It's a quarter past 7 p.m. and what little sunlight is left glowing on the horizon is quickly melting into a murky violet hue. Sunsets are beautiful . . . in the right setting. Today's would not be the case. I'm underneath an old bridge in a seedy part of downtown L.A., where what few dilapidated warehouses are still in operation, clear out by dusk. And judging by the surroundings, I can see why. Whereas most of the area has seen a huge resurgence of late, what with the housing bubble and all, the word "gentrification" has yet to make it out this far east. No hipsters walking their designer puggles or labradoodles here, only a pack of transients screaming the random, incoherent expletive and feline-sized rodents scurrying about in a graffiti'd, trash-abound setting (including a discarded toilet-WTF?). The air reeks of stale ketchup with a hint of feces. Yum.
On a normal day, I would drive through areas like this windows up, doors locked, with hopes that I'm not low on gas-yet here I am with my crew, consisting of two females and one other male, standing in this mess, unarmed, toting expensive camera equipment, including flashing strobes that damn-near advertise: "Hey! Look! Rob me!" But none of this fazes me. Well, sort of . . . It's searing a hole in the back of my mind, but the forefront is completely occupied, thankfully, by the subject in front of me: Michelle Tomniczak. A newcomer to our scene, her beauty is mesmerizing.
Of half Mexican heritage with the other half the human equivalent of a Euro note, Michelle leans back against the shattered pillar she's sitting on. Five minutes earlier, Randy, the videographer (and other male), hesitated to sit on the same concrete slab for fear of infection by rat or rubbish. The discovery of a broken syringe didn't help, either. Val, the makeup artist, won't even leave the safety of my car. But Michelle shows no inkling of fear-she works through her poses and even laughs, finding humor in our situation between shots. From her confidence, you couldn't tell that she's been modeling for less than two years, with only the past two months of it involving cars.
And in such a short time, Michelle joined the ranks of PM Girls and was just announced as one of Hankook Tire's spokesmodels touring the national FD circuit. Hell, if Michelle can brave the worst of L.A., the rest of the country-and soon-to-be ensuing throngs of fans-should be a snap.
So what did you think of the location?
The location of the shoot was a little sketch, but I had a lot of fun. I wasn't sure if I was going to get attacked by a rat, or kidnapped by all the homeless people. Luckily, we all survived. [laughter]
Being a "Valley Girl" do you get out to L.A. much?
I just turned 21, so I started spending a lot more time in Hollywood with my girlfriends.
Like you never used a fake ID . . .
[laughter] I used to use my sister's I.D. all the time, but it's nice being able to use my own. It's weird-I still feel like they're going to reject my license. [laughs] It hasn't hit me that I'm actually 21.
Do you party with your man or are you single?
Actually, I just recently got out of an eight-year relationship, but we never partied together anyway. I prefer going out with my girlfriends. It's much more fun!
Eight years? Wow, that's like, common-law status. What happened?
[laughs] Aging from 13 to 21, a lot of changing goes on. We just became different people.
How awkward was it going through puberty together?
[laughs] That would probably explain a lot of the arguing.
Now that you're single and ready to mingle, what are three things you look for in a guy?
Intelligence, a good sense of humor-I love sarcasm-and self confidence.
Cockiness, a man who's needy, and lack of self-confidence.
Let's say there's a guy at a club who meets your criteria, what's his best method to, like, "holla at ya"?
Crack a joke and be himself. I hate stupid pick-up lines-they just make you seem fake.
Going back to your high school years, is it true you got the boot?
[laughs] My high school was prude, and I got kicked out for not meeting the dress code. On my first day of class, I wore little white shorts and a short black tank top, and I had to actually call my dad and have him bring me a different outfit.
Let me guess, your dad brought an oversized, long-sleeved muumuu?
[laughs] No, but close. My dad, being my dad, picked the ugliest blue sweater in my closet . . . let's just say it wasn't a good first day.
Britney would have been proud. A stab in the dark here, but I'm going to say that you used to run with the bad crowd?
