Well, my personal life, and the lives of my wife and children, have been pretty torn up the last few weeks. Over the last five years or so, the droughts in Texas have caused the ground to sink in some places, and rise in others, predictably wreaking havoc on man made structures. I recently had to demolish my swimming pool because of this, and just a couple of weeks ago we had to have the foundation repair folks in to work on our home. All of the walls and the windows were cracking as our home settled unevenly, until it reached the point where we had no choice but to spend the many thousands of dollars it took to have the foundation lifted and leveled. That was just the start of our pain though, as they told us that virtually every drainage pipe under our foundation had been cracked and broken by the leveling process, and so new holes will have to be dug into our floors and the plumbing under the concrete almost completely replaced. We don’t have anything close to the kind of money it would take to do this and so my wife and children have been living in a home with bare concrete floors, and with a two foot wide, three foot long, and four foot deep hole in the middle of the living room floor while we try and figure out what we are going to do. As you can imagine, we are not happy campers . . .
Yet again I found myself on the way to Albany New York to assist our new engineer in installing a lot of new systems in a semiconductor factory that they are building in the area. I have mixed feelings about working there as I really like hanging out with our new engineer, but the job itself requires more patience than I seem to have these days. For the trip out, I decided to wear a kind of retro dress that I have had for a while. The last time I wore it, my wife and daughter in law both kept telling me that I should not have worn a black belt and shoes, but should have gone with red instead. Well, I spent months looking for the perfect red belt and shoes, and this is what I came up with!
To be honest, I was a little disappointed in the photos, because I thought that the outfit looked awesome, but the photos are just kind of “ehhh”. The important thing is that I felt pretty though and so it was all good!
I got a surprise going through the Austin airport – it seems that they have now installed those full body scanners, and so it looks like my life just got a little more complicated.
As I exited the scanner, the female TSA agent was all business and with not a smile to be found.
“Please wait here!” she said with her arm and hand up in front of me in the classic “stop” pose. She spoke again after a moments pause.
“OK, I’m going to have to pat down your side, OK?” She asked while pointing to a monitor behind me. I glanced at it to see it had a flashing dot over the side of a cartoon type display of a human form. It took me a second to realize that it was apparently marking the area where the zipper of my dress was, and so at least I knew what had triggered the pat down.
Once she was done with me, another TSA agent picked up my back pack from the x-ray belt and held it up.
“Is this your bag ma’am?” he asked, all business.
“It is.” I replied
“I need to go through it and take some things out. Is that all right with you?”
“Sure – knock yourself out!”
“Do you have anything sharp in there that I might get poked with?”
‘What, is this an episode of “cops” or something?’ I thought to myself.
“Not that I know of.” I told him.
As good as his word, he started pulling everything out of the backpack one at a time, countless power supplies, USB cables, Ipod, my GPS, my camera, my laptop video camera, my Kindle, my external hard drive, my USB memory sticks, my . . . well, you get the point. Lots of gadgets made their way out of my bag and into a bin. At one point the man actually laughed as he continued to find and remove toys from my bag.
“That was the problem.” He told me with a smile. “Too many electronics and cables piled on top of each other – it makes it hard to inspect them with the X-ray.”
“No worries. Y’all are trying to get me there alive and I kind of like the idea.” I told him with a grin.
As usual, after going through security, I had to take a few moments gathering my things and putting my shoes and sparklies back on. While I sat on a bench doing this, a woman walked by with her husband and grinned at me.
“I LOVE your shoes!” She told me over her shoulder.
“Well thank you!” I replied with a grin.
Going through the airport I saw countless grins pointing my way, a sure sign that people are reading me and amused by it. I just kind of decided to enter my “Well, since we aint getting away with it, we may as well have fun with it” mode, and so I started grinning back and winking from time to time.
As luck would have it, the woman that had commented on my shoes, and her husband, ended up in the seats right behind me so I wasn’t that surprised when she caught my eye and spoke again as I was stuffing my things in the overhead compartment.
“Wow, I really like those shoes!”
“Well thank you! I like them too. They are a bit higher than I wanted, but I looked and looked for the perfect red shoes and these were the first I found that I really liked.”
“I don’t care if they’re high or not, I love ‘em!” She replied.
So I had a bit of a layover in Atlanta and chose to spend some of it in the Delta Skyclub (more or less a country club in most major airports). Frankly I cant afford membership, but since they let you pay with miles, I’ve got the system beat! So I went to get a soda from the lady behind the counter, and the first thing that I noticed was that she has absolutely awesome eyes. I was doing my best to look at her pretty eyes without it being obvious that I was looking at her pretty eyes, while I ordered my coke.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“Sure, I’d like a coke please!”
