My daddy was a mechanical engineer and he was always tinkering with old European cars. He raised me more as a boy than a girl, and this included teaching me about cars. As to technical issues, we were on the same page and got along well.
I am a weird genetic mix, brain-wise. I eventually had some brain analysis done using a Stanford University test, and the best explanation is that I have a sort of mixed brain, gender-wise. My left brain structure (informally considered the analytical part) is male and my right brain structure (informally considered the part for emotions, empathy, language, self-image) is female. My father never got tested as such but as best I can guess he had the same genetic condition.
It wasn’t just my brain structure, either. During puberty when boys were becoming more masculine, and girls were becoming more feminine, I stayed closer to the middle. At the time I felt very self-conscious about it.
I’d been told to live as a boy and that didn’t work well at all, so then I tried to live as a girl and that has been working just fine for many years now.
Here is picture of a happy blonde at the Embassy Suites Resort in Monterey, California, for their Classic Car week event in 2015.
My hair color now is the exact shade as it was when I was two; my mother had kept a lock of hair from that time and we recently compared the two and she said: “Perfect match.” That said, it’s gotten naturally darker over the years and so I do have to have it lightened to look the original shade.
From a very young age, I also enjoyed founding and running businesses.
By the time I was 10 or so, I was drawing pictures of classic cars on blank envelopes and pieces of paper, and selling them door-to-door as elegant stationery, in the upper-middle-class neighborhood where I was growing up. I managed to make and sell about one set a day, for a dollar each.
Eventually I automated the process by using a few of my best drawings as templates. I’d put the drawing over a fresh piece of stationery and making tiny holes where lines intersected. That way, I could connect the dots and produce higher quality, faster.
Eventually, it occurred to me to get some rubber stamps made, and I asked my mom to take me to a local store who made me four rubber stamps of my best designs. (I still have one of those rubber stamps somewhere, out of nostalgia). From then on, quality and production increased significantly though it took a while to use the rubber stamps optimally , to prevent smudging or missed lines.
That theme, of methodically and significantly improving business processes, doing things better, has been a common thread throughout my life.
I eventually did this as a career, developing custom database software solutions to enable my clients to run their own businesses better too. I’ve been all aspects of the software development process, at some time or another: requirements engineering, architecture, design, coding, testing, delivery, maintenance and support. I still own and manage the small software development company that I founded in 2003.
I have enjoyed doing work for a variety of clients, from Kauai in the West to Manhattan in the East; from British Columbia in the North to Texas in the South. I especially enjoyed doing work on-site at the Hewlett-Packard company in Silicon Valley . I learned a lot about running a company well. I read the book called The HP Way by Bill Hewlett and David Packard, and I own a copy that was personally signed by David Packard. It is one of my most treasured possessions.
Anyways, after that little detour, back to the time-line:
By the time I was 14 or so I started buying, dismantling and refurbishing second-hand bicycles, including repainting them and putting on new copies of the original stickers, formally purchased.
By the time I was 19 or so I had my rebellious stage, and without flunking out of studying for my degree in accounting, I moved to a humble blue-collar neighborhood, and I bought, dismantled and refurbished second-hand cars, including repainting them and doing body work. Pretty soon a had a repair shop too, doing some fairly complex work such as converting an automatic-transmission car to stick shift. I couldn’t afford a transmission jack so I lifted the transmissions out by hand. I was very strong in a slender, sinewy sort of way.
I couldn’t afford an engine hoist either. The cars I was working on were four-cylinder models, and to remove the engines I’d take off the cylinder head first, then take off everything else I could from the engine block and then clamber into the engine compartment, and tip or roll the engine block as far forward as possible, and then I’d get out and stand in front of the car, and kind of yank the engine block onto the steel lip of the car, above where the radiator used to be. Of course, once it came up, that big hunk of metal didn’t stop there but kept going so I always did this while the junk car was parked on a sandy spot. That way, as the engine block came out and kept rolling forward, I would leap out of the way and the engine block would fall safely onto the sand. Somehow I managed to not damage my back or get sand into the engines; I’m sort of amazed at that as I think back on it. It would have been nice to be able to sell complete engines, but for me that wasn’t an option at the time.
When I was ready to receive my university degree in accounting I told them “mail it” and didn’t attend the graduation ceremony; I was too running my little automotive empire.
