Thursday, February 16, 2012

"I just had to see your face . . . "

You know, I used to be one of those people that never, ever got sick. I would watch people fall all around me and I would just keep on trucking. Heck, after more than a decade of active duty army service, my entire medical file wasn’t more than a few dozen pages thick. Well, all of that has apparently changed, because I am now sick far more often than not. I suspect that it is both – my school age daughter bringing things home from school with her, and my own time spent in airports and airplanes that are doing me in.  On my flight home Saturday, there was a woman across the aisle from me who was hacking up a lung the entire two and a half hour flight from Charlotte to Austin, and I’d have to admit that I had to talk myself out of killing her with each and every cough that she let loose. Sure enough, by the time Tuesday rolled around and I had to be back on an airplane, I was the one doing the coughing and feeling guilty every time someone gave me the same look that I had no doubt been giving that woman.
The next day was a LOOONNGGGG work day for me, but since it ended in success, I was pretty pleased with it. This time I was working in Dearborn MI, with one of my very favorite customers. She had been one of the very first customers that I had traveled to solo to work on our FTIR, and that first time so many years ago she had known far more about FTIR, and my company’s instruments, than I did. That could have been awkward, but since she turned out to be such a wonderful person, it wound up being a great first service call and in the years since then, I have come to think of her as a friend. Well, this time she had three instruments that she wanted me to take care of, and that is pushing it hard for one days work, and so I ended up getting there at 8AM, working through lunch and dinner, and then working until 730PM at night on an instrument with an intermittent problem. Right up to the end it looked like I wasn’t going to find the root cause, but in the last twenty minutes or so, I got it figured out, problem solved, and one of our best customers thrilled
When Thursday rolled around and it was time to head for home, I sat there in my hotel trying to decide if I should fly pretty or not. My cold is still alive and well, but at least it is only an isolated cough and not a runny nose or anything like that. I still didn’t feel so hot, but had spent Tuesday’s flight feeling sorry for myself and jealous of many of the women I had seen in the airports, and I really didn’t want to repeat the experience – fly pretty it is!

Going through the Detroit TSA inspection point, I noticed that everyone seemed to be ignoring the
x-ray machine at the far end. Four or five machines had a line of like ten people in front of them, and the line at the far end only had four, so I made my way to it. Once I got my stuff up onto the belt and was waiting for my chance to go through the metal detector and body scanner, I found myself chatting with the female TSA agent there.
“So how are you this morning?” I asked her.
“I’m fine thank you! You fly a lot don’t you?” She replied.
“I do fly a lot!” I responded with a laugh.
“Yeah, I thought so. I’ve seen you going through here quite a bit. What do you do that keeps you flying so much?”
“I’m a field service engineer.”
“What’s that? So what do you do?”
“Well, when my company sells something, I go install it and train the customer on it, and when and if it breaks, I go fix it!”
“Well that sounds pretty neat!” she said.
“It is, and it pays the bills, so it’s kind of a win-win.” I replied with a wink. Next it was my turn to go through the scanner so I stepped into it, held my arms up, and exited when they told me to.
“Wait here.” Said another female TSA agent with her hand up to stop me. I just grinned at her.
“I pretty much always get a personal inspection at this point.” I told her with a wink.
“Ok, you’re free to go.” She told me, with no inspection and not the slightest sign of a smile.
“Well I’ll be damned! Thank you.” I told her, and then made my way to the outlet of the x-ray machine where I grabbed my things. Rather than stand at the crowded belt trying to put all of my things away and put my shoes back on while standing, I usually just grab the bin with my things and go find a chair to sit in and get it done comfortably. I was doing just this when I noticed the older man sitting next to me looking at his ticket and then around the airport with a look of panic and confusion. He noticed my looking at him and spoke to me.
“Are you going to Philadelphia?”
“No sir, but I do fly an awful lot. Is there something that I can help you with?”
“I’m going to Philadelphia but I have no idea where to wait.” He replied with a most confused look on his face.
“May I see your ticket? It will usually tell you where you need to go.” I asked, and he handed it to me.
“OK, your gate is D26.” He still had a confused look so I tried to clarify things for him by pointing at the sign for a gate next to us.
“Do you see that sign that says ‘D19’ there?” I asked him.
“Yes, is that where I wait?”
“No sir, but your gate will have a sign just like that one, but it will say ‘D26’ instead.”
“Oh! I understand. Thank you so much!” He told me with a look of utter relief on his face. It turned out that my own gate was right next to his, so when I later saw him slowly walking down the terminal I once again spoke to him.
“Got it all figured out now?” I asked with a smile.
“I do, thank you. I’ll get there sooner or later!” he replied with a grin and continued to slowly make his way down the terminal. As I continued down the terminal myself, a woman a little older than I was was walking by, and she slowed to walk along side of me.
“You know I just had to see your face!” she told me with a grin. “Every single guy that has walked by you has turned to get a second look.”
“Oh my God, is that good or bad?” I told her with a laugh.
“Oh, it’s good all right.” She said with a mischievous grin. “I just love your shoes!”
“Well thank you!” I told her, feeling more than a bit embarrassed.
“You’re welcome.” She said, and as she started to walk away from me she turned to speak one more time. “You know, I was young once.” And then let loose a loud sigh . . .
‘I hear you sister, believe me, I hear you ‘ I thought to myself as we parted ways.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

