Thursday, July 30, 2009

Houston Texas

This weeks trip was to Houston where I got to work with NASA! Like I’ve said before, I’m a huge fan of the space program so I think this way cool! Being only a couple of hundred miles from home, this trip I just drove from home. Instead of my standard "before the trip" pics in the house, I stopped at a couple of places on the way to Houston to snap a few pics in the sunshine. 

On my way, I stopped in a small town called Elgin to get fuel, and the machine offered me a car wash. I looked at my truck which was still filthy from spending a week in the airports parking lot and decided that a car wash was a good idea. I then splurged and got the $8 super-duper-ultimate-deluxe car wash! At least that’s what I expected to get, but instead I got a message "See cashier for car wash". Well damn! I guess I can either keep a low profile and leave with out the car wash I paid for, or I can go give the attendant his very first conversation with a cross dresser. I decided that my principles weren’t gonna let me leave with out getting what I paid for, so I headed in. The cashier looks to be in his early sixties and he’s chatting with a county sheriff who apparently had parked on the other side of the building. You should have seen the look in their eyes as I entered.
"Excuse me, your machine said I have to see you for the car wash?" I asked with a smile on my face. The sheriff has not taken his eyes off me once from the moment I had walked in.
"Well, I’m sorry" he says "But the car wash doesn’t work."
"Ok, cool, can I have my money back then?" I replied after he made no other comment or move to get me a refund.
"Nope" he says, with the typical Texan one word type of answer. He then elaborates. "It didn’t charge your credit card for it." It never gave me a receipt so I have no way to check that until I get to my PC, so there’s no point in arguing.
"Ok, thank you!" I said with a wave and a smile, and turn for the door. My smile got a little bigger as I noticed that the sheriff was STILL staring at me.
I drove past a large Goodwill store in Houston that I have shopped at before and decided to take a walk through it. As I entered the store, I had just begun to notice it was uncomfortably warm in the store when the manager comes quickly walking up to me.
"I am so sorry about the air conditioning, but we have someone working on it right now! Would you believe that someone stole all of the copper plumbing from the air conditioning units on the roof?!" he says, clearly flabbergasted. I looked at him in shock.
"Are you kidding?! That sounds like an awful lot of work for a thief to go through!" I told him.
"I know!" he replied "If they devoted that much effort to an honest job they wouldn’t have to steal!"
Well, I found a couple of things, but nothing worth commenting on. Just things I’ll put away until I find their compliments to make an outfit.

Next, I stopped at the Galleria mall. I shouldn’t have bothered though, because this place is clearly geared toward folks with a hell of a lot more to spend than I can afford. This mall is full of shops with very well known and expensive names – places where blouses sell for over a thousand dollars (Neiman Marcus, Saks, etc)

