Friday, April 23, 2010

I’m tarred, really, really tarred. . .

I’m tarred, really, really tarred. . .

For those of you that don’t live around Texas, “tarred” is how you pronounce “tired” with a heavy central Texas accent. Last week I didn’t get home until late Saturday night and so I spent most of Sunday lounging around doing not much more than my laundry and holding my little one just a bit. His mother gave him a couple of yogurt covered pretzels (they are better than it sounds) and he predictably made a mess of himself AND his momma. As soon as I saw thees two looking and laughing at each other, I grabbed my camera to snap a pic. Between his mother and I, it’s no great surprise that my children have bright blue eyes is it?
Messy Critter  2010 04 003

Messy Critter 2010 04 004

Last week was a pretty grueling one for me, both physically and emotionally, and this week I once again had to hit the ground sprinting. I had two customers in the Detroit area, both of them with two instruments each that weren’t working right, and both of them had one with unusual symptoms that were going to take some effort on my part to diagnose. Once again they booked me on early morning flights and so once again I got up at 2:30AM so that I could fly pretty. This time I went for a skirt that was quite a bit shorter than my norm. When I found this skirt I fell in love with it, figuring that the multicolor pattern would allow me to match it with a lot of different tops and colors, but in all honesty, I hadn’t realized just how short it was. I know I’m a bit too old for a skirt this short, but what the hell, I’m already breaking all of the fashion rules already, so why worry about whether it’s appropriate for someone in their mid 40’s to wear a short skirt?
Detroit 2010 04 007

While it was kind of fun, by the end of the day I was thinking that I wouldn’t be making a habit out of wearing a skirt so short. Frankly it draws more attention and scrutiny than I care for, and I wasn’t sure if the looks were people checking out the old woman in the short skirt, or people checking out the crossdresser. Add to that the fact that I spent half the day tugging it down and being sure that my legs were entirely closed or crossed at all times, and it just sort of became a pain in the butt. In any case, I really don’t need the anxiety . . .

I had to laugh as I was checking in with US Airways in the Austin Texas airport. The young lady behind the counter asked me what my bags weighed. Having flown with these things so often, I knew that they were both just under 50lbs each and told her so. Still, I saw her peaking at the scale as I sat them down. Just for fun, I acted indignant.
“Hey! I saw you peeking at the scale! What’s the matter, you don’t trust me?!” I asked while batting my eyes and trying to look oh so innocent.
“Sure I do, but I still have to do my job!” she replied with a smile. This time the TSA did not select me for additional screening, nor did I get the usual parade of TSA folks making it a point to take a walk near me.

Going through the Charlotte airport, I couldn’t help but notice quite a few people looking at me as I walked by. Let’s face it, a woman wearing heels and a skirt that short does tend to get a bit of attention, but I really didn’t care for the idea. When people start to notice me that much, I worry about what else they may notice while they are looking at me, and I think I would just as soon not have that kind of attention most of the time.

 I grabbed a small lunch at the Burger King near my gate in the Charlotte airport and it was clear that the young lady taking my order pegged me. Even though there were a dozen people in line behind me, as soon as she gave me my change, she stepped back away from the register to speak to the folks in the preparation area. As I am waiting for my order, I see the guy she was talking to looking around and then his gaze locked in on me. The next thing I know, there are at least three people from the preparation area peeking out at me. When everyone else’s meal was ready, they would just yell the order number out and the person would step forward to claim theirs, but when mine was ready, the manager himself carried it out and handed it directly to me.  
Detroit 2010 04 011

Detroit 2010 04 014

I was pleased to see the Avis shuttle bus already waiting at the curb as I descended the escalator, and so I was very quickly on my way to the Avis lot. The bus driver was the same pretty young lady from a trip or two back who had made it a point to call me “Miss” Huddle when calling off names and parking spaces, and she once again extended this courtesy me. She also called ahead and asked them to bring the car to the kiosk for me, telling who ever was on the other end that I had “a lot of baggage” so as I was exiting the bus I made it a point to approach her.
“Thank you Michelle!” I told her, being sure to emphasize the ‘thank you’
“You are very welcome.” She replied, with a soft smile and gleaming big brown eyes.
Detroit 2010 04 016

Someone let her down though and had not pulled my car around for me as she had asked, and so she exited the bus to give them hell. As I am grabbing my things I can hear her talking to another employee while pointing at my bags.
“See?! That’s why I told you to bring the car around!” she said sternly, and the next thing I know, there are two Avis employees trying to grab my bags for me. I smiled and assured them that I would prefer to take them myself, but thank you. You could tell by the awkward look in their eyes that they knew I was a cross dresser. No big surprise there though. Considering how often I go through there, I’d be terribly surprised if all of their folks hadn’t heard about “the cross dresser” that keeps showing up. On the way out of the security gate, I once again found the lady that almost always stops me to chat on duty, and she did so again this time.
Detroit 2010 04 020

“Hey, it’s nice to see you back again. How have you been?” she asked with a huge smile as she took my contract and started looking the car over.
“Awe hell, I just couldn’t be any gooder, thanks for asking! How are you?”
We exchanged a few more pleasantries and then I headed off for the hotel. I had been staying at the Crowne Plaza a lot lately. It is an upper end hotel, but during the off season, they had been renting the rooms at an affordable rate. Well apparently it is no longer “off season” because they were charging far too much for a room now, and so I was off to your typical Holiday Inn Express instead. Dang it . . .
Detroit 2010 04 025

