Thursday, August 20, 2009

Chicago and the Island Girls

This weeks trip was to Chicago, or to be precise, to Des Plaines just north of Chicago. My manager has been dropping not so subtle hints that I need to try and reduce my travel time and expenses, so I set this flight up for very early in the morning so that I could arrive and go to work the same day. Getting up at 3 AM, traveling, and then going to work with the customer makes for a VERY long day. Since I have to go right from the airport directly to my customer, I could not fly pretty so that was kind of a bummer.
My work day really sucked. The instrument I came to work on had multiple problems which makes it much harder to diagnose and repair it. After getting up at 3AM to get there, then working through lunch, I had still failed to resolve all of it’s issues by around 4PM, and it in fact appeared it would likely have to be returned to our factory. To compound things, my customer had three other instruments he asked me to look at and all three were suffering a slew of ailments, mostly boiling down to lack of maintenance.
At the end of the day, I had to throw up my hands and admit I could not possible get it all done, and so had to change my schedule to stay an additional day, thus costing my company even more in flight change fees and the like.  L
Tired and depressed from my inability to resolve any of the issues I had found, I headed for the hotel where I got ready to go and meet with Miranda from
After I got my makeup on, I tried on the gown I am leaning toward for the Southern Comfort Conference just to see what it looks like with the complete package of hair and makeup.  I liked it quite a bit so I took out my camera and looked for my little tripod . . . and looked . . . and looked . . .     Then I recalled that last week when I had forgotten the battery to my camera, I had taken all of that hardware out of my bag to reduce weight, and I had forgotten to put it back in. That’s OK, all hotels come with a camera stand, they just call it an ironing board.  I was a bit limited in my options due to not having a tripod, but I managed to take a few pics using the ironing board and the mirror.

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When I started getting ready to go out, my intent had been to wear a cute little black miniskirt and an orange top I had just purchased. Imagine my surprise when I looked in the mirror and discovered that my top was completely see through. “Hmmm,” I thought “this just aint gonna work!”  I pulled it off and put on a red top I had also just purchased, and discovered that it too was see through. “Well shit!” I thought “I am not gonna go anywhere more or less naked from the waist up!”.  Time to back up and punt, so I pulled out a brown skirt and green top I had brought as a backup outfit. My wife had laughed at me as I packed so many outfits for a one day trip, but it looks like I get the last laugh. Between the one outfit bombing out, and my trip being extended a day, I had brought the perfect amount of clothes with me.