This was just a travel day, so all I have to do is get checked in to the hotel and the rest of the day is mine! I pulled in to the Holiday Inn Express, grab my back pack and my bag, and head for the counter where I find two young ladies.
"Hello and welcome to the Holiday Inn! Are you checking in?" one of them asks me.
"You betcha!" I replied, handing her my credit card and my Platinum Holiday Inn priority club card. I see her eyebrows go up just a touch when she sees the name on my cards, but she’s a trooper and keeps going.
"Oh my God!" she exclaims while looking at her computer. Having no idea what has shocked her, this sent my heart in to my throat until she continues talking. "You must travel a LOT! I’ve never seen anyone with this many points!"
"Yepper, I stay at a Holiday Inn some where around the country two to three days every week!" I told her with a little laugh. At this point the other young lady behind the counter jumps in to the conversation.
"Do you like traveling that much?" She asks me.
"Yes and no," I told her "It’s a lot of time away from my family, but it does give me a lot of time to let my hair down!" I said with a smile, while fluffing the flippy part of my wig up with both hands. They both burst out laughing, and we made a little small talk. She complimented my necklace, I complimented her hair, etc, etc. The lady taking care of me hands my credit card back to me, and then immediately asks for it back, then she hands it back to me again, and again asks for it back.
"I’m so sorry! I just can’t seem to get it right!" she said with a laugh.
"No worries!" I told her with a smile, this time twirling a bit of my wig with a finger near my ear, making the universal ‘crazy’ sign. "I realize that sometimes I rattle people a little. It’s not a problem." That got another cute laugh from both of them.
I got all checked in to my room and then decided I might as well go see a movie. I found out that "The taking of Pelham 123" was going to start soon and so I headed out for it. Standing in line for the tickets, I’m behind a Hispanic family, mother and father, and three little girls. One is a toddler and being held by mommy, the others are maybe 6 and 8. The six year old is bored waiting and looking around, and then takes note of me three or four feet behind her. You gotta love little critters, they have no guile at all, and no filter in their brains about what might be polite or rude. This little girl is looking me over, clearly realizing something is not right, and then just like a light bulb going off, you can see her face light up as she figures it out. She very quickly turns her back to me, taps her big sister on the shoulder, and then whispers in her ear. With no hesitation at all, they both turn around and look directly at me. What can you do? I just smiled and winked at them both, and they both quickly turned around giggling. Finally they get their tickets and move out of the way, and I approach the kiosk. As I approach the window, the young lady inside looks at me and then gets a huge grin on her face.
‘Oh great!’ I think to myself ‘I must have that damn neon "Cross Dresser" sign on my forehead again. ‘

Next week I'm off to Peoria Illinois and Grand Cane Louisiana.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Baton Rouge

Baton Rouge 2009 07 21 044


This week I was off to Baton Rouge Louisiana! This is one of the few places I’ve gone where the weather is every bit as hot, humid, and miserable as Texas. I’d much rather go someplace cool, like Detroit, or Ohio, or ANYWHERE else!
Baton Rouge 2009 07 21 004

Baton Rouge 2009 07 21 001
I prefer longer, more modest skirts, but with the heat it’s just really not as much of an option as I’d like, so I went with a shorter purple skirt. I matched it with a cotton blouse I bought just recently, and while it does have a high neck, it’s a very thin material and so reasonable comfortable in the heat. I’ve flown on Delta and US Airways so much, that I am “elite” on both of their frequent flier programs. Since I’m elite with them, and would have been treated well and perhaps even flown first class, my travel coordinator booked me on American airlines instead.  Nah, I know that it just SEEMS like she does this, I’m pretty sure it’s not on purpose. . .
.. ..
As has become my habit, I stopped at the little coffee place inside the Austin airport for a chocolate mocha. I know they aren’t good for me, but hey, I like ‘em anyway. As the young man behind the counter is ringing me up, he asked quite nicely “So why do you fly so often?” Clearly I’d never been “passing” with him. Given the thousands of people he must deal with a week, there’s only one reasonable reason he would remember me. Still, he had gone out of his way to strike up a conversation with me. J
“It’s my job! When my companies shit breaks, I go fix it!” I told him with a laugh.
“That doesn’t sound like too bad a deal,” he said, still preparing my drink.
“Nah, it’s a great deal! I’m always going someplace new , so I’m never bored” I told him.
“And I guess it pays OK too?” he asks as he hands me my drink.
“Not too bad, it feeds the babies anyway, so I can’t complain much.”
As I was boarding the plane, I couldn’t help noticing a man about my own age. I noticed him, because one entire side of his face was misshapen. It wasn’t clear if this was the result of trauma or if he had been born that way, but one side of his face almost looked melted and droopy. It sort of struck me that he and I had a little in common – no one was terribly eager to sit next to either of us in the waiting area. Once the plane landed in DFW where I was to catch my connection, he and I were both almost side by side heading for the tram when he glances over at me with a smile.
“I’ll bet your missing your tennis shoes  about now huh?” he asks, pointing at my heels.
“Nah, hell no!” I told him with a grin. “I LOVE my heels!”

