I woke up one morning, feeling like I wished I had a different life. I wished I could have pursued my dream to become a fashion designer instead of wasting my time getting a degree in Cultural Anthropology at UCLA.
Why didn’t I just go to art or fashion school!? My dad went to art school. Why didn’t I consider that an option for myself?
I wished I could be like my idol, fashion icon, Betsey Johnson.
I thought about how incredible my life might be if I could meet her. What if I could ask her how she became a designer. what if i could learn from her?
And then it dawned on me that maybe I could.
And so I ran to my computer, went to her website and saw that she was hiring interns.
Amazing!!! I wanted to be an intern for her!
But then I noticed that her design room was located in New York, and here I was sitting on the floor of my parents house with my two wild mutts, all the way across the United States, in Los Angeles.
I just broke up with my boyfriend of 5 years, I was extremely depressed, and had nothing except for my dogs. But more importantly I needed to find something to get me excited about life again.
And then I realized. Nothing was holding me back. Maybe I’d just put my dogs in the car, and drive to New York to see if I could do it.
And like that it happened. No one tried to stop me, I hugged my parents goodbye, they were surprisingly supportive of this bizarre plan.
And away I drove.
On the road, I totally understood what Jack Kerouak meant when he wrote “I was surprised, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.”
I felt totally excited, empowered, and open to the adventure of this trip, and so curious to see if I could actually meet Betsey Johnson! It was the first time I felt alive in years.
I made the best road trip mix that I listened to on repeat with Fast Car by Tracy Chapman, and Let Go Frou Frou, and then I sang Closer to Fine and Galileo by the Indigo Girls on the top of my lungs as I watched the golden twinkling lights on the horizon emerge from the darkness on the road in front of me.
About an hour east of Vegas, I decided to stop for the night. It was late, and I was tired, and so I checked in to a motel.
I remember feeling really scared that night. I heard screams and banging on the wall of my hotel room and my dogs would not stop barking. I couldnt tell if the screams and banging were because of my dogs barking or if my dogs were reacting to the banging and the screams. Either way, I don’t think I slept at all that night, and I remember pushing all the hotel furniture in front of the door because I was so scared someone would come barging in.
That feeling of adventure and excitement seemed to have completely disappeared and now I was just exhausted, scared, and missing my ex. I want to say I cried myself to sleep that night, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t sleep at all that night. But I did cry. And a lot.
In the morning I woke up to 111 degree weather. My dogs were crying cause the floor was burning their paws. I grabbed an apple and some coffee from the front desk, and tried to start my car, but it was dead.
A day wasted in the hot sun of Vegas as my mutts and I waited for my car to be fixed up at the shop. We waited in the shade on the grass because it was so damn hot and no one would let me stay in doors with balistically barking dogs. I don’t even remember what the problem was with my car, but $500 later, we were back on the road.
The rest of my drive was kind of a blur. I remember at one point crying hysterically in my car as I drove through the wheat fields of Kansas. I didn’t even realize how fast I was going, until I heard the sirens blare and I saw those red and blue flickering lights shining behind me. I gazed down as I reached for my turn signal, and realized I was driving over 100 mph.
When the cops pulled me over, I had blood shot eyes from crying, and they asked me if I was on drugs.
Thank G-d they let me go with just a ticket. I had no license or tags for my dogs. They could have taken them away. If I was locked up in Kansas, my parents would have killed me.
Thankfully, the cops just let me go.
And I took it as a sign to slow down.
And I did.
The rest of the ride was pretty boring. I cried alot. I felt alone. I talked to the dogs. And parents and my grandmother called me everyday to see where I was and how I was doing. And aside from those calls, I spoke to no one else.
I remember checking into motel rooms and trying so hard to find ways to have fun. At one point I remember jumping from bed to bed with my dogs. I’d say “ready set go!” and the three of us would jump from one queen bed, to the other.
The places I stayed in were so gross. One night my dogs found a really old pizza under a hotel bed.
There was a night I couldn’t find a hotel that would let me stay with dogs, so I just pulled over somewhere and slept in the car. The dogs definitely made me feel safe. Or should I say, they made me feel safer than I would have felt if I was completely alone. They barked at anything that passed by the car. A squirrel, a deer, a person.
But I knew sleeping in the car was a terrible idea, so when the sun came up, I decided to stop at a book store to see if I could get a road trip planner or a guide for a road trip with pets, or a book about pet friendly hotels, but I found nothing to help with this crazy adventure cross country.
I had my Thomas Guide maps, and my compass, and although I knew I was heading east, I felt so lost. I was scared, lonely and completely drained. The closer I got to New York, the crazier my plan seemed. In a city so overly populated with people, how on earth did I think I was going to meet Betsey Johnson? Was I completely nuts?
All of a sudden somewhere in the middle of Pennsylvania, it was raining like buckets of water dumped on my windshield. My tires were barely gripping the ground, I couldn’t see anything in front of me except for the shimmering lights of the car in front of me. Thank G-d there was a hotel at the next exit.
