Friday, June 12, 2009

The Presidential Suite

I’m off to Detroit yet again! The instrument I work on the most often uses a Infrared detector that requires liquid nitrogen to keep it cold. That container that holds the detector and the liquid nitrogen is a glorified thermos, with vacuum insulation that leaks over time, and so it requires periodic servicing to restore that vacuum insulation. This trip was to re-install one of these detectors that had just been serviced so it was pretty much a milk run for me. The bad news is, it was a fairly early flight and so I had to get up at 3AM to get ready in time. I seriously considered just making the trip the good old fashioned way (as a guy) so that I wouldn’t have to get up so early but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

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I wore my floaty multi-color peasant skirt and a new green top I had just purchased. I also wore the new pair of darn brown Mary-Jane’s I bought last week at DSW. This skirt is really neat, but you have to see it in motion to appreciate it. It’s made of such light fabric that it swirls around your legs like ocean waves when you walk. A VERY cool effect.
The green top is just a little out of my ordinary. I typically stick to relatively thick fabrics because I like the way they drape on me, but the drawback is that they are hot. This top is a rare foray into lighter and cooler fabrics so that I don’t die of heat stroke.
On the flight from Austin to Charlotte, I sat next to a large African American woman. Shortly after taking off, the flight attendant, a woman in her late 50’s I’d guess, came through the plane pushing the beverage cart. Apparently she was having a bad day, because she was curt to the point of being rude. She looked at the large woman next to me, who was sitting along the isle, and pretty much demanded she move her arm out of the way of the cart.
“Excuse me” says the flight attendant, with no hint of a smile, and in a tone of voice making it clear that this was really more of a demand than a request. Apparently the woman didn’t move fast enough to suite the flight attendant and so she pushed the cart on by, shoving the woman’s arm aside in the process. The lady looked over at me with kind of a bemused “Did you see that?” look.
“Well, she’s just a little ball of sunshine, isn’t she?” I told the woman. She started to laugh, and that sort of set the tone for the rest of the flight. Later in the flight, that same attendant pushed her again, this time almost knocking the book out of her hands.
“You know, maybe you should shove her back!” I told her, and then, just to be sure she realized it was a joke, I added “Don’t worry, I’ll come visit you in jail. I promise!” 
That once again got a good laugh from her. She turned out to be quite friendly and so we chatted off and on for most of the flight. When we landed I asked her of she was gonna shove the flight attendant on the way out the door, and she just laughed and told me she was considering it.  J
The layover in Charlotte was a pain because they had these three people trying to  shove their credit card applications down peoples throat. The annoying thing was, these three were doing it in such a way that the people they were stopping thought it was the airline stopping them for official business. This man would stand in the hall, and with an authoritative tone of voice he would stop people.
“Excuse me, are you flying US Airways?”  Usually this would get a startled look from the individual stopped, and then they would agree that they were, and the salesman would continue. “Step over here please.”  You see the thing is, he didn’t phrase it as a request, he phrased it in such a way, and with a tone of authority, that people were assuming he was an airline representative pulling them aside for a search or some other official reason. Then of course he tried to sell them on the credit card. He would yell after people who were walking by, calling to them three of four times, still sounding like an airline rep.
“Ma’am” he would loudly say. “Ma’am?!” he would repeat as she kept walking, and then for the few people that realized he was not with the airline and so didn’t stop, he would once more loudly call to them. “Ma’am?!” Most obnoxious! Watching them stop countless people this way, clearly trying to give the impression that they had no choice but to stop, just really pissed me off. I’m considering writing a letter to the airline to complain about it.
Get to Detroit and get my bags with no excitement at all, and make my way to the rental car shuttle bus. I arrived just as the Avis bus did, and for the first two or three minutes I was the only passenger on the bus. As the door opens, the driver walks up to help with my bags, and he is none other than the guy that was picking on me a week ago at the Avis lot. At the time, he was giving me hell for lifting my bags easily into the trunk when he could hardly lift them at all.