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Baton Rouge 2009 07 21 030

.. ..
I got to Baton Rouge in the early afternoon, too early to call it a day, and so I hit up the mall not far from my hotel. I started in Dillards because I often find shoes on sale there that I like. One of the first things I noticed is that the place is empty – there is hardly anyone shopping there. I was walking through one clothing section where two SA’s were chatting with each other about 10 yards away from me. I glanced up to find that they were both looking at me, but thought nothing of it and kept walking. As I’m walking away from them I can hear the conversation.
“Umm umm umm,” says one to the other. “Some people just have something missing in their lives.”
“Umm hmm, you know it honey.” Replied the other one, with a sad tone of voice.
“You know, it must fill some hole or need in them,” continued the first philosopher.
I couldn’t hear the rest of the conversation, I just kept walking with a mixture of emotions.
Angry at them, though they hadn’t exactly been rude.
Embarrassed, because their conversation had shot my confidence all to hell, and I suddenly felt very much like a freak. I seriously considered turning around right there and going back to the car, but I chose not to give in to that and continued shopping the mall.
.. ..
I discovered there was a Casino not too far from me, on the Mississippi river and decided to go take a look. The parking was a bit confusing, but I figured it out, got parked, and then hiked all the way through this HUGE hotel to get to the walk way to the casino. On my way across the bridge, I noticed an old navel vessel on display – the USS KIDD. Thought it looked cool so I took a pic or two, and then continued on to the casino. 

Baton Rouge 2009 07 21 056

Baton Rouge 2009 07 21 059

I should have just gone and looked at the USS Kidd, because I lost $40 in less than an hour. Between my confidence at the mall getting all shot to hell, and then loosing $40, I headed for the hotel feeling a bit depressed.
.. ..
On this trip, I had brought a few outfits that I wanted to try on to see if they fit well and were flattering. First, I tried on a blue dress that I had bought years ago but never worn out. I had tried this on long ago, but at the time just couldn’t decide if I liked it or not. Guess what? I STILL can’t decide!
.. ..
.. ..Baton Rouge 2009 07 21 066
.. ..
Next, I tried on a red dress I just recently found and I think it looks great! Now my only question is, is this an appropriate dress for every day things, or is this a dress that can be worn in my travels? Not sure.
.. ..
.. ..Baton Rouge 2009 07 21 061
.. ..
The following day I very quickly resolved problems with two of my customers instruments, and was headed back to the hotel looking forward to an entire day to be free and “pretty”.  It didn’t work out that way though. Nope, instead, a few miles from my customer, the car started to run very poorly, and the air-conditioning was blowing hot air. A quick look at the gages showed the car was running VERY hot – just under the red line, so I pulled it over. As I eased it to the shoulder of the freeway it stalled out and the engine died. It’s noon time, in the summer, in Louisiana . . . to say it’s “hot” just doesn’t do it justice. I can see from my GPS that there is an exit not too far ahead, so I gave the car about 15 minutes, started it, and tried to make it to the exit. As I make the exit and start to brake for the intersection, the car again stalls out, this time with the needle well and truly into the red zone. I called Avis at about 12 noon, and they told me that they would have a tow truck and replacement car to me in no more than an hour and a half. It was sort of implied that this was an outside estimate and that I could expect the car much sooner than that. Given that the airport, where the replacement car was going to be provided from, was only 12 or 13 miles from me, I figured it would be more like 30 minutes. Well, 145 PM, height of summer, in Louisiana, in a dead car. I can either sit in the hot car, or I can stand outside and get the snot burnt outta me. Imagine my delight when an hour and half goes by with no tow truck. I called their 800 number again and was assured it was no more than 20 minutes away. 30 minutes later, I called them again, and was told again it would be no more than 20 minutes. Another 30 minutes later I call again, and am AGAIN told it will be no more than 20 minutes. No longer believing the folks on the 800 line, I called the Avis lot at the airport and she told me the replacement car had been ready and she had no idea why the tow truck driver hadn’t come for it yet. 30 minutes later I call again, and am told that the driver is 10 minutes from the airport to pick up the replacement car, and then 20 minutes from that point to get it to me. FOUR hours later the tow truck driver arrives with my replacement. He offers no apologies, he offers no excuses, he offers no explanation for why it took him four hours to bring a car 13 miles. I have been madder before, but not often. . .
I had my job accomplished early and should have had an entire day to enjoy Baton Rouge. Instead, I spent the entire afternoon  baking in a dead car in Louisiana. I’m not going anywhere tonight. Too damned angry and angsty to enjoy it anyway. 