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At about 7, I met Miranda at Hunters, a local friendly club. Due to my see through top wardrobe malfunctions, I was a little late. We had a really interesting conversation that I enjoyed very much. Miranda has many of the same interests that I have – Science, Nasa, etc. I wish very much that my day hadn’t started so early because I would have liked to have extended our visit and chatted longer. We spoke for a bit over an hour about a wide variety of things and I look forward to the next time I get to meet up with her. Miranda had to come “drab” and so no pics of the two of us together.  L
Well, the next morning I returned to my customer where despite my fears, I did manage to get all of his instruments up and running and was headed out the door by about 4PM feeling very pleased and satisfied with myself. On the way back to the hotel I hit up a Goodwill where I found a brand new blue/green skirt with a $60 department store tag on it for $5! I also found a Liz Claiborne pocket book that I think will go very well with the brown gown pictured above. Today I was gonna wear jeans – something that I very rarely do. The thing is, I have this beautiful floaty top that sort of needs pants to work. When paired with a skirt, this top is just a bit too much and looks over done, but it looks awesome with pants.
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I hit up the internet and found a place called “Club Krave” that was doing Karaoke that night. As I was reading their Myspace page, I realized that the Island Girls, a local TG Group, was having their get together that very night! Well, pretty sure I knew what I was doing that night at 9PM, but it was now only 630, so I decided to go see a movie. I saw “District 9”, a story about aliens more or less stranded on Earth. I think it was a good movie, and they left it hanging, so I’m pretty sure there will be another. At 9, the movie got out and I started the 40 minute drive to Club Krave. At least twice on the way, I considered just calling it a night and heading back to the hotel, but ultimately decided to continue on to the club. When I got there, I had to circle twice trying to figure out where to park, but eventually even this hillbilly got it figured out, and in I went. When I opened the door, there was a Tgirl on the stage really hamming it up with the Karaoke. I paused right inside the door for my eyes to adjust, and as I looked around I realized that there were quite a few Tgirls there! After the two hour movie, and the 40 minute drive, my first priority was to head for the ladies room. On the way through the crowd, I got quite a few smiles making it clear that I was welcome – that’s a good start. After taking care of the necessities, I signed up for singing “Who’ll Stop the Rain” and headed to the bar where I got a drink and sat looking around. I don’t recall who approached me first, but in about five minutes someone walked up and asked me if this was my first night out. A natural question considering none of these folks had seen me there before, but considering how many places I have been out, all over the country, that one kind of gave me a real giggle. I assured her that I had been out quite a lot, and had in fact met some of the Island Girls several years ago on a previous visit to Chicago. For that matter, I was also a member of their Yahoo group as a result of that previous visit. We exchanged names and then she asked me where I was from. When I told her I was from Austin Texas you could see a light go off.
“Hold on, your Kimberly of Texas?! Girl, I read your blog all of the time!” The next thing I know, I’ve got at least half a dozen folks coming up to greet me, many of them having apparently wasted some of their valuable time reading my blog at some point or another. As we’re talking, and I’m desperately trying (and failing) to keep all of the names straight, Donna, apparently the ring leader here, got up on stage. To the sound of fan fair provided by the karaoke DJ, she states that she has an important visitor from out of town to introduce.
“Kimberly, why don’t you come on up?” she asked with a smile, while beckoning me up with a wave of her hand.
“Hell no!” I yelled back at her, while trying and failing to turn invisible.
“Your up next for Karaoke anyway, so get on up there!” the guy running the karaoke shouts to me. He sort of had a point there, so I headed up.
As I get on the stage next to her, she proceeds to tell everyone all about me.  She apparently has this silly idea that I’m doing great things for the TG community by being out and about and setting a (reasonably) good example. She said something along the lines of my giving people the confidence to try and do things, blah, blah, blah.  I was too busy blushing and trying to blend in to the walls to catch it all. You see, a few years ago, I had been awed reading the posts of another Tgirl by the name of Karen Hutton. She also traveled some for her job, but unlike me, she was taking advantage of her time on the road to be free to express herself. Here I was, spending most week days hundreds of miles from my home, in hotels and restaurants paid for by my company, and how was I spending this time? More often than not, I spent my nights drinking and playing my guitar in my room. What a horrific waste and more than a little depressing huh? So after months of reading Karen’s stories, and saying to myself “Damn, I wish I could do that!”, I had an epiphany and realized that the only thing stopping me was me. From that point on, I have plowed forward, trying to make the most of my time on the road, trying to take every chance to do all of the things I’d always dreamed of doing, and most of all, trying to keep my “Damn, I wish I had done that before I died” list as short as possible. My motivations were and are entirely selfish and are in no way deserving of admiration or respect. Knowing that my motivations have always been purely selfish and self centered, having people tell me that they admire me for furthering the TG cause sort of makes me feel like a fake, a poser, a phony. There are so many TG’s out there working their hearts out, and devoting huge amounts of their time and energy and soul to make a difference. Me? I’m just a hillbilly trying to make up for a lot of lost time.
Once she was done talking, Donna presented me with a Island Girls badge and made me an official member. Then everyone crowded up on the stage and we took a few group photo’s, but none using my camera. I’ll have to see if I can get some of those pics for my blog later. I sang a couple of songs that both sucked – I was just too self conscious.

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I had a great time speaking with a lot of the ladies there, and I just felt very welcome, comfortable, and was clearly among friends, and want to thank the Island Girls for their hospitality, their friendship, and for allowing me to share their evening!
When I got back home the next evening, we packed the kids in to the car and took my almost 6 year old daughter to her schools open house and orientation night. My little critter starts kindergarten this Monday! As I’ve got a 20 year old son, I am well aware how quickly these early years go by, but still I find myself floundering, with my daughters growing up far outpacing my ability to keep up in my mind. Her teacher is a reasonably cute woman, half my age. What a concept – teachers younger than I am! At one point my daughter walked up to me and whispered in my ear.
“Daddy, I’m scared to start school.” She said, with a pensive look in her eyes.
“Sweetheart, everyone is scared their first day of school. I promise you will be just fine and you will probably really like school. You will have other children to play with, and they are going to teach you all kinds of neat things! Pretty soon you will be able to read your night time books to me!” I told her, trying to make it sound exciting.
“Or to my little brother!” she replied, getting in to the spirit of the thing.
I was holding and paying attention to my two month old son, and when I looked up again, my daughter was already playing with another little girl, so I think she’s off to a good start. I can STILL remember HATING the first day of school each year, but she has a lot more self confidence than I ever did. . .