I don't bite . . .

Well, it has been a hell of month for me! There I was, sprinting from job to job for months on end and about ready to die of exhaustion, when suddenly the work just dried up. It seemed that all of a sudden there was no one that needed a service call and so I found myself sitting in my cubicle day after day until I started to get nervous. Let’s face it, no company is going to keep someone that isn’t doing anything for them, and my utilization was dropping through the floor. I decided to try and head that off at the pass and so took an unscheduled vacation for a little over a week. At least now we can tell management that no, I wasn’t busy on service calls, but I was on vacation!

So what did I do on my week of vacation? Did I go somewhere glamorous and exotic? Why no, no I didn’t! Instead, I busted my butt off on my home, rebuilding our bathroom, continuing to rip out the old floors that were damaged when our foundation was repaired, and then installing new tile. My father in law, a professional mason, kept laughing and telling me that by the time we got the floor of our home done, I would be a qualified tile installer. I’d do it if that’s what it took to feed my family, but it sure wouldn’t be my first choice for making a living. Too much time spent on your hands and knees holding heavy 18 inch rock tiles out in front of you. More days than not, I could hardly stand at the end of the day for my back hurting so bad. Still, the end result is worth the effort, because it is starting to take shape and looks wonderful.

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The View from our Kitchen to the Dinning Room
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Our Dinning Room

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The Bathroom that Kim Built!
Home Renovation 036
The Bathroom that Kim Built!

Copy of Phoenix AZ 2012 02 07 013
Gown I found on trip to Louisiana

After week of hard work on my floors at home, I was delighted to hear that I had a service call to make even if it was in Louisiana.  After thinking about it for a few minutes, I decided to drive there instead of flying. It would take just about the same amount of time, but this way I could pocket the mileage money instead of paying an airline. On the drive there, I stopped at every Goodwill thrift store that I came across, and what do you know – I found several items that I think are awesome. I got a couple of skirts and a dress that I know will look great on me and so I considered my shopping day to be a success! In one store I found something that made me stop and go “huh?” though. It was a 100% silk full length and formal black gown from Victoria (NOT Victoria’s Secret mind you). I looked up Victoria on the internet and discovered that the gown may well be worth over a thousand dollars, and so despite the fact that it was too small for me, I decided to get it and put it on ebay. Now I just have my fingers crossed that some skinny size 10 woman will want it, or else I am out a little money. 

At long last, a service call came up where I could once again fly pretty, and so off I went to the airport. This service call is a good news/bad news sort of thing though, as I was going back to Arizona where I had recently performed a repair, because the customer insisted that there was a problem with the instrument. So now not only had I been more or less idle for two weeks, but I was going to have to return (at our expense) to look at an instrument that I had just repaired.  I began to feel as if I could actually see my job security plummeting through the floor. . .
I had the usual chit chat with the good folks at Delta and then made my way through security where I made my way through the scanner, just to be stopped and inspected as usual. It was a young woman that was doing the screening and it looked as if she were being trained because she had an older woman standing at her shoulder. I don’t know if it was because she knew what I was, or because she was brand new, but she had a major “deer in the headlights” look on her face as she stood in front of me, so I tried to make her laugh.
“It’s OK, I promise that I don’t bite!” I told her with a wink as I held my arms out to my sides. 

Copy of Phoenix AZ 2012 02 07 001
I wont detail each one, but I had several women comment on my dress. It is from one of my favorite designers, Tahari, and fits me rather well I think, and so it was gratifying to hear the compliments. The rest of the trip to Arizona really didn’t have anything worth commenting on until I arrived at the Holiday Inn there. The young woman at the counter was a tiny and cute little thing, almost elfin in size and appearance.
“Checking in?” She asked me with a smile. I couldn’t help myself, I actually looked to see if she had cute little elf-like pointed ears.
“Yes ma’am. My last name is Huddle.” I replied while setting down my backpack and getting my purse and ID out for her.
“OK. . . “ she replied as she started looking through her records. “The reservation was made in your husbands name?”
“Um, not exactly . . . “ I told her, handing her my ID and my credit card which she paused to take a look at,
“Oh! I see now!” she said with a huge grin as she looked at my ID that has my real name and gender on it.
“I have to tell you that you just made my whole day! I’ve felt like I looked so bad that I wasn’t fooling anyone today, so it’s nice to see that I must not look all that bad!”