Friday, July 17, 2009

Akron Ohio

In recent months, my company has had to lay a lot of good people off as a result of the decline in the economy. Of course most companies use times like this to do a little cleaning up – a chance to get rid of people that maybe aren’t ideal, or maybe their positions are not as needed as they once were. All of that kind of thing was done at least three layoffs ago. The last few layoffs, my company had been forced to give up good people, solid people, people we really need. A few of these folks had more than 20 years with us and it breaks my heart just thinking about it.
So keeping the above in mind, you might understand why it scares the hell out of me that I haven’t had a service call in three weeks. Three weeks of sitting at my desk, waiting for calls to come in, desperately looking for something to do to be of value. Having just had a baby less than a month ago, I was terrified that I was about to loose my job. I was in this state of mind when I got the call from a customer in Ohio. I helped them determine that the problem was due to lack of maintenance and offered to walk them through the corrective action. Instead, they told me that they would rather pay for my services to come fix it for them. I was so relieved to get a request for service that I swear I had tears in my eyes while I took down her information.
.. ..
This service call was to Barberton Ohio, just outside of Akron. I had to get up at 245 to get ready for the flight, but that wasn’t much of a problem. With a new born baby, and a premature maybe at that, there hasn’t been any sleep in our home for almost a month anyway, so I was wide awake and watching TV with my wife when it came time to go.
.. ..Akron Ohio 2009 07 14 052
I wore a new peasant skirt and top that I had recently found. I know this skirt looks a lot like another I have, but it’s browner colors. I like these light and floaty peasant skirts because the swirl and flow around your legs as you walk. It’s almost like being wrapped in a cloud. I also were a new pair of sandals I had just purchased, and this turned out to be a serious mistake. You see, they look great, but the strappy design kept resulting in my little toes sneaking out and getting rubbed between a couple of the straps. So while they were comfortable walking around the house for a few moments, they turned in to a nightmare over the long haul.
Well, apparently I’m not the only one that thinks these floaty skirts are cute, because I had no less than four women actually stop me when walking by to tell me how pretty they thought it was. It’s almost depressing – women don’t pay the slightest attention to me unless I’m wearing a skirt or heels.
.. ..
I got to the Akron area around mid afternoon and decided to look for some Goodwill stores to go bargain hunting. I found a nice one and went through all of the racks. I found a few cute tops, and then moved to the dresses where I found a treasure! On the rack marked $10, I found a $400 dollar gown that I think might be awesome for the Southern Comfort Conference! I  tried my goodies on in the dressing room and then headed for the check out. At the check out, there was a woman running the register, and a man in his late 50’s doing the bagging. The entire time that I stood in line, and then while paying for my items, the guy doing the bagging stared at me. I don’t mean that he looked at me a repeatedly, I don’t meant that he was sneaking peaks, I mean he flat out stared at me. As the lady was ringing up my things, it got on my nerves, so I finally just stared back at him. “BEEP BEEP BEEP” goes the register while she rang up my things, and the whole time, the  bagger and I are just staring in each others eyes. At last the transaction is done, and the cashier hands me my change and with a honestly friendly attitude, she wishes me a nice day. I return her pleasantry and turn to the bagger to collect my things. He gives me one of the creepiest smiles I’ve ever seen. His lips were in the shape of a smile, but his eyes said something entirely different.
“You have a great day buddy” he tells me, putting the emphasis on the word “buddy” just to be sure that I, and everyone behind me, would know that he was damn clever that he knew what I was. I considered my possible responses to this asshole, and chose to just wink at him.
“And I hope you have a fantastic day!” I said while taking my bag from his hands.
.. ..
When I got to the hotel, I tried on the gown I had bought to see how it looked. There are only two major drawback to the thing:
1-     it is designed for a woman. Yeah, yeah, stop laughing. What I mean to say, is that it pretty well requires breasts to hold it up properly, and dI on’t have ‘em!
2-     The laces in the back are hard as hell to do by yourself! It took me about an hour to get the damn thing laced up, and I twisting and turning like a contortionist.
.. ..
Anyway, I think I like this one and suspect this is what I’ll wear to SCC.
.. ..
.. ..
The next day was a long one. The customer had only told me about one machine, but it turns out she had three of them and she wanted me to evaluate all of them. They had a host of issues to deal with and I didn’t get done with her until after 7PM. Far too late to go do anything. The bad news is, one of these machines had just been returned from our factory service center. I offered to help set it up as a courtesy, so imagine my shock when the damn thing didn’t work! I had to change my flights so that I could return the following morning to work on it. A month or two ago, I had failed to fix this very same instrument for the very same symptoms, and so I didn’t have much hope I was going to succeed.
.. ..
The following day I returned and fairly early on determined that the instrument still had the same problem I’d had it sent to the factory for a few months ago, and it’s a problem that can not be resolved in the field. I was back in my hotel by noon and decided to go see a movie or two!
.. ..Akron Ohio 2009 07 16 007