By bad crowd, if you mean my sister, you would be right! [laughs]. She got her license at 16, so we used to ditch all the time. When you hang out with someone who has their own car, you have the option of going to school, or somewhere fun. Let's just say my sister and I hardly ever chose school. [laughter]
Where would you go?
Usually, on long drives after picking up smoothies from Robek's-we used to get those every day! They're so good! We would go to the beach with blankets and take naps, go shopping, and out to eat. I miss those days.
How did the whole modeling come about?
I started modeling two years ago. My mom and dad own a printing shop and they were printing magazines for this Jean company. The owner saw my photo in my parents' office and wanted to meet me in person. The next thing you know, I'm in Las Vegas for the Magic show, modeling jeans.
You're also friends with Alicia Whitten, a past 2NR cover model?
Alicia also lives in the Valley, where everyone sort of knows each other. She was dating my friend's brother and I ended up running into her and talking about modeling. We kept in touch and she got me a gig at the Commerce Casino for an event as a new PM Girl.
And from your involvement with Kim Loan and the PM Girls, that's how you got into the car show scene?
Yes, and it's been awesome! I love the fact that a lot of girls work at once. In the past, I've only done print work where I'm the only model there. At car shows, I meet a lot of other girls around my age who I can relate to, and so far, they've all been amazing.
And now you're a Hankook Tire model?
Yes, I just found out and I'm very excited! Drifting seems so awesome and I can't wait to learn more about it.
Do you have a day job?
I do. I've been an esthetician for the past three years.
What the hell is that?
Well, the word esthetician comes from the word "aesthetic", so basically anything that has to do with looking good: facials, makeup, waxing.
How did that profession come about?
I became obsessed with skin when I was 16 - everything that I did back then revolved around taking care of my skin. I didn't know much about it then, so I went about it the wrong way.
[laughs] To give you an example, I used to think that fats and oils had to be bad for your skin, so I didn't eat any and I started to lose my hair. It turns out you actually need some in your diet.
I now have a valid reason to consume french fries. [laughter] And so your hair loss induced your new career path?
Yes! I wanted to learn about skin care the correct way, which I did, and now I love helping people with their skin.
Going back to the what-you-look-for-in-a-guy thing, need pizza faces apply?
Well, no . . . but I can always help them!
Boys, time to stock up on Oxy. So, what exactly goes on during a, um, "facial"? Are they legal outside Nevada?
It's not that kind of party. [laughs] Facials-the real ones-are pretty amazing. We start off by cleaning the chest and face area of a client with the proper cleanser, twice. Once to remove make up, sweat, and dirt, second to actually cleanse the skin. Next we exfoliate the skin to remove dead skin cells . . .
Sorry, you lost me at "facials are pretty amazing". For our pubescent readers, any tips on preventing zits?
Yes, many. Drink lots of water, exercise, eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, avoid sugary processed foods, and of course, use a good cleanser/scrub/moisturizer". My favorite beauty secret is slathering honey on my face while I'm in the bath or watching a movie. Leave it on for 20 minutes; it's moisture-binding, anti-bacterial, and just makes your skin really soft and yummy.
That statement has to be the greatest, indeliberate, chub-inducing beauty tip of all time. So, Proactiv: Does it work or is P. Diddy full of shit?
I'm sure it works for some people, but I wouldn't recommend it. The cleanser has a scrub-like texture to it, and you usually don't want to use any type of scrub with acne, because it will scratch the skin and move around bacteria, causing more acne.
So when you're not popping pimples, what do you like to do?
I love being outside-picnics, camping, running, and hiking. I love going to the lake.
Lake vs. ocean?
Lake, hands down. I went to a different lake every weekend with my family when I was younger, so that's why I like them better. It brings back really good memories of barbecuing, swimming, and just spending time with my family.
Lastly, before we part, can you cook?
Yes, I can-I cook a mean shrimp alfredo! My dad's the main cook in our family, so I learned a lot from him. His food is always so flavorful, he could be a chef.
He should've been a baker, cause he sure turned out a nice set of buns! Wow. Corny! [laughs]