Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ride Sally ride. . .

So there I am, minding my own business, when I get a message telling me that my daughter-in-law's father had wrecked and totaled his car. Since then, I've seen the pictures and have to say that he is one VERY lucky man to have walked away from it.  A day or so later I got a call from him asking if I knew anyone that could loan him a car. You see he had been out of work for quite a while, and had only recently got a job, and now was likely to lose it if he couldn't get transportation to and from work. Since I know pretty much no one in the Austin area, I regretfully told him that I didn't think I could be much help to him, and wished him the best of luck. There was an awkward pause in the conversation before he spoke again.
"You know I hesitate to mention this, but what about the mustang?" He asked in a timid voice.
 To be honest, my 67 Mustang had never even crossed my mind. It has spent so many years in my garage, with this and that wrong, that I pretty much forget that I have three cars most of the time. Still, my Mustang is far more than just an old car to me; it is a symbol and an investment. It is a symbol of my childhood and of my youth as my father had owned one, and my own first car had been one. My own wife is not willing to drive the car because she knows what it means to me, and so there was very little to no hesitation before I replied.
"Umm, no." I told him, while thinking to myself "Not only  no but HELL no!"

Still, after the call, it started me thinking. If I COULD  get the Mustang road worthy, maybe we could loan him my wife's car. The problem was that I didn’t have the money to fix the darn thing, which is of course the whole reason the car has sat in my garage for years. It just kept haunting me though, that the man was gonna lose his first job in quite a while for lack of transportation, while I had three cars - I just didn't think that I could handle that.  My wife and I talked about it and agreed that it was worth going into debt for, and so using my credit card, we started a concerted effort to return a car to life that had not been consistently on the road since 1974.

A few weeks ago, I had tried taking the car out for a bit, and one of the rear tires exploded, shredding assorted parts of my rear fender with it , so now I had two very bald tires and no spare. First things first, there was no point to putting tires on it if its suspension and alignment were so bad that it ate up the last two front tires in less than two thousand miles, so we were off to replace some of the suspension and get it aligned. After getting the lower control arms replaced, the first place we took it to refused to align it, telling me that it was too old, and its specs were not in their database.
The second place we took it to was a new garage with a young owner in his thirties, and he had a brand new and state of the art alignment rack, and he assured me that he would have no trouble at all getting the job done. He was wrong . . .
The first call we got from him was to tell me that he couldn't move most of the components that needed to be adjusted. These had not been adjusted in thirty to forty years, and their threads were full of the undercoating material the car had been treated with in years past.  That cost me an extra hundred or so to have him take it off the rack and free these frozen components.
The next call I got from him was to tell me that though there was no clear sign of it to the human eye, my body must be bent, because he could not get the car aligned. One of the adjustments was all of the way to its extreme and yet needed to go farther. Now over $200 down, he hands the car back to me with the steering far worse than it was when I handed it to him.

Just in case it had anything to do with the very old and bald tires, i decided to go get the new tires before taking the car to a body shop to have the "frame" looked at. This turned out to not be as simple as it sounds either, because not only was I not willing to trust the existing tires even long enough to get me to the tire store, but apparently there are very few tires made these days in the appropriate size for my old car. It seems that this tire size is now relegated mostly to trailers, and no longer for cars. It took a couple of hours searching the Internet, but I did ultimately find some Michelins at a nearby discount tires, and so I jacked the car up, took all of the tires off, and threw them in the back of my truck.
Oh, and the tires that were on it? Yeah, it turns out that they were fifteen years old and at the time were about the cheapest tires that you could put on a car with a cost of about $25 each. Terribly cheap and very old - no wonder the damn thing had blown and ripped up my back quarter panel! They were so old that the tire shop refused to move one of them to the spare rim. At first I thought that this was a ploy to force me to buy a new tire, but they wound up giving me a used tire for free, so clearly they really were worried about the safety aspects of the old tires.
So, I got the new tires home, installed them onto the car, and headed out for the body shop. I'd made it maybe a mile and a half when I got pulled over for my expired inspection sticker.
Did you ever have the feeling that the universe was trying to stick it to you?
I explained to the officer that the car had been up on jacks in my garage for years while I was trying to fix it up, and that I was just getting it back on the road. I pointed out the brand new tires and laughed while I told him that they had only been on the car for a whopping twenty minutes. He looked at me kind of doubtful like, no doubt having heard every story there was at some time or other.
"Look, I have to be honest - I'm not sure what to do. Just sit tight for a minute all right?" He told me, and then returned to his car. About a minute later another cop car pulls up behind me, and a young officer gets out and comes up to my window.
"What year is she?" He asked me through the window. Soon, he and I were walking around the car while he explained that he had three or four antique cars himself. As I popped the hood so that he could see the engine bay and engine that I had restored, you could hear him almost gasp as he sharply inhaled.
"Oh my God, it looks like new!" He exclaimed.
"Well you can see where I've been spending all of my time and effort until now." I laughed.
"Look, it's obvious that you have been working on it, so I'm going to suggest that he only give you a warning. I wouldn't worry about it at all. Oh, and what you should do is register it as an antique. You only have to register it once every five years and you don't have to get it inspected." He suggested.
"Thanks so much! I think I'll do exactly that!" I thanked him. He shook my hand, told me he loved the car, and then as both officers were walking away I heard him tell the other one "holy shit, you could eat off of that engine!"
Hmmm, maybe the universe ain't so bad after all!