I enjoy improvising when things go wrong, and when I was 20 or so, some days you might see me driving around while holding in position with one hand a red fuel can on the hood, siphoning fuel from the can down to the carburetor of my Ford whose fuel pump had failed.
I once made a study of how much stuff I can take off a car and still barely have it drive. The power-to-weight ratio skyrocketed and it was a fun project. Eventually I got pulled over. The officer didn’t even know where to begin writing the ticket. No windshield, no fenders, no doors, no seats, no rear lights, no bumpers, no hood, no indicators, no dashboard, no instrument panel … but hey, I did have one headlight, though. He scratched his head and eventually called over another officer and told him “you have GOT to see this.” They marveled at the car and laughed and sent me home.
Like others collect unloved cats, I collected unloved cars … and tried to get them as good as their peers. I really should not use the past tense for that; I still do so.
One car was such a disaster that a specialist in that brand of car was laughing about how bad it was … something was wrong with the engine, the speedometer was way off, the body had structural dents in the rear quarter panel, the dashboard had holes in it … undeterred, I bought the car for $625 as I recall. I was 20 at the time. I removed the dashboard and replaced it with a good used one I had in stock. And yes, it WAS a huge job. The body dents, I carefully fixed with steel-reinforced body filler, which held up very well over time. The speedometer had a huge overread. It would show I’m doing close to 120 mph when I knew full well that kind of car couldn’t possibly be that fast. So I just kinda compensated mentally, like if it showed I was doing eighty I was probably doing sixty-five and so on.
As to the weird engine; yes, indeed, it didn’t idle well. I didn’t know what it needed. Maybe a valve adjustment? That wasn’t something I trusted myself with at the time; one mistake and I would burn a valve and destroy the engine. So I took it to a profession mechanic who specialized in that brand. He called me after a few hours and said he was puzzled. He’d done the valve adjustment and somehow nothing seemed quite right. Everything was somehow off though visually the engine looked like any other engine in that model of car. I didn’t know what to tell him, and he didn’t seem to know what to do. We both hung up the phone, each of us puzzled. A few hours later, he called, excitedly. “Guess what!! You have a Stage 2 racing engine in your car. That’s why the normal adjustments didn’t work. You have a racing camshaft in there, and that’s why the car doesn’t idle as smoothly. It’s optimized for high-end power.” That also explained the speedometer. It hadn’t been overreading. My car really WAS that fast.
When I was 21 or so, I shut down my little automotive empire, for the most part, and I started working in an automobile factory, as a factory accountant. I learned a lot more about cars, there.
I wasn’t born in the US but while I was studying economics at university, the more I read about the US, the more I liked its principles and culture, not least because they were the opposite of the institutionalized negativity I was seeing around me. By then I’d lived in South Africa, the UK, Germany and France, and I had been to Mozambique and Swaziland too. Yes, I’m a free-market girl! I read Atlas Shrugged and loved it. Self-interest with empathy … a good formula.
When I was 22, I came to America. I didn’t know anyone here; I just came. I liked what I saw and fell in love with the US. I eventually got my green card and then became a US citizen, yay!
Here’s a picture of me, taken a couple of weeks ago in the living room of my apartment, in front of my favorite flag. Behind me are some computer servers for when I work from home. I used to weigh much more than I liked, so now that I’m the right shape I tend to show it off!! Sort of like the worm becoming a butterfly. I like butterfly pictures for that reason.
I was initially hired as office manager. I loved it. I improved much of their custom business software and business process flow, and a year or so later I was promoted to general manager. I loved that too.
The owner was pushing superchargers for the Toyota Supra twin-cam engine, and his own Cressida station wagon was outfitted with such an engine. Wow, was that thing fast!! So my work included driving that car to demo it to prospects, and navigating on auto rallies in that car, with the owner driving.
The owner was totally into cars, and I joined in. I flagged at vintage auto races, navigated in all types of rallies and had a great time while living in LA. At some point I owned a black limited-edition MGB and a silver BMW 2-door coupe.
I’ve had a wild and crazy life in so many ways, including being a webcam model for a while. And yet, here I am, managing my own little automotive empire again. I’m not 19 any more but in essential ways, nothing has changed.
Before I give the wrong impression: the businesses I manage are by no means a one-person show. I involve some amazingly wonderful people. I take care of them well, and they care of the clients well. And so everyone is happy.