Thursday, August 5, 2010
Apparently I spell "BWI" as "Dulles"
This week I’m off to Manassas VA for a few days where I have an installation to take care of. I wasn’t all that happy to travel on a Sunday at all, and it was even worse than that because my son leaves for the Navy today. Instead of seeing him off to Basic, I’m on airplanes. . .
Since I had a flight that leaves fairly late in the morning, and I prefer to be out of the house before sunrise to avoid being seen by the neighbors, I once again decided to stop at Denny’s by the Austin airport and eat a nice and leisurely breakfast. I got the usual smiles and grins from the waitresses and the patrons as I was led to a table. I kind of took my time eating, read my book, sucked down some coffee, and then caught my flight!
I had kind of a giggle moment on the flight. I was in a window seat and debating asking the woman on the aisle to let me up to use the restroom, when she simplified things by getting up to use it herself. As she came out of the bathroom, she opened the door pretty quickly and caught the flight attendant as she was going by and darn near knocked her down. As long as she was out of the seat and no longer blocking my way, I made my own way to the bathroom. When I returned to my seat I thanked her for getting up for me.
“Thank you! I thought I’d take advantage of your being up to go to the bathroom my darn self!” I told her with a grin.
“Oh no problem at all.” She replied with a smile.
“Of course I didn’t get to knock the flight attendant down. . . “ I told her with a wink and a smile. She turned bright red and quickly started to insist that it had been an accident, as if I’d had any doubt.
On the next leg of my flight, I sat next to a retired Lieutenant Colonel and he was one of the nicest folks I’ve sat next to. Everyone I’ve ever sat next to has been willing to chat with me, but I often get the feeling that they are either tickled about what I am or else tolerating me. Very few give absolutely no sign at all that I am not your average traveler, but this gentleman did. He neither went out of his way to make an exaggerated attempt to treat me as a lady, nor did he give any signs that he was either amused or irritated by what I was. He treated me exactly like anyone would treat me were I not cross dressed. It was kind of refreshing. So we were chatting off and on as people were boarding and I made the comment that I had missed getting upgraded to first class by only one spot on the list. The plane was at the end of the boarding process and he and I were laughing about the differences in flying first class versus sardine class when the flight attendant approached our seats. She looked at all of us in the entire row, looked confused and then spoke hesitantly to everyone in the area.
“Matthew Huddle??” she asked us all in a very timid voice and looking from face to face for some sign of recognition. I grimaced at the use of my full name as she had just essentially outted me to everyone in ear shot, but I figured I didn’t know any of them anyway, so I waved at her and smiled.
“Would you like to ride up front instead?” She asked with a smile that made it clear she knew what the answer was going to be.
“Hmm, let’s see . . . “ I paused for effect. “You betcha I do!”
I traded grins with the guy I had been chatting with as I grabbed my bag and headed up the aisle toward First Class. As I grabbed my stuff, I could see another flight attendant having the same conversation with another woman, and she was also grabbing her things and moving up. The other woman and I had just got our bags put away and were sitting down when another flight attendant walked up to us.
..”I am SO sorry, but you’re both going to have to go back to your original seats. It turns out that the passengers assigned to these seats DID make it after all and are on their way down the jet bridge.” She told us with an apologetic tone of voice.
“Danm them!” I replied with a laugh so that she would know I was just kidding.
“I know!” she told me quietly as she helped me by grabbing my bags. “And the woman assigned to that seat is pissed, because she has to check her carry on because that’s a bulkhead seat.”
“That’s ok, I suspect that she will get over it.” I told her.
As I got back to my seat, I see that the guy I had been chatting with has moved from the center seat to mine.
“I’m sorry about this, but it looks like we both got unlucky this time. They took one good look at me and threw me out of first class!” I told him with a grin. I was surprised to hear a number of people sitting around me start to laugh, though I’m not sure if it was with me or at me.
When the flight attendants made their rounds later to offer the passengers drinks, I told her I just wanted some water.
“Would you prefer a drink or beer for the first class mix up?” she asked me, looking terribly embarrassed.
“Nah . . . well . . . on second thought – sure! I’ll take a screw driver please!”
“I am so sorry about that! I hate it when that happens!” she told me as she gathered the things together.
