TAMPA — I'm on the corner near the Ritz Ybor, coolly smoking a cowboy killer. I need something to do with my hands, attached to still lanky-feeling arms.
Everyone is dolled up for America's Next Top Model casting. I look like Cate Blanchett playing Bob Dylan in I'm Not There, black wayfarers to boot. I grew 2 inches taller since December, bumping me from a respectable 5 feet 5 to a slightly above-average 5 feet 7 at age 21. Biological anomaly translates into a shot at reality-TV stardom, it seems.
I don't know what I'm doing up so early for a modeling tryout. Sure, I've got an impressive shoe collection, but I'm hardly girly, not at all model material. I beat out a bunch of dudes in a hot dog-eating contest Friday. Chick drinks like cosmos sicken me; I'd rather slam down PBRs with my boys and wax philosophic.
So, when I wound up in Ybor on what began as a whimsical "why not," I expected to encounter catty, sundress-clad trophy-wives in training.
The six-hour wait turned out to be a lesson in misplaced assumptions (and a seeming dearth of sundresses). Some girls had a malnourished, small-town prettiness about them. They were girls dizzy with hope for glamor, thirsty for escape from mall jobs and early-20s doldrums. Others had a bored, mouthy savoir faire.
They'd been through this before. They knew how to beat the game. How to shimmy their hips, pause and turn, coyly. Some are blond, buxom, bold. Others are demure, Audrey Hepburn types with pixie haircuts and paisley bandanas.
My immediate neighbors in line, hailing from South Florida and Hillsborough County, actually acted neighborly. We shared shade, spritzes of perfume, checked each other's makeup for heat and humidity-induced smudging. They studied and worked and were mainly there for the same "why not" reason. When I went out for a cigarette, nearly missing my turn, some of the girls I'd met grabbed my purse and shoes, keeping me from losing my spot.
The actual casting was pretty straightforward. A panel asked questions like "what's your best physical attribute?" Probably my eyes. "What is the craziest thing you've ever done?" Hitched a ride on the Pan-American Highway with some strange men. I told the judges that I am impulsive.
Out of each group of 10, it seemed like two were selected to the next round, which was a video interview.
Another judge asked me whether I was competitive (extremely) and which former contestant I was most like. Her name escaped me, but I remembered very specifically the winner who had never, ever felt beautiful.
I also did a catwalk and spin down a mini runway, lines marked with masking tape. I rocked thrift-store cowboy boots, deciding early on that spikes just weren't me that day.
Whether or not I make it to the next round, I won't consider the six hours a waste. For now, I'll wait for a phone call to see whether the judges in TV land wound up liking my video. But if the runway doesn't work, I guess I could fall back on something steady, like card counting.
Times staff writer Victoria Bekiempis can be reached at (813) 226-3436 or firstname.lastname@example.org.