Judith Vido was 26, blind and diabetic when she moved to Grace Street.
The year was 1978 and she recalls the street being loud, filled with Virginia Commonwealth University students and the bohemians, artists and hippies of the day. To her, that meant bell bottom-clad kids, girls in long granny dresses and young black men with halolike Afros.
"There were beautiful chopped motorcycles parked in front of the Village and all along the block," Vido remembers. "Rock music blasted from the doorways of Habbaba's, Uncle Sam's and the Stone Lion." This was heaven to a young girl looking to escape her rural home in Varina and take up residence in the city where she could live independently with her blindness. "My ultimate hope was to meet musicians and sing for a living," she says.
That period is one of many Vido chronicles in her recently published book, "So You Had a Dull Life, Too: Dirt Woman and Other Men I've Known," available on Amazon.
Long before she met Grace Street's most well-known habitué, Donnie Corker, she heard about his exploits from a friend who served as master of ceremonies at Dirt Woman's mud wrestling shows at the Cha Cha Club. Naturally, when they finally met, it was at subculture epicenter the Village Cafe.
When Corker called out, "Hello, darlin'" to her in his high-pitched voice, she and her seeing-eye dog Mary walked up to the large man in a blond wig dressed as a woman. Moving in closer, she asked if he was really Dirt Woman. "I sure am, darling,'" she remembers him saying. "I'm three hundred pounds of man-loving faggot. I was born a faggot, and I'll die a faggot and when they bury my fat ass, I'll still be a faggot."
When Corker realized she was blind, Vido says he got weepy, telling her that if she ever needed help, to let him know and he'd do whatever he could for her.
Over years listening to him talk, Vido says she realized he was a man of true wisdom. "Most people just brushed him off … but I discovered a deeper, more connected man than anyone knew," she says. "He was as kind as he was a con artist and the biggest liar I ever met. But all that together made Dirt Woman."
Even before she met Dirt, Vido's life was colorful. The book chronicles hanging out with members of a biker gang, the Confederate Angels, at a dive bar in the Devil's Triangle, where she was once asked to hold a gang member's gun and knife so he could go rumble with the Pagans.
After graduating from high school, she became a carnival worker in September 1970 by joining at the State Fair when it came to town. She traveled with Deggeller's Attractions, a midway show, through North and South Carolina and Georgia. After being sick with bronchitis, she woke up on the ground in the morning sunshine, jolted awake because someone was kicking her legs.
"Allan Deggeller angrily fired me and ordered me off his midway, screaming about how my being out there sleeping gave the show a bad name," she recalls. "He was right. I probably looked like a drunk carnie passed out. I packed my stuff and caught a ride to the nearest bus station."
Vido says the carnival taught her acceptance because you had to get along with fellow roadies or get left behind. "I saw people with physical disabilities who sold views of their deformed bodies under some fancy name to make a living. Frog Boy and the Bearded Lady, they're real, but gorilla girl is an illusion. I played her for two weeks in Orlando. It's one of my claims to fame. No one forgets a gorilla girl."
Her first writing attempt was a romance novel and she wrote three more before her partner suggested that the book she needed to write was her own life story. She joined writing groups and online critique groups and kept at it for 25 years — three devoted solely to writing — until the book came out in September.
A published author at 65, Vido solos with the Senior Connections Choral Group and speaks to social work classes at Virginia Commonwealth University about living with blindness and diabetes.
Live and learn is her credo. "I don't regret too many things. What I do regret is the loss of people. I'd love to know what happened to the Wall of Death Riders I knew from the carnival. The things I did — my life and choices — I own all of it." S