“It’s absolutely not a problem! You tried to take good care of me and offer me a better seat as a courtesy and a perk. I very much appreciate the thought!” I told her as I accepted my drink.
After landing at BWI, I gathered my things and got my car rental car to make the hour and half drive to my hotel in Manassas. As I was pulling out of the rental car lot, I saved the location to my GPS as “Airport BWI” so there would be no confusion finding it when it was time to go home.
The following day was all about work of course. It was a little more hectic than normal because this was not product line that I work on often. To add to the anxiety, it was an entirely new configuration AND it was with the same customer that my friend was fired for abandoning in the past. In other words, they were already angry with my company, looking for any sign of incompetence or our being unprofessional, AND it was a new configuration that I was not terribly familiar with. It was nerve wracking, but in the end we found and resolved a number of issues on our customers end, and were able to start a 12 hour long safety test before calling it a night. The other engineer from my company that was working with me had brought his wife with him to Manassas and they were in a different hotel, so I would have been free and clear to spend the evening as Kim. Instead, I chose to go to dinner with my wife’s aunt and uncle who live only minutes away from Manassas. He had come from a very humble beginning as had I, but he had managed to go quite a bit farther than I had. He had retired from the Air Force, where he had obtained at least one masters degree, and I think possibly more. While I admire the way that he has educated and made something of himself, that’s not really what impresses me the most about him or his wife. What really impresses me is the outlook and humor they have in their life. Like my wife and I, they have seen much of the world while they were in the service and even after they got out. They saw humor and brought humor to every place and everyone they visited. It is so hard to describe – I think that you would have to spend time talking to them to understand why I like them so much.
The following day we returned to the customer to find that our system and the customers semiconductor tool it was a part of, had both passed their 12 hour testing proving it was at least safe to operate them. In about three hours we had everything up and running, the customer satisfied, and we were free to do what we wanted for the rest of the afternoon.
I had seriously considered going to see some of the monuments in the nation’s capital, but I wouldn’t have time to do it as Kim. If I’d taken the time to get ready, it would have been too late in the afternoon and put me right in the middle of some of the worst rush hour traffic in the entire continent. On the other hand, I really had my heart set on being pretty, so I had a decision to make – be pretty or see the monuments? In the end I did what most cross dressers would do, and chose wearing a skirt and heels over seeing some of our nations most precious monuments and memorials. For the record, I consider this clear and obvious proof that I am screwed up in the head. . .
When I took my blond hair out of the box I carry it in, I had to laugh at it’s condition. In fact I thought that it looked so amusing I decided to share a picture of it. By the way, I never did get this to look decent enough to wear it out.
Once I got cleaned up and ready, I started looking for something to do that wouldn’t involve three hours stuck in traffic. There were no movies out that I wanted to see but hadn’t already seen, and my bank account has told me that I’ve done quite enough clothes shopping lately, thank you very much! In the end, I decided to go looking for a wig shop and see if I can find a replacement for my favorite wig, or at least a pro who could tell me exactly what the model is so I can look online. The first wig shop I stopped at was in Manassas itself, but they had very little that I had any interest in, and sure as heck didn’t have anything like the one I have.
Next I went south to Fairfax where I found a nice place called the “Hair Boutique” (www.HairBoutiqueoffairfax.com). In it, I found a cute young lady who took my entry into her shop entirely in her stride.
“Hi! How can I help you?” She asked with a genuine smile.
“I’m looking for this!” I said, while pointing my finger at my wig. “It’s getting old and so I’m trying to find a replacement before it gets worn out.”
“That is beautiful . . .” She said matter of factually while she continued to look it over. “It’s clearly never been heat damaged either. How old is it?”
“Well thank you! Oh yeah, I learned the hard way a long time ago that heat and synthetic wigs don’t mix. I think it’s about two or three years old.”
”Well it looks amazing, especially considering that synthetics are only supposed to last six months to a year.”
“Well thanks! Even more impressive, this one gets washed at least twice a week so you would kind of expect it to degrade even faster.” I told her.
“Do you style it?” she asked, and then after a pause “Did you buy that here?”
“I hairspray and brush the snot out of it on a regular basis,” I replied with a grin. “And no, I bought it at the Southern Comfort Conference?” I waited a moment to see if she had any idea what that conference is, and she shook head “no” indicating she was clueless.
