Saturday, May 23, 2015

And my other brother Darrel . . .

My luck has been fairly poor the last couple of weeks and I’ve had just about enough of it. The previous owner of our house took out the windows on each side of our chimney and installed inset boxes. On one side are all of our electronics like the TV, DVD player, Xbox, etc, and on the other side are the CD’s, DVD’s, and the like. Well, to build these dandy little boxes they had to extend the roof out over them and here is where they went wrong – they failed to install any kind of flashing. For those of you that haven’t had to learn all of this construction crap, flashing is usually made out of metal, and is used to keep water from getting between joints and crevices where it can do harm over time. Yepper, much like my upstairs bathroom that still has not been rebuilt, the water has apparently been happily pouring inside of this wall for years, and the entire interior structure is the consistency of a sponge. My attention was brought to the matter because the exterior siding on this box was noticeably sagging, and I discovered the interior damage when I went out there to replace the siding. There was no way in hell that I can completely rebuild these boxes in one weekend and so I had to make the judgment call to leave it alone until the first week of July, when I am scheduled to have the entire week off.  Since the time that I discovered this damage, there has been heavy rain here in Central Texas almost every single day. Normally I love the rain and enjoy a good thunderstorm, but now I find myself looking at this window box with dread, wondering when it is going to simply fall off the wall, leaving a huge hole in my living room. Sigh . . .
You thought that was the end of the bad news? Uh huh. To get to that window box area, I had to clear a lot of vegetation out of the way, and some of it was poison Ivey. Now we knew it was poison ivy, but the stuff has never bothered me before and I’ve never reacted to it, so I dug right in and got the stuff out of my way. Well, apparently it bothers me now, because my entire face and left arm turned a great shade of red, and turned into an endless series of horribly red and itchy bumps. A week later, when I went to perform a service call at the University of Oklahoma, my face was still swollen, red and purple splotches in places, and the skin on my nose was peeling off in little tiny strips that couldn’t just be pulled off like you would with a sunburn. Talk about embarrassing. Yeah, the poison ivy was two weeks ago and it is still all I can do to not scratch my left arm raw.
So there I am driving home to Austin Texas from the service call in Oklahoma City when my pretty modern Mustang just sort of stutters and loses all power. I pulled to the side of the road and sat there for a few minutes while a rain storm of biblical proportions pummeled my car and I. I'm 300 miles from home, I know nothing of the area, and it's a Friday afternoon on the start of a three day holiday weekend. Despair really doesn't do justice to the way I felt as I sat there in the rain looking at all of the warning lights on my dash showing that the engine had died. . .  I let the car sit for a couple of minutes, thinking that maybe some water had made its way into somewhere it didn’t belong, and then I tried starting the car. To my great relief, it did indeed start. To my great disappointment, it ran super rough, was knocking and pinging loudly, and made it only a mile or two before dying again. This time I really didn’t wait at all – I pulled over, turned it off, and then immediately started it again. Once again she started, knocking and pinging, and with little to no power, she limped me about two miles down the freeway to a gas station where I stopped. Thinking that maybe I had gotten bad gas in OKC, I went ahead and put some injector cleaner in the tank, and refilled the car with premium gas, and then tried to start the car. Apparently happy that she had managed to get me to a gas station, my Mustang now flat refused to run. She would start, but had so little power that I couldn’t even pull away from the gas pump. With a disgusted sigh, I left my car and entered the gas station where I asked the lady behind the counter of she knew of an automotive garage anywhere nearby.
“Hold on a sec!”, she told me, and then started digging through her purse where she found a card, then she picked up her phone and made a call.
“Yeah, are you busy? Uh huh. There is someone here with a brand new car that won’t run. Uh huh. Ok – see you in a sec.” She hung up and looked at me. “He’ll be right here!” She then promptly ignored me and went back to taking care of her customers. I thanked her, but then started wondering who was going to be right here? A wrecker? A Mechanic? Her husband? I had no idea, but I didn’t have any better ideas so I waited about ten minutes before a huge Chevy pickup pulls up next to me, and a guy in a tank top gets out of it. I explained that I was doing 80 MPH when the car just lost all power, and that at least at first, it would start and run poorly if I let it sit a minute or two, and that now it just flat refused to run at all. We talked about where I had last gotten fuel, and ultimately he and I agreed that it sounded like a fuel problem. I watched him as he plugged in a little computer that reads the fault codes out of a car, and after a few minutes of watching him, I got the distinct impression that he really had no idea how to operate it.
“So what’s it telling you?” I asked him. While I waited for him to reply, I glanced at the huge grill of his truck where I saw the Chevy emblem. “And don’t tell me that it says ‘should have bought a Chevy’ either or you’re going to the top of my shit list. . . “ I added with a laugh.
