In order to interview Ericka Dunlap, for my book, Pretty Smart: Lessons from our Miss Americas, I had to practice my own lesson in persistence. It had taken weeks to finally connect and arrange a date to get together for me to interview her. And then, it was like a trip my husband and I took to Shiprock, NM, when, though we could see the final destination, we couldn’t figure out how to get from here to there.  I had to stop twice at other hotels to finally get to the Renaissance Hotel near the Philadelphia airport where she and her husband were staying.  I parked and was in panic mode, trying to make my recalcitrant recorder work, when my cell phone rings.  Ericka was calling to tell me that she would be ten minutes late, having been out on an errand. 

I sit in the lobby of the hotel and watch the glass automatic doors hiss open and close as people come and go for almost a half hour. 

Me with Ericka Dunlap Miss America 2004 and her crown

Me with Ericka Dunlap Miss America 2004 and her crown

I know what she looks like having studied her pictures on her professional and wedding websites.  So I recognize her as soon as she walks through the hotel doors.  She is lovely, her skin a smooth chocolate brown.  She is a little taller than I am with a slim but lush figure.  Dressed in cropped pants and a green sleeveless top, she apologizes as soon as we greet and hugs me.  Her husband of two months is with her.  I’m relieved when she suggests we go up to their room where they have a suite and we can chat in privacy.

I ask her why she is in Philadelphia and staying so out of the way.  This is a business trip for her husband and as a newlywed she doesn’t want to be away from him for long.  Her manner is easy and open just like her Miss America sisters and she laughs a lot.  I am stuck by the difference I feel in the level of maturity between her and some of the other Miss Americas.  But she is only 25 and still finding out what it means to find her way in her post Miss America years.  She is clearly more mature than most her age and even those several years older.   Though she feels more unformed than the others, and testing the limits of her own power, clearly her experience as Miss America has matured her beyond her very young years.

For more than two hours, she regales me with stories and thoughtful responses to my many questions.  She makes me laugh with her infectious personality.  At the end of our interview, I ask if we can have a picture together, as I always do.  Before I can say great, she pulls out her Miss America crown and plops it on my head.  My nano-moment of being a member of America’s royalty makes me giddy with glee.

I recently saw Ericka in New London, CT at the Garde Art Center, where she was hosting the Miss Connecticut Pageant.  I got a warm and enveloping hug beyond my expectations.  She told me how much she had enjoyed Pretty Smart, that I had gotten her voice right and she so appreciated that I portrayed her and her Miss America sisters in such a positive light.  I was so happy to see her And that night, she keep the crowd charmed end engaged for three hours.  My first impressions were right.

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