Feeling more than a little bit of depression at the thought of my car possibly having a bent body, I took the car to a local body shop that had worked on some of my other cars in the past. That afternoon I got my first good news - it seems that the kid with the new garage and state of the art alignment rack apparently hadn't known what he was doing with them and there was nothing wrong with my cars body. He had just been adjusting one of the components the wrong way!

So, now we have loaned my wife's car to my daughter in laws father and got him out of a world of hurt, and yours truly is finally driving a 67 Mustang with new lower control arms, a perfect alignment, brand new tires, and a maxed out credit card in the drivers seat! Oh, I also got those antique plates the police officer had suggested. You are only supposed to drive the car to shows and maintenance, but considering that I've only driven the car half a dozen times in the half a decade that we have owned it, I think my conscience can handle the little white lie.

When it came time to head for the airport for my next service call, I had a bit of a giggle as I was reminded that trunk space in these old mustangs was a very limited affair. Still, I made it work, shoving my tool box in the trunk, and my huge suitcase into the back seat and off I went!

Thinking that this might be one of the few times that I would be driving this car while pretty, I went out of my way to choose an outfit that I thought was somewhat reminiscent of the 1960's. I had considered a pencil skirt, a black with white polka dots dress that is kind of retro, and a new pink dress that I had bought a few months ago. In the end, I thought that the pink outfit fit the bill the best!

Oh, and those adorable pink shoes that went so perfectly with my dress? Yeah, they just went to the top of my "fine for an evening out, but I ain't EVER gonna wear them for 14 hours again" list. OUCH!!!

On this flight I was seated toward the back of the plane and just behind the bulkhead that held the seats for the flight attendants, and so I wound up chatting with one of them. I'm not sure I understood all of the details, but did you know that flight attendants are not on the clock while they are on the ground loading and unloading passengers?! I'm not sure how that could be right or legal, but that sucks! As we were chatting, I could see her doing the typical female routine of giving my outfit the once over. When she had worked her way from my shoes all of the way up to my eyes and found me looking back, she gave me a grin.
"Your outfit is perfect! Very few people bother to get dressed up for flying these days." She told me.
"Oh hell, that's half the fun of it!" I laughed. "And thank you for the compliment. The shoes are a bit much for walking through an airport, but they were just too perfect for the dress for me to skip them."
"Uh uh, those shoes are PERFECT for that dress!" She reassured me.
I'd have to admit that they are cute as hell, but SHE wasn't gonna spend 14 hours walking in them!

Once I'd landed at the Cincinnati airport, I grabbed the Avis shuttle bus, and was sitting back for the ride when I heard a familiar accent from a very pretty woman up front - an Australian! I almost choked when the driver asked her where she was from, because I recalled the last time I had asked a similar question and apparently deeply offended a British man by asking if he was Australian.
The woman confirmed my suspicion by admitting to the driver that she was indeed Australian, and so I pretty much HAD to strike up a conversation with her.
"I would LOVE to go to Australia sometime. One of my very best friends is from Perth and it looks SO pretty there." I shared with her.
"Really? So you've never been then?"
"No, but I have yet to meet an Australian that I didn't like, so I'm gonna have to go sooner or later!"
She laughed, no doubt thinking that Australia probably has its fair share of unlikable people just like any other place in the world. There were a few more minutes of quiet before I decided to yank her chain a little by telling her the story of the offended Brit.
"So what is it with the British and the Australians anyway? A couple of weeks ago I asked a man if he was Australian and he was DEEPLY offended. 'No, I’m from England!' he told me in a huff. You would think that I had asked him if he was Jack the Ripper or something!"
It took her a moment to stop laughing so that she could reply.
"Well, the British can be a bit . . ." She hesitated before completing the thought ". . . Stuffy"
So for the record, I STILL haven't met an Australian that I didn't like. An irreverent bunch that one . . .

