Saturday, January 4, 2014

Almost didn't make it!


What can I write here that anyone would be in the least bit interested in reading? A few personal problems and a little self-introspection – not exactly riveting reading.
Our Christmas and New Year’s went well enough, with nothing horrible happening, but also nothing terribly exciting.

If you have been reading my blog, you might recall that I have recently done some more work on my classic Mustang, and have replaced both the distributor and the carburetor.  After resolving a few problems resulting from my own stupidity, I now have the old girl running the best that she has ever ran while I’ve owned her.  For the first time since I have owned the car, she has the power that I think she should have, and I can pretty much burn the tires out any time that I feel the urge. To be honest, I get that urge a lot more often than someone my age ought to.

Being delighted that the car was performing so well, I informed my favorite co-pilot (my ten year old daughter) that I intended to take the car for a nice long drive to give it a little exercise. She squealed “Yay!” at the top of her lungs and then ran to get her shoes, and off we headed.
My daughter loves going for rides in the old Mustang, and often rolls down her window and hangs her head out of it as we putter down the road. If you are ever driving down the road and see a light blue classic Mustang with long blond hair streaming out of the passenger window, odds are fair that you just drove by us. 

Our new game is that I will get us a few miles from home, and then let her choose at random what streets we go down, and what way we turn, and you would be shocked at how big a kick a ten year old can get out of this. She gets to explore and be in charge of where the car goes – something most ten year olds don’t get to do.  When I would stop at an intersection, she would pull her head back inside of the window, and with her hair an enormous and frazzled wind-blown mess, make a big production out of deciding which direction to go. We had been making these random choices for almost an hour when we found ourselves on some side road in Bartlett Texas and approaching a highly unusual barrier across the road. It was made up of barrels stacked top to bottom, and with a walk way above that extended across the street. Clearly it was intended as a way to block the street if desired, and allowed for guards to patrol it from the top – sort of modern red-neck castle-like affair.
I had this overwhelming feeling that I had seen this before and that it was significant in some way. The feeling that I should recognize the thing was so strong, and nagged at me so much, that I pulled the car over to look at it for a moment. At last it struck me! This was either the set of “The Walking Dead” or of “Revolution”, but I wasn’t sure which! I recalled seeing a similar structure in “Walking Dead”, where the people had blockaded off a small town. This might be from that show, but I also recalled seeing something like this on “Revolution”.  I thoroughly enjoy both of these TV series, and “Revolution” is currently my favorite TV show, and so this kind of tickled the hell outta me. We sat there for a moment excitedly talking about it when we noticed that the set appeared to be wide open to the public. There were no people, no gates, no tape, and no signs, so I figured “what the hell” and drove on into the set. Among other things, we took photos of a car being used for a chicken coop, a makeshift blacksmith shop complete with hand operated bellows, and also of a burnt out brick building.





Later on, when we got home, a brief search on the internet confirmed that we had indeed just visited the set of “Revolution”!

A photo from behind the scenes of "Revolution". See the burnt out building in the back ground? That's the same one in my photo above.(Photo courtesy of this web site:  http://revolutiontvshow.com/photo-gallery/image/1878)

I can’t decide if we were lucky to find it empty and unattended, or if it would have been neater if they had been filming. I’ve been on Film sets before, and know that it is a rare privilege to get anywhere near the actors or anyplace where filming might be taking place. So yeah, we might have seen or met some of the actors from my favorite show, but I seriously doubt it. At least this way, we got an up close and personal look at the set.

A few months back, I had been on a bit of an Astronomy kick and was taking out the telescope quite often to get a look at any of the planets we might be able to see. At the time, Saturn was visible at night in our hemisphere, but not much else that I could actually identify and find. Well, recently Jupiter has decided to grace the night skies in Texas, and so last week I grabbed the Telescope and pulled it out to the sidewalk. It was just my luck that my neighbor’s trees were right in the way! I was just considering my options when he just happened to come outside, and so I told him what I was up to and asked him if he would mind my setting the scope up on the sidewalk in front his house. He seemed pretty tickled at the idea and told me to go right ahead and help myself.  Once I found Jupiter in the scope (which is a little harder than you might imagine), I went and grabbed my wife and children and dragged them outside. There we all were, freezing cold, standing in front of my neighbor’s house, oohing and awing at Jupiter and her moons through the telescope. We knocked on their door and invited my neighbor and his son out to take a look too, and I was most gratified to see that they were both clearly fascinated and interested.