“No, no”, he replied with an honest laugh, but still didn’t answer my question. “To be honest, my buddy has a better code reader. Hang on and I’ll be right back!”  As I watched his truck roaring away, black smoke billowing out of the diesel exhaust, I already knew that I was in trouble. You know that you are not in the right hands when he hasn’t got the right equipment, and his buddy has a better code reader. Yeah well, ten minutes later he is back inside of my car with another widget, pushing buttons, and trying to navigate the menu structure that he clearly is not familiar with.
“Well, the only thing that it says is that both banks are running too lean.” He tells me, then sits there for a minute. “Hey! I’ve got an idea!” he says, and then asks me to step back so that he can close the door. Once the door is closed, he takes the key out of the ignition and starts pressing buttons on the key FOB. I hear the door locks start to cycle.
“Clunk, click, clunk, click, clunk, click”
Then he opens and closes the door without ever getting out, puts the key in the ignition, and starts the car. It started perfectly and sounded almost normal as he revved the engine over and over.
“All right, it’s sharing time! How the hell did you do that?!” I asked him. Well, he tells me that there is some sort of security feature that can be reset by locking and unlocking the doors three times, then opening and closing the door. I would have thought it was complete bullshit if I hadn’t seen it just work! The car is running, but it is running really poorly, so clearly I am still not out of the woods.
“Keep the RPM’s up and follow me to my shop!’, he tells me, quickly gathering up the code reader that he didn’t know how to use, and running with it to his truck.
“OK, at least he has a shop!” I think to myself as I take the drivers seat and try to keep up with him on the wet roads as he speeds about a mile down the highway before he has to stop for traffic before taking a left turn. Naturally this is when the Mustang dies on me again, so I coasted as far off of the road as I dared to do considering that I’d be stuck in the mud if I left the pavement. As soon as I got the car stopped, I threw it into park and played his little game with the door locks – presto – the car started again, and we made it all of the way to his “shop” with me riding the brakes and keeping the RPMs up.
So his “shop” turns out to not be a repair shop. It is a salvage yard full of wrecked and half dismantled cars and trucks. There my car and I sit in the mud parking lot, me standing on the brakes and the gas pedal at the same time, rain roaring down on me, trying to see as he waves me up into the garage of a large tin building. In short order, I have four young men all standing around my car and staring at the engine as if they have never seen one before. One guy is taking photographs of the engine and using the flashlight app on his phone to peer into the darker sections. We all talk for a bit, and the general consensus is that it sounds like I either got a bad tank of gas, or the fuel filter is clogged.
“You know, I have no idea where the fuel filter is on this thing!” I admitted to the other gathered red necks.
“Me either, but that’s what the internet is for!” says the guy that had been at the gas station with me. “Look it up on the web and find out where the fuel filter is!” he says to the young man who was using his phone as a flashlight under my hood. He promptly turns off the flashlight app and starts surfing the web on his phone. “
“Oh shit. . . “ I thought, “They don’t even have a PC or laptop to use for researching the problem, and they are reduced to using the phone for a flashlight. This can’t be good.“
“OK, O’Reilly’s has the fuel filter and they are gonna deliver it right away.” He tells me a moment later and then he moves back to the front of the car.
So there we are in an open garage, under a tin roof, with the rain pounding down so hard that we can hardly hear each other talk, with the dream team staring at my poor car. It was pretty clear early on that the car was out of their league, but I figured that it would be hard to mess up changing a fuel filter, so I stuck around. They had four guys staring at my car and scratching their heads and their asses and throwing guesses out there while we waited two hours for the fuel filter that will "be right here". An 80 year old man (and yes, during our two hour scratch your ass fest, he did tell me his age) was clearly the only one who actually knew what he was talking about. He kept telling all of us that it wasn't going to be the fuel filter. He kept saying that it just didn't sound like that to him. The rest of the guys weren’t really interested in talking to me, so the old man and I talked a lot while I waited. He had been a mechanic his whole life. He had never wanted to be anything but a mechanic and had gone to every school on the subject that he could get to during his long career, but he also admitted that he hadn't worked on a car in twenty years. It became clear to me during my two hour wait and conversation that the old gentleman I was talking to was the only one in the bunch that was professionally trained, and he was certain that the fuel filter was not going to solve my problem. I figured I better start doing some of my own homework, so I pulled out my laptop, and started searching the web to find out where my fuel filter was located. This was when I found out that you CANT replace the fuel filter in a 2012 Mustang.