As for the job I was there for, that turned out to be kind of a giggle too. A year or so ago, I had repaired an instrument in Louisiana under warranty because a critical part had apparently been shipped without a tiny screw that was needed to hold it in place. At the time, both the customer and I had searched like hell for the missing screw just to be sure that we were not leaving it floating around in the machine, but we never could find it.
Well, I found it this week.
It turns out that this was the same company, and they had just shipped the instrument from Louisiana to Cincinnati when it stopped working. Our itty bitty missing screw had decided to go walk-about and become a nuisance by getting lodged into a moving part and jamming it

For the flight home, I was gonna wear tights since it was less than 30F outside, but even sitting in my cool hotel room, I was suffering from being too warm. At the last minute I decided that the tights had to go, or I was gonna die of heat stroke in the airports. I was so hot that I decided to store my coat away in my bag, and this caused people no end of amusement and concern. Making my way to and from the Avis bus, I had at least four people tell me that I must be freezing, but under the wig, makeup, and nylons, I was doing just fine!

Checking in at the Delta counter, I was reminded of why I like Delta so much better than the other airlines - they are SO much friendlier!
"Hello miss, how are you today?!" Asked a male customer service representative, sounding for all of the world as if we were the very best of friends. This is what I like about Delta airlines - they are honestly friendly. Some of the other airlines are professional, don't get me wrong, but none of the others have struck me as being so genuinely nice. I just don't know how to describe it better with words, but this Delta rep was just very kind, friendly, and professional, and he impressed the hell outta me.

Not being terribly familiar with this airport, I didn't know how long it would take me to get through security, and so I had made it a point to get there two hours before my flight.  Needless to say, I had some time to kill in the Delta sky club.
"What can I get you young lady?" Asked the male bartender who appeared to me to be in his fifties or so.
"How about a screw driver please?" I asked.
"Are you 21?" He asked with a straight face.
"No, not for some time now! Thanks for asking though - that's the best giggle I've had all week."
"All right, I'll take your word for it then. So do you want a little smile or a big one?" He asked, moving his finger from low on the glass to much higher on the glass, apparently showing me where he planned to stop with the vodka.
"What the heck, let's go for a big smile!" I laughed.
"Boy am I gonna be in trouble if you aren't 21 . . . " he mumbled as he filled the glass much too full of vodka.
You know, a really good bartender is so hard to come by these days!  ;-)

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Sleeping with one eye open

So I took my 9 year old daughter to school the other day, and as we drove past a modern Mustang that was parked on the side of the road, I pointed it out to her. I explained to her that that sleek little car was a descendant of our very own classic Mustang.
“I’ll bet ours goes faster!” she said.
“Oh, probably not sweetheart. That little thing probably weighs half of what ours does, and ours was never really one of the Mustangs that was made to go really fast.”
“I don’t care – I like ours better anyway!”
“If you think you like it now, just wait until you are a teenager! You’re gonna hate daddy, because you’re gonna really like it then and you’re gonna want to take it, and I’m not gonna let you.”
“Oh yeah? We’ll see about THAT when you get old and die daddy.” She replied, grinning at me.

I’m sorta thinking I better sleep with one eye open from now on . . .

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Slip sliding away . . .

Three weeks. Three LONG weeks. That's how long I've been sitting on my ass at home without a service call to go earn my paycheck with. Y'all are prolly getting tired of hearing me talk about my job security fears, but these days I think you NEED to worry if you go three weeks without contributing to your company's bottom line. I don't care how good you are, or how respected you are, no company in the world will keep an employee that isn't working and either making money for them or at least taking care of its customers. In a good news/bad news kind of thing, I was sick for at least two of those three weeks and so probably would have been unavailable to work in any case.
I did manage to get a few things accomplished though! I got lots of practice playing Mario Carts on the Wii with my two little ones. Since my nine year old daughter was the one that gave me the sickies, she was also home from school, and so we became Mario Carts addicts.  If you see TxKimberly on Mario Carts online, it's either me or my three year old playing on my account.
The other things I got accomplished was to get my cars worked on. My poor 2002 F150 has over 165,000 miles on her and things are starting to fail. Using my credit card, I had the chattering clutch and related items repaired and so she no longer sounds like a coffee grinder when the clutch is pressed in. They did such an awesome job on my pickup truck that I went ahead and took them my 1967 Mustang to get some of the suspension reworked. I didn't have the money, so it all went on credit cards, but I figured I better take advantage of the free time that I had and get it done now. It turns out that all she supposedly needed was lower control arms and a great deal of patience to free assorted 45 year old alignment components that didn't want to move anymore. So I'm way over my head in debt, but now have a reliable truck again and a classic mustang that will not chew through a set of tires in only 2000 miles.

