Monday, August 29, 2016

Denver to Tulsa to Indiana . . .

Big changes in our family/home life - my wife has taken a job! The sales manager from my company’s office in Austin quit about a year ago and went to work for a company that competes with mine for the repair business of our products. This is what we call a "mom and pop" repair shop. We aren’t in any danger of these little shops putting us out of the repair business, but they do tend to nibble away at our bottom line here and there. Well, a couple of weeks ago he called me from out of the blue and asked me if my wife was looking for a job, and if so, he had one for her. I told him that she wasn't looking but she might be interested as she had liked working for him in the past when she had done all of his orders and customer service when they had both worked at my company. With no intention of actually taking the job, my wife went in as a courtesy to this man and instantly fell in love with the small company atmosphere; she took the job! It turns out that almost everyone working there used to work for my company, and had left it when it got too big and went all corporate. She said it felt being back where she belonged again. So good news, my wife is outta the house and around other people again. Bad news, we still have two young children at home, so that's a bit of a concern and a headache! Oh, and yours truly is once again responsible for the household laundry since that is one of few family chores that can be set aside and piled up waiting for my return from working on the road. I'd forgotten how much laundry our family generates. Sigh. . .

This trip is a bit of a whirlwind! It was supposed to be my typical trip where I fly out on a Monday and fly back on a Wednesday, followed by more of the same the next week, but then one of my favorite customers in Tulsa OK called with a failure that was keeping them from doing their job. With just about any other customer, I would have put them in the queue and taken care of them with the next opening I had in my schedule. This customer has been awful good to me though, and has brought me up to perform preventative maintenance once or twice a year for almost a decade. When most people wait until their tools fail to call me, this company is truly responsible and tries to take care of their equipment so that it won’t fail. Let's just say I felt obligated to go above and beyond for a customer that had just last month paid me a fortune to PM their equipment, and so I agreed to take care of them over the weekend.
So my first stop is in the Denver area to work on a rare variety of our spectrometer that I've never seen before, then straight from there to Tulsa OK to take care of the customer I mentioned above over the weekend. I then go from there back to Columbus Indiana for a follow up visit with the new guy that I hired and trained there. Phew - I'm getting tired just writing about it!

I was surfing Facebook a night or two before I left for Denver and noticed a post from Amanda Farren saying that she was in Denver. I sent her a message and asked if she would still be there when I arrived, and if so, would she like to meet? Like a fool, she graciously accepted!

I used to make it a point to go out of my way to meet other TG's when I traveled, but to be honest, it was making me a nervous wreck. The anxiety involved in trying to schedule around work just got to be too much for me. Never knowing for sure when I'd be free, whether I might have to cancel, what kind of person I was agreeing to meet and were they going to be good people or something else. . . 
The vast majority of the experiences I've had meeting people have been overwhelmingly positive, but I've had a couple that I'd rather forget.
On one trip, I'd agreed to meet a State Trooper – I won’t say which state. He had expressed concern about being outted at his job and so I stupidly agreed to meet him at my hotel room. I gotta be honest, my hackles went up the moment he walked into the room - the guy gave me the creeps. I guess it was obvious because he ultimately asked me if he was making me nervous, and I lied like hell and said he wasn't. I was extremely uncomfortable until he at last took the not so subtle hints and left. Yep, right then and there I started my strict policy of never meeting anyone for the first time in a private place.
Another time, I had agreed to meet someone but couldn't get them to commit to a location. I kept asking "Where do you want to meet?" and not getting a reply to that simple question. At last, that evening came around, and all I got from them was an address. I decided to follow my instincts and declined the meeting at the last moment. Shortly after that, I received a text message telling me "Too bad! We have a great dungeon and you would have had a blast!"
"A GREAT DUNGEON?!" What the fuck, over?!

Believe it or not, I've always been a very shy person. You might not be able to tell that from my job, or from my blog, but most of that is kind of an act. Meeting anyone at any time makes me nervous and it always has, I just do my best to overcome and ignore this. When I first started working as a field service engineer and traveling to customer locations, I often couldn’t sleep the night before because I was so nervous about having to meet and work with people that I didn’t know.
So yeah, meeting people just got to the point where the extreme anxiety just wasn't worth it to me anymore, and I essentially stopped going out of my way to do it. The thing is, I'd been chatting with Amanda on Facebook forever and just couldn't see passing up the chance to meet her since the stars had aligned and put us both in the same place at the same time. 

I guess you could call me a part timer as I live most of my life as Matt, but I try to sneak every chance that I can get to be Kim when I am on the road. Amanda lives full time though, so I almost had a nervous breakdown trying to figure out what I should wear so that I wouldn't be over dressed, I wouldn't draw too much attention, and so that I wouldn't bring her any embarrassment. I finally got my outfit picked out, but screwed up my makeup by trying to be too much of a perfectionist. I should have stopped when I got it good enough, but no, I just had to keep messing with the eye shadow until I looked like a clown. . .