Jupiter and four of her moons. Photo courtesy of   http://scienceblogs.com/universe/files/2012/12/Jupiter-moons.jpg

The last few months have been a bit of a perfect storm for me weight wise. The blood clot that I had in my leg, combined with the exhaustion, jitters, and vertigo  resulting from the medication that they have me on for it, means I’ve stopped doing any kind of exercise. Combine that with the large meals and assorted sweets served through the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, and a slow down at work resulting in my having a lot of idle time, and you have a recipe for my gaining a good deal of unwanted weight.  Needless to say, when I started trying to pick out an outfit for a service call to Denver, I wasn’t exactly shocked when I discovered that many things didn’t fit me anymore. I had just bought two or three dresses a few months ago, and had wanted to wear one of them, but the damn things don’t fit now. I could get ‘em on all right, but they don’t “fit”. Feeling more than a little disgusted at myself, I put the dresses back into the closet and started looking for fat girl skirts and tops. I swear I’m not making this up, but in a closet absurdly stuffed to the bursting point with clothing, I actually caught myself thinking “Damn it! I have nothing to wear!”  Well, eventually I found an outfit that didn’t exactly thrill me, but at least it would fit me.

That night, after I got my stuff all packed up and ready for the mornings trip, I sat at the dining room table trimming my nails and putting on a coat of clear nail polish when it suddenly struck me – I really didn’t feel any particular desire to fly pretty. I was running on auto-pilot, doing things the way that I always do them, but there was no real excitement or interest behind the actions.
“Then why the hell are you doing this?” I thought to myself.
I had stopped mid stroke with the nail polish, and must have had a dumbfounded look on my face, because my wife gave me an odd look.
“Are you OK?” She asked, clearly concerned.
It’s been like this ever since I got the blood clot. Every time I look confused she gets a worried look on her face, or if I drop something when she is not in the room, I hear her calling out “Are you all right?”  I think that she is worried that I’m gonna get a blood clot in the brain and go toes up on her.  Maybe, but not today! I don’t like it that she is so clearly worried about me, but on some level it is kind of nice to know. Does that make any sense?
“Oh, I’m fine, just a little confused.” I replied to her.
“How so?”
“Well it just occurred to me that I don’t have any real enthusiasm for doing the drag thing, so I’m sort of wondering why I am going through the effort. Has it just become a habit or something?”  I mused out loud. She paused for a moment, and then put her hand on my shoulder.
“Only you can answer that one.” She told me with something kind of like a smile on her face.
“I dunno .“ I told her, and then finished my nails. I’d gone through too much effort at this point to not fly pretty.

The next morning I got up at oh-dark-thirty to get ready for my trip. I found myself first concerned and then angry when I started to apply my eye liner, because my hands were so shaky that it was hit or miss. I hate the way that the drugs they have me on for the blood clot makes me feel. Frequent vertigo, unstable, shaky, and just not quite with it. I did manage to get it done eventually though, and at last, with my “face on”, I was about to leave the bathroom and get dressed when I heard someone coming down the stairs. By the sound of the footsteps, I was pretty sure that it was my wife, but I poked my head around the door to take a peek just to be sure. Sure enough, my wife came stumbling down the stairs, with bed head hair flared out like that of a lioness. She has always laughed when I tell her so, but I really do think this is when she at her cutest.
“Good morning!” I told her, trying to sound cheerful even though I kind of hate it when she sees me with makeup on. I know she doesn’t like it and so I try not to let her see it, but I hadn’t anticipated her deciding to get up at 5AM when she could be sleeping in.
“ ‘Morning” she mumbled back at me, still making her way down the stairs.
“You’re up kind of early don’t cha think?” 
“Don’t panic – just go on and get ready!” She replied with a quick smile, and then made her way past me to get to the coffee pot where I had already brewed a pot for her. I hadn’t realized that she knew that I wasn’t entirely comfortable with her seeing me these days. . .
In a bit, I had myself together and with my baggage in my hand, when she met me at the door.
“You wanna kiss a drag queen goodbye or would you rather not?” I asked her, trying a little self-depreciating humor to lighten things up.
“No, I don’t want to kiss a drag queen, but I will kiss my husband.” She told me, and then reached up on her toes to kiss me goodbye.  Honestly, I thought that was kind of a sweet answer.




When I arrived at the Austin airport, I was stunned to see how long all of the lines were, even though I suppose I should have anticipated this on account of it being the second of January. I’m sure that there are a lot of people that travel to be with family on the holidays, and then have to make their way home after New Years. Even the “Premium” passenger lines were so long that they were extending down the concourse. I couldn’t help but laugh when I noticed that the normal line was moving much faster than the premium line was, and that I would have been much better off had I gotten into that line instead. Still, it is what it is, and so I waited my turn to talk to the TSA inspector.
“Please state your first and last name?” She asked me as she took my ID and tickets to inspect them.
“Matthew Huddle” I told her, kind of hating this question as always, for all of the obvious reasons. It was a little fun this time though, because you could almost hear the whipping sound as her head jerked back up to look me. Slowly a grin formed on her face, and then she returned her eyes to my documents and started to mark on my tickets.
“Yeah, I know, not exactly what you were expecting to hear huh?” I asked her with a laugh.
“Oh no, we get quite a few like you here, but most are nowhere near as convincing! You have a wonderful flight!” she replied with huge smile on her face and while handing me back my documents. Considering my serious lack of confidence these days, I was really gratified by her obvious surprise and offhand compliment and this did much to boost my confidence.