I slowly inched forward. This was such scary driving. I literally couldn’t see. I thought maybe I should just stop my car where I was, but someone would have absolutely hit me. Somehow, I safely made it to the hotel parking lot. And realized this was a really nice hotel.
I went in, realizing I had no choice, I had to stay here, even if it was expensive. I needed food, and a bathroom and needed to get off the road for the night.
I got completely drenched on my way to the front desk. And then I found out that this place didn’t allow any pets.
Somehow, between my sopping wet hair, some tears, and lots of begging, I convinced them that my dogs were so small and well behaved, (total lie, they are about 50 pounds and crazy)… but I was desperate so I convinced them that they wouldn’t even notice us. They made a big exception, and agreed to let us stay the night.
I was so relieved.
I ran to the car, and decided to do this all in one trip.
I put on my backpack, grabbed some dry clothes, a huge bag of dog food, and both of my dogs leashes, slammed the door and ran through this torrential downpour to the front door of the hotel.
As we walked into the lobby, something happened, and I tripped and the dog food spilled every where.
I somehow let go of the leashes, and my dogs went charging through the hotel, balistically barking at everyone. They then ran together into the hotel restaurant and started grabbing food off the tables!
They would only stop to shake their wet boddies and splash everyone with dirty water.
I left the kibble all over the hotel lobby, and ran through the restaurant screaming “Alley! Miley!!!” until I grabbed their leashes, and ran to our room.
I felt bad about leaving that kibble everywhere, but was more concerned they were gonna come to my room and ask us to leave.
I prayed no one would kick us out.
No one came to the door.
I noticed the room had a jacuzzi tub. And so I decided to soak. I found a bottle of Kahlua in the mini bar, and for the first time in what seemed like forever, I laughed so hard. I laughed so hard it made me cry. I think I literally laughed myself to sleep.
In the morning, the sun was shining. And after about 3 hours of driving, I made it to New York.
I’ll never forget that feeling when I drove under the Hudson River and emerged through the Holland Tunnel. It felt like a rebirth. I saw the bridges, and the buildings, and the endless flood of people J-walking in front of my car, and I couldn’t believe I was actually there.
My first goal was to find an affordable place in a cool part of town, that would let me have my dogs.
I remember someone back in LA suggesting that I would love Williamsburg in Brooklyn. So I went there first.
And I was so excited when I found an apartment that took dogs, in Williamsburg, for under $1,800 a month!
It seemed too good to be true, since every other apartment I looked at was close to $2,500 or would not allow me to have my dogs.
I left the leasing office feeling like I won something. So excited to be in this hip part of town near the artists, thrift stores and coffee shops.
I ran to Target and then the market, and when I arrived to my apartment to start moving in, it was night and I couldn’t find a parking spot anywhere. At night, I all of a sudden noticed that the neighborhood looked completely different. I didn’t see any hipsters, in fact the only parking spot I found was next to graffiti that read: “down with white people.”
I quickly realized that the hip part of Williamsburg was North 3rd, and I just signed a lease to live on South 3rd. BIG DIFFERENCE.
I sat in my car for a moment wondering if I had just made a huge mistake, when all of a sudden a twenty something year old guy in baggy clothes, with a neck tattoo and rings and tattoos on every finger, knocked on my car window.
I sat there thinking. I’m about to die.
My gut said, don’t even think about rolling down that window, but I felt like I had no choice because he was standing right there and I was parked.
I took a deep breath and rolled down the window.
He extended his hand into the car, to shake mine, and said, “can I help you?”
I didn’t know what to say, so stupidly, the words: “I live here” fell out of my mouth.
He said “me too, and by the way, my name is G-d is Good.”
He handed me his card and said… “if you ever need anything, just call.”
He offered to help me take everything upstairs, but I refused his help because I had no idea what to do. Should I risk getting out of the car? Or should I drive the hell away from here?
It was late, and I was tired. And here I was, doing this. I just fucking drove to New York, by myself, with two dogs, and I was on a mission to meet Betsey Johnson. I’m not giving up now.
So I parked my car next to that grafitti and I decided this white girl was gonna stay and nothing and no one was gonna take me down.
I had no mattress, in fact I had no furniture at all, so slept on a wooden floor, huddled with my dogs on top of bundled up clothes.
The next day, I got some coffee and figured out how to take the train to Manhattan, and I showed up at Betsey Johnsons office and asked them how I could apply for that intern position.
I noticed that I looked out of place because everyone there was wearing red lipstick.
They said I had to be a student. So I took myself over to the Fashion Institute of Technology, and enrolled in an extension course, and then stopped at MAC to get some red lipstick, put it on for the first time in my life, and started laughing to myself because this felt like a funny game – like a scavenger hunt on my remarkable adventure. I couldn’t believe I had made it this far, and knew that if I just pushed myself a little farther, I could do this and there’s nothing getting in my way.