I'd been waiting for over two hours for a fuel filter that they weren't going to be able to replace anyway. . .

Yepper, THIS was when I pulled the plug and decided to try and either limp my car four hundred miles home, or at least to the nearest Ford Dealership. One thing was certain – these guys weren’t going to lay another finger on my car. I pulled the owner off to the side and told him that I’d be happy to pay for his time, but that I was going to take the car to a dealer. When I asked, he told me that he would be happy with $25, so I gave him $50 as long has he agreed to come get me if I didn’t make it far down the road. As I was closing the hood and getting into the car, the old man that I had been talking to all morning walked up alongside of me and quietly spoke to me.
“You’re doing the right thing!” He said with a knowing look and a nod. I shook his hand and thanked him for the conversation and for the advice that had probably just saved my rear end. I then pulled my car back out into the muddy lot, desperately trying to keep the RPM’s above 2000 so that the car wouldn’t die in the rain again.

Yeah, I made it all of five miles down the freeway before it started knocking and pinging super loud and then stalled out again. It started up immediately though, and I made it another three or four miles before it started sounding like the pistons were trying to work themselves out of the engine. With my heart in my throat, wondering what the hell I was going to do with no transportation and a car that won’t run, 300 miles from home, on a three day weekend,  I started to edge my way off of the road yet again. Here is where things started to look up though, because as I was pulling off of the road I saw something that made my heart soar and sing – a huge “FORD” dealership sign a mile or so down the freeway. With the sound of a heavenly choir ringing in my ears, I limped my car to the entrance of the Ford service garage, where it promptly stalled out and died. I knew that I might end up thousands of dollars in debt on my credit card, but at least I knew for certain that these guys would be capable of diagnosing and repairing my little pony.
It’s too late to try and make the long story short, but what it all boiled down to was that the air filter that had just been installed during my last oil change, had a torn seal on it. That allowed stuff, and probably just a touch of water from the super heavy rains, to get past it and short out the air flow sensor. It took them a few hours to look at my car, but once they got to it, it only took them half an hour and $400 to get it back up and running. Given the horrible knocking and pinging sounds it had been making, I had been terrified that it was going to cost me a LOT more than that, so I was actually fairly relieved at the bill. So, major thanks and a shout out to Glenn Polk Ford in Gainsville Texas – you guys rock!

That’s all of the time that I’ve got for writing. Now I gotta go outside and stare at the window box that is about to fall off of my house. Much like the rednecks that sat there scratching their heads and butts and looking at my car, I’m gonna stare at that window and scratch MY head and butt. Oh, and my arms. They STILL itch from the poison ivy . . .

