This week I am off to Baltimore MD and the Aberdeen Proving Grounds.
This is where the Army does a great deal of it's testing on equipment that is in use, or being considered for use, by our soldiers, so the trip holds sort of mixed emotions for me. On the one hand, I like having something to do with the Army again, where I spent so many formative years of my life. On the other hand, it reminds me in no uncertain terms that I am no long a part of that world. What can possibly compare to being able to say "My job is to defend the United States of America"? Sometimes I really miss it . . .
The day started with a new outfit. Well, sort of new . . . I've had this top for about three years I think, but had not found a skirt to go with it. . . . until now . . .
Good thing too, since I was in the verge of throwing the top out!
It was a long but reasonably pleasant trip getting there - nothing too interesting to yap about. When I was loading my bags into the rental car shuttle bus, one of my bags wouldn't fit in the baggage rack with out a lot of work. I turned and set my backpack in a chair to free both hands and when I turned around to take care of it, a guy was already doing it and gave me a huge smile. When I was leaving the Avis rental car lot. I handed my Drivers License and contract to the guard at the gate. I have an ID with my female picture on it, but my drivers license is 100% male. He looks at it and then starts to walk around the car. I assumed he was checking it for damage before it leaves the lot, but apparently I was wrong, because I noticed that he wasn't looking at the outside of the car, he was looking inside it. Soon, he returned to the drivers window with a confused look on his face.
"I don't understand? Is Matthew with you?" he says while looking at my drivers license. I couldn't help myself, I just started to laugh.
"Yes sir, that's me." I told him.Of course as soon as he heard my voice it was very clear what I was.
"oh! I see!" he says "I'm so sorry!"
"No need to apologize, I imagine you don't run in to people like me very often huh?" I asked him.
"No, no I don't!" he said with a laugh, while handing my documents back to me. "You have a great day!"
Leaving the Avis lot was probably where I reached my greatest speed on the trip from the airport to the hotel. The entire trip was nothing but bumper to bumper cars and brake lights far as you could see. I got excited when we got up to 20 MPH once, but it didn't last!
As usual these days, I arrived sort of tired and so all I did was to take some fast food to the hotel and vegetate the rest of the night.
The next morning I made the drive to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds where I was to evaluate 3 instruments that were all having repeated problems. It didn't take me long to determine that all three had the same fault, with a major component that doesn't fail often. Since it doesn't fail often, I don't carry any with me and had to arrange for someone to drive three of them down to me from MA. That's over a four hour drive, and so he wouldn't arrive until the following day. That gave me a large part of today for myself and so I decided to go to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum!
Leaving the Proving Grounds I got stuck behind this M1A1 Battle Tank. I once spent three months riding in these things in the El Paso Desert sun, testing new "Friend versus Foe" technologies when I was a Sgt in the Army. In fact, that mission is where I shook the hand of Neil Armstrong - the first human being to walk on the moon! (Yes, I WILL bring that up every chance I get!)
Got back to the hotel and tried yet another new outfit. While it's new, it's very much like the majority of my outfits - nice I think, but nothing terribly special.
Made the hour and a half drive to Washington DC and was relieved to find that this Museum has a large dedicated parking lot. It cost $15 to park there, but at least I was going to be sure that my car would not be towed this time! You might recall that on my last visit to the Smithsonian, I had failed to read the small print on the parking meters. You know, the print that said something along the lines of "No parking during the hours of 4 to 6 PM". I'm sure you can guess what time I had parked there? Yeah, well no car of mine was getting towed today!
I took lots of pics of course! Lots of airplanes and lots of space craft. I'm sure that you can find the entire inventory of the Smithsonian on-line, and with far better photographs, so I won't bother to share them all here, but I will share a few of them that I found particularly interesting.
The Enola Gay - the plane that dropped "the" bomb on Hiroshima Japan. A beautiful looking machine, which is kind of incongruent considering the horror it was involved in. I'm not even going to start (or allow) a discussion about whether the US did or did not have to drop the bomb, but I'm fairly sure any reasonable human being would agree that the result was horrific destruction, pain, and loss of life. A very sad thing when men set their minds to killing one another . . .
Oddly enough, most of my pictures of it turned out too blurry to bother uploading. Strange . . .
The space shuttle "Enterprise". This is actually the second time I have seen it. The first was when it landed at Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma, being carried on the back of a huge plane. I drove up from Ft Sill OK just to see it. Well before even that, I had heard the sonic boom when it came in for a landing at Edwards AFB in California on it's very first test flight.