Akron Ohio 2009 07 16 008

.. ..
This time I wore something a bit new for me. The skirt is kind of a thin satin material. The top is a very thin material as well, and it’s fabric is hard to describe. On the hanger it looks plain, even unflattering, but the way it’s made it looks terrific when you put it on. Being such thin materials, it’s also considerably cooler in the heat than most of my outfits.
.. ..
When I got to the theater, you could tell by the grins that the kids at the ticket and food counter knew exactly what I was, but that’s OK because I’m long past worrying about that. They were grinning from ear to ear, but they treated me well, and that’s what counts.
.. ..
I first went to see the new Star Trek movie again. I’d seen this before with my family but had been kind of undecided as to if I liked it or not, so I decided to watch it again. For the most part I like it, but there are things that irritate me. Anyone that has read much Star Trek knows that the Enterprise and its sisters were built in orbit, but this movie shows this class of ship being built on the ground. The ship itself looks nothing like the original Enterprise. There is a weak excuse for this, but I can’t offer it here with out being a spoiler though. OK, so it’s nit picky, but it irritates me. The good news is that they have finagled it so that the entire series can take off again, and take off free of any restrictions that might have been forced on them to stay true to the original series. So, exciting things coming in the Star Trek world.
.. ..
Next I saw the Harry Potter movie, the Half Blood Prince. Ehhh . . . I can take it or leave it. It’s ending was unsatisfying and left me irritated. I almost felt like the movie was a mere place holder – a necessary step to get from the last episode to the next, but not a real awesome movie in it’s own right. It was a nice way to spend a couple of hours, but it’s not a movie that will ever make my top ten list.
After the movie, I was going to go to a club called Lydia’s because they were supposed to have jam session there. Being a guitar player myself, I love jam sessions. Well, I drove by the place, and it just didn’t fill me with confidence and so I chose not to enter it. Instead, I headed back to the hotel to call it a night. I had decided I was going to fly home pretty and just clean up and change in the Austin airport, but the more I thought about it, the more it just sounded like work. There was no point to going through all of that effort and I wasn’t going to enjoy it, so I just flew home drab.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Told the Aunt and Uncle