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

I'm waiting for the therapy

For the first time in quite a while, I've made a trip where I was healthy enough and free to travel as Kimberly. The thing is that I was really quite nervous about it. . .
The first step in this process is usually for me to tear my closet apart looking for something that fits, that is flattering, and that is appropriate for the expected weather. Much as I expected, much of my closet no longer meets those first two requirements (fits and is flattering). It's surprising just how big a difference gaining just ten pounds can make when it comes to women's clothing. Things that had looked great suddenly look completely unacceptable. Not to be put off, I tore my closet apart, trying on outfit after outfit until I had piles of clothing scattered all over the room in what my wife laughingly refers to as a "Kim bomb". Ultimately I found a couple of outfits that I thought would work, so I threw one in my luggage, and took the other one downstairs to hang it in the laundry room so that it would be readily accessible at 330 AM in the morning when it came time to get ready. As it was after 8PM, I figured it was unlikely that we would have company, and so I also took my wig out of its box, brushed it out, and set it on the washing machine next to the heels that I intended to wear. Imagine my surprise when my father in law knocked on the front door and my wife let him in. As they made their way to the dining room table where we usually gather when he is here, I found myself hoping like hell that he wouldn't look into the open laundry room that adjoins the dining room. It's no big tragedy if he saw a skirt or a dress hanging in there, but it would be real difficult to explain away a wig. . .

Since American Airlines and US Airways have merged, I no longer rate free upgrades to first class when I fly with them, even though I am platinum on their program. As I understand their new requirements, I am not likely to ever reach a level on their program that will ever put me back into first class on a regular basis again. I know, "first world problems" and all of that, but it really does make a difference to me. Air travel these days is a fairly miserably affair, with seats so damned skinny that even someone reasonably small like myself is uncomfortably cramped for the five or six hours of flight time that it often takes to get from point A to point B. Anyway, I figured that maybe I will start trying to fly on Delta airlines more often since I've always liked them better anyway. I'd been flying US Airways because they were often a little cheaper, but their people are just not as friendly as Delta's, and I don't just mean to TG's either. As a general rule, US Airways employees often seemed like they were irritated to be at work, while Delta's people have always struck me as being genuinely friendlier. The bad news is that I've flown Delta so rarely lately that I have lost much of my status with them, so I was like number thirty on their upgrade list for the five seats that were open in first class. Let's just say that the odds were definitely not in my favor. . .

I couldn't help noticing that the "special needs" bathrooms in the Austin airport have all been relabeled. They now all have small placards saying "All Gender Bathroom". I'm still trying to decide if this is good or bad? On the one hand, there is clearly a bathroom that I can use without worry, but I think it is also kind of a sign that I am not welcome in the Women's restroom. I've only rarely risked this in the Austin airport anyway, because I recall reading a news story a couple of years ago about a TG arrested in Houston for using the women's restroom, so clearly there is a risk involved.

The more I think about it, the more I become convinced that I'm crazy and that maybe I will stop traveling the way I do, but probably not for the reason that you might think. I'm thinking that maybe I will stop traveling in skirts and heels for the very same reason that most women wouldn't do it if they were doing my job - it just doesn't make sense. To do my job, I have to carry a forty nine pound tool box filled with tools and spare parts. If I'm traveling as Kimberly, I also have to take a large forty five pound suitcase that can carry enough clothes for two people for a week, makeup, shoes, and a box for my hair, and I'm still not done. Now add to that a thirty pound backpack with my laptop, IPad, GPS, notebook, camera, and all of the power supplies and cables needed to do my job. I weigh 165 pounds and I'm lugging almost 130 pounds of crap around with me in the heat, and slinging it on and off of assorted shuttle buses. No woman in her right mind would try and do this wearing a skirt, high heels, and a lot of makeup. Like I said; crazy.

Speaking of crazy, as I was making my way through the Atlanta airport, I was about to have a heat stroke (see prior paragraph) and so I stopped to get a smoothie - a very cold drink that I hoped would help to cool me down. As is typical for these kinds of shops, their drinks all had cute names to describe them, and the one that I chose was the Tropical Therapy. One of the young ladies behind the counter congratulated my on my choice and shared that it was her personal favorite, so I figured it couldn't be too bad. I paid for the drink and moved down to the other end of the counter where I was soon joined by a couple of other people all of whom were waiting for their drinks. In few minutes, a different lady looked at me as she placed a drink on the counter.
"And here is your Orange Mango!" She exclaimed with a smile. Since this wasn't what I ordered, I must have had a confused look on my face and I guess it was obvious because she grew concerned.
"Isn't that what you ordered?" She asked.
"No ma'am, I'm waiting for the Therapy." I replied, and then immediately winced as I realized that I had just left myself wide open to be messed with if anyone waiting with me was a smart ass.
Cross dresser. . . Waiting for therapy . . . Never mind . . .