“Well, it’s pretty much the world’s largest conference or gathering of transgendered people.” She still looked clueless. “More or less, Cross dressers like me.” I told her with a wink, and was rewarded with a smile indicating that she now had the concept.
As we were browsing the wigs that she had on display, I noticed a large photo with three beautiful women in it, and then grinned when I realized that the woman in the middle was none other than Raquel Welch herself. I was amused because the wig I was trying to find was in fact a Raquel Welch.
“Speaking of the devil!” I said to the lady while pointing at the picture. She got a serious look on her face and told me that one of the other women in the picture was in fact her co-worker (or maybe the owner of the shop?) and that at one point she had been the top seller for Raquel Welch wigs. She showed me lots of things but didn’t have exactly what I was looking for. Either they were long but kind of straight and flat, or they were full and too light or dark in color. She assured me that they could order something like it, but given that I was on a plane the following morning, that wasn’t going to be an option. I didn’t get what I wanted, but still I was impressed with the friendly service and also with the way she was so comfortable dealing with me. If you live in the area, I’d sure give them a shot were I you!
Having failed to find a perfect replacement for my wig, I headed back to Manassas where I hit up the Manassas mall. I browsed the sales racks and looked at shoes in Macy’s but didn’t see anything that I couldn’t live without, so I headed to JC Pennys where I found an awesome retro skirt on closeout for $5! Pleased with the great deal on the skirt, I headed for my car, where I found two women and a child standing in front of the car next to me. They all had an apprehensive look on their faces, as if their car had broken down or something. I got into my own car and tried to decide if I should ask them if they needed help or not. I sat there for a moment and watched them making phone calls and looking nervous, so I rolled down my window to ask if they were all right. As soon as my window started down, one of the women approached me.
“Excuse me miss?” she said with a huge smile making it fairly clear that the “miss” was probably a courtesy. “We are looking for the Bank of America. We thought there was an ATM in the mall but we couldn’t find it. Do you have any idea where B of A is?”
“No,” I told her as I reached up and took my GPS off the windshield. “But I’ll bet that this does!”
It took a moment to make the search and bring up a map that showed her the route, but soon I had it displayed and showed it to her through the open window. She looked at the map for a moment and then looked up at me and shrugged, clearly still confused about how to find it. I glanced at the map and thought to myself that there is just no way to make it any clearer, so I just told her to follow me and I’d take her there. As I’m talking to her, the little boy, maybe seven or eight years old, points right at me and laughs as he whispers in the other woman’s ear. She quickly pushed his hand down and gave me a quick and mortified look, apparently stunned that a child would do something rude. I just winked at her to let her know that it was OK and not a big deal – after all, you can’t really blame the boy for noticing that I’m different and she did her job by teaching him it was rude to point. In moments they were loaded into their van and followed me less than a mile to the bank where I waved good bye and then went to dinner at the Olive Garden close by.
The following morning I had the usual debate with myself – pretty or drab? Sleep an extra hour and a half and go as Matt, or get up early and go as Kim? Also as usual, I decided to go as Kim, and so it was up at 6AM for the drive to BWI and my 1230PM flight.
Checking out of the hotel, the clerk was a young man who was clearly fairly new to the job, and he was a nervous wreck. I don’t know if he was nervous because he was new, or because he was dealing with a cross dresser, so I just smiled and tried to be patient. As he was checking me out and getting my receipt, I recalled that I had lost the receipt from one of my other stays with their chain.
“Hey, can y’all print me out a receipt for a stay I had at one of your other hotels a couple of weeks ago? I called them twice asking them to send me one, but they never did.”
“Uh, I don’t know!” he said. He then turned and called to a woman seated in the office behind him. She came out and joined us, and he repeated to her what I had asked for.
“I’m so sorry, but we have no way to do that.” She told me. “We don’t have access to their database or anything like that.”
“OK, no worries! I figured as much but thought it wouldn’t hurt to ask!” I told her with a smile. I guess she had noticed how nervous her young coworker was because she let out a short laugh.
“Relax and smile Tony!” she told him with a huge grin on her face. I just couldn’t resist it and spoke up.
“Yeah, don’t panic Tony, your doing just fine!” I told him to everyone’s laughter.