With red lips and a fired up attitude, I went back to Betsey’s office to show them that I was now a student.
They said to come back the next day with my portfolio.
Haha. A portfolio? What was that even supposed to look like!?
I didn’t have one, but that wouldn’t stop me. So I went to an art store, grabbed an empty book, some magazines and some glue, glitter and paint, and spent all night cutting up my favorite clothes, and whatever cool fabrics I had with me… putting together a crazy collage of color, texture and mixed matched layered patterns, I had no idea what on earth a portfolio was supposed to look like, but I was determined to make something awesome.
So the next day, I left my South 3rd apartment with my red lips, colorful book, and strange mixture of nerves, coffee, adrenaline and confidence, and I saw G-d is Good on my way out of the building. He had no idea where I was going but he opened the door for me and wished me good luck. I smiled as I walked down the street with purpose, and I remember noticing how full of passion everyone seemed to be that day. Everyone from the stomp style street performers to the moms carrying their kids down the steps, in heels!, to the break dancers who passed through my subway car, to the men with their briefcases, and Chasidic Jews reading the Talmud on their morning train ride, they were all fully doing their thing, and so was I.
I showed up at Betsey’s studio and somehow landed what would be the first of my three interviews with her lead designer Brandon Aldridge. A couple weeks later, I got a call back that I was hired.
I have to say, working for Betsey and Brandon was absolutely a dream come true. I constantly felt like I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
All those stories of mean people in the fashion industry, are so far from what I experience interning for Betsey Johnson. First of all Brandon was so generous to offer me the position even though I had no idea how to draw or sketch or sew! I had zero formal training in fashion, and he knew that, and he took a chance on me.
For that, I will ALWAYS be so grateful!!!!
And Betsey, she is the coolest, nicest, most encouraging, empowering boss ever. I’ll never forget the day she stopped me in the hallway to tell me she loved my outfit. I was wearing an I LOVE NY shirt with converse under apron overalls with red lipstick. She brought me and all the other interns presents from Mexico, and gave us so many dresses and sweaters and accessories. She asked me to sit in on a design meeting and sketch out all their ideas, and before I could even tell her that I had no idea how to draw, she sat me down with a pen and paper and just started talking.
I scribbled what must have looked like chicken scratch, and I’ll never forget how she had no complaints, only thanks when I handed it to her! One day she invited me to her apartment so she could ask my opinion on how we could refresh her old clothes, and after a few minutes of brainstorming, we decided to dye everything mustard yellow. From then on, I was her personal “dye girl.”
When I told her that I needed a job, she picked up the phone and called one of her stores and told them to hire me. When I told her I wanted to go to fashion school, she took a sharpie and a hot pink piece of paper and wrote me a letter of rec by hand.
And I am not special! She probably doesn’t even know my name! She is just that giving and awesome and generous with EVERYONE!!!
Getting to meet Betsey was probably the coolest thing I’ve ever gotten to do. I am so grateful for every word, moment, dress, inspiration and confidence she gave me.
I’ll always appreciate Betsey. Not only am I completely inspired by her over-the-top feminine, whimsical, off the charts awesome designs, and her amazing use of color and pattern, but her generous heart and beautiful smile, and funky free spirited individual style are what make her so damn special. Seriously, how many seventy somethings do you know that still do cart wheels!? There is no one and will never be anyone like Betsey Johnson.
She is undeniably amazing.
And I can’t end this story without mentioning how much I LOVE NY. Because I do and always will.
New York is so alive. The feeling of just being there makes you know that life is a wild adventure. Anything is possible, if you have the passion and the courage and the hutzpa to just go for it.
But I knew that I had to leave there before I got settled, because looking forward, I never wanted to raise kids in a big city. I have to say, as easy as it was to leave LA and drive east, I felt my heart break, as I drove away from New York. Leaving New York was harder than any break up. But I knew I had to do it.
With my car full of Betsey Johnson dresses, Betsey Johnson shoes, Betsey Johnson purses, Betsey Johnson jewelry, my red lipstick, renewed spirit, and two wild mutts, tears fell like rain as I drove away from my South 3rd apartment into the sunset. I cried because I watched myself chase a dream and now I knew I could do anything. And I knew I would always deeply miss New York.
I read somewhere that Betsey once said, “real success is being totally indulgent about your own trip. You put your blinders on about the garbage and go full speed ahead.”
Today, while I draw or sketch or sew my custom rainbow wedding dresses and electrical light up gowns, I remember the time I risked everything to drive across the US by myself to see if I could meet Betsey Johnson. It is because of her that I was so inspired to follow my heart, chase my dreams, and perfect my craft, learning all there is to learn about making dresses. And I have to say that that trip, was so incredible, and she was right… if you put blinders on and focus on a goal, you can do anything.
And yes, I deeply believe that G-d is Good.