“Hey, I know you!” he said with a laugh, while grabbing my tool box. While he took that, I lifted my large suite case onto the bus, where he then grabbed it, and with some effort, slid it under the rack.
“Damn you sure made that look easy, that bag is heavy!” he said with a shit eating grin.
“Ah hell, here we go again!” I replied with a laugh. He kept looking at me, then tried to give me an innocent look.
“What do you mean?” he asked, his words dripping with niceness.
“I mean you giving me hell for being able to lift heavy bags.” I told him, with my own shit eating grin. I sat by the door near my bags while he moved back to the front. As he sat down, he turned around in the seat and patted the bench close to him.
“Why don’t you move up here?” he asked.
“Nah, that’s all right.” I told him, now getting kind of confused as to if this guy is really trying to be nice or an asshole.
“Well why not?” he asked. "We can talk!”
“All right, I’ll bite. What are we gonna talk about?”  I asked him.
Well, it turns out he is a retired corrections officer just moved here from Arizona and I actually ended up enjoying talking to him. I suspect he’d have eaten me alive if I’d been timid, but I think he sort of respected me for handing his shit right back to him.
Well, as it turns out, they didn’t have a car assigned to me when I got there so I had to go to the counter and get it. A short while later, I was sitting in my rental car and setting up my GPS when this cute lady taps on the closed drivers window. I see she is wearing an Avis tag, and wondering what was wrong, I lowered the window to talk to her, and she leaned in close.
“I just had to tell you that your skirt is beautiful!” she says with a great big smile.
“It’s so cool of you to say so!” I told her. “It’s definitely one of my favorites!”.
“Well you have a great day!” she said with a smile, slapping her hand on the top of the door and walking away. Grinning like an idiot, I proceeded to the guard gate where they check your contract and drivers license. As I pull up, I notice there are two female guards in the shack, and they both step out. I recall both of them from prior trips, but they have not been on duty the last couple of trips I’d made here.
“Hey there!” says one of them, “It’s been a while! How have you been?” Before I can respond, the other one speaks up.
“Yeah, we haven’t seen you in a while. How are you?” she also asks.
"I just couldn’t be any gooder, thanks for asking! How are y’all doing?” I asked them. We chatted back and forth for a few minutes, until another car pulled up behind me. I headed off for my hotel kind of bemused that all of these people had noted and remembered my prior visits. When you think of how many hundreds, or maybe even thousands of people they deal with every single day, it really is making sort of a statement that they noted and  remembered me.
I got to the holiday Inn in Allen Park and made my way up to the desk where I could see one of the ladies I had often chatted with, and what appeared to be her manager standing next to her. As I walked up to the desk, the young lady sort of tilted her head to the side, and with a grin she starts to speak.
“Why do you even bother going home?” she asked me. That one busted me up, so we all laughed.
“You know, I was kind of wondering that myself!” I replied. At that the point, the phone range, she grabbed the call, and the manager took care of checking me in.
“Well, I see you’re a platinum member! Thank you so much for staying with the Holiday Inn. I’ll tell you what, why don’t we upgrade you to a better room?” he asks.
“That’s OK, I wont be spending much time in it anyway. As long as it’s got a bed and an air conditioner I’m good to go!” I told him.
“Well, I can guarantee you that much.” He says with a smile. “We’ve got a suite on the first floor, will that do?” he asks.
“Sure, that will be just fine.” I replied. I handed over my credit card, signed the contract, and headed for my room. When I opened the door my jaw almost hit the ground. The room was HUGE. This single room was bigger than my living room, kitchen, and dining room combined.

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I closed the door and headed back to the front desk. The lady I typically deal with was off the phone now so I approached her.
“Umm, I think y’all have made a mistake.” I told her.
“Oh no, what’s wrong?” she asks, clearly concerned.
“Well apparently y’all think I’m a senator or the President of the United States. I’m not, I’m just a traveling red neck and don’t need a room quite so grand!”   She just laughed and told me to enjoy it. She then explained that it had actually been a conference room that they had converted. I returned to the room, and heard the sound of the door closing echo off of the walls of the huge room.. I peeked into the bathroom to discover it was damn near as large as the room itself. Laughing at the twists and turns in my life that took me from a poor desert rat to standing in a uber expensive hotel room as Kimberly, I unpacked my things and confirmed that I had all of the appropriate male clothing with me for tomorrows work day.

