Saturday, August 31, 2013

"I'm a doctor, not a brick layer!"

Well hell – I don’t really have a damned thing of interest to talk about but I sort of feel like I ought to write a blog just to let everyone know that I am still alive and kicking.
I have made several trips since my last blog post, but none were made “pretty”. By the way! Did you notice that I usually put the word “pretty” in quotes when I speak of flying pretty? This was to kind of make it clear that I am using it a euphemism for “flying cross dressed”. The phrase “I made the trip cross dressed” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, nor is it in the least bit light hearted or amusing, and so I typically just say that “I flew ‘pretty’ “. Why am I telling you this? Because I apparently hit someone’s raw nerve with the phrase on my post “How to fly pretty”, and she made it a point to let me know that I was hurting women the world over with my use of the phrase and the stereo type that it reinforces. OUCH. . .
The reality is, we are talking about the World Wide Web here, and just about anything that you say or post there is bound to irritate someone, somewhere. It still kind of bugs me though because I know that she does have a bit of a point. I don’t particularly want to reinforce the stereo types that women must be pretty any more than I want to reinforce the stereotypes that men must not be.  In this case, I think it comes down to the intent behind my use of the phrase and I would hope that it will be kept in perspective. Eh, I don’t know if her comment should have hurt me or not, but it did . . .

You know I hate going to the doctor’s office, and especially hate paying the damned bill, and so I usually wait until I have either a serious problem, or several issues that I want to discuss. This time, I had an infection that I was pretty sure was going to need antibiotics and so off I went. As long I was there, I discussed several other issues that I was having, and this resulted in blood being taken, and tests being made. The end result was no particular surprise to me – I have very low testosterone. No worries though, because of course they have a drug for that, and so the Doc gave me a couple of prescriptions and off I went to the drug store. The antibiotics of course were no problem, but the big “T” totally flabbergasted me – the insurance company not only said “No”, but said “HELL NO!”. When I got over being shocked, I figured what the hell, I need it, and so I’ll pay for it myself! Well, that lasted right up until they told me what the stuff costs – over $500 dollars per tube, and presumably I’d need several before it was all over. At that price tag, I decided that I didn’t really need physical stamina, healthy muscles and bones, or a sex drive after all. With so many relatively serious side effects stemming from the issue, I don’t know how insurance can get away with just saying no, but there you have it!
Do y’all recall that my wife and I loaned her car to the father of my daughter-in-law? He had just got a good job and was going to lose it if he couldn’t get transportation to work and back, and so my wife and I talked it over and then took him the car for a few months. Just my luck, but after he had had it for months, it was wrecked less than a week before I was to go pick it up. A woman with a suspended license apparently thought that she was too good to wait for traffic, and tried to make a left turn in front of oncoming traffic with predictable results; she was hit by two cars, one of which was mine. My in-laws were shook up and on the verge of shock but otherwise all right, but the car is totaled. Honestly, the car being totaled kind of pleases me, because I hated the darned thing. It was a Dodge Caliber that we had purchased a few years ago because it had seemed like an intelligent car to get, with a good amount of room, and good gas mileage. The thing is, its mileage really wasn’t all that good, it’s suspension sucked from day one, and it had already been wrecked once.  As long as no one was hurt, and the responsible party had insurance, I considered it to be a blessing that the darn thing was totaled and the insurance company would have to give me its book value.
(Note:  I literally just received the check from the insurance company between typing the last two sentences! YAY!)
It has been a pretty scary few months trying to use my classic Mustang as a daily driver while my wife’s car was on loan. The Mustang is over 46 years old and something new was going wrong with her pretty much every couple of weeks. Add to that the fact that I can’t get full coverage insurance on her unless I agree not to drive her more than about two thousand miles a year, and you have the makings for a nervous breakdown each and every time I drove her to work or to the airport. Now with my wife’s car totaled, I suddenly found myself in need of a more practical car and so it was time to do some car shopping!
I had pretty much decided that I was done choosing cars that were supposedly an intelligent buy, and this time I was gonna go for a car that I didn’t mind making the payment on – a modern Mustang! I have rented modern Mustangs several times in the last few years and really liked them. They feel solid, well built, and have plenty of get up and go. The price really isn’t half bad either, given the quality of the car, and they get surprisingly good gas mileage.  Of course you have to remember what I’m comparing them to when it comes to gas mileage – my 2002 F150 that gets 16 to 17 MPG, and my classic Mustang that gets 13 to 14. A modern Mustang that gets an average of 24 MPG is a fairly dramatic improvement by my standards. Oh, and if you wanna see some funny looks on people’s faces, try driving a 46 year old classic Mustang into a Ford dealership!  Half of them rush to you to talk about the car, and the other half rush away, prolly terrified that you’re gonna try to use it as a trade-in.  
I spent a couple of days doing some homework online, and so far the best deals I’d found online were from Avis and also one from a huge local car dealer. Avis looked like a pretty good deal, with a base 2012 six cylinder going for around $22,000. The local dealer had a 2010 6 cylinder with all the bells and whistles for about $19,000.
I spent the day going from dealership to dealership, and most of the stops went much the same, with salesmen eagerly staring at my classic as I parked, followed by a good ten minutes of oohing and awing over her, and then being told that they couldn’t beat the deals that I’d found online. At long last, I stopped at Mak Hiak Ford where I hit pay dirt! They had a red 2012, 6 cylinder Mustang with all of the bells and whistles going for $19,000 and boy is she pretty!

