Sunset Boulevard, soaking in the sights through the panoramic front glass. I ate a burger from a train car parked on Sunset that’s apparently Jay Leno’s favorite diner in the city. I drove up to the observatory on Griffith and joked with my friends that I was there to accept a GTA mission. My editor-in-chief and I drove his K5 Blazer through the LA River. I had a burger at In-N-Out and watched massive jets approach LAX while I ate. When July 4th happened, I drove through random parts of the city and experienced a nonstop fireworks show that made Blade Runner’s vision of the future seem mild.
Even the most mundane parts of life on the road—eating a burger, a holiday I don’t really celebrate happening—become cinematic in Los Angeles. It cast an already surreal trip in an even more dreamlike haze.
I will always attribute a lot of my success both in this wild career writing and on the road in my van to luck, because I have genuinely caught many fortunate breaks. But in Los Angeles, there’s a communal sense of betterment that seems to permeate the smog and make those breaks happen just a little more often. Millions of people are born and grow up here, but for the rest of the country, LA is seen as a city where people arrive, a final destination on a trip Out West where the environment is freer and the opportunities are vast. People land or wash up here with hopes and dreams and a desire to build their best selves, and then work to make it happen.
I met a lot of people who started over in Los Angeles; they ran from old careers and lives that had become stale and unsatisfying to them, and they found success in the sprawling metropolis and want to pay it forward to people like me trying to do the same. As a city, it is surprisingly alluring; as a culture and a mindset, I could not have foreseen how much I would enjoy it.
As I write this, I’ve ended up back in Los Angeles due to an unforeseen breakdown—more on that tomorrow, but the short explanation is that I’m fine with it. The city and its people welcomed me, and I love it here. I am in no rush to move on.
You can follow Victoria’s journey in real-time on Twitter here. Got a tip? Send us a note: [email protected]
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