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I had a couple of hours before I was supposed to meet Jennifer Nelson of the Vanity Club, and so I decided to go shopping. I looked through the shoes in Macy’s but didn’t find anything I couldn’t live with out and so I made my way toward the mall proper. Of course they have it set up so that you have to walk the gauntlet of makeup and perfume counters to get out of Macy’s, and as I walked through, one of the makeup SA’s speaks to me as I walk by.
“Would you care to try some of our makeup? I could give you a little makeover?” she says, pointing at her stool with an eyebrow raised in question. I stopped for a moment and thought about. What an intriguing idea, to sit in an upscale department store and get a makeover just like the countless women I have envied in the past. The problem is, doing a makeover for a TG requires a whole different set of skills than working on your average woman. I have to wear fairly heavy foundation and she would have to wipe most of it off to get a fresh start, I wasn’t willing to take the risk right before meeting Jennifer for dinner.
“You know, that’s a really neat offer, but no than you!” I told her. She must have seen the smoke rising from my ears while I was trying to makeup my mind though, because she gave me one more chance.
“Are you sure?” she asked again.
“Yep, but thank you so much for the offer!”
As I was walking off it occurred to me – absolutely everything had gone my way since I arrived in Detroit this trip. Every one had stopped to chat with me and be nice, several people had gone out of their way to kid with me, and I’d just been offered a makeover. If I were smart, I’d call dinner off and head to the Casino to cash in on the days apparent good fortune! Shopped a bit more, and them headed for Ann Arbor where I was to meet Jennifer for dinner at Gratzi’s. Shortly before I got there, I received a call from her telling me that she was there, and would wait for me in the bar. She also told me that there was a parking garage behind the restaurant, and so as I approached, this is what I was looking for. I did find a parking garage, but it was a good three blocks away, so I wasn’t sure if it was the one she had referred to. I gave her a call and she described the garage to a “T” so I pulled in, parked, and made the three block walk to the restaurant. The walk from the parking garage to Gratzi (the restaurant), required me to walk through about half a dozen sidewalk café’s, and as far as I could tell no one looked twice at me, and I actually enjoyed the walk. As I approached Gratzi’s, I just happened to glance in the right direction and noted that there was a parking garage much closer than the one I had used. I just hadn’t seen it while driving and trying not to kill anyone looking around. Oh well, I guess it’s a good thing that I had enjoyed the walk!

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As I entered Gratzi’s, I could see Jennifer sitting at the bar, and she looked exactly like her picture – cute! We hugged in greeting, with me desperately tying to make sure I didn’t get my foundation all over her outfit, and then sat and chatted for an hour or so. Jennifer has some of the brightest eyes I’ve seen, and when you look in to them, you just know that your talking to a fairly intense person. We chatted about this and that, from shoes to careers, to hobbies. She specifically asked me not to mention or even hint at what she had done in her career, but lets just say that it was interesting and successful.

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At one point in our discussion, Jennifer very casually mentioned that she had graduated from MIT. It didn’t really occur to me at the moment, but later on as I was considering the night, it struck me that a great deal of the TG’s I had met in my travels, had been very successful. Jennifer had graduated from MIT and her career had been highly successful and of a high profile. I have met popular musicians, airline pilots, several lawyers, PHDs, and university professors. In the midst of all of these successful and well educated people, along comes Kimberly the dessert rat. I couldn’t bare staying in school long enough to graduate and so had taken my GED and joined the Army at 17. The only college I have was in classes and on topics that had interested me. All of my technical education was through the US Army, and while that was quite a lot of high quality technical training, it was a long way from being a well rounded education. As silly as it sounds, sometimes I feel like “The Little Queen That Couldn’t”, or perhaps “The Little Queen That Didn’t”. Funny how those old insecurities still pop up every once in a while!
Anyway, I had a very pleasant night speaking with Jennifer. An interesting person, with  interesting stories to tell, and it made for an enjoyable night.
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When I got back to the hotel, I tried on a gown I am considering for the Southern Comfort Conference this year. This was my first chance to try it on while having hair and makeup, and I wanted to see what the whole package would look like. Even after seeing it, I’m still not sure it’s “the” gown. I am considering wearing the same gown I wore last year. That gown was awesome, and I felt gorgeous in it, but I’m just not sure about the social implications of wearing the same gown twice in a row. What do y’all think – new gown that is just “ehh” or same gown I wore last year that rocked?
 SCC 050 Cropped