“Coming right up!” she said with a smile, and then she surprised me. “You look great!” she added out of the blue. Coming from a young woman that I thought was exceptionally pretty, I found this immensely flattering. The bad news is that it is sort of a back handed complement, because the unspoken words were “ . . . for a dude” Let’s face it, your average woman may well compliment your outfit, hair, or accessories, but I really don’t think she just states “You look great!” to a complete stranger. Still, I knew I wasn’t passing already and so I took the compliment and ran with it.
The woman that sat next to me on the flight from Atlanta to Albany was a very friendly sort and so we chatted, chatted, and chatted some more. Somewhere along the line I asked about her job and found that she was a manager for a company that makes medical devices, and I guess that keeps her on the road almost as much as I am. The thing that surprised me was that she was so young and so tiny, that I just had trouble imagining her in a position of management.
After she told me all about herself, she then asked about my job and why I was on the way to Albany.
“Well, I am going to install a lot of systems for my company in a brand new Semiconductor factory there.”
“OH! You mean Global Foundries?!” she asked, clearly aware of the new factory.
“Yep. You should see the place – absolutely full of muscle bound he-man types so you can just imagine how very well that I go over there!” I told her with a grin and while passing my hand down my body and outfit. I was most gratified when she laughed so hard that she almost spilled her drink.
Just about then the flight attendant walked by and looked directly into my eyes.
“Honey, that is a beautiful wedding ring!” She said and then continued walking down the isle before I could respond. The lady next to me picked up the ball and ran with it.
“You know she’s right, that is a heck of a ring!” she said with a grin.
“Awe hell, this thing?” I said while holding it up for her to get a better look. “I got it at JC Penny and it is at least as fake as I am.” At this point, she almost did spit her drink out.
So here I was, absolutely convinced that I flat out was not passing at all when I made my way to the Avis counter in Albany and handed over my drivers license to get my rental contract. I have a state ID with my female picture on it, but that doesn’t authorize me to drive or rent a car, and so this is one of the few places where I still have to hand over my male drivers license. The lady behind the counter looked at it for a moment and then handed it back.
“I’m sorry, but I will need to see him then.” She said, very politely and very professionally. I was so convinced that I wasn’t passing all day long that it took me a moment to realize what the problem was, and then I busted out laughing.
“Miss, that is me. Here, does this help?” I said handing over my state ID with my female photo on it. She just looked at it for a moment and then looked up at me with an impressed expression on her face.
“Wow, I had no idea at all and wouldn’t have known if you hadn’t said something!” she said while still comparing the two forms of ID.
“Well, for the record, you just made my entire day and I thank you from the bottom of my heart!” I told her.
The folks at the hotel didn’t bat an eye at me, but since they knew me from earlier stays, this didn’t surprise me much. I still got a bit of a giggle though as I made my way to the elevator to find a man inside holding the door for me. Considering that the elevators are pretty slow in this joint, I really did appreciate his waiting for me and so I thanked him.
“No worries, I thought I heard someone walking up!” he replied with a heavy Australian accent. I took a good look at him and realized that the man was built like Popeye – kind of short but with the biggest forearms I have ever seen in my life. He was clearly just coming from the gym, still sweating and with a towel on his shoulders.
“So I hope you worked out a little for me too? I’m going downhill when it comes to staying in shape these days ya know?!” I told him with a wink.
“Sure I did mate!” he said with an embarrassed smile of his own. I figure that was probably about the time that he figured out I wasn’t what I appeared to be.
Well, I spent most of the following week doing nothing but work. Just to brighten up my day, my wife sent me a text message saying “God must hate us – call me.” The quote was in from the plumber that the foundation people used – it would cost $11,000 to repair the damaged drainage plumbing under our foundation. A huge amount for the foundation folks to tunnel under our entire home, and a bit more for the plumber to actually replace pipes. Leveling the house had just cost us $8.000 and now they were telling us that repairing the plumbing damage caused by leveling the house was gonna be $11,000! All I can say is that we were in absolute shock. I had expected thousands based on what their plumber had told us, but I was thinking more in the area of three to four thousand. A quote of $11,000 just totally rocked our world, and was absolutely outside of our ability to pay for. We had taken out a 401K load to pay for the foundation repair, and flat out couldn’t come close to coming up with an additional $11,000! Needless to say I spent more than one night on the phone with my wife sobbing on the other end. In the end, we decided to seek a second opinion and sweated it out until it could be arranged.