The job in Denver wasn’t terribly difficult and so I found myself back in my hotel the following evening at a reasonable time. There was a time when I would have broken my neck to get a shower, trowel on some makeup, and then get out of the hotel to go find something to do, but these days I’m just too damned tired all of the time. I had an invitation to join a couple of people for the evening, and seriously considered it before regretfully declining the invitation. I was tired as always, had to be up at 4 AM to catch my flight home, and I had received a message from my wife that my oldest son William and his wife were separating. I wonder if it is something in the air, or something contagious, because there is a lot of that going on in our family these days. My sister in law just got her divorce, my brother in law and his wife just separated, and now my son and his wife. It took me a few tries to get him to answer his phone, but I finally reached him and we spoke to him for a while.
As you might expect, he is hurting.
I also checked on my daughter in law, his wife, to see how she was doing, and she is also hurting.
I have no idea what to say to either of them. There is nothing that I can think of that makes something like that “better” for the people going through it. I have no idea if they will go through with a divorce, or if they will work it out, I just hope that in the end they will both be happier and perhaps even remain friends. Sigh . . .


The following morning, 4AM came WAY too early and so I wasn’t at all delighted when the alarm went off and I had to drag my sorry ass outta bed. It took a minute or two, but I managed to get it done. As I exited the hotel lobby, I was greeted by a world covered in cold and white stuff to a depth of about two to three inches. It was dark, cold, and bleak – pretty much the perfect mirror for my own feelings at the moment. I knocked the snow off of the key points on my rental car, and of course I somehow managed to dump a load of snow directly into the drivers seat, so I had to spend an additional few minutes trying to get it cleared before I could get into the car that was just starting to provide warm air from the heater vents. 



Fortunately I’ve lived many years in places that spend the winter covered in snow, and so the short drive to the Avis lot at the airport posed no real challenge for me.  When I pulled into the Avis rental car return area, I parked and waited for someone to come and check the car in. I waited, and waited, and waited. . .    Eventually it became clear that no one was coming and so I grabbed my things and headed to the shuttle bus, and was met half way there by the driver.
“We don’t have anyone checking in cars yet, but if you are Avis preferred you will get a receipt in your email.” He told me apologetically as he grabbed one of my bags and helped me get them onto the bus.
“Ok, no worries then!”  I told him, and then thanked him for his help.
“Do you have all of your things out of the car, and did you leave our keys in it?” he asked from the driver seat as he was fastening his seat belt and preparing to pull out. This is a question that they always ask before leaving the lot, and to be honest, it kind of annoys me. What do they think – that I knowingly left my things behind? If I knew I had left something in the car, I would have brought it with me. Still, I laughed and assured him that I had my things, and he pulled out of the lot.
We were the only two in the bus, and so I went ahead and struck up a conversation with him.
“Beautiful day y’all are having here!” I told him.
“Oh yeah!” he said with a laugh. “Still, it’s not that bad. At least it’s not cold! I hear that in Detroit it is something like minus twenty right now so we should count our blessings!”  I almost choked when he said this.
“Oh great! I’m going to Detroit Tuesday!” I told him, and we both laughed at my misfortune.
“So where are you from?” He asked.
“Austin Texas. We don’t allow snow there.” I told him, rubbing it in a little.
“That’s not entirely true!” he replied to me with a laugh. “I’ve got a good friend who moved to Houston and he called me not long after. He told me that there was one inch of snow on the ground and the entire city was in a panic and shut down for it!”
“Yeah, we don’t have the equipment to handle snow there. No plows and no salt trucks, so on the rare occasion that we get snow, it is a disaster.”
“Well, my buddy complained that he didn’t have a snow shovel and couldn’t shovel his driveway. Being the smart ass that I am, I bought him a snow shovel and mailed it to him. He sent me a photo of it hanging in his garage with a ‘for rent’ sign on it!”
“That’s awesome!” I told him when we stopped laughing.