Tuesday night at 7PM I was sitting at home and feeling the "unemployment is coming" terror build, when I received a call and a text message from a customer in Texas. To be honest, I normally wouldn't have answered my phone at that time of night, but three weeks without work had me almost frantic to find something to do. Well, it turned out that this guy worked for a small company that uses a truck, trailer, generator, and our infrared mass spectrometer to travel to his customers locations and perform emissions testing and verification for them. His generator had developed some sort of a problem, and the end result was that he burned out a power supply in our instrument. The man was almost frantic, because if he couldn't use our equipment the next morning to do testing that he had promised his customer, he was going to lose the job AND the customer.  I sat at the dining room table for a moment, only a couple of hours before I would normally be headed for bed, and decided that I would go ahead and try to take care of him that night if he was willing. It was going to take him about two and a half hours to get to my office where the spare parts were kept, and so I beat him there by quite a bit, found out that we had the component I thought  was most likely to be at fault, and texted him the price for it. I also sent him my hourly rate, and made sure that he knew that he would  have to pay for a minimum of four hours labor regardless of how long the repair actually took. Much to my surprise, he was PISSED at the cost! Here it was almost midnight, I'd driven an hour into the office to meet him, and he was pissed that he was going to have to pay for four hours of labor for a job that was probably only going to take 30 minutes. Here I had thought that I was being the hero and going WAY above and beyond to take care of a small company that honestly couldn't tolerate a day of downtime, and the guy was mad as hell at me. . . Lesson learned - next time I will wait for normal business hours! It turns out that I was correct about the damaged component, and he had nothing else wrong with the instrument, and so it DID only take about 30 minutes. Despite the fact that I knew my manager was going to get pissed about it, I DID cut him some slack on the labor rate and only charged him for two hours instead of the four hour minimum. I can't wait until my manager returns to work so that he can chew my ass out for it.
It's funny how I went for weeks without so much as a phone call to keep me busy, and all of the sudden my phone was ringing off the hook. Turns out that a customer in Detroit needed preventative maintenance on his equipment and so Thursday morning I was headed off to the airport!

I had chosen to wear a full, mid length skirt that is one of my all-time favorites, along with a pair of boots that I had purchased a LONG time ago but only worn once. I knew that both, the skirt and the boots would be hot, but since it was supposed to be around 30 degrees in Detroit, I figured that it would be a good idea. Well, it wasn't a bad plan, but the problem is that Austin Texas is so much warmer than most of the country, and a HELL of a lot warmer than Detroit. The outfit that would be perfectly comfortable once I arrived in Detroit was WAY too franking hot in Austin, and so there I sat in the airport with perspiration dripping down my nose. Ughhhh . . .

Going through the TSA check point in Austin, I was reminded of WHY I hadn't worn this skirt in so long! It is covered in beads and sparkles that just about gives their full body scanner a nervous breakdown each time I go through it. I guess that they have come to anticipate this problem, because as I as exiting the scanner, the inspector stopped me with an upraised hand.
"Please wait here. Let’s see how that skirt did with the scanner." He told me with a grin while looking at the monitor behind me. I turned around to see the monitor myself just in time to see the cartoon style person portrayed there become absolutely covered with little hash marks from the waist down showing the inspector where I needed to be pat down at.  A young female TSA inspector stepped forward, and she and I both laughed, because the monitor literally showed hundreds of little markers covering my skirt. Needless to say, we spent a little quality time together as she thoroughly frisked both of my legs to be certain that I was not trying to smuggle a backpack nuke onto the plane.

On my connecting flight from Philadelphia, I was seated next to a woman about my own age, and we exchanged pleasantries as we were seated in first class. Soon, the flight attendant came by to get our drink requests, and she ordered a Chardonnay. I'm not much of a wine drinker, but I just thought that this sounded kind of classy, and so I asked for the same.
"I'm gonna try and fool you into thinking that I'm classy or something." I told her with a grin as I accepted my glass.

