Saturday, September 20, 2014

Sometimes you’re the windshield, and sometimes you’re the bug . . .

I’ve had to do quite a lot of construction type work around our house in the last few years, repairing all of the damage done when we had to have our foundation repaired, and then when we had to dismantle our upstairs bathroom when  a water leak had eaten away the entire structure of the outside wall and floor. The thing is, most of this rebuilding had been stalled, because I can’t afford to buy all of the materials needed, and I had no place suitable to store materials if I bought them a little bit at a time. My conclusion? I had to tear down our rotted out and falling down shed, and build a new one that would actually protect our construction materials from the elements.  As always with this sort of thing, it ballooned into a project that was much larger than I had anticipated, but still, we went at it with gusto and ripped the old one down, and started building its replacement. So there we are, my father-in-law and I, busting our butts off in my back yard trying to build the shed, when my wife returns from her workout. She takes one look at her father and starts shouting.
“Dad, your truck just pulled out!”
I think that we were kind of in shock, because it didn’t click at first what she was trying to tell us, and so she repeated it. “Your truck just took off down the road!”
It did eventually click though, and my father-in-law and I ran like hell for my Mustang to give chase while my wife called “911”. My father-in-law was as white as a ghost as he sat beside me, because this was more than a truck to him – it was his livelihood.  Since he was helping me to do construction, he had brought his work truck, with all of his tools and materials. In addition to taking his truck, the thief had also taken my father-in-laws very ability to earn a living, and my father-in-law had realized this immediately. 
There are maybe three routes directly out of town from my house, and as Murphy would have it, we chose the wrong route. After a few minutes of running stop signs and red lights hoping to either spot his truck or drawn the attention of a police officer, we decided that we were doing ourselves absolutely no good what so ever and so we returned to my house to wait for the police to arrive. As we pulled into my driveway, my wife was walking toward the car, with her cell phone in one hand, and giving us the thumbs up with the other, and the grin that she was wearing from ear to ear made it pretty clear that she had good news for us. It turns out that luck was on our side this day, because just as the 911 operator was providing the description of the truck to the officers in town, it just happened to be driving right past one of them. My wife could hear the radio traffic through the 911 phone line.
“I think we see it, and we are pulling it over . . .” a slight delay, “Yeah, we got him.”
Before it was all over, his truck wasn’t gone more than maybe 30 minutes before it was parked right back where it belonged in front of my house. The bad news? The kid that stole it was a junior in high school who had just got out after six months in jail for his last stunt. He hasn’t even graduated from high school and his life is all screwed up. . .

Well, as seems to be the case these days, I made a trip and very little of any interest occurred. I had a fairly early flight, as is usual these days, and so I had to be off to the airport WELL before most people are outta bed. My neighbor however, is not most people – he leaves for work at about 430AM every morning, and so once I got myself together, I had to spend about twenty minutes staring out the window and waiting for him to leave. At long last, I watched the poor guy sleep walk out to his truck and drive off. Before he had rounded the corner, I was reaching for my suitcase. The joke was on me though, because the handle of my rather large and obviously overloaded suitcase came off in my hand. I guess it just couldn’t take the strain anymore of carrying enough clothes, shoes, makeup, jewelry, and coats for two people for a week. And really, who can blame the poor thing, because sometimes it’s too much for me too. Eventually I dragged/carried the damn thing to the itty bitty trunk of my modern Mustang, and off we went.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that our flight attendant was a woman that I recognized as she had been on several flights with me before. She has long dark hair, and while not exactly pretty, she is distinctive and kind of unique. I have no idea where she is actually from, but I always assumed it was New York or New Jersey as she has a bit of that kind of accent, but what really makes her voice unique is that she has kind of a lisp. I don’t even know how to describe the way that she speaks other than maybe a passing resemblance to the way that Sean Connery often includes an “H” sound when he is saying “S”.