So this fourth of July we had my wifes aunt and uncle came up from San Antonio to celebrate with us. These folks had lives very much like my wife and I. They had retired from the US Army, we all had similar pasts, similar histories, and so we get along very well and generally have a good time together. Well, about a year ago we spent thanksgiving at their home and toward the end of the evening things got a little bit uncomfortable. After a bit of prompting, my wifes aunt finally came out with it - she had been told by my mother in law that I was a cross dresser. My mother in law had in fact stayed with us for several months a few years back, but I had been very careful to be sure she had never seen anything to do with cross dressing, and to this day I still have no idea what she may have seen. Obviously she HAD seen something or this conversation wouldn't be taking place. Personally I am not at all ashamed of who or what I am, but I have a wife and I have children, so the decision and the consequences are not mine alone. I glanced at my wife hoping for some indication if it was all right with her for me to talk to them. I've been married 22 years now, and after that much time with someone, words aren't always needed. In this case, the look in my wifes eyes made it clear she did NOT want me to share everything with them. Even at that, had they point blank asked me, I would have told them the truth. But given my wifes look, and the fact that they had not bluntly asked me, I did not offer anything up.
Well, since that dinner a year or so ago, they had brought it up two or three more times. Each time I wanted to trust them, but didn't want to go against my wifes wishes. These are really good people. These are the kind of folks that would literally give you the shirt off of their backs, or the last slice of bread they owned if you were hungry, and I was fairly sure they would be all right with it. Once again though, my wife feared that this would change things, that it would change the way they feel about us, that it would change the way they treat us, and that they may be uncomfortable around me. It's not an unfounded fear - this HAS happened to us before.
Well, on the fourth they brought it up again. I told them how disappointed I was that my Mother in law and I had started off great friends, but some where along the line she had decided she didn't care for me. My aunt looked right at me and said "It was the cross dressing." She said it very calmly, simply stating the fact while not endorsing or agreeing with my mother in laws attitude or actions. I'd have to be honest, I wasn't really shocked it had been brought up again - I had pretty much expected it to since it seems to come up pretty much every time we met these days. I excused myself and went inside to speak with my wife who was feeding our newborn.
"Babe, this is ridicules. It's been brought up again, this time simply stated as a fact. They are not just hinting anymore. Can I be honest with them?"  My wife looked at me long and hard.
"I don't want it to change things Matthew. If you tell them, and it changes things, I'm going to be very upset with you!" she said.
"Clearly they have made up their minds that I am. Now our only choice is, do you want them to base their opinions on what your mother may have told them, or on the truth? We can only imagine the conclusions they might draw on their own if we don't give them the truth."
"Go ahead," she said "but if it changes things I'm going to be mad as hell at you!"

So, I walked back out to the porch where we had been chatting.
"Well guys, I've got to be honest with you, I have no idea what she could have seen or when she saw it, but she didn't lie to you, I AM a cross dresser."  They both looked at me like 'yeah, so what?'  Clearly this wasn't a huge surprise to them.  Her uncle looked at me and said "We really don't give a shit what you guys do in your bedroom."  I started to laugh and assured them that what I was had nothing to do with the bedroom. My wife has absolutely no interest in me that way while cross dressed. It was VERY late, we had all drank more than our fair share, so we didn't spend as long as you might expect chatting about it. I did try to explain that it had little or nothing to do with sex, and far more to do with the fact that every man I had ever met growing up had been garbage. My own father spent all of his time drunk, beating both, his many wives and his children. The many step fathers that followed him in my life weren't a hell of a lot better. On the flip side, every woman in my life was strong, proud, and responsible. More or less, I had grown up feeling ashamed to be male and wishing that I was more like my grandmother, mother, and my big sister. I showed them a couple of pics so that they wouldn't have nightmares trying to picture what I looked like, and we spoke just a little longer about it.  They promised me that it means very little to them, and that our relationship was 100 safe. Hopefully that opinion will remain when they get back home, because even though it was clear they knew, I will never forgive myself if I've ruined our friendship. I think we're good though. It's funny, if you want to stick with the stereo types, you might hesitate to tell this to a retired NCO, thinking there was not way that they would accept this from someone. On the contrary though, after a life in the military, you see many cultures, many people, and I think learn some tolerance for people that might be a bit different. Of course, it doesn't hurt at all that my aunt and uncle are just cool as hell either!