When toenails need clipping or one's tresses need a trim, Vera Coleman rides to the rescue in her flaming red Camaro.
Coleman, a Balboa Island resident in her mid-40s, is a beautician who makes house calls.
At the drop of a nail file, she will deliver manicures, pedicures, facials, haircuts and beauty make-overs in the comfort of the client's home.
Her Camaro is a beauty salon on wheels. She loads it up with whatever tools she will need for her next appointment.
Many of Coleman's clients are elderly and can't make it to a beauty parlor. Without the services of a traveling beautician, they would cease to enjoy life's little indulgences, such as manicured hands or a head of curls.
On a recent afternoon, Coleman rolled her Camaro into Leisure World in Laguna Hills to give a manicure and pedicure to 83-year-old Dorothy Hoag.
With her curly red hair piled atop her head, lime green halter top and white biker shorts, Coleman cuts a colorful figure in the retirement community. From the back seat of her car she digs out a foot massager, assorted vials filled with beauty potions and nail files.
Hoag greets her at the door wearing a flowered house dress.
"How've ya been?" Coleman said, putting her arm around Hoag's shoulder.
Coleman goes to work in the living room, spreading out her tools on a white towel, while she chats about her latest tennis match and her two grown sons.
"My kid finally graduated from college. It took him seven years but he did it," she said, drawing Hoag's attention away from a soap opera on the television.
Coleman's regulars get a lot more than beauty services. She offers a sympathetic ear, a few laughs and companionship.
"Many of my customers can't get out. They get lonely and they get to be friends," she said. "If they need something, I tell them to give me a call."
Her duties often go beyond those of an ordinary beautician. Occasionally she has called on people in hospitals and convalescent homes.
"Once I got a call from a customer who told me, 'I can't make my appointment today. I think I fell and broke my hip.' I said, 'Haven't you called 911?' She said, 'No, I wanted to call you first. I didn't want to forget my manicurist.' "
Coleman hurried to the client's house and accompanied her to the hospital.
"She didn't have any family," she explained.
Not all of her clients are home-bound. Some call on Coleman because they're too busy to go to a salon. She works until 9 at night to accommodate those who have hectic daytime schedules.
Most customers are women, but men who feel uncomfortable in a salon will call on her for pedicures or haircuts.
"Some of my clients ask me to do their husbands, and sometimes I'll do their kids, too."
Pamela Rice, a Balboa Island resident in her mid-30s who works as a business consultant, regularly calls on Coleman to do her makeup and hair before she makes a speech or attends a social event.
"I have a real hectic schedule and Vera's always on time," Rice said. "It's so nice to sit in your own home, sip your own tea and be worked on by someone who's nice. It's a luxury."
This particular evening Rice has a date and wants to look her best.
Coleman arrives at Rice's house in the afternoon with a makeup mirror and blow dryer in tow.
"What are we going to do today? Make you gorgeous?" she asks.
Rice sits in her robe at her dining room table with wet hair while Coleman begins dabbing her face with foundation. Coleman uses products she finds in her clients' makeup drawers to perform the make-overs.
"This way they learn how to use what they have instead of buying new makeup," she said.
She brushes on soft shadows on Rice's eyes, then dries and curls her auburn hair.
"Now I won't be nervous about the way I look," said Rice, her hair fluffed and her lips painted. "A little pampering is nice, too."
Coleman decided to offer her mobile beauty service 4 years ago, after she'd been injured in an automobile accident.
While recuperating in the hospital for 9 weeks with a broken neck, she found herself wishing she had someone to come in and do her hair.
"My hair was dirty. It went to pot. I remember thinking I'd give my left arm for a manicure and to have my hair done."
She had worked in a beauty salon and knew there must be others who needed a beautician to come to their homes. So she began distributing flyers and taking out ads in small newspapers advertising: "Vera's finishing touch."
Coleman keeps her prices in line with salon prices--$15 for a manicure, $17 for a pedicure, $40 for a facial. Most customers want manicures, but she fills all kinds of needs.
She keeps a light schedule, working 3 days a week and handling three clients a day.
"'I'm a widow and I don't have to work, but I enjoy doing it. I think I (fill) a need," she said. "It's more than making a living--it makes people happy."