So how many queens can you pack into a borrowed 2003 Mini Cooper?
There's something exceptionally surreal, yet refreshingly exhilarating, about driving a tiny car crammed with three Richmond queens on a day trip to see Queen Elizabeth II while the soundtrack of Mary Poppins erupts from the dashboard stereo.
It's in this bent mood that we approach Capitol Square May 3 for the arrival of the queen on her first state visit to the commonwealth since 1957.
With hordes descending on downtown for the event, it was likely that neither I nor most of Richmond would get within spitting distance of Her Majesty. So it made sense at least to us to invite our own queens to come along.
Miss Nova, aka Clinton Edwards, is undisputed royalty in Richmond's transgender community, holding the title of Miss Fielden's 2006. She arrives at the Style's offices at 1 p.m. in a patterned gown, elegant camel-hair coat and appropriately feminine pillbox-style fur hat.
"I do have a crown. It's like 13 inches tall a pain in the butt," Miss Nova says. "I wasn't sure if y'all wanted me to wear it or not." She's a polite girl with the sort of beauty that's effortless and natural, and apparently enhanced only by regular hormone therapy and some clever plucking.
With her title, she must attend to certain queenly duties at Fielden's, a gay-friendly club on Broad Street. "I'm mainly just the social person," she says demurely, adding that she's also on the Gay Pride Virginia board and has recently started a local gay-focused newspaper.
"I have good thoughts about the queen," Miss Nova says. She's been to England and to Buckingham Palace. "They wouldn't let me in," she says. "That was quite a few years ago, before I had any royal blood in me."
This time next month, Tiffany Hazelwood Tucker will no longer be a queen. Her reign over Beauties of America's 20s ends June 3.
And so going to see the queen is a last hurrah. She brings her tiara, hoping that the 10-inch-high crown encrusted with paste diamonds might appeal to some reptilian recess in the English royal brain. In other words, she figures her majesty will just have to come talk to the girl with the sparkly crown.
"Your title is what you make of it," Tiffany says. "It's all about using titles to open doors, right?
As "The Queen of Highland Park," Joe'i Chancellor's official dominion is North Side Richmond, but her influence spreads far and wide. The entrepreneurial filmmaker, whose family owns a small grocery store, does enough service work in her community to make the queen blush. She was recently accepted at the New York Film Academy.
But on Thursday, this pint-sized Robin of the 'hood is with us.
We arrive at the designated media parking area at 14th and Main streets about 1:40 p.m. Prying ourselves out of the Mini, we emerge from the parking deck, where we're greeted by Princess Diana's mural. And Club Velvet, where someone named Princess probably dances on Tuesdays.
Like Cinderellas to their pumpkin chariot, the three lovelies board a shuttle bus to the Capitol under the confused gaze of the driver, Willis Daniels.
"You've got a mix of everything and everybody," a shrugging Daniels says.
And every one of them is dying for a look at a woman who, through tragedy and triumph, has left a lasting imprint on the world. Even especially our own queens are agog with the possibility of catching a passing glimpse.
"I bet we meet her," the Queen of Highland Park says. "I'm used to the struggle but I bet you we take a picture with the queen."
When the shuttle bus drops us off on Broad Street a block from Capitol Square, we're greeted by a sign from God. Well, actually a sign from Quillin Drew, an apparently virulent anti-royalist protester, whose placard asks us to "celebrate drag queens" instead of imperialist Queen Elizabeth.
"Wow! What's she protesting?" Drew asks of Miss Nova. She double-takes and then triple-takes Miss Tiffany and the Queen of Highland Park.
"I'm not a drag queen!" Miss Tiffany pipes in helpfully.
A man passing by asks, "What are you?"
"I represent the 20th age division for this national title," she says "I "
"Oh, that sounds nice," the man says, turning his attention to the Queen of Highland Park. "Yeah, how 'bout that, I see another [queen] right there," he says. "Yeah baby, yeah baby, yeah baby."
Bustling through the security gate I note a confiscated 4-inch steak knife in a plastic bin we wade into the throngs.
Almost immediately, Miss Tiffany is noticed.
"Look, a princess a real princess. Wow she looks princessy. Good job!"
It's Darren Trenbath, a native of Manchester the English one, as celebrated on his Man UT soccer jersey. He's with his daughter, Holly, 5.
"Show us your waves. Have you got your waves down?" Trenbath inquires. All three queens obligingly mimic the royal wave, only to be outdone by Holly, who's wearing a jester hat for the occasion.
"It's in her blood," her proud dad proclaims.
It's nearly 4:30 p.m. by now, and there's a misting rain falling when a band strikes up a funky "Let the Sunshine In" from the musical "Hair." The Queen is making her rounds at the Capitol to a half-baked hippie mantra.
And people are giving Miss Tiffany strange looks for wearing a tiara?
Miss Tiffany wanders off. I notice her pointing to me and my press credentials as she begs a Capitol Police officer to let her past the security cordons.
It doesn't work. We watch from a respectful distance while Queen Elizabeth joins her motorcade for the ride to Williamsburg.
Larry Williford of Richmond got to meet the queen. He brought his daughter, Amy, and granddaughter, Lyric.
"She's royal she's just got that way" he says of Her Majesty, not at all disappointed that she didn't speak to him. "She smiled and gave a little gesture."
Williford knows a bit about royalty. He's related to the Queen of Highland Park.
"They're both classy ladies," he says comparing the locally grown with the import.
His daughter adds, "They both get business accomplished."
On our walk from the Capitol toward Penny Lane Pub, moods are upbeat despite the weather.
"I'm soaking wet, but at least I don't wear as much makeup as the drag queens," says Miss Nova, indeed soaked to the bone, but maintaining her dignity.
Miss Tiffany has left us: Volumizing products defeated by hours of misting, her hair deflated along with her mood. The queen failed to notice her tiara.
With the departure of our cranky pageant-circuit debutante, the Queen of Highland Park is jubilant
"I feel so excited," the Queen of Highland Park says. "You know I'm excited, because normally in life I don't do the rain for nobody. A family funeral, a wedding, a good party. Nobody.
"But I did it for the queen," she says, smiling like a little girl who finally got to see her fairy princess. "And I feel good in the rain." S