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The Yellow Brick Road to the Hollywood Bowl—Part 1

Updated: Nov 19, 2019

By Elizabeth Gracen:

Out of the blue, I received an invitation from Katie Harmon Ebner, Miss America 2002, to perform late this summer with a handful of former Miss As and the incredibly talented Thomas Lauderdale and his wonderful Pink Martini orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl to sing Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman”—three nights in a row—with the fabulous China Forbes, accompanied by PM and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. It took me a moment to process the email invite, because if you know me at all or happen to have read my review of the incredibly talented Natalia LaFourcade, you know that I consider the Hollywood Bowl the premier venue in Los Angeles. It’s the quintessential LaLa Land experience if you’re looking for an out-of-the-ordinary night on the town in Hollywood—under the stars, the Klieg lights crisscrossing the night sky, food, wine, amazing music, and at audience capacity, a lovely shared experience with over seventeen thousand people.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would ever perform at the Hollywood Bowl. I mean, c’mon. To do so would be akin to visiting Oz with all of its sparkle, glamor, and magic, right? Since I’m almost finished with my documentary MS. MERIWETHER—my love letter to the effervescent Lee Meriwether, Miss America 1955—the chance to grab yet another fabulous piece of footage of Lee all glammed up at the Bowl was my true agenda. But if I’m going to be completely honest, my big fat ego teased and firmly tugged me toward those Klieg lights. As I’ve told many a friend, I had no idea that singing at the Bowl was on my bucket list, but apparently it was.

It’s been a long time since I had to “primp” with any true focus. My Miss America days are long gone, only to be revived on rare occasions (usually in September—although this year, Miss America will be broadcast on December 19th on NBC). One of the most important requirements demanded of you as a Miss A back in the 80s was to always be “camera ready.” That meant it was highly recommended that you purchase a fur coat (I know, disgusting) to throw over whatever you were wearing when you disembarked the plane—très glam in the high-flying 80s, right up there with big hair and shoulder pads. There was a whole lot of maintenance involved in being a beauty queen. I’m assuming that has not changed, but I don’t run in those circles now. Nowadays I fall into the casual category, slapping on my Tom Ford Jasmin Rouge 75 lipstick any time I want to feel “fancy.” Needless to say, getting ready to sing at the Hollywood Bowl was a daunting glam gauntlet.

What do I wear? How many changes do I need? Where do I get my makeup done? What shoes? And in the immortal words of Dorothy from Kansas, “Can you really dye my eyes to match my gown?” Honestly, I always feel guilty about having to think about these frivolous things with all the seriousness going on in the world, and part of me locks down with just plain fear about how the hell one presents oneself at such an event. This Dorothy was about to be caught up in a whirlwind and needed a plan and a makeover, stat.

After an almost disastrous renting experience with Rent-the-Runway (only one out of 8 choices fit me), I ended up borrowing a sleek tuxedo from my friend and wore it on two different nights with my favorite version of ruby red slippers—a very comfortable twenty-year-old pair of Ferragamo heels (thank you, Arthur, my shoe repair dude). And, as it turns out, if you purchase $50 worth of product at Sephora, you are entitled to a free, one-hour full makeup session if you go online to schedule. My fourteen-year-old daughter always has a wish list at the ready of makeup and skin-care products, so there would be no problem with that. The Hollywood/Highland Sephora was just down the street from the Bowl and around the corner from the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel where the out-of-town Miss As would be staying.

It was all falling into place. Checking off all the glam necessities on the primp list would be a cinch for this Dorothy Gale. But what I didn’t expect was the eclectic group of characters I’d meet along the way on my trek down the yellow brick road to the Bowl— unique individuals who would unexpectedly teach me something I didn’t even know I needed.

If I only had a brain . . . like Samuel’s.

Friday night was to be our first performance, so that meant some major organizing on the home front to make it all happen. School pick up, drop off, and after-school activities had to be arranged for my kid. The dogs needed to be walked and some sort of dinner plan put in place for the family before I left for the day. You know, the usual mom/wifey stuff. However, this particular Friday morning, I had volunteered to assist a fellow mom with the brief care and drop off of her son, Samuel.

Samuel is six years old. His mom, Yvette, is a jewel of a neighbor, and our daughters love each other. Yvette always helps me out in a pinch, so when she asked if Samuel could tag along for drop off and to hang with me until his bus picked him up back at their house a little later, I did not hesitate to reciprocate her frequent generosity, even though it gave me very little wiggle room in my Bowl prep plan. I was determined to make it work because Samuel is a fella to win your heart. His joy and general positive outlook, infectious. When Yvette had given me instructions to say, “Samuel, now make good choices” if he resisted getting on the school bus that morning, I realized that her advice to Samuel was actually the best advice you could give anyone at any time.

Samuel and I spent only about thirty minutes together that morning, but we talked a lot about a lot of things. Samuel is high-functioning autistic with a wonderful mind full of ideas and opinions. We talked about dogs, rocks, cars, cup-holders, and where we lived, but the most enthusiastic topic we mutually locked on to was the subject of automatic hand dryers. Bottom line: we love them.

I can’t show you our various “hand waving” techniques you must employ with most hand dryers, but I know that you know what I mean. You basically just do anything you can to get your hands dry under the machine and then you wipe your hands on your pants. But those silly things pale in comparison to what Samuel and I both wholeheartedly agree that we love, love, love—that which we have officially named “Dippers.” You know, the Dyson dryers where you dip your hands in the . . . well, you get it. To make a long story short, I’m now seriously considering installing one when we renovate my scary bathroom at home.

Samuel turns the camera on me

My time with Samuel was brief that day before his driver arrived (I picked him up the following week as well. This time the topic was conveyor belts and their importance to the world—we watched several construction videos on YouTube and consulted the ever-funny Lucy and Ethel Wrap Chocolates” video). As Samuel stepped up onto the bus, the driver smiled at me and said, “Just step back. Samuel is going to close the door now.” At that, Samuel turned to me with a bright smile as he pushed a button on the console. The door, in traditional bus fashion, folded closed. A few seconds later, Samuel’s mischievous smile appeared once more as the door opened and shut one more time for good measure before they were off. No need to tell Samuel to “make good choices.” He had it down.

To Be Continued . . .

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