At last the weekend rolled around and on Sunday I decided to go to the movies and to go shopping. First of all I hit up JC Penny, one of my favorite stores. This time instead of looking for outfits for myself, I was looking for a Christmas present for my wife. She had commented several times on a cheap costume jewelry bracelet that I have worn and so I was trying to find something like it, but of better quality. I might buy cheap jewelry for myself, but I’ve never bought my wife anything that I didn’t think was decent quality – of course that might be why my wife has so little jewelry. Anyway, I was at the counter looking at options while an older woman in front of me was completing her purchase. We chatted about this and that while she checked out.
“OK, and here is a $20 coupon on your next purchase of over $100 here at the JC Penny jewelry counter ma’am!” said the cheerful sales associate behind the counter as she handed the older woman her receipt and coupon. The woman held the coupon up, looked at it, and then laughed.
“You know, I am never going to use this, so you take it!” she said, turning around and handing it to me. I was flabbergasted!
“Are you sure?!” I asked her, and she just laughed.
“I hold on to these things all of the time and never, ever use them. You make good use out of it and make someone happy.” She said.
“Well thank you very much! I think I’ll do just that!”
My wife will now have a very pretty and expensive (by our standards) bracelet for Christmas.
Monday rolled around and started off a complete disaster. So there I am in the subfab (the basement area) where they keep all of the plumbing, pumps, and chemicals of the factory I am working at, when I hear a really odd sound – a very heavy rain. Remember, I’m in the basement of a huge state of the art semiconductor factory – it does NOT rain here. None the less, when I poked my head around the machine I was installing to look in the direction of the sound, I see a very heavy rain falling, and when I say heavy, I mean heavy. We are talking apocalyptic “Noah you better hurry up and finish that Ark” rain.
It looked like water, but you never know. In a factory like this they use at least a dozen chemicals in high quantities that will kill you, and so I didn’t hesitate – I grabbed my laptop and quickly headed out to find my colleague so that we could both get the heck outta there. I hadn’t taken more than a dozen steps away from the immense leak when the fire alarm AND the dangerous chemical alarms started screaming.
Well, the good news is that the chemical alarm was a false alarm resulting from a chemical safety device getting soaked. The bad news is that the alarm was generated by one of MY systems as it was getting bathed in several thousand gallons of water – something it most definitely is not designed to handle. At least three of my company’s systems were directly under the downpour. . .
I was supposed to meet Lisa Gayle Harris after work tonight, but it now started to look like I was going to be busy trying to dry out multiple systems, and so I sent her a brief email to let her know our evening was in peril. After lunch, we were able to get back into the factory and start cleaning things up. I was removing high voltage modules and pouring the water out of them, wiping things down, blowing them out, and just doing my best to clean things up. I had one rack in pieces and drying it out when water once again started to pour everywhere, to include into the open spaces of my rack where I had removed equipment. I kind of snapped and lost my temper at that point and told my colleague that we were done for the day – we can’t dry things out while water is still pouring from the pipes above. The good news that came out of all of this mess? I did get to meet up with Lisa after all.
So when it came time to meet up with Lisa, we sent a few messages back and forth trying to decide where to meet at. The sports bar in my hotel was actually a pretty neat place, but was often full of more than slightly inebriated sports fans, and I couldn’t help thinking that it might not be the best place to meet up. I did a search on the internet and found the Water Works Pub in downtown Albany. Lisa sounded less than thrilled about it, but for lack of a better idea we agreed to go ahead and meet there anyway
Just before arriving I drove past two police cars that were stopped and had three or four guys up against a wall, and so I started to wonder if maybe I should have given more weight to Lisa’s “that’s not a really good part of town” comment. Still, we arrived at about the same time and decided to stick it out. It was kind of funny with the two of us out in the parking lot trying to read the damned machine that was supposed to give is a parking receipt. Apparently you had to pay around the clock to park here, but the machines display didn’t have a light and so we couldn’t read the darn thing. There we were, both of us reaching for reading glasses and peering at this dark display trying to figure out how to use it when the instructions couldn’t be read. I still don’t know what it was that triggered it, but after we had been messing with it for a couple of minutes, it suddenly lit up so that we had no trouble at all reading it.
Having at long last paid for our parking we made our way into the place to find a reasonably cute female bartender, and four or five men sitting around the bar who all glanced our way. I saw a couple of them lean in towards each other, no doubt saying something along the lines of “Wow, did you see what just walked in?”, but we didn’t give it any thought as we made our way to a table. We chatted for probably a couple of hours I think, chatting of nothing heavy or Earth shattering, just talking about life, our families, and our jobs. Lisa has a daughter who is doing exceptionally well in school, and she is justifiably proud about this. She even showed me a photo, and I’m here to tell her that her daughter is one of the prettiest little critters you have ever seen. Not quite as pretty as my own daughter of course, but I digress. (just teasing Lisa!)