After he dropped me off at the curb, I grabbed my tool box and baggage and made my way to the Delta kiosk where I was once again stunned at the length of the lines. I didn’t count them, but I’d guess that there were at least a fifty people in the normal line, and at least 20 people in the First Class / Premium line, and neither line was moving! I stood there in line for a solid 10 minutes and it didn’t move once, and so I began to grow concerned that my getting to the airport two hours early might not have been early enough!  There was a Delta representative walking along the lines, making sure that everyone had checked in and had a boarding pass before getting into the luggage line, and at least half a dozen times she was stopped and yelled at by people angry that they were going to miss their flights. I still had an hour and a half, and I was a nervous wreck, but I could hear people yelling at her that they only had twenty minutes left to make it to their gate. At first she remained polite and calm, but one guy got fairly loud and belligerent until her replies grew hard and cold.
“It is not our fault that you didn’t come to the airport early enough. You should be here at least an hour before your flight, and if you’re going international, you should be here at least two hours early.”
“What the hell do you want us to do? Sleep the F’ing airport? Get here at God damned 1AM? You guys are a JOKE!” he yelled at her. I guess that maybe it is the US Army still running in my blood, but I found myself thinking ‘Yeah, if that’s what it takes, then that’s what you do asshole!’  This ‘conversation’ was clearly degrading and so the Delta representative wisely removed herself from it by moving in my general direction.  It had now been about 20 minutes and my line still hadn’t moved, so  I was starting to get seriously concerned that I was gonna miss my flight despite having arrive at the airport so early. It was right about then that an idea struck me and so I called out to her.
“Ma’am?” I called until I got her attention and she made her way over to me. “Do you know if there is a curb side check in?”
“Sure! It is right on the other side of that window.” She said, pointing at the exterior window/wall that showed heavy snow falling outside.
“Do you have any idea what kind of line they have?”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t”
“No worries and thank you.” I told her, trying to treat her like a decent human unlike the assholes that she had been dealing with.  I stood there in the line that still hadn’t moved, debating if I should give up my place in line to go check the curbside, but the man in front of me volunteered.
“I’ll tell you what, if you will watch my stuff and hold my place in line, I’ll go look?!” he offered.
“You have a deal!” I accepted his proposal with a laugh.
As soon as he walked off, the line made its first advance and I had to shove his bags forward, and then move my own. In maybe two minutes he walked back up in a hurry.
“There’s only two people in line out there!” he almost whispered, afraid that everyone would hear him and bolt for the door before he could get his bags. Since he had done the leg work, I let him grab his stuff and go first, and then I chased him out of the door. Sure enough, there was virtually no line at all outside in the snow storm, and I was grinning like an idiot as I put my bags up on the scale and handed the lady behind the counter my documents. In less than five minutes, I had my baggage checked and was ready to go, and o I reached for my backpack – and it wasn’t there . . .   Oh shit. . . . 
Let’s see, it’s got my company laptop, my Ipad, my Camera, my GPS, the documents needed to bill customers for my last three service calls, and it’s all gone. I all but ran back into the airport, hoping against hope that I might have set it down as I had stood in the never ending, never moving line, but that was not to be. The more I thought on it, I couldn’t remember having it on the rental car shuttle bus with me, and as heavy as that darn thing is, I would have recalled dealing with it. I quickly reached the conclusion that I must have left it in the darn car back at the Avis lot. I wanted to kick myself for the arrogant way that I had been irritated when the bus driver had asked if I had all of my things. I guess karma really is a bitch.
I didn’t have a phone number for Avis, and so I ran into the airport looking to see if they had a desk inside. Avis did have a kiosk there, but at this time of the morning it was not yet occupied. I was just starting to feel despair when I notice a red phone on the counter, and so I picked it up and listened to the ringing on the other end while my heart pounded in my chest. After about a dozen rings someone answered it, took my information, and then he agreed to go look and call me back on my cell phone. A few minutes later, I received his call, and he let me know that he had found it and would try and get it on a bus to me. I only had 45 minutes before my flight, and if the lines through security were even half as long as the lines at the airline counters, this was gonna be a show stopper.

 After about fifteen minutes had gone by, an Avis bus did finally come by, but he did not have my bag and had absolutely no idea what I was talking about when I asked him about it. I found myself trying to decide if I should miss my flight to get my bag, or leave the bag behind and hope that Avis would get it to me. In the end, I figured that I would be better off missing the flight if it came to it. There was over two thousand dollars in electronics in that bag, and some of it was owned by my company. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to imagine that my company might be less than happy with me for simply forgetting their very expensive laptop, not to mention that it had the potential to compromise our network.
 “Yep, gonna have to miss that flight and suck it up and pay whatever it costs to get another one!” I thought to myself. 
“Hmmm . . .” I thought , “ ‘Pay whatever it takes!’ Now there is an idea!”
I took out my phone and called the guy at the Avis lot.
“Listen, if he gets it to me in less than 10 minutes, I’ll give $50 cash, on the spot, to the guy that brings me my backpack!” I all but shouted at him, adrenalin and anxiety getting the better of me. Compared to what it would cost me to get new flights, or to replace anything in that bag, $50 was a hell of a deal.
Well, I guess the “bribe” was a pretty good idea, because in just a hair over five minutes, a completely empty Avis bus arrived at the curb carrying only the driver and my backpack.

I did make my flight and so it was probably the best $50 I ever spent I guess . . .