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Peoria Illinois and Shreveport Louisiana

Well this last week was very busy but I have no pics to show for it. You see I left the battery to my camera sitting at home on the charger!
I have three children – my 20 year old son (who just signed the contract to join the Navy), my almost 6 year old daughter, and a new born son. I guess my oldest son sort of made me complacent and careless, because I swear I could walk up and have a conversation with him while wearing a dress and he still wouldn’t realize that I was a cross dresser. For most of his life he had seen odds and ends in my closet, and apparently had always assumed that they were his mothers. He didn’t even consider that I might be transgender until I failed to clear the internet history on our computer and he found a forum I frequent a lot. I guess I’d just sort of come to think that if children grew up around this sort of thing, they just sort of took it for granted. Well, maybe so with little boys, but not so with little girls, particularly very fashion conscious little girls. She has made several comments over the last year that make it plain she thinks I wear dresses, but I’ve never confirmed or denied it. I don’t want to complicate her life with this until she is much older, but on the other hand I refuse to lie to my pride and joy.
Well, apparently she has made up her mind that she is going to settle the matter once and for all, and she has recently been sneaking peaks into my luggage, and paying very close attention to what I pack. So there I am, I have the bedroom door closed though it doesn’t lock, and I’m packing for a week long trip. This is lots of work clothes (male clothes) and a pretty outfit for each night, when suddenly my bedroom door is pushed open and in walks little miss smarty pants. Normally you would hear this little critter pounding up the steps on the way to the bedroom, so the fact that she has made it to the door quietly tells me that it was intentional. She has snuck up to the door and entered it unannounced because that was exactly what her goal was. She walks up to me and looks at the odds and ends in my luggage, and then looks up at me.
"Daddy, how come your taking pretty shoes and bras?" she asks me matter of factually. I just looked at her, probably with a dear in the headlights look on my face. If I get upset or angry I will just make things worse. Do I just come out and confirm it now? Should I lie to her, and if so, what kind of plausible fib can I possibly come up with? Ultimately my brain just locked up. Having not got an answer from me, and six year olds not being known for their patience, she repeats her question.
"Daddy, how come your taking girls clothes with you?" Things like this had slid right by my oldest for almost 20 years, and here this little Einstein had figured me out before she was five.
"Sweet heart, there are some things that daddy might not want to tell you about. OK?" I told her kindly. While a bit unsatisfactory a response, there was no point at getting mad at her for being smart or asking an honest question AND it had the advantage of not confirming it with out lying to her. She reaches in to my suitcase and picks up a pretty knit top.
"That’s PRETTY daddy!" She looks at me, and with a very adult and serious look on her face she continues. "Well, you can’t wear it in public, but you can wear it at home Daddy!" Apparently satisfied that she knew what she wanted to know, she turned around and left the room. I sat there in shock for a moment and then headed down the stairs and shared the story with my wife. My daughter might be just fine with it, but my wife is less than amused.
My trip started off with a flight to Peoria Illinois. As usual, I got up early to get ready and out of the house before everyone else is awake and moving. With a newborn in the house though, I wasn’t too surprised to hear my wife come down the steps only 10 minutes after I did. After I was all ready I would normally take half a dozen pictures before heading for the airport, but there was no way in hell I was gonna do this with my wife sitting there watching me cater to my vanity. I decided I would just stop along the way and take a pic or two in the early morning sunrise. When I stopped, I discovered that I had forgotten the battery to my camera on its charger. Oops. . .
Got to Peoria just a little ahead of schedule and found that my rental car was not yet ready, so I had to wait for a few minutes at the counter. Soon, a gentleman in his early 60’s approaches and with a smile asks me to follow him to the pickup and drop off curb. As I stand there, he gets in to a SUV with another gentleman and off they drive to go get my car. Soon, they both return in the car, and both go out of their way to come talk to me. From the grins on their faces, it’s pretty clear why they are chatting with me.