We had been sitting there for a few minute when it became really obvious that the man behind us was seriously flirting with the pretty woman that was sitting next to him.
"No way! Your eyes are dark brown!" He insisted.
"We'll, it depends on what I'm wearing! Sometimes they are gray, but usually they are kind of green." She replied to him.
"Excuse me!" The man loudly called to a bewildered and random passenger that was walking past on their way to their own seat. "What color are her eyes?!"
This kind of thing went on for a good five minutes before my seat mate and I glanced at each other. I couldn't help busting out laughing when she rolled her eyes at me.
"This is going to be a LONG flight, isn't it?" She asked with a laugh.
"I think it might be! Just be thankful that YOU aren't sitting next to him!"
Of all the things, it's the little moments like this that I appreciate the most. For just a brief moment, the woman sitting next to me had invited me to join the women's only club, giggling at the silly man who as trying much too hard to impress the woman next to him. Of course HE probably was far more “successful” with women than I ever was, so really, who is the fool in this story?

I don't normally do this, but on this trip I decided to contact my other customers in the area and ask them if they were interested in a service call as long as I was in the area. Since the customer that had brought me to Detroit had already paid for the bulk of my travel, this meant that I could offer others a major discount on my travel fees. Much to my surprise, ALL of the customers that I made this offer to replied that they wanted a service call, and so I went from having only a simple four hour repair at one customer to do, to suddenly having four that all wanted to see me. Needless to say, I ended up having to stay the weekend so that I could take care of all of them. I guess it really is feast or famine, because while I was juggling all of this, I was contacted by a customer in Denver who had damaged his machine, and he wanted to see me just as soon as I could get to him. So now I was staying the weekend in Detroit, and then flying directly from there to Denver! Hey, if I have to have a problem, I'll take having too much work over too little any day!

You know I keep telling TG's that they have nothing to worry about if they are thinking about traveling pretty in the USA, but my flight out of Detroit has convinced me that I can even take that a step farther. It seems to me that I am most often treated BETTER when I travel pretty than when I travel drab. I don't know that I can express the way that people were just plain friendly and nice to me going through Detroit, but I'll try.
First off, when I entered the Avis bus, I was warmly greeted by a familiar face and voice - Harmon. To be blunt, most of the folks driving these courtesy busses are not terribly friendly. They are polite, don't get me wrong, but they are clearly there to do their job, get their paycheck, and go home. Harmon is an exception. He clearly takes pride in the job that he has chosen to do, and is one of the most professional folks I've ever seen. He is always helpful, takes great care to welcome you to his bus, and seems genuinely pleased when he thanks you for using his company. Trust me, you would have to see this guy in action to understand why I am so impressed with him.
I asked him for change for a five dollar bill so that I could give him a tip, and he gently refused, telling me that I was a longtime customer, he was happy to see me again, and he was more than happy to help me with my bags. I love the hell outta that guy!
When I was checking in at the US Airways counter, the woman I was dealing with there struck up quite a long conversation when I asked her about the pending merger with American Airlines. We had been chatting for a good five minutes when another customer service rep who was walking behind her stopped to wave at me.
"Hey, good to see you again!" He told me enthusiastically. He had checked me in on multiple trips through here in the past, and apparently has a great memory.
As I was going through the TSA inspection point, an adorable female TSA agent asked me to please step to the side so that she could replace the almost empty cart that holds the little bins that you send your things through the X-ray machine in, and I quickly obliged her. Once she had the new cart in place, she stayed there and struck up a conversation with me. What really kind of got my attention was the way that she stared into my eyes, and if I didn't know any better, I'd swear that she was flirting with me!
"So, how are YOU today?!" She asked, never once loosing eye contact.
"I just couldn't be Gooder, thanks! How are YOU doing?!" I replied with a laugh.
"Eh, you know, it's another day!"
"Another day in paradise?"
"Sure," she laughed, "living the dream."
We stood there for a moment smiling at each other but silent, and still never once having lost eye contact with me, she wished me a great day and a good flight.  Hmmm. . . Still not sure what to make of that one, but I'd swear that it seemed like there was more to that conversation than met the eye.

Oh, and just for fun, I decided to take up skiing when I entered the airplane. A the door to the airplane, the floor is a hard plastic material, and when slippery heels meet with wet plastic, it can make for a bit of excitement. I found this out when I suddenly found myself sliding a good solid foot or two toward the startled flight attendant who was standing there. You should have seen the panicked look on his face when he saw a six foot tall (in heels) cross dresser sliding across the floor toward him. Priceless . . .