During this service call, I was going to be working with a colleague of mine out of New Hampshire to give him some on the job training. He is reasonably familiar with the system we would be working on but had never performed this particular task before. I guess he fancies himself something of a rugged manly man, and has made it kind of a hobby to visit every Hooters location in the area where he is working and get his photo taken with as many of the girls as he can. He then sends these photos to all of the other field service engineers, an all-male group, I suppose as a way of bragging. Guess what restaurant was literally in the same parking lot as my hotel? Yeah, Hooters. I'll bet you can guess where I had to meet him for dinner that night.

I know you will think I'm bullshitting you, but I'm not entirely comfortable at places like Hooters, and it's for several reasons. First, my entire life I have been extremely shy, and having a beautiful young woman going out of her way to sit with me and be sociable as they encourage their waitresses to do, makes me a nervous wreck. The next reason that I'm uncomfortable there I suppose could be summed up as vanity or envy. Being surrounded by beautiful girls, with flawless figures, awesome hair, and in the prime of their youth makes me feel like a wrinkled up old cow that should have been taken to the slaughter house years ago. Yes I know that such vanity is not an admiral trait of mine, but there you have it. The last reason I have for feeling uncomfortable there is my eleven year old daughter. A few years ago, my wife and I were shopping and I made a comment about a cute young woman being smoking hot. My wife and I are kind of people watchers and often share comments like this, but she sort of scolded me this time.
"She's just a baby! You know, someday some old guy is going to be looking at your daughter that way!"
In one comment and in one  single fell swoop, my wife has ruined my ability to admire pretty young ladies without feeling like a creep. The very thought of some guy in his late forties looking at my daughter and thinking of her as being hot just makes my stomach flip flop.
Yeah, so anyway, I had dinner at Hooters with GrizzlyAdams. . .

The job the next day went fairly smoothly even with the added time required to explain everything that I was doing and why I was doing it to him. It's a good thing too, as he had to drive directly from Philly to Fishkill NY that afternoon so that he could take care of a customer there the following morning. I didn't envy him the drive either, as his radiator fan had apparently stopped working. If he got stuck in traffic for any reason, his car was going to quickly over heat. So - we had a late lunch, and then spent twenty minutes getting greasy troubleshooting his fan problem. We decided it was probably a failed relay, but he decide to make the drive with it as is, and try and fix it later. That's a pretty brave man, because there is no way in hell that I would have headed out on a four hour road trip without a working radiator fan. With him now out of the picture, I could move on to more interesting things like going shopping and meeting with my friends Sophie and Linda!

Once I had taken a shower and scrubbed all the automotive oil and grease from my fingers, I began to get ready for a trip to the King of Prussia mall - a HUGE shopping complex. Much to my great unhappiness, I found myself subject to something that I thought I had licked years ago - fear and anxiety of going in public as a woman. Some people think that I am brave to fly pretty, but honestly, airports are an exceptionally safe place to be. There is security everywhere, everyone is on their best behavior, and no one is likely to risk not being able to complete their journey to where ever they are headed in order to stop and have a confrontation with a TG. In my opinion, it is probably the safest place in the country to hang out. A huge shopping mall though does not offer the same level of comfort.   Yeah yeah, I know that the chances of my being messed with were vanishingly small, but this sort of thing has little to do with logic and odds - it's all about emotions that you have little or no control over. Anxious or not, I got my shit together and headed out!