So what do y’all think of my Ford driveway and its newest edition? I like to sort of think of them as mother, father, and baby:

Oh, and do you wanna talk about good timing? Yeah, as I pulled out of that dealers lot with my classic, the suspension was making an AWFUL knocking/Creaking sound. I haven’t had the heart to crawl under her yet to see what’s wrong now, but it seems to be a good time to have another car to fall back on!

Things are so slow in our industry right now that my company shut down for this entire week to save money. They have done this a few times in the last couple of years and it is kind of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it is scary as hell that the entire company is better off shutting down for a week than working, but on the other hand, I’d rather have them do this than to start laying people off.  My father-in-law, a mason, was complaining that his current job was killing him since it was in really rough terrain, where he couldn’t get his truck, equipment, or materials anywhere close to where the work had to be done. This left him facing the need to carry over two tons of large rock and other supplies by hand several hundred yards up and down steep hills in the over 100F Texas heat. I figure what the hell, I owe him for all of the things he has helped us with, and so I volunteered to help him out for the week. He looked at me with a bit of skepticism as he knows that my job is not physically demanding, but he was desperate and accepted my offer. I have got to tell you, that was a pretty tough week, because it was damned hard work, and damned hot weather to do it in! Still, there was no way in hell I was going to look bad in front of my father-in-law and his colleagues, and so I got into my best old Army mentality and did my best to kick it’s ass. I moved the vast majority of that two tons of rock myself, and then spent each day playing “helper” for him and trotting all of his equipment back and forth every day, keeping him stocked with rock and mortar,  and learning a bit here and there from him. At the end of the week, he told me at least a dozen times that he was both deeply grateful and deeply impressed with how hard I had worked. Most of the men that he had hired through the years hadn’t come close, and considering that I usually make a living sitting behind a desk, he was more than a bit impressed.  What I didn’t tell him was that I was so exhausted that I’d come home, showered, eaten, and gone straight to bed by about eight every single night. But hey, it was mission accomplished – I’d finally got the chance to repay a little of the hard work he had done for us and managed to impress him while I was at it. The thing is, I almost wish that I hadn’t, because now it absolutely haunts me to know how terribly hard that poor man has to work for a living. He is almost 70 years old, and trying to keep up with him for one lousy week completely kicked my ass. I just can’t understand how he can do this day after day, after having fought cancer twice, surviving a major motorcycle accident that almost took his leg, and having four hernia operations, and all of this in the last decade. I gotta tell you, my getting paid well to travel the country in air conditioned airplanes and airports looks REALLY good right now!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

These heels were made for walking!