The SR71 Blackbird. I could be wrong, but the last I'd heard, this was still the fastest plane in the world. It was retired because it was terribly expensive to operate and satellites could do much the same job. I don't know if it's true or not, but I had a guy that used to work on these tell me years ago that they leaked fuel quite badly from the wings until they get up to altitude and speed. Something about it being designed to allow for the plates to expand when heated by the friction of traveling through the air so fast..
All in all, not too bad a day!
My last day there was also a pleasant one. The guy that hand carried my parts down to me from MA is the same guy that gave me OJT on this instrument several years ago, so he and I had traveled a lot together and know each other well. He's a real good guy, with a great sense of humor, and I really enjoy spending time with him. He arrived about 930 AM and we tag teamed the three instruments and got them complete by about 2 PM. He headed back on his long drive, and I headed for the phone booth where I became my super human alter ego Kimberly! :-) All right, all right, so I changed in my hotel!
My first order of business was the huge mall I had seen the day before in Towson. I took a walk through the entire mall, looking for anything I couldn't live with out and could afford. Ultimately that turned out to be nothing. Oddly enough, I really didn't see any shoes that I would kill for. Until recently (the last couple of months) I would often find shoes that I thought were awesome but just couldn't justify the expense, but it seems that lately I don't care for the majority of shoes I see. It seems like most are big clunky things, with huge straps all over them. I know I was read by at least one lady in Macy's. As we crossed paths she looked me straight in the eyes and gave me the biggest smile you have ever seen and she had a distinct twinkle in her eye. I've seen this look a lot before from women and think of it as the "I know your secret" look. It's not at all a bad thing.
After shopping I returned to the hotel briefly, and as I entered a young man was waling the other way. As we approached each other, he smiled and told me that I looked very nice! I wonder if as far as he was concerned, that comment was made to a woman, or if the unspoken rest of that comment was " . . for a guy."
I raided the internet looking to see if there were an "friendly" places that were doing Karaoke on Wednesday nights but I found none. Several places that do it on weekends, Monday, and Tuesday, but not on Wednesdays. Having failed with that idea, I looked to see what movies were playing in the area and found that the new Wolverine movies was going to start in about 15 minutes, so I grabbed my stuff and headed out. The nearest parking to the theater was about half a block away in a garage so I parked there and started looking for the exit. Apparently I got turned around some how and exited through the wrong door, so I had to walk completely around the block to get there.
I got my ticket and headed to the concession stand where there was no line at all. It didn't matter though, because they all ignored me as if I were invisible. I don't know if they treat all of their customers that way, or if that's just the "I will ignore the cross dresser until someone else offers to help" tactic. Got all settled in and was part way through the movie when I decided to open the candy I'd bought. As I was getting it out of my purse, I realized I hadn't noticed my keys when I was rummaging around. I opened the purse and went through it again, and again, and again . . . no keys . . . I figured that I probably left them on the counter and where they would certainly have been found and held for me, and resolved to watch the rest of the movie before going after them. I just couldn't stand it though, and had to leave long enough to go to the counter and ask. What a relief! I had left them on the counter, and they did have them, so I returned and watched the rest of the movie. I quite enjoyed the movie by the way!
After the movie, I returned to the Holiday Inn and went to the lounge for a bit. It was 945 PM and I hadn't eaten since breakfast, so I ordered a drink and some dinner. There was a guy sitting three stools away, and he keeps texting on his phone, giving long drawn out sighs, and then places a call. We can all hear his side of the conversation, where he is speaking to his son, who is not going to be staying with him for the weekend after all. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the guy is divorced and the child is going back and forth between parents, and this weekend Dad is going to be disappointed with no son coming as planed. He's not slurring his speech or anything, but it's fairly clear the guy has had a few drinks before I got there.
Here's the thing. The bartender was clearly not pleased to deal with me. Another hotel employee pretty much giggled when I walked in and excused himself and left in short order. Everyone in the lounge knew I was a cross dresser. In spite of that, this disappointed father went out of his way to speak with me. We chatted for at least two hours, about parenting, and about our time in the military. He was in the Navy during many of the same years I had been in the Army and so we had a bit to chat about. Before we were done, he had moved and was sitting in the stool next to me. when he moved, I couldn't help noticing the bartender snicker and raise his hand to try and hide it. I suspect he thought that this gentleman I was talking to didn't realize what I was and might be in for a surprise if he got serious. If your going to be out in the world as a cross dresser, you have to have skin that is at least marginally tough, so most things I let roll off of me, but the bartenders snicker and all it implied just really assed me up. I'm still not sure if the gentleman I was talking to knew what I was or not, but he treated me like a lady, and I caught him more than once sneaking peaks at my legs. This sort of causes mixed feelings for me though . . . I have no interest in men, but I was so grateful that he was treating me as a woman. He was being kind, he was watching his language, and even offered to buy me a drink (which I declined).