It’s a sunny, warm afternoon and I’m feeling at the top of the world. I’m on my way to a client’s studio to record my first off-site job. Up till now I’ve recorded only a handful of jobs in my home studio, and being a relative newbie, am anxious to start making a name for myself, as well as money. I feel pressured to accept almost any reasonable job that comes my way, however, I’ll be damned if I’ll let my lack of experience and insecurities crack through the surface of my professional veneer. I continue walking down the sidewalk, admiring the boutiquey store fronts and small eateries as I pass. After a left turn, suddenly there are no more shops or restaurants and I find myself in an industrial-type warehouse district. I walk through a parkinglot under a freeway overpass. Another left turn and I find myself nearly at my destination, but it’s at the end of an alley flanked by brick buildings, littered with overflowing dumpsters and lined with razor-wire-topped chain-link fencing.
Oh. My. God.
What have I done? Immediately my good mood and bravado vanish and I realize that I have told no one where I was going. I am all alone. I did not even Google this client. I am absolutely incredulous at my naiveté, and I am now terrified. Somehow I am stupid enough to continue through the alley, into the building, walk up the rickety wooden stairs and find myself in a beautifully-equipped recording studio. The client is a lovely man; very professional, and friendly. I am slightly reassured, and calm myself enough to record the job without looking or sounding like a scared rabbit. He cuts me a check on the spot, we shake hands, and I go on my way.
I shook with fear and self-loathing as I drove home, thanking God that this experience had a happy ending. How could I have been so foolish? Immediately my children come to mind. I would never let them do something like this without making sure I knew where they were going, how they were getting there and back, how long they’d be there, who they were with, and what they were doing. Why didn’t I place this same value on my own personal safety? I still have no answer for this.
Another time, not too long afterward, I attended my first audiobook mixer in Hollywood. I was so proud of the great hotel rate I was able to find online, and had no qualms flying by myself (it was only an hour-long flight), checking in, staying by myself, and enjoying the mixer. I was so excited to start making valuable contacts in the industry.
I chatted happily with my fellow shuttle-bus passengers, and soon the bus stopped at my hotel. I should have noticed something was not right when the driver didn’t want to let me out. He was very concerned and questioned if I really meant to book a room at this particular hotel…The Cecil Hotel. The bus passengers grew quiet as I peered out the window of the bus and took in the scene: Homeless people sat on the sidewalk outside the hotel, one poorly-dressed, disheveled man trudged down the sidewalk staggering under the weight of an enormous wooden cross, bigger than himself, and yelling about the end times being imminent. I paused, then bravely laughed it off and said I had no worries. He helped me off the bus but lingered at the curb watching (along with the other passengers) as I made my way inside the hotel on “skid row” in Los Angeles.
I checked into my room (the desk clerk sat at a desk behind bars…that should have clenched the deal), changed into my cocktail dress and primped for the mixer. Then I sat on the very edge of my bed and surveyed my surroundings. The dirty smudged window looked directly at the brick wall of the adjacent building, there was one corroded spigot coming out of the wall over a rust-stained porcelain sink. The community bathroom and shower were down the echoey hard-tiled hallway. I recounted the environment in the lobby and outside on the sidewalk, and asked myself what it might be like returning at midnight from the mixer, dressed like what I was now convinced was how a hooker would dress. This time I made a smarter decision and checked out. But suffered a scary 20-minutes, waiting for the cab in the lobby, during which a very large, homeless-looking man wandered into the hotel, stopped directly in front of me, looked me up and down very lewdly and said: “Lady, you got it aaaaaawwwwwlllll goin’ on. Wanna take a ride with me in my drop-top Bentley? It’s just around the corner…” Ignoring the fact that his voice was very deep and sonorous and could’ve given Barry White a run for his money, I continued to stare at my cellphone, until what felt like hours later, a policeman came into the lobby (a routine beat for him?) and shooed the man away from me and out the door.