Yeah I know – I just tried to describe a woman who talks like Sean Connery, with a lisp and a New York accent – YOU should try this sometime!
Anyway, let’s just say that she is distinctive, and so I recognized her immediately.  That didn’t win me any points  though, because when I thanked her for the cup of coffee that she handed to me, she looked straight at me and said “You’re welcome sir.”  Welp, guess I know where I stand with her now!

I spent a day at what I like to think of as the birthplace of all of my cars – Ford in Dearborn Michigan, and then the next day, I headed for Minneapolis MN, where I was less than brilliant for the duration of my visit.
In order to keep liquids from condensing in the sample lines, the plumbing leading up to and away from our instrument is heated to a nice and balmy 191 degrees Celsius. It’s always a pretty good idea to keep this ever present in your mind as you’re working, because let’s face it, my skin is allergic to 191 degrees Celsius. I was reminded of this as I was working behind the instrument and ever so briefly placed the side of my face right up against said plumbing. The good news is that when I am properly motivated, my reflexes are pretty good, and so I jerked my face away from the hot plumbing so quickly that no serious harm was done. The bad news is that there was a metal brace not far behind my head, and so while I had saved my face from a good burn, I gave myself a pretty good lump on the back of my head. Worse yet, with all the jerking around I was doing, my glasses flew off of my face, and yes, they broke when they hit the ground. They were brand new too – maybe a month old. The trip never really got any better or worse . . .

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Presidential Style

So this time I was off to Indianapolis. I used to go there about once a month to support our products at a huge customer of ours about an hour south of Indy, but we eventually hired a full time engineer to work there, and so I lost my monthly trips. This annoyed me quite a bit at the time because I had grown to kind of know the Indy area and had made several friends there.  The bad news is that there would not be any personal time while I was there, because if I had free time, I would have to spend it with the  colleague that I just mentioned. I am not the most socially adept person in the world, but even I knew that it would be considered awful rude to be so close and to not invite him to a lunch or dinner.
“Hey dude, I was right down the street from you for the first time in years but I didn’t think that you were worth spending time with” sort of sends the wrong message.

I think that I’ve mentioned this a few times already, but the US Airways folks in Austin have decided to warm up to me a bit. They used to be pretty cold and impersonal with me. I’m not sure if that was just the way that they treated everyone, or if that was the way that they treated me for being TG, but I sort of had the impression that they were not terribly friendly with any of their customers.  Anyway, I’ve noticed that for the last six months or so that they have changed, and more often than not these days, they greet me with a smile and go out of their way to chat with me a little.
This time one of their male customer service reps waved me up to his counter and asked me where I was going and how many bags I was checking.
“I’m going to Indianapolis and I am checking two bags. Two heavy bags that you’re gonna hate me for!” I told him with a laugh. He gave me a smile and started checking me in when one of the female agents that often check me in walked behind him and stopped him.
“No hun, she is checking in two bags, not one!” she told him
“You know she said two, I even heard two, but still I checked only one. I am so sorry – give me a sec.” he acknowledge to both of us with a laugh.
“No worries!” I assured him. “She checks me in so often that she has come to know exactly how I travel.”
“Only about once a week for a few years now huh?” she agreed with me, and we went on to chat for a few more minutes about nothing in particular. It just kind of struck me that they were now treating me with the same kind of friendly service that Delta airlines had always extended to me. Nothing Earth shattering, and no one ran around the counter to hug me or anything, but they treated as more than just someone that had to be dealt with.