I’ve felt a little like a bouncing ball on this trip. First I was excited to find that I was returning to Peoria where they had a cool karaoke bar called "Elbo Room" that I had enjoyed in the past. Next thing I know, I’m getting a call from one of our applications sales engineers that he intends to be there at the same time and on the same flight I’m on. All of my plans for flying dressed and having fun at the Elbo Room trashed! A few days later he lets me know that he can no longer make it after all, so all of my plans are on again! Then a day later I get a call from the sales manager for that region that HE is going to be there! Since he is driving, I can still fly pretty but will have to spend the rest of my visit there drab. Arrived, got cleaned up, and went to dinner with the sales manager. That night after he went his own way, I headed to Elbo Room drab for Karaoke . . . and I didn’t enjoy it at all. I could list a half dozen reasons why, but what would be the point? I just didn’t enjoy it and don’t know if I’ll go back. One good thing I will say though is that the bartender rocked. She made it a point to ask my name when I got there and she referred to me by name the rest of the evening making me feel at home. The next day was a very long workday and so I again had no chance to play. Oh well. . .
On Wednesday, I had to fly from Peoria to Shreveport Louisiana for my next service call, and so I decided to take a chance and fly pretty. I have flown dressed from a few airports, but mostly big ones that I assume may have better trained people, and less risk of my having a problem. Well, there wasn’t a single problem – everything went very well. The TSA guard at the inspection point looked at my ID for a LONG time – probably a minute or so, and then handed it back to me.
"Have a nice flight." He said with out a smile.
The flight attendant from Peoria to DFW didn’t appear to like me much either. When she spoke to me, she had a attitude making it clear that she didn’t like me. When she couldn’t hear me, she gave me a mean look and demanded "What? What?!" I had begun to think bad things about American Airlines flight attendants right up until my flight from DFW to Shreveport. This young lady treated me like gold, was very friendly and talkative, and was a pleasure to be around.
The next morning I had to make the road trip to my customer, and when I say road trip, I mean it. Once again I found myself off road, driving down miles of dirt roads, with trees towering over me. At least this time the drive was in the summer, and dry weather at that, so there was no ice and mud to contend with. After miles of driving through the forest, my GPS at last said "Approaching destination on the right". I looked to the right and saw nothing but a fairly nice farm house and a beat up old work shed off in the distance. Since I was here to work on a $50,000 piece of laboratory analytical equipment, I was fairly sure I had gone wrong somewhere and must be in the wrong place, so I stopped the car and called my customer. I didn’t have to pull the car off the road or anything, because I was way to hell and gone out in the sticks and didn’t have to worry about any other cars coming along.
"Hey, this is Matt. I’m afraid I’ve made a mistake and am at the wrong place!" I told him over the phone. He gave a short laugh.
"Are you in the little white car?" he asked me, still laughing. Clearly he could see me and I WAS at the right place.
"You have GOT to be kidding?" I replied, as I turned into the driveway.
"Nah, your at the right place. Go on and pull up to the work shed." He said, and so I did. As I pull up to the shed, I can see that it is homemade and with a hand poured concrete floor, and sitting outside in the heat and humidity, with a little cloud of mosquitoes hovering around it, was our very expensive instrument. I warned him repeatedly that there were components in the instrument that could not tolerate the introduction of humidity, and he just shrugged his shoulders.
"The house is the owners folks, they aren’t home, and I can’t get in. I’ve got no choice – repair it out here." He told me. I just looked at him for a minute, hoping his common sense was gonna kick in, but that was where he stopped talking.
"As long as we have the understanding that I am doing it only at your insistence and that I warned you this was the worst possible environment to expose the instrument to. We may ultimately cause serious and expensive damage by doing this. Are you SURE?" I told him.
"I got it." He said " Go ahead and tear into it!"
So there I was, outside on a hand poured concrete pad, in front of an old hand built work shed, in the middle of Louisiana, at the height of summer, slapping mosquitoes off of me while tearing into a $50,000 instrument that can’t tolerate having humidity inside it. Good times in Louisiana I’ve got to tell you, always a good time in Louisiana . . .