The next day it was time to pay the piper and go earn my paycheck. This instrument needed a lot of work, but it was all pretty standard stuff that I was more than familiar and comfortable with. So, a lot of work to do, but none of it particularly challenging. The really cool thing is, when I was done, the customer sent an email to my manager telling him that every instrument I worked on performed better than they had when brand new from the factory, and making it clear he preferred my company send me when his equipment needed support. Things being what they are with jobs and the economy, this was a very nice gesture and very much appreciated by me. Of course the first thing my manager asked was “How much did you pay him to write that email?”  He thinks he’s being funny, but on my next visit I intend to get him a steak lunch!

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Got back to the hotel and tried on a new outfit I recently purchased. This one is a very bright orange and I wasn’t at all sure that it would suite me. I think these bright, almost neon colors, typically flatter women with darker skin tones. You know, people that are capable of getting an actual tan, unlike my own Casper-the-ghost white self. I got dressed and then reviewed my appearance in the mirror and tried to decide if the outfit worked for me or not. Ultimately I never did decide if it flattered me or not, but I didn’t hate it, so I moved forward with it. I figured ‘what the heck, gotta step outta your comfort zone every once in a while!’  Just to really push my luck, I also wore my white shoes with 4 or 4.5 inch heels. I don’t wear heels that high most of the time, so I was probably a little less than graceful when I walked.
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I returned to “SoHo” in Ferndale, because they have karaoke on Wednesday nights. I had done this on my last visit to the area and they had had some fairly good singers, and music that I enjoyed, so what the heck. As soon as I entered the place and took a seat, I had two people ask me if I wanted a kitten. Not only did they ask, but they really put on the hard sell, but despite the kittens being adorable, it just wasn’t an option. The man sitting next to me was holding one of them in his arms, the cat flat on it’s back, paws up in the air, and it was sound asleep! The little critter looked exactly like the cat that I just lost a few months ago, and had this been in Austin where I would only have to throw it in the car and take it home, I’d probably have taken it.
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Spent the night singing, and listening to others sing, and then headed for the hotel. By the time I got my makeup washed off and everything packed it was quite late and so I only got a whopping 2.5 hours of sleep before getting up and heading for the airport. I was sitting in the front of the plane on my connection from Charlotte to Austin and watching all of the people entering the aircraft when I noticed that one of them looked familiar. It took me a second to figure it out, but it was the large woman that I had sat next to a couple of days ago on my trip to Detroit. You know, the lady that the flight attendant was kind of rude to? Before I stopped to think about it, I started speaking to her.
“Hey, aren’t you the lady I sat next to on the flight here?” She got this real confused look on her face and then it finally struck me what I had done. On the flight next to her, I was Kim, and right now I was Matt. Well, too late to worry about that now, so I just plowed forward.
“You know, when the flight attendant kept shoving you?” I asked, giving her a wink. That’s when it clicked for her and she got a huge smile.
“Honey, she was so rude I wanted to just strangle her!” she said, placing her hand on my shoulder as she walked by.
“Well I wish you better luck on this flight then!” I told her. We both laughed. She continued on to her seat, and I sat there thinking that I must be getting old to be making such stupid mistakes as to unthinkingly out myself to someone. It’s not that I minded her knowing. After all, I didn’t know this woman and her knowing would never effect my life. What really concerned me was that I had done it with out thinking.

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