The flight attendant on the flight from Austin to Charlotte (where I was to catch a connecting flight) was a real sweetheart. I was sitting in the very first row, and so as the plane was taking off, she and I were seated facing each other. I caught her doing the very typical female thing of looking over my outfit. She was staring at my shoes for a moment, and then looked up to notice that I was looking at her. Her face broke out into a huge grin.
“Those shoes are adorable!” she said, loud enough to be heard over the engines.
“Thank you! They are just about perfect for this dress too, huh? It’s almost like they were made to go together!” I replied.
“Yep. Very cute!” she agreed.
We had just finished this deeply philosophical conversation when there was a loud “BOOM!” from directly in front of me.  Now I am a seasoned air traveler, but I don’t care how much experience you have on airplanes, when you hear a loud crashing sound on takeoff, your heart will go directly into your throat, and I guess I must have physically jumped just a bit, because she laughed and pointed at the bathroom door.
“I’m so sorry – I should have warned you that the door sometimes slams open on takeoff.”
“That’s OK. You would think that I’d be expecting that sort of thing by now.” I just about gasped back at her, while my heart was still trying to beat its way outta my chest.
Once the plane had landed and the airplane was making its way to our assigned gate, the same flight attendant got on to the PA system.
“Ladies and gentlemen, our gate does not have a jet bridge, and so we will be deplaning in what I like to call ‘Presidential style” – using the rolling stairs. They are kind of steep, and so please be careful,  use caution, and make sure that you use the hand rail.”
Her deplaning  ‘presidential style’ comment brought back a few childhood memories, and before I had time to think about it, I blurted it out.
“I just hope that I won’t be deplaning president Ford style!” Much to my surprise, most of the first class section laughed at this. If you are old enough to remember President Ford, he was all but notorious for tripping and stumbling on the stairs of Air Force One on multiple occasions. And yeah, if I have to explain the joke to you, it aint funny anymore. . .

On my flight from Charlotte to Indianapolis, the man seated next to me was kind of an enigma. I couldn’t decide for a while if he was a nice guy or a bit of an asshole, but in the end he turned out to be a little of both.  We exchanged the usual pleasantries as we took our seats and then sat quietly as people boarded the plane and filled the aisle. Suddenly there was a big commotion about halfway down the aircraft that turned out to be a fairly large woman shoving her way back up the isle that everyone else was trying to get down.  In short order, she had pushed and shoved her way back up to our seats and we could see that she was brandishing a baby bottle with dry formula in it in front of her as if it was a sword or a scythe.
“Look, I’m sorry, but I HAVE to get water for my babies bottle!” she all but yelled over and over as she literally shoved people out of her way. Considering that this was the busiest part of the boarding process and the aisle was full, this was no small feat on her part and so I was shaking my head in wonder as she plowed her way past us. The man seated next to me was watching the show as well and turned to me with a laugh.
“You know, you would think that she would have thought of that before she boarded the plane wouldn’t you? I mean it’s not like she suddenly had the baby just this very moment in the back of the plane is it?”
“You got me!” I replied, not sure if I really thought it was funny or not. I’ve traveled once or twice with my children, and there aint a damn thing about it that is easy, or that is not exhausting, so I did sort of feel sorry for the woman.  On the other hand, she had been remarkably rude, and let’s face it, she, and everyone else, would have been much better off if she had just taken her seat and waited five minutes for things to calm down before calling a flight attendant to ask for some water.  Tired people often do not think straight, and let’s face it, no one is as tired as a mother traveling with an infant, so I was inclined to cut her some slack.
A few minutes later, a lady across the aisle from us broke out a great looking sandwich and was just about to dig in when my seatmate stopped her.
“Hey, hold on now! You can’t eat that unless you brought enough for everyone!”  Everyone busted out laughing, and to her credit, she offered to give him some but he laughingly declined. He and I traded a few more words once we took flight, but it was kind of noisy and so it was difficult to hold a conversation without speaking very loudly. Given that the louder I get, the more obvious my male voice is, I really wasn’t inclined to do much talking.
At one point in the flight, both of our drinks were empty and our flight attendants seemed to be having a long chat session in the front of the plane, so he got up and went to them for a refill. When he came back, he asked me if I wanted another drink, and offered to go get it for me. I told him I was kind of on the fence since I didn’t think that we had too long before the flight landed, but he took this as encouragement, and before I knew it, he had gone back to the front of the plane and returned with a screw driver for me. I thanked him, and then told him that I thought he made a fine flight attendant, much to his great amusement. 
The more that I thought about it though, the more significant that I thought this interaction was. He was clearly going out of his way to converse with me, and it was really only my own lack of confidence and my own reluctance to out myself with my voice that stood in the way of having a conversation with him. When the flight attendants weren’t terribly concerned about doing their job, he had gone out of his way to try and do something nice for me, even though I certainly hadn’t asked him to. He had wanted to do something thoughtful for me, and that really kind of impressed me. I am probably making more out of it than I should. . .
Oh, just to top the trip off with a complete lack of style and class, when it came time to leave the plane, I stood up and grabbed my 35 pound backpack out of the overhead. It’s been a while since I’ve worn heels, and so I went just a bit off balance as I slung the heavy bag onto my shoulder. Yeah, I more or less stumbled my way up the aisle. In the hour and a half flight, I’d only had two drinks, so I knew it wasn’t the alcohol, but I also knew how it must have looked, so I was bright red as I passed by the flight attendant and she grinned from ear to ear.
“You all right hun?”
“More or less . . .” I replied as I made my way off of the airplane, hiding my face behind my upraised hand.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Me too!