I started off at Macy's - one of my favorite department stores. I went through their shoe department but didn't see anything that I couldn't live without, so I made my way up the third floor where they have the dresses. I gotta be honest, it kind of bummed me out to see the formal section with an exceptional inventory of gowns on display for the Prom season. Such beautiful gowns that I never have, and never will have a reason or the figure to wear. I know it's weird to miss something that you have never had, but there it is. I didn't bother walking through that section - what's the point?
I did come across several office/career/professional dresses that I liked, but none that I was willing to pay over $100 for. I can't justify that kind of money considering how rarely I get to "be" Kim these days and the fact that I am considering hanging it all up anyway. Eventually I made my way out of Macy's and into the mall itself, where I found a map. I only saw one other store that I was really interested in going through - DSW Shoes, and it was literally just as far as you could get from me and still be in the mall. I seriously considered just going back to my hotel room, but I still had an hour and a half  to kill before I was to meet Sophie and Linda, so I figured "what the hell" and started the hike to DSW. I don't know if the mall really was that hot, or if it was just me under all the makeup and stuff, but I was seriously hot. I could feel the perspiration building up on my makeup and began to worry that my face was going to melt right off of me, so I grabbed a couple of fliers off of a counter and started fanning myself with them while I walked. Part way there, I came across a store selling Asian goods and decided to enter it.
"Hello! Welcome!" Said a woman with a warm and friendly voice from behind the counter. She had long dark hair that I would kill for and spoke with a heavy accent that I believe was Indian.
"Hello, how are you?" I asked.
"I am very well, thank you. How can I help you?"
"Have you got any hand fans? Ones that are actually made to be used now, not just decorative?"
"Sure we do! We have quite a few of them as a matter of fact." She assured me as she made her way to a display filled with them.
"That's great! So now I can stop stealing fliers and credit card applications!" I laughed, still fanning myself with said documents.
"Oh yes, we can do much better than that!" She laughed, pointing at the display with countless varieties and options. I know from experience that these things are fragile and do not hold up well to travel, so I didn't bother looking at the high end and elaborate fans, I just grabbed a couple of the relatively plain and cheap versions and took them to the counter to pay for them.
"It really is quite hot these last two days, don't you think?" She asked as she range them up.
"I know! And it's not fair either! I live in Texas and often look forward to coming here because it is always so much cooler here. Not this time though - it's hotter here than it is there." I complained to her.
"Texas? Where at in Texas are you from?" She asked as she took my American Express from my hand.
"I'm from Austin. Pretty much dead center in the state."
"I'm sorry - do you have a different kind of credit card? We can not use Amex." She said, regretfully handing my credit card back to me.
"Sure I do. I have many ways of going into debt." I told her with a laugh. I opened my wallet and took out my debit card - you know - the debit card with my male photo on it? Yeah, I kind of try not to use that one if I can get away with it, but she looked at it without missing a beat.
"So you are from Texas. What brings you here then?"
"Work. I'm a field service engineer and came to repair an instrument for one of our customers."
This led into a lengthy conversation where she asked what kind of degree I had, and what my job entailed. I almost got the impression that she was doing her homework for something and was trying to learn what kind of degrees were useful for getting a job like mine. When we ended our conversation about 15 minutes later, she handed me her stores business card.
"I know that you are not from here, but please take our card and feel free to tell people about us or to even visit our website."
The thing that impressed me about her was that she was genuinely nice and engaging. She wasn't just tolerating me or being professional - she was being honestly friendly.  By the way – her store and website are Hometown China
Now with a much nicer fan in my hand, I continued my quest to DSW, where I regrettably found nothing that I couldn't live without, so I made my way back to across the mall to my rental car. By the time I got there, I was tired, lacking in confidence, and smelled like a goat, so I decided that I was going to go back to the hotel where I could shower and go back to boy mode for tonight's get together. The last laugh was on me though, because when I started the car, the clock happily informed me that I had only four minutes before I was supposed to meet them. Showering and changing was not an option.

Hanging out with Sophie and Linda always makes for an amusing night. They are both more outgoing than I am, and aren't at all shy about talking to people. I guess that they knew the waitress quite well, because everyone knew everyone else's name.
I guess you prolly know how that kind of evening goes when you rarely get together with friends who live a thousand miles away from each other. Just general catching up on each other's lives, nothing terribly noteworthy to comment on. Just an evening spent with some of the few people that I actually feel comfortable being around.
Oh! And shots... And beer... Several shots and several beers come to think on it! When the alarm went off after only four and a half hours of sleep the next morning, I recalled why I don't typically do shots and beer on a weekday. I wasn't hung over or hurt, don't get me wrong, just seriously lacking in sleep.
Yawn. . .