The following morning I headed off to my customer to take a look at the instrument that had failed so soon after I had last worked on it.  Happily I discovered that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the instrument and so there was no question about the work I had performed on my last service call here. The problem was in the way that they were operating and using it, and so I found myself “fixing the customer”. This got frustrating though, because the two men using it know exactly nothing about it, and they like it that way. Their company set them up with our equipment as part of a package that they created and installed, and they were operating our system through their own software and automation. From the view of these two gentlemen, they pushed a button in their software, and things were supposed to all run flawlessly. That’s all well and good when the automation does what it is supposed to do, but if their automation has a problem or a flaw, they are suddenly helpless and completely unable to evaluate or trouble shoot the system. It took me several hours, but I was able to determine and to prove to them that their automation had significant flaws resulting in poor accuracy. When I operated our equipment manually so that it could be used properly, our instrument was absolutely accurate, but when we allowed their automation to control it, things went all to hell. I spent hours talking to their software guru to make changes to their automation to correct the obvious faults. I then tried to teach the two men running the system the very basics of how our Infrared Mass Spectrometer works – and ran into a brick wall. They don’t understand it, don’t want to understand it, and could not be convinced to really pay any attention to me. I’m pretty sure I’ll be back here again . . .

Normally I make one service call per week, flying out one day, doing the job the next one or two days, and then flying back home. Given that I had spent two weeks without work though, I made an exception this week and flew directly from this customer to the next one in Huntsville Alabama. This means that I will have to fly home on Saturday, but it beats the hell outta being unemployed all day long and twice on Sunday.
After going through security, I was sitting down putting my shoes on and putting my things away, when I noticed a tiny infant screaming her lungs out. It’s not unusual to hear that in an airport, but what got my attention was how long the little critter had been crying so frantically.  The mother had just made her way through the x-ray machine but now found the narrow exit to the hallway completely blocked by people and two wheelchairs with older folks in them who were being helped by attendants. I don’t know if the woman had just reached her breaking point, or if she was just a horribly pushy and rude person, but what followed floored me and everyone around me. With the way blocked by people waiting on the folks in the wheel chairs, the woman starts to loudly make rapid fire demands.
“I have to feed the baby. You need to let me through. You need to move. You need to move now!” She loudly demanded to the entire crowd. There was no pause to allow people time to even register her demand, let alone try and make way for her, she just kept rapidly repeating the same thing.
“I have to feed the baby. You need to get out of the way and you need to get out of the way now!”
The wheel chair attendants did their very best to move the old couple off to the side and allow people to pass, all the while with shocked expressions on their face. I think pretty much anyone that has children can understand a mothers frustration and desperation, but her attitude and demands that the old couple be shoved to the side this very instant sure wasn’t winning her any friends. I suspect that she would have had much better results by asking nicely. . .

Huntsville AL 2012 02 11 002
Much to my surprise, Delta had stuck me in one of the cramped middle seats for the entire three and a half hour flight from Phoenix to Atlanta. That middle seat really sucks for a long trip, and so they rarely do that to one of their platinum customers. I was standing in line to talk to the customer service folks at the gate to see if they might be able to change my seat for me when I heard a young woman loudly sobbing not too far behind me. I glanced her way to see a girl in her teens or early twenties crying as she talked on her phone, but I couldn’t make out what she was saying. I wondered what might be wrong that would cause someone to cry so pitifully and loudly in a crowd of people? Was she sick, stranded, broke, lost?? Once I was done at the counter, I had to walk right past her while I was looking for a place to sit down. I noticed that she was off of the phone now and so I stopped to talk to her.
“I don’t mean to intrude, but is there anything that I can do to help?” I asked her.
“Not really, I’m just leaving home for a while, and I’ve never been away before.” She said with tears streaming down her face.
“Awe. . .  I’ve been there and done that. It does get easier, I promise!” I told her gently and with a smile.
“I know, I know . . . Thanks anyway . . . “ she replied with a halfhearted attempt at a smile.
Oh – Delta DID get me out of that middle seat, but no upgrades to first class dang it! I was third in line for the upgrade and didn’t get it. You know, it just boggles my mind that there are people that fly more than I do. I want to talk to the people that were first and second on that upgrade list to find out what in the hell they do that has them traveling more than I do!