Before leaving the house for the airport at a bit before 6AM, I glanced out of the window to try and make sure that I wouldn’t cross paths with my neighbor and friend across the street. I didn’t figure it would be an issue since he normally leaves for work at about 530 AM, so I was kind of surprised to see that his car was still parked there. That’s not such a big deal these days though as I am driving my classic Mustang, which I keep parked inside of the garage. I just warm her up, and then hit the automatic door opener and I’m off in a flash!  
I got a few miles down the road though, when I thought that I saw his car coming up behind me. It occurred to me that if he passed me, the rabbit was gonna be WAY outta the hat, because there was no way he wasn’t gonna notice the Mustang. In the past, if we had passed each other while I was driving my F150, that one could have been played off, because the F150 is about the most common car on the road. When you’re driving an antique car though, not mention an antique car that he had personally bled his knuckles working on, there wasn’t gonna be any confusing it for someone else's. I was already doing 70MPH in a 65 zone, and sat there contemplating flooring it to be sure that he couldn’t pull alongside. After all, there are a few advantages to driving a sports car, and one of them is the option of going fast if you wanna! Still, the more I thought about it, the more I thought that it was a bad idea. I was already speeding, and if I got pulled over going much faster, it could be a very awkward and expensive morning, so I chose to just suck it up and deal with it. If it was him, he and I would have to have a talk when I got home, and that was all there was to it. You wouldn’t believe the terror and relief that flooded through me when the car passed me and I saw that not only was it not my neighbor, but was in fact a Texas Highway patrol! If I’d been stupid and floored it, I would have been nailed! Every once in a while I get lucky and make the right call.

Once I got my car parked at the airport, I headed for the elevator and was relieved to see a gentleman already in it and holding it for me. As it started to rise to the third floor, he looked at my huge suitcase and then at me.
“Wow, with a bag like that, you must be going on a long trip!” he said with a smile.
“Well, it’s either that, or I just carry a lot of clothes!” I replied, and was happy to see him give an honest laugh.

After I checked in with the airline, I made my way to the TSA inspection area and traded a few words with the inspector there.  He’s been working there for as far back as I can recall, so he and I definitely recognized each other.  I asked him about the new “TSA Prescreened” process, and he told me that his check point wasn’t equipped for it, but that if I wanted to, I could go down to the next checkpoint.
“Nah, I’m already here, so I’ll just deal with it! Thanks you so much for the info though!” I told him.
“You’re most welcome sir!” he replied with a bright and friendly smile. 
“Sir” he had said. . .
“POOF” vanished any hope or self-delusion that I might have actually been passing this morning. Oh well . . .

I had a long walk to make it to my connection in the Salt Lake City airport and so found myself walking on several very long moving walkways. If you have never seen them, just imagine a flat escalator and you will have the picture. As I was stepping off of the second of these walkways, a young lady stepped along side of me.
“You know I’ve gotta say that I’m impressed!” she told me with a friendly gleam in her eyes.
“Really?” I laughed. “How so?”
“Those are some tall and pointed heels you’re wearing and I kind of expected you to have some trouble with them.” 
“Nah, it just takes practice, practice, practice!” I giggled.