I arrived at the mixer, enjoyed myself, and happily spent the evening in a very white, very pristine, VERY expensive “W” hotel which had just opened that week. Yes, I paid five times more than what I paid at the Cecil Hotel, but I was safe.
Many years later, a news story caught my ear as I was heading out the door to drive carpool to school…. A young woman had been found dead in a water tower atop the Cecil Hotel. I was very shaken by this news story, and it was hard to focus on anything that day. God must have special plans for me, because it could have all ended so very badly.
The reason I bring up these two experiences is not to highlight my own thoughtlessness, although that is inevitable in the telling. I want to stress how very important it is for people, especially women, to be smart about their own personal safety. Recently the #MeToo movement has unearthed even more evidence that shows us we need to place a high value on our own safety and well-being and take precautions to ensure, as much as possible, that bad things don’t continue to happen to us. And in the sharing of our experiences and ideas, we will foster an awareness of how we can be safer and stronger. The blame does not lie on the victims’ shoulders, but the improvements will come because the victims have been strong enough to step forward and bravely shine light where it has been dark for too long.
The woman who first encouraged me to get into voiceovers, then mentored me for a year, ultimately guiding me into audiobook narration, recently joined many other women in speaking out against a sexual predator in the voiceover industry. I cannot speak highly enough of Heather Costa and the others. Their bravery, eloquence, and integrity in pursuing action to remove this predator voiceover coach from circulation, reached the radar of CNN. In the article published today, February 8, 2018, they describe how his lewd, lascivious and reprehensible behavior impacted their lives, not knowing it was happening to other women, too. I encourage anyone reading this blog to read CNN’s article here: https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/08/us/metoo-voice-coach-peter-rofe/.
I am gobsmacked at the sheer number of women who have posted publicly about their experiences, using #MeToo. The times I’ve experienced sexual assault and harassment will live with me forever, and because of that haunting, and because of the strength of the women who are banding together and speaking out, I feel better prepared to defend and protect myself in situations like that, should they happen again. I also feel better equipped to help others who find themselves at risk, and am committed to intervene and help someone who calls on me in need.
Danger lies all around us. Hindsight is 20-20, and I learned from my experiences to not be afraid to say no to a client when instinct tells you it’s not right. It’s more important to retain self-esteem and safety, than it is to record a $300, 30-second radio spot in a shady environment. I learned to budget carefully to stay at a better hotel, rather than seek out the bargain. I could go on and on, but I’d like to move forward and post something helpful, so in an effort to help others avoid potentially dangerous situations, here are some safety suggestions:
1. Travel with a buddy. Whether it is a fellow voiceover friend who is going to the same conference or event, or if it’s your spouse, mother, father, or grown child, do your darndest to have someone with you. Some fun outcomes might be that your expenses are half when you share with a fellow VO, or maybe your family member or friend finds something interesting and fun to do while you’re tied up with industry stuff. Think of it as a mini-vacation!
2. Make sure someone always has a copy of your itinerary, including flight numbers, schedules, hotel address and phone number, event venue, etc. If you are recording at a local studio, Google it first so you are familiar with the surrounding neighborhood, the business itself, and know where you’ll park and how to get there on foot, if necessary. It’s a great idea to take someone with you. After the incident I described earlier, where I found myself in a warehouse district, I went back to record a few more times for the client and I took my son with me both times. I also had a backup; a stay-at-home neighbor agreed to go with me if my son was not available.
3. Check out hotel reviews before you make your reservation. Just re-read my Cecil Hotel story if you’re not sure why.
4. Make scanned copies of important documents such as credit cards, insurance cards, drivers’ licenses and passports, and file them in a cloud-based service like DropBox, where they can be accessed if necessary.
5. Keep hard copies of important phone numbers with you incase you lose your cellphone.
There are many more helpful suggestions on safe travel hints at the following website:
Please be safe. You are loved.