After one of my recent trips, I returned to find that my pretty red mustang had hail damage all over it. I have only rarely used the parking garage at the airport because it costs twice as much as the other parking lots, but the other parking lots leave my car exposed to all of the elements. Well after having my car hail damaged, I decided to use a compromise, and so I have started parking off the airport, where they at least have a roof over the car. So it's still out in the weather, but it should be reasonably protected from hail in the future, and it costs the same as the uncovered parking at the airport.  I've used it three or four times now, and most mornings the same driver has picked me up to take me to the airport, and I've been impressed with his attitude each time. Each and every time he has greeted me with a smile and a friendly word, and he has gone out of his way to grab my bags for me.
All in all, I wish I had discovered this place long ago. 

I had a bit of a shock as I was sitting in the Austin airport waiting for my flight. As has become my habit, I used my phone to log onto Facebook, and I updated my status to show that I was in the airport. Just a few seconds later I received a reply from a coworker of mine.
"Me too! I'll wave at you from down the concourse!"
Of course the first thing that i did was try to look every direction at once to see if she was at the same gate that I was sitting at, but fortunately she wasn't anywhere to be seen. Well, clearly I wasn't gonna invite her to share a cup of coffee with me, but I like her and didn't want to be rude either, so I fibbed through my teeth.
"Hey, I'd come say hi, but I have to board my flight!" I then promptly turned my phone off just to be SURE this wasn't gonna get any more awkward!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Black Moods and Feeding the Squirrels

There actually has been quite a lot going on my life the last month or two, but no real time for writing about it. Well, I have time this morning! (More on that in a moment)
If you have been following my blog for a while, you probably know by now that I am pretty much always worried about the possibility of losing my job. Well, I'm back to that point again, but this time with a few added reasons to be nervous. We had an engineer fired a month or two ago for more or less stealing from the company - he was fabricating receipts and expensing things that were not for his job. He was very popular with one of our major customer on the east coast, and so we thought it likely that he would either be hired by them or at the very least, that he would try and continue servicing their equipment as a contractor.  That came as no huge surprise to us, but what did catch everyone a bit off guard is that he has apparently taken quite a few of our other customers with him as well. The east coast has gone all but silent the last two months as far as field service is concerned.  It's gotten to the point where people are scared, including my manager, and he isn't the type to worry easily.
At the same time that this is happening, my manager has heard through the grapevine that our company is considering getting rid of both field service and sales, to start using other companies to sell our products. This is not at all unusual - just think of companies like Grainger that make nothing but sell everyone else's products.
I'm so worried that I've gone out and bought a drill press and blocks of aluminum and started fabricating some of the fixtures that we use when we work on equipment so that I can try going into business repairing them for myself if I have to. I had already started doing this before I'd heard that the guy we fired apparently doing the same thing, so I was less than happy to discover that it looks like I will have competition if it comes to that. I guess that the major difference is that if it comes to that point, I will approach my company about a partnership, where I would work on their equipment with their blessings and perhaps their support. Damn but I hope I never have to find out if that ship will float or not.

