For the first time in quite a while, I've made a trip where I was healthy enough and free to travel as Kimberly. The thing is that I was really quite nervous about it. . .
The first step in this process is usually for me to tear my closet apart looking for something that fits, that is flattering, and that is appropriate for the expected weather. Much as I expected, much of my closet no longer meets those first two requirements (fits and is flattering). It's surprising just how big a difference gaining just ten pounds can make when it comes to women's clothing. Things that had looked great suddenly look completely unacceptable. Not to be put off, I tore my closet apart, trying on outfit after outfit until I had piles of clothing scattered all over the room in what my wife laughingly refers to as a "Kim bomb". Ultimately I found a couple of outfits that I thought would work, so I threw one in my luggage, and took the other one downstairs to hang it in the laundry room so that it would be readily accessible at 330 AM in the morning when it came time to get ready. As it was after 8PM, I figured it was unlikely that we would have company, and so I also took my wig out of its box, brushed it out, and set it on the washing machine next to the heels that I intended to wear. Imagine my surprise when my father in law knocked on the front door and my wife let him in. As they made their way to the dining room table where we usually gather when he is here, I found myself hoping like hell that he wouldn't look into the open laundry room that adjoins the dining room. It's no big tragedy if he saw a skirt or a dress hanging in there, but it would be real difficult to explain away a wig. . .
Since American Airlines and US Airways have merged, I no longer rate free upgrades to first class when I fly with them, even though I am platinum on their program. As I understand their new requirements, I am not likely to ever reach a level on their program that will ever put me back into first class on a regular basis again. I know, "first world problems" and all of that, but it really does make a difference to me. Air travel these days is a fairly miserably affair, with seats so damned skinny that even someone reasonably small like myself is uncomfortably cramped for the five or six hours of flight time that it often takes to get from point A to point B. Anyway, I figured that maybe I will start trying to fly on Delta airlines more often since I've always liked them better anyway. I'd been flying US Airways because they were often a little cheaper, but their people are just not as friendly as Delta's, and I don't just mean to TG's either. As a general rule, US Airways employees often seemed like they were irritated to be at work, while Delta's people have always struck me as being genuinely friendlier. The bad news is that I've flown Delta so rarely lately that I have lost much of my status with them, so I was like number thirty on their upgrade list for the five seats that were open in first class. Let's just say that the odds were definitely not in my favor. . .
The more I think about it, the more I become convinced that I'm crazy and that maybe I will stop traveling the way I do, but probably not for the reason that you might think. I'm thinking that maybe I will stop traveling in skirts and heels for the very same reason that most women wouldn't do it if they were doing my job - it just doesn't make sense. To do my job, I have to carry a forty nine pound tool box filled with tools and spare parts. If I'm traveling as Kimberly, I also have to take a large forty five pound suitcase that can carry enough clothes for two people for a week, makeup, shoes, and a box for my hair, and I'm still not done. Now add to that a thirty pound backpack with my laptop, IPad, GPS, notebook, camera, and all of the power supplies and cables needed to do my job. I weigh 165 pounds and I'm lugging almost 130 pounds of crap around with me in the heat, and slinging it on and off of assorted shuttle buses. No woman in her right mind would try and do this wearing a skirt, high heels, and a lot of makeup. Like I said; crazy.
Speaking of crazy, as I was making my way through the Atlanta airport, I was about to have a heat stroke (see prior paragraph) and so I stopped to get a smoothie - a very cold drink that I hoped would help to cool me down. As is typical for these kinds of shops, their drinks all had cute names to describe them, and the one that I chose was the Tropical Therapy. One of the young ladies behind the counter congratulated my on my choice and shared that it was her personal favorite, so I figured it couldn't be too bad. I paid for the drink and moved down to the other end of the counter where I was soon joined by a couple of other people all of whom were waiting for their drinks. In few minutes, a different lady looked at me as she placed a drink on the counter.
"And here is your Orange Mango!" She exclaimed with a smile. Since this wasn't what I ordered, I must have had a confused look on my face and I guess it was obvious because she grew concerned.
"Isn't that what you ordered?" She asked.