Lisa had to work early in the morning, and I had a disaster to try and recover from, and so we called it a night fairly early. When I mentioned that I wanted a photo for my blog. Lisa very bravely approached Chris, the bartender, to ask her to take the picture for us. I sat at the table and watched the entire bar listen in as Lisa asked her, and so I decided to go for the low hanging fruit and get a laugh.
“Yeah, you know – pictures. It’s kind of a drag queen thing!” I blurted out. Of course it then occurred to me that while I might think that it’s amusing to poke fun at myself, I might have just deeply offended poor Lisa. Too late though, I had blurted the joke out and was stuck with it. I was more than a little relieved when everyone started to laugh though.
As we made our way back to the parking lot, I joked with her.
“Well this was no fun at all! We didn’t even get mugged!”
“And thus disappoints you? Maybe I can arrange it?” she replied. I don’t think those were her exact words, but it was something along those lines.
And then it was back to the mess at work . . .
The day before I was to leave for home, we discovered little green drops of fluid all over our tool boxes and the floor between two of our systems. I started to clean it off of our equipment, and when the new guy I was working with saw what I was doing, he suggested that even though I was wearing gloves, I really should leave it alone until we knew what it was. I thought he was being kind of paranoid, but I decided that he was probably right, and so I threw the towels in a bag, and removed my gloves and did the same with them. It took hours to find out, but at first they told us it was just hydrogen peroxide. . .
A few hours later they told us that it had been Sulfuric Acid . . .
The next morning they told us it was a high concentration of hydrofluoric acid (HF) - oh goody. . .
I sure am glad that the new guy was paranoid about chemicals and convinced me to leave it alone and to throw away my gloves . . .
Between the broken water lines and leaking acid, I really couldn’t be happier to be leaving this place and heading for home.
I did get a little ray of sunshine though! My wife got a second opinion on our plumbing issue and the new guy tells us that the first guy was an idiot or a thief. He did all of the same pressure tests and everything passed EXCEPT the bathroom sink. After putting a camera down the pipe, he is reasonably confident that the only break is right at our bathroom sink. So, the bathroom floor has to be destroyed and the plumbing replaced, but more than likely no other tunneling will be required. He won’t know for sure until the broken pipe is replaced, but it is likely that we just went from an $11,000 quote to a $3,000 quote. It still hurts, but hurts a LOT less. We find out Monday so keep your fingers crossed for us would ya?
At long last it was time to head for home. Two weeks doesn’t seem like that long, but with your foundation torn up, your family living on bare concrete, the house covered in concrete dust, and a home with no Christmas tree as Christmas quickly approaches, it seemed like forever to me!
When I checked in with the airline at the Albany airport, the lady behind the counter was a real trooper and didn’t really bat an eye at me. Still, she kind of balked when she discovered that my bag was a bit over weight. (What do you expect with a cross dresser on the road for two weeks?!)
She took one look at the scale and then looked at the customer service representative next to her.
“His bag is over weight.” She said to him with a ‘what do I do?’ tone of voice and attitude.
“His” bag she had said – so apparently we aint passing today either . . .
“That’s OK,” he said. “She’s a platinum elite and she’s allowed up to 75 pounds.”
“Yeah, they let you get away with all sorts of things when you fly as often as I do!” I told her with a laugh as I batted my eyes at her.
I had the usual shoe conversation when going through the TSA check point when the female TSA agent at the entrance to the X-ray machine and body scanner saw me.
“Oh my God! I LOVE your shoes!” She blurted out. I glanced up at her and gave her a wink.
“Me too, but they are just a bit higher than I really would have preferred.” I told her while holding my fingers about an inch apart.
“Nah, I just bought a pair the other day and cant wait to wear them out.” She replied, while holding her fingers about four inches apart to show that she was talking about some seriously high heels.
“Well, I DO love them, but you wanna bet that by the time my trip is over today I’ll regret having worn them?”
I had almost the exact same conversation with the lady behind the counter at the Detroit Delta Skyclub.
“Those shoes are SO cute!” she told me as I handed her my card.
“Thank you! I guess that they aren’t exactly practical for airports though.” I told her with a smile.
“Well that’s OK since you have plenty of time and wont have to run for your next gate!”
So now for a deep and philosophical ending to this little fluff of a blog. My over all impression about this trip is that I “passed” very rarely, so now the question becomes ‘does it, or should it, matter to me?’ For the most part I don’t really think so. It would be grand if I were young and flawless, and everyone who saw me only perceived a woman. Clearly that goal is not within my grasp and so I have a choice to make. Either I can accept that most people know what I am and yet still treat me well, or I can go insane worrying about whether I am or am not passing. Since I’m pretty much having a good time, I figure to let it go and just be happy with being treated reasonably well regardless of whether they know what I am or am not.