When I checked in at the hotel, the lady behind the counter didn’t bat an eye. I’m not sure if she had dealt with me before, or what, but I clearly didn’t surprise her in the least, and so soon I had my room keys and was headed for the elevator. As I approached the elevator, I can see a male hotel employee standing near by and he hits the elevator call button so that the elevator is there and open for me. After calling the elevator, he walked a few feet off to do something, and so I held the door open for him for just a moment. Soon he looks up at me.
“Going up?” I asked him.
“Oh no, it’s kind of a slow elevator and so I was just calling it for you.” He replied.
“Well thank you!” I told him with a smile.
“You are very welcome! My name is James and you feel free to let me know if there is anything I can do for you.” He said with a huge smile.
Detroit 2010 04 028

As soon as I entered the room, I more or less collapsed on the bed for a moment. After having been up at 2:30AM, it has already been a long day for me and I am more than a little tired. I contemplate going to dinner, or a movie, or shopping, and reach the conclusion that I am too tired to enjoy it “dressed”, and so with a sigh, I headed for shower to return to being a Caterpillar.

The next day I was to meet with Renee from She came highly recommended by Jenny, a mutual friend of ours, and so there was no trepidation about meeting her. The bad news is that work got in the way and resulted in screwing up our plans. The instruments I was there to work on are Infrared Mass Spectrometers and they have a liquid nitrogen (LN2) cooled Infrared detector on them that has to be filled every 8 hours or so. To avoid having to fill it so often, we have an optional external LN2 tank that mounts on top of the instrument. After I had the first instrument repaired and looking awesome, they took it back to their test cell and installed that external tank filled with LN2. Soon, my customer walks up to me while I’m working on his second instrument.
“Um, that one you just fixed? Yeah, it’s not looking right. Can you take another look at it?” he asks. It looked to me like it needed more LN2 and sure enough, when we check the external tank we found it empty and refilled it. In very little time, this tank that is supposed to last two days is empty again and so we pull the instrument back out and open it again. As soon as I opened the case I sat back in shock. The interior of the instrument is covered in a good half an inch of ice and frost. In all of the years I’ve worked on these things I’ve never seen this before. Well, it turns out that the external tank was leaking directly into the case of the instrument instead of filling just the detector, and so we had more or less poured 5 or more liters of the super cold LN2 in to the interior of the instrument and frozen everything solid. This was a little before 4PM, and so with a sigh of resignation I called Renee and told her that it looked like I wasn’t going to make dinner after all as I was gonna have to wait for the instrument to thaw out before I could work on it.
Fortunately the customer had a small space heater that we set up, and so we had the thing thawed out much sooner than I had anticipated. The bad news is that the leak was my fault and it did damage a fairly expensive sodium based window that I will have to send to the customer. I hate it when that happens. . .
Now it’s around 6 but I decide to send Renee a text message just in case she hasn’t eaten yet.
“I can be at the hotel in about 20 minutes. Too late for dinner?” I asked, and shortly I get a response.
“Eating a bowl of soup, but I’ll put it away and meet you.”
Renee had planned to be “dressed” when we met, but since I had essentially canceled things earlier, she had not bothered, and so we both met drab. She met me and picked me up in front of the hotel, and as I entered her car she gave a small laugh.
”I’d recognize that smile anywhere!” she told me.
Renee was every bit as cool as Jenny had said she would be. She has a fascinating career and travels at least as much as I do, if not more. I’m not sure if she is comfortable with my giving out details, so I wont tell you what she does though – sorry. We had a nice dinner, speaking about travel, jobs, our families and children, and of course cross dressing. After dinner, she invited me to her lovely home for a few minutes where she showed me her hobbies, and she has a few of them. With a 1967 Mustang in my garage, it’s pretty clear that I have a thing about cars, so I was pleased to see the gorgeous camero she has in her garage. This thing has clearly been loved and take care of and is a pleasure to look at and admire. Then she showed me her collection of shoes, and holy smokes has she got a lot of ‘em! Box stacked upon box and hanging racks full of them. If you ever need shoes, look her up. Next she showed me another collection – model trains. I expected to see a few engines and cars of course but much like her shoe collection, I was surprised by the magnitude of the thing. Tub stacked upon tub, with each tub filled with train cars, and the stacks as tall as I am. There had to be hundreds of cars there. Clearly Renee doesn’t do things half way – if she is gonna do something, she goes all out. A very nice person there, and I hope to see her again.

The following day I yet again did something stupid. I had completely forgotten that my customer that day was NOT in the Detroit area. Thinking I had my act together and would get to the customer early, I was punching the address into my GPS at 7AM and was stunned to see an arrival time of 9:30 AM. I had completely forgotten that my customer was in Auburn MI, a couple of hours north of Detroit. With over a two hour drive each way, and two instruments to troubleshoot and repair, that turned out to be a long day too, and so Kimberly did not get out to play.

I had considered flying home in the morning pretty, but my flight left at 630AM and I just wasn’t willing to get up at 2:30AM to do it. The very thought made me sick to my stomach, but even flying drab, I had to get up at 3:30AM. I love my job, but I’ve had it with getting up that damned early so often.

Oh, you know that huge escalator to the rental car shuttle? Yeah, well the “up” escalator was broken when I arrived and there were at least 50 people in line at the elevator, and so I decided to “cowboy up” and carry my bags up the broken escalator rather than wait my turn in that huge line. That is something I will never, ever try again. I got about 75% of the way up it when I realized that I wasn’t a twenty year old anymore. My back pack weighs about 25 lbs and my suitcase and tool box are both 50 lbs each. What the hell was I thinking when I headed up two or three flights of steps carrying 125 lbs??!! When I reached the top, I had to take a moment and rest, sitting on my tool box and waiting for my legs to stop feeling like jelly.
Did I mention that I’m tarred?

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