"No ma'am, I'm waiting for the Therapy." I replied, and then immediately winced as I realized that I had just left myself wide open to be messed with if anyone waiting with me was a smart ass.
Cross dresser. . . Waiting for therapy . . . Never mind . . .
During this service call, I was going to be working with a colleague of mine out of New Hampshire to give him some on the job training. He is reasonably familiar with the system we would be working on but had never performed this particular task before. I guess he fancies himself something of a rugged manly man, and has made it kind of a hobby to visit every Hooters location in the area where he is working and get his photo taken with as many of the girls as he can. He then sends these photos to all of the other field service engineers, an all-male group, I suppose as a way of bragging. Guess what restaurant was literally in the same parking lot as my hotel? Yeah, Hooters. I'll bet you can guess where I had to meet him for dinner that night.
I know you will think I'm bullshitting you, but I'm not entirely comfortable at places like Hooters, and it's for several reasons. First, my entire life I have been extremely shy, and having a beautiful young woman going out of her way to sit with me and be sociable as they encourage their waitresses to do, makes me a nervous wreck. The next reason that I'm uncomfortable there I suppose could be summed up as vanity or envy. Being surrounded by beautiful girls, with flawless figures, awesome hair, and in the prime of their youth makes me feel like a wrinkled up old cow that should have been taken to the slaughter house years ago. Yes I know that such vanity is not an admiral trait of mine, but there you have it. The last reason I have for feeling uncomfortable there is my eleven year old daughter. A few years ago, my wife and I were shopping and I made a comment about a cute young woman being smoking hot. My wife and I are kind of people watchers and often share comments like this, but she sort of scolded me this time.
"She's just a baby! You know, someday some old guy is going to be looking at your daughter that way!"
In one comment and in one single fell swoop, my wife has ruined my ability to admire pretty young ladies without feeling like a creep. The very thought of some guy in his late forties looking at my daughter and thinking of her as being hot just makes my stomach flip flop.
Yeah, so anyway, I had dinner at Hooters with GrizzlyAdams. . .
The job the next day went fairly smoothly even with the added time required to explain everything that I was doing and why I was doing it to him. It's a good thing too, as he had to drive directly from Philly to Fishkill NY that afternoon so that he could take care of a customer there the following morning. I didn't envy him the drive either, as his radiator fan had apparently stopped working. If he got stuck in traffic for any reason, his car was going to quickly over heat. So - we had a late lunch, and then spent twenty minutes getting greasy troubleshooting his fan problem. We decided it was probably a failed relay, but he decide to make the drive with it as is, and try and fix it later. That's a pretty brave man, because there is no way in hell that I would have headed out on a four hour road trip without a working radiator fan. With him now out of the picture, I could move on to more interesting things like going shopping and meeting with my friends Sophie and Linda!
Once I had taken a shower and scrubbed all the automotive oil and grease from my fingers, I began to get ready for a trip to the King of Prussia mall - a HUGE shopping complex. Much to my great unhappiness, I found myself subject to something that I thought I had licked years ago - fear and anxiety of going in public as a woman. Some people think that I am brave to fly pretty, but honestly, airports are an exceptionally safe place to be. There is security everywhere, everyone is on their best behavior, and no one is likely to risk not being able to complete their journey to where ever they are headed in order to stop and have a confrontation with a TG. In my opinion, it is probably the safest place in the country to hang out. A huge shopping mall though does not offer the same level of comfort. Yeah yeah, I know that the chances of my being messed with were vanishingly small, but this sort of thing has little to do with logic and odds - it's all about emotions that you have little or no control over. Anxious or not, I got my shit together and headed out!
I started off at Macy's - one of my favorite department stores. I went through their shoe department but didn't see anything that I couldn't live without, so I made my way up the third floor where they have the dresses. I gotta be honest, it kind of bummed me out to see the formal section with an exceptional inventory of gowns on display for the Prom season. Such beautiful gowns that I never have, and never will have a reason or the figure to wear. I know it's weird to miss something that you have never had, but there it is. I didn't bother walking through that section - what's the point?