When I got to my gate, I didn’t have more than a couple of minutes before they started boarding, and so soon I was handing my ticket to the Delta rep at the gate. As usual, she passed it under the bar code reader, it beeped, and she wished me a happy flight. I had gotten maybe twenty feet down the ramp when she started calling out behind me.
“Ma’am!?” she called out to me. I turned and walked back to her.
“I’m so sorry. What was your first name please?” she asked, looking both contrite and confused at the same time. OK, so then and there I knew what she had called me back for – the first name that her machine had helpfully displayed for her, clearly didn’t belong associated with a female. There were about thirty people gathered right around her, so I really didn’t want to blurt out my first name as she had asked.
“My last name is Huddle.” I told her with a smile.
“Ah! Ok, I got it!” She said with a relieved laugh. I’m guessing that a good look at me, along with my voice and confirming my last name, was enough explanation for her to figure out what I was. Funny, I started the day off absolutely certain that I wasn’t fooling anyone, and yet here was obvious proof that she at least had had no clue that I was transgendered. Go figure . . . 

I had failed to qualify for an upgrade to first class on this trip, and so I was flying in the back in what I like to fondly call the “cattle class”. I’d just stored my things away and made myself comfortable when I heard the flight attendant talking to two rather large women a few rows up from me. From what I could gather, the bulkhead seat that one of them had been given, was a bit different from the rest of the seats in that instead of having a center arm between the seats that could be lifted out of the way if desired, the seats had a solid and permanent divider between them.  Given the size of the woman, not being able to lift the center divider out of the way was gonna be a problem.  I guess I was too obvious in paying attention to the conversation, because the flight attendant saw me looking their way and stepped back to me.
“Miss, would you mind changing seats with her so that they can sit together? The other lady is in the seat next to you.”
“No, I don’t mind at all.” I told her, and gathered my things up, and stepped forward the two or three rows. The two women look horribly embarrassed and thanked me several times as they made their way past me. As the second woman passed me, she turned around and spoke to me with a laugh in er eyes.
“It’s probably better for you anyway,” she said with a grin and with a heavy Hispanic accent, “She would have smooshed you!” I was so delighted that she was trying to keep things cheerful despite her clear discomfort and embarrassment, so I didn’t hesitate to laugh with her.
“Nah, not at all. You are most welcome.” I replied with a laugh, and patted her on the shoulder. I really did feel bad for them though, because they honestly were not that darned large. The airlines have gone way overboard these days in trying to cram more and more seats into the limited space, and even relatively slim folks are crowded and cramped. For someone with just a few extra pounds, flying must be a complete nightmare . . . 

When the rental car shuttle bus dropped me and a dozen others off at their facility, I outsmarted myself into a tour of the San Jose airports parking garage. Avis had informed me via email what space my car was in, and since I didn’t have to worry about going to the counter, I just decided to step away from the crowd headed that way and simply walk directly into the parking area. The joke was on me though as apparently the rental cars are kept several floors up, and you have to enter the area where the rental car counters are just to get to the elevator. By the time I had realized this, and discovered that there was not a single elevator in the garage area, I was pretty well committed to walking completely around the exterior of the facility until I could enter it from the other side. So much for being clever . . .

The following day I met with my customer to repair their FTIR and she started off by making me a nervous wreck when I called her from their visitor entrance.
“I’m glad you’re here!” she told me with an excited tone. “I hope you don’t mind, but we have our FTIR expert here from Michigan and she wants to watch what you are doing and ask you a few questions.”
“I don’t mind at all!” I replied with false enthusiasm, because usually this is bad news for me and for the job I have to do. Often, when a company flies their expert in to “work with me”, it means I’m going to have to multitask, and try to concentrate and figure out what is wrong, do what is needed to fix it, and all of this while explaining everything that I am doing to their expert and answering their questions. Fortunately this didn’t turn out to be so bad, and she asked reasonable questions, and seemed to understand that there were times when she would have to step off a little and let me think, and so I was actually done at about 2PM. 

I’m not sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing, but my hotel in Dublin CA was only a block from a strip mall where there is a DSW shoe store, a Ross Dress for Less, and a Marshalls.  With an afternoon to myself, I chose to spend it shopping, and I found several really awesome deals! At DSW, I found a pair of $70 Mary Janes on sale for only $13! They had two straps, and this didn’t exactly delight me, but you sure couldn’t beat the price, and so they went home with me! In Ross, I found several dresses that I tried on, and three that I bought. One of them was a pretty awesome purple dress that I intended to wear for my trip home. It was a size 14 and actually just a little large for me, but not too bad, and so I grabbed it! In Marshalls I didn’t find anything for me, but I did find a couple of really cute outfits for my 10 year old daughter. I guess I did good because she gushed and squealed when she saw them.