We met at a Texas Roadhouse for dinner. In person, Amanda looks exactly like her Facebook photos - beautiful. I've admired Amanda through the years for many reasons, mostly I suppose for her courage and attitude.  She had packed it all up one day in a nice southern state and headed to California to try and find her dream. Pretty much, she had done the exact opposite of what I had done when I had left California for the army. Reading her Facebook posts, it looked to me as if her life had its hardships, as do most, but she kept plowing through them while rarely complaining. She consistently tries to keep a positive attitude and I admire and respect that. To try and make a go of it while leaving behind everyone that you know, moving to California, and transitioning somewhere in that mix must take an incredible amount of courage. 
Amanda had brought her friend Jessica with her and we all three talked about pretty much everything and nothing for a few hours. I guess these two had known each other forever and had moved across the country together.
As we socialized, I kept hearing my damn phone ringing in my purse. I was on call for our afterhours tech support line, and this is usually a pretty quiet job with only rare calls received. Not tonight though, because they were really lighting my phone up. When I finally checked it, I had a long list of missed calls that I would have to return before someone at my company started to notice that the calls were not being taken as they should be. I HATE being on call. It is theoretical "voluntary" but it is well understood that it is about as voluntary as breathing. Sure you can decide not to breath, but just try it and see how well it works out for you in the long run.

The next night I ate dinner at an Italian place called Cinzzettis. Jessica had mentioned it the night before, spoke well of it, and so I gave it a whirl. It's a buffet with Italian food and pasta! I love pasta and so this seemed like an awesome idea to me! I'm not sure if this was a dress up kind of restaurant or not (that's not something I'd typically associate with a buffet) but I couldn't help noticing that almost every woman in the place was dressed to the nines. I was just starting my second plate of pasta and had a mouth full of food as an absolutely beautiful young woman in a dress and heels walked past me and triggered all of my complexes at once. Suddenly my pasta tasted like hay in my mouth, and I felt like a fat cow chewing on my cud. I guarantee you that that woman didn't get and keep her figure by getting multiple well stacked plates of pasta in one meal. Yeah, I wasn't hungry anymore. . .

I'm kind of stuck with long skirts or pants because I totally buggered up my knee while bike riding with my daughter. We were out on a bike ride when she started to complain that her handle bars had shifted, and so we stopped so that I could take a look. It turns out that her handle bars were loose and flopping around, and I didn't have any tools with us to work on it. I told her I didn't think it was safe for her to ride, so I gave her my bike and I took hers. Yeah, not ten minutes later I took my first header off of a bicycle in about 35 years and had a nicely bleeding hole in my knee to document it. So yeah, I'm thinking there will be no short skirts in my near future.

At the risk of bragging, I have to say that I was really pleased with the outfit I wore from Denver to Tulsa Oklahoma. It was one of my favorite long skirts, with matching top, complimentary shoes that had some of the same colors in them, and toe nail polish that was exactly the right shade. Probably one of the best jobs I've ever done of making everything work together. The only problem is that the skirt is a little too big, and so at one point while I was wrangling with my bags at the rental car shuttle bus, I ended up with it sliding half way off of my ass end. Yepper, that would have been a hell of a thing to drop your skirt around your ankles right there in front of everyone who was waiting for the shuttle bus. . .

Saturday, August 20, 2016

And that includes pot!

My old pickup truck, yeah, you know, the one that I drove all of the way to Indiana and back in recently? Yeah, that one. Well, it's gone over 200,000 miles and so I figured that I better spend some money on preventative maintenance before she up and quits on me somewhere inconvenient. I had a week when I had no service calls planned, and so I put it in the shop for a tune-up. I also had the water pump, belt, front main seal, and all of the shocks replaced. While they were working on it, they also discovered that both of the linkages for the sway bar (associated with the steering and suspension) were broken, and so I had that repaired as well.

While I had had no service calls planned when I put my truck in the shop, an urgent request had come up the very next morning from the University of Houston, and so when I picked up my truck, I immediately headed south-east in it. Not two hours after I had had all of that suspension work done, some idiot pulled out directly in front of me while I was doing 70 MPH. I saw him waiting on a side road to cross the highway but I didn't think too much about it until he waited until I was only 50 or so yards from him and then pulled out directly in front of me. Needless to say I laid on the horn and stood on the brakes. For just a moment, the whole world seemed to slow down. . .
I guess that he must have heard the horn and realized that we were both about to die, but he then panicked and stopped directly in front of me! Now he was completely blocking the left lane that I was doing 70 MPH in. I know that this sounds like bullshit, but during times like this, you really do seem to think faster than normal. I actually recall considering my options and I figured that they were seriously limited. Stay in my lane and T-bone his car at near 70 MPH, or take to the grass divider that separates the east and west lanes of the highway. I didn't have time to see if there were drainage ditches, concrete culverts, signs, or posts, I just knew that my options were to definitely be in the hospital that afternoon, or to take to the center divider and hope like hell that it worked out for the best.
I’m pretty sure that my truck briefly left the ground as I pulled the wheel to the side and left the pavement. Much to my great relief, I had missed the concrete drain that ran under the crossroad, and so now my only problem was that I was still doing somewhere around 50 MPH, but now it was on slippery grass