"Iris? Where's Iris? Come join me here, prom queen. We're going to be on TV in a few seconds. I want you up front... and remember to smile." Here I was, a 28-year-old Brit in the U.S.A., and my prom queen debut was about to go global.
As we chugged past the cameras, I did my best to stay on the float. Any false moves and I'd be prom queen roadkill. But who cares about health and safety when the sun's shining and you're standing next to two underwear models and Elton John? Or at least his finest lookalikes. And then there were the crowds. They were endless. One block after another they cheered, clapped and waved.
It hadn't been easy getting there. Firstly, several layers of my tulle dress had fallen victim to the vagaries of automatic doors. Then there was the matter of being rather too old and rather too British. But I'd triumphed over adversity and claimed my sash, not in the traditional style of Saved by the Bell, but in the anything-goes style of San Fransicso's Gay Pride parade.
I realize that prom queens don't typically march with dominatrixes and the Village People, but there's nothing in your Constitution that says they can't. And however exceptional my Pride-prom was, it was one of my 20 American dreams ticked off my wish list. I wanted to be Dolly Parton, make $1 million, make a record, break a record, be a prom queen -- and 15 more whimsical, demanding or what-the-hell ambitions. All to be achieved in the 60 days before my visa expired.
Pride was exceptional for another reason: the incredible response from total strangers who made it their mission to help me. Because after the LGBT community heard about my wish list, I began to get the ideas and support I needed to cross more wishes off my list.
After Pride I was invited to the Fabulosa women's festival. I had no way of getting there, so Betty, a friend of a friend and a San Francisco institution, offered a ride. After telling her about my mission, she put me in touch with another local legend, Donna Sachet. Donna gave me so many leads I didn't know what to do. She suggested I go to a Dolly Parton drag night in the Castro, where I met Ruby, the drag artist who transformed me into Dolly for a day. Ruby did such a good job my own mother wouldn't recognize me, but Dolly's would. Donna also put me in touch with the LGBT-friendly Sundance Saloon, who helped me line dance my way to becoming a cowgirl. And that's where I met Steve, who choreographs the Gay Men's Chorus. He put together a chorus line just for me at the 11th hour... One wish led to another.
These random coincidences became the norm. I came to expect them every time I sat in a cafe or waited for a bus. Like the time I bumped into best-selling author Tim Ferriss (whose book, in part, inspired the list), and we talked how to make $1 million. Or when I met someone who spoke English backwards fluently, or the pizza thrower who offered to train me in his ancient art. Tick, tick, tick...
But the LGBT community was especially attuned to me and my wish list. I accept that there were crowd-pleasers on the list (being Dolly Parton, anyone?). But beyond the obvious appeal of rhinestones, the LGBT community loved the size and scope of my adventure. Perhaps the LGBT community appreciates someone who doesn't mind being different, or perhaps they could empathize with an outsider who has big dreams.
I can't really explain how a routine visit to see my brothers became a make-or-break moment that led me to the U.S.A. with my 20 wishes, but I'd realized that my combined levels of whimsy, daring and optimism had been seriously depleted, and I wanted to see if America -- Land of the Free, Home of the Brave and birthplace of Doogie Howser -- was still the place where dreams come true.
You see, I'd carefully studied the United States as a child, diligently watching hours of television. And I still clung to a key tenet of the made-for-TV American dream: the one that says anything is possible. Although my wish list seemed crazy to everyone else, it meant the world to me.
And once I was part of this wonderful LBGT community, they rallied around, embraced the craziness and showed me the kind of generosity most people reserve for their families. In San Francisco I'd found kindred spirits, united by a list of dreams.
Want to see how I fulfilled the rest of my dreams? Did I break the record for milk-crate stacking? What possessed me to do a Yiddish remake of Dirty Dancing? What does my Country Western record sound like? To find out, visit iris60days.com. Also, check out some photos of my adventures below.