I did come across several office/career/professional dresses that I liked, but none that I was willing to pay over $100 for. I can't justify that kind of money considering how rarely I get to "be" Kim these days and the fact that I am considering hanging it all up anyway. Eventually I made my way out of Macy's and into the mall itself, where I found a map. I only saw one other store that I was really interested in going through - DSW Shoes, and it was literally just as far as you could get from me and still be in the mall. I seriously considered just going back to my hotel room, but I still had an hour and a half to kill before I was to meet Sophie and Linda, so I figured "what the hell" and started the hike to DSW. I don't know if the mall really was that hot, or if it was just me under all the makeup and stuff, but I was seriously hot. I could feel the perspiration building up on my makeup and began to worry that my face was going to melt right off of me, so I grabbed a couple of fliers off of a counter and started fanning myself with them while I walked. Part way there, I came across a store selling Asian goods and decided to enter it.
"Hello! Welcome!" Said a woman with a warm and friendly voice from behind the counter. She had long dark hair that I would kill for and spoke with a heavy accent that I believe was Indian.
"Hello, how are you?" I asked.
"I am very well, thank you. How can I help you?"
"Have you got any hand fans? Ones that are actually made to be used now, not just decorative?"
"Sure we do! We have quite a few of them as a matter of fact." She assured me as she made her way to a display filled with them.
"That's great! So now I can stop stealing fliers and credit card applications!" I laughed, still fanning myself with said documents.
"Oh yes, we can do much better than that!" She laughed, pointing at the display with countless varieties and options. I know from experience that these things are fragile and do not hold up well to travel, so I didn't bother looking at the high end and elaborate fans, I just grabbed a couple of the relatively plain and cheap versions and took them to the counter to pay for them.
"It really is quite hot these last two days, don't you think?" She asked as she range them up.
"I know! And it's not fair either! I live in Texas and often look forward to coming here because it is always so much cooler here. Not this time though - it's hotter here than it is there." I complained to her.
"Texas? Where at in Texas are you from?" She asked as she took my American Express from my hand.
"I'm from Austin. Pretty much dead center in the state."
"I'm sorry - do you have a different kind of credit card? We can not use Amex." She said, regretfully handing my credit card back to me.
"Sure I do. I have many ways of going into debt." I told her with a laugh. I opened my wallet and took out my debit card - you know - the debit card with my male photo on it? Yeah, I kind of try not to use that one if I can get away with it, but she looked at it without missing a beat.
"So you are from Texas. What brings you here then?"
"Work. I'm a field service engineer and came to repair an instrument for one of our customers."
This led into a lengthy conversation where she asked what kind of degree I had, and what my job entailed. I almost got the impression that she was doing her homework for something and was trying to learn what kind of degrees were useful for getting a job like mine. When we ended our conversation about 15 minutes later, she handed me her stores business card.
"I know that you are not from here, but please take our card and feel free to tell people about us or to even visit our website."
The thing that impressed me about her was that she was genuinely nice and engaging. She wasn't just tolerating me or being professional - she was being honestly friendly. By the way – her store and website are Hometown China
Now with a much nicer fan in my hand, I continued my quest to DSW, where I regrettably found nothing that I couldn't live without, so I made my way back to across the mall to my rental car. By the time I got there, I was tired, lacking in confidence, and smelled like a goat, so I decided that I was going to go back to the hotel where I could shower and go back to boy mode for tonight's get together. The last laugh was on me though, because when I started the car, the clock happily informed me that I had only four minutes before I was supposed to meet them. Showering and changing was not an option.
Hanging out with Sophie and Linda always makes for an amusing night. They are both more outgoing than I am, and aren't at all shy about talking to people. I guess that they knew the waitress quite well, because everyone knew everyone else's name.
I guess you prolly know how that kind of evening goes when you rarely get together with friends who live a thousand miles away from each other. Just general catching up on each other's lives, nothing terribly noteworthy to comment on. Just an evening spent with some of the few people that I actually feel comfortable being around.
Oh! And shots... And beer... Several shots and several beers come to think on it! When the alarm went off after only four and a half hours of sleep the next morning, I recalled why I don't typically do shots and beer on a weekday. I wasn't hung over or hurt, don't get me wrong, just seriously lacking in sleep.
Yawn. . .