In a moment I had all of my bags in the rental car and was ready to head out for the airport, so I grabbed my GPS and looked in my “favorites” where I quickly found and selected “Airport BWI”. I made the selection on the GPS and then scoffed at its asking me to “Please fasten your seatbelt.”
As I turned in the rental car at Avis, you could see the moment that the man figured out that I was a guy, and it was all hands off after that. Regardless of whether I’m in male or female mode, they will often offer to help when they see all of the bags and stuff I’m traveling with. Not this guy though, because he backed up and clearly wanted nothing to do with me. I fumbled with my luggage, tool box, and my purse, and then made my way to the shuttle bus where the driver did go out of his way to help and so I tipped him a couple of dollars.
Checking in at the Delta kiosk, the machine told me that I had to see a representative, and so I dragged all of my stuff over to the “First Class / Elite” line where I waited my turn. Behind me I can hear two women talking, and one is being asked to repeat herself over and over.
“Where IS your hearing aid?!” she finally asked the other woman.
“I didn’t bring it and I don’t give a damn!” the other woman replied. At this point I had to turn around and see this pair. One woman in her 60’s was pushing the other and older woman in a wheel chair. Both were clearly Caucasian, but were wearing turbans. Struck by the contrast (Caucasian but wearing a turban) I looked at them in more detail and noticed that they weren’t wearing any of the other garb I would typically associate with a woman from the middle east. I decided to take the plunge.
“No one is going to say anything you want to hear here anyway right?” I asked the older woman in the wheel chair. They both just laughed and agreed but I had to cut the conversation off as the Delta rep was calling me forward. I approached, wished him a good morning, and handed him my ID. He punched a few keys, then a few more, then looked up at me with a confused look.
“Where are you flying to dear?” he asked.
“Honestly, I didn’t pay any attention to where it connected at, but I’m going to Austin Texas.” I told him. He hit a few more keys then looked up at me again.
“Your reservation is with this airport right?” he asked. He actually set me back a step with that question. I mean the very idea that I was too stupid to go to the correct airport was kind of offensive.
“Yes,” I laughed, “from this airport. This is BWI right?” I asked, in a heavily sarcastic tone. The joke was on me though because he started shaking his head ‘no’.
“Dear, this is Dulles – NOT BWI” he tells me.
I just stood there looking at him for a second with my mind reeling, trying to think of all of the implications. How in the hell had I managed to go to the wrong damned airport? All I can figure is that at some time in the past I had flown in to Dulles and saved the airports location in my GPS as “Airport BWI” by mistake. Turning dark red with embarrassment, I began to consider my options. It would cost several hundred dollars to rent a car to drive one way from Dulles to BWI. I looked at the time and discovered that I couldn’t make it in time for my scheduled flight anyway, so it would be several hundred for the car, and at least $100 to change flights, and quite possibly I’d have to purchase all new tickets for a hell of a lot more.
“So how much would it cost to change my flights to leave out of here?” I asked him sheepishly.
“We don’t have anything flying coach until late tonight.” He said after doing a lot of typing on his computer. “That would be an additional $750.”
I choked when he told me the cost of my little screw up. While I was standing there in shock and trying to figure out what I should do, he was still typing away.
“Well, if you want to buy a first class ticket I can get you out of here at noon. That would cost you $900.” He tells me.
“Fine, I’ll take it. . . “ I finally told him, still kind of in shock that I had done something so very stupid that was going to cost my company so much. I glanced behind me and saw that both of the older women behind me were looking irritated as hell over how long it was taking me. I shrugged and mouthed “I’m so sorry.”
“Are you going to be much longer?!” the one standing behind the wheelchair asked me in a highly irritated tone. Clearly this woman in the expensive clothing and turban was not used to having to wait for others.
“No, we are almost done.” I told her as I handed the man behind the counter my credit card. I turned to leave after he handed me my tickets and receipt, and the older woman in the wheelchair practically shouts in a very snotty tone “Well! It’s about time!”
I just smiled and walked off, now day dreaming about pushing her wheel chair down the “up” escalator. . .
On the flight home, the flight attendant was a real sweetheart, full of smiles and always calling me “Miss”. As I was stepping off of the plane in Austin she leaned in close.
“You look fantastic!” she said softly in my ear.
“Awe, thank you, and thank you for calling me ‘miss’ too!” I told her with a grin.
“It was my pleasure!” She said with laugh and a pat on my back.