The San Jose area is one of those places like Virginia and WA D.C. where traffic can be a real nightmare. I’ve had times where it took me two hours to go only twenty miles, and so I made sure to leave for the airport the next morning about four hours before my flight, even though the airport was only about thirty miles away. Well, either my caution was unnecessary, or traffic doesn’t start until after 6AM, because I really hit none to speak of. I was at the airport and standing at the Delta counter with more than three hours left before my 10AM flight.
“Oh hi, and welcome back! It’s been quite a while!” The Delta rep who had spoken was a young woman in her mid-twenties I’d guess, and I did not recognize her, but she had obviously recognized me!
“Well thank you! You must have one heck of a memory!” I replied. She just kind of waved at me and I realized that she was on the phone, and had apparently spoken to me during a lull in the conversation. Now though, she was clearly engaged with a customer on the other end of the line and so I just waved hello back at her.
As I made my way through the TSA inspection point, there were two young ladies standing behind me, and I am guessing that they were probably sisters. Both topped out at less than five feet tall, had long glossy hair, and the same tanned complexion. In short (forgive the pun), they were perfect and adorable.
“Now just remember not to sweat!” one of them told the other with a laugh. “That’s really nasty when you’re stuck on an airplane!”  I turned around and grinned at her.
“Oh thanks! But no pressure right?!” I told her with wink and everyone laughed. That comment came back to haunt her a few minutes later though, because as I sat on the other side of the check point putting my shoes back on, I watched her get flagged for a random inspection.
“But I’m going to miss my flight!” she gently complained to the inspector.
“Nah, this wont take more than thirty seconds and then you’ll be on your way!’ he assured her as he swabbed her hands with a cotton stick and placed it in a machine.  By this time I had my things together and as I walked past her I smiled.
“Don’t forget not to sweat!” I told her and batted my eyes at her in an exaggerated fashion to let her know I was teasing. She actually busted up laughing so I guess she thought it was amusing too. You know Karma is a bitch though, and I shouldn’t have teased her about her predicament because my day went straight downhill faster than a greased bowling ball after that.

As soon as I sat down in the gate area, I got a text from Delta telling me that my flight was seriously delayed, I was going to miss my connection, and they were trying to rebook me. Usually when I get these messages, it is complete with the new flight information and this was the first time I’d ever received one that just said that they were trying to book me on an alternate flight. This didn’t fill me with confidence and so I went ahead and called Delta.
I spent over an hour on the phone with them, and most of that time was him telling me that he didn’t have any options other than a very late flight that would get me home after midnight. Eventually, he ended up cancelling my flights entirely, and booking me on their competitor US Airways!  Now I made my way back out of the secure area and then made the long walk clear across the terminal to the US Airways counter. The man there told me that I was out of luck as far as them getting my baggage retrieved from Delta and moved to the US Airways flight, but he assured me that I had plenty of time if I wanted to go back to Delta and try to get my bags back from myself. So I made yet another very long walk to the other end of the terminal to retrieve my bags, and much to my surprise, they actually did go and get them for me. I really hadn’t thought that they would! Towing my heavy bags behind me, I yet again made the long walk clear across the terminal.
Going through the TSA checkpoint for the second time in an hour, the inspector did kind of a double take when she saw me.
“Welcome back! Long time no see!” she told me with a laugh.
“Well, you know I just enjoyed this process so much the first time that I thought I’d do it again!” I told her with a laugh, and then explained what had happened while she inspected my ID. Oh, the good news? US Airways gave me upgrades to first class on both flights! Yay!