When I first joined the army at 17 years old, and found myself in Ft Sill Ok, I didn't do real well. Soon after graduating from advanced training where I learned electronics and pretty much everything associated with the Pershing missile, I learned about alcohol. The first time I tried it, I hated it, but in my attempts to fit in with "the guys", I kept at it. Bad news - I came to like it far too much, and soon I found myself pretty much drunk any time that I was not on duty, and I was seriously depressed all of the time.  There were a few influences in my life at that time, some good, and some bad, but far and away the most influential was Bill M. and his family. When I was thousands of miles from home and everything and everyone that I knew, they gave me a place to go. A place where being drunk all of the time was not the norm. A place where you saw how a functional family behaved - something that I had never seen before. It was a place where life was almost normal, with no Army, alcoholic fathers, or pain killing mothers to dwell on. They were far and away the very best friends that I have ever had. So much so, that I named my first child after Bill. For all of that, as happens so often with the military lifestyle, we still lost track of each other when we went our separate ways after leaving the service. Well, that separation just ended as he and most of his family came to visit us while they were on vacation.

It's been thirty years, but in some ways it seemed like we had never been away from each other.  We swapped lots of stories, very few of which were flattering, so it is fortunate that I had already told my wife most of them! He now has four children, and on this trip he brought his youngest two, both daughters. Unlike my spouse and I, who are essentially couch potatoes, these folks like to get out and see things, with a particular emphasis on the historical sites. With their invitation, we sort of crashed their vacation and tagged along with them to the LBJ Ranch, the LBJ Library, the Alamo, and then for a finale at the beach in Galveston.

You know how sometimes your children get a bee in their bonnet, and just refuse to behave themselves? Yeah, this was my daughter while we were going through the LBJ Library. She insisted on running around, and insisted on being loud so that she could hear the echo in the huge tile rooms, and eventually I had to pull her outside to talk to her. There we were, sitting on the tailgate of the truck, me angry and her sulking, when a squirrel boldly walks up and starts kissing my daughters toes. I don't care how mad you are, when a squirrel starts talking to your child, you shut up and grab the camera. So that is how I have photos and video of my daughter feeding a brave little squirrel.


It was whirlwind of a week, and I was more than a little sad when it came time to once again say goodbye to Bill and his family. I think we will make it a point to try and make a trip to see them in the future.

By pure coincidence, my daughter in law drove down from Washington state during this time frame, and she had a bit of a problem along the way -she lost her wallet somewhere in West Texas. She had no ID, no credit cards, and no cash, and she was still several hundred miles away from her parents’ home. Of course she discovered that she was missing her wallet the hard way while stopped at a gas station to refill her fuel tank. Things were looking pretty bleak for her, and so she called her grandmother for advice and support. I guess a gentleman on the other side of the fuel pump over heard her crying and the story that she relayed to her grandmother, because he filled up her gas tank for her. Considering the cost of fuel these days, that was no small act of kindness.
Well, this is where I came into the story. I was headed off to work, and sent her text to ask her how she was making out on her drive. The next thing I know, my phone is bleeping over and over with received text messages, so I pulled over to check them and got this whole story from her.
When I got to work, I started tracking down the places that she had stopped at and calling them to see if anyone had found the wallet, but no joy with that. We had been at it for maybe an hour and half when she called me and blurted out that someone she had never heard of had sent her a Facebook message telling her that they had her wallet and wanted to know how to return it to her. I looked the guy up, and it turns out that he is a guitar player and singer for a rock band out of Phoenix Az called the "Black Moods". So good news - the wallet was found. Bad news - the band is out of Phoenix and so it probably went the wrong direction.  First I tried to reach him through Facebook, and then I followed links to his band and sent them a message giving them my information and asking them to call me about the wallet. While I was on their web page, I came across a post talking about their future gigs, and I almost fell out of my chair when I discovered that they were headed to the Republic of Texas motorcycle rally not but maybe twenty minutes from me. Now stop and think about all for a second.
She lost her wallet with all of her credit cards and several hundred dollars in cash.
A stranger heard about it and filled her fuel tank so that she and her baby wouldn't be stranded,
A band full of decent people out of Arizona found it in west Texas and kept it safe for her. They also went through the trouble to find and contact her on Facebook.
That band just happened to be performing in Austin Texas right near me.
Wow . . .  I think my daughter in law is one very lucky young woman.

Not long after I sent the band a message, I received a phone call from them and headed off to pick the wallet up. When I got there, I was overwhelmed by their decency and pretty much babbled like an idiot. I told them how awesome I thought they were, and tried to explain just how much it meant to her, as she was going to be in a world of shit without any of her documents or resources. I offered to give them all of the cash in my wallet, I think it was $60, and they flat out refused, telling me that they had been through the same thing, and so had just wanted to do the right thing.
Anyway, these are some good people so do me a favor and go to their Youtube and Facebook pages and give them some love! In today's entertainment world, all of those "likes" and subscriptions matter. Besides, I checked out their music and I actually like 'em!

Well, today I am off to Portland Oregon for a service call there. As usual, my flights were pretty early in the morning, and so I was up at four in the morning, and at the airport at about 630AM. I had already received notification that I had upgrades to first class, but one of the flights had me in a bulkhead seat where there is no place to put your bag at your feet.
"Good morning!" I told Heather, the young lady behind the US Airways counter, "I'm going to Portland this morning. Is there any chance that you can get me out of that bulkhead seat?"
"Well that depends! Where are you connecting at?"
"Oh! That's going to be a problem."
"Uh huh. What's the problem?" I asked, already less than thrilled.
"Well, that flight was canceled." She told me regretfully.
"Hmmm . . . Any chance of getting me back into that bulkhead seat?" I asked her with a laugh.

It turns out that I had been rebooked on a flight leaving at 645PM! I just stared at her in shock. The very idea of trying to kill twelve hours in the airport, and what the HELL were they thinking rebooking me on a flight THAT late?! I was just thinking this, and hadn't said it, but I guess that it showed on my face, because she told me to hold on and she would see if there was anything else available. It turns out that there wasn't anything with US Airways, and so she started calling the other airlines and managed to get me a reasonable flights on United that left at 11AM. I hate United airlines with a passion, but I wasn't gonna look a gift horse in the mouth. So here I sit in the Austin airport, with PLENTY of time to update my blog!
I’ve gained about 12 pounds in the last six months, and so very little in my closet actually fits me these days. It makes choosing an outfit somewhat problematical, but don’t let it worry you too much because I have finally gotten pissed off at myself and am gonna “fix” this whole weight problem! I am officially on a diet as of today!After trying on and rejecting about twenty different outfits because they didn’t fit, I pulled this dress out of the back of my closet:

While not exactly a stunner, it was a good compromise – it fits, is reasonably flattering, and is reasonably cool in the heat. All things considered, I guess that made it perfect! It doesn’t look all that short while standing, but I spent most of the day tugging it down every ten minutes while I was sitting. I appreciate not dying of heat stroke, but I am really not a huge fan of dresses that are so short that they make you self-conscious.  It also doesn’t help a lot that I am getting a little old for short skirts and dresses. . .   Still, I did manage to get a compliment from a woman that thought the top was cute while I was getting my rental car. Speaking of rental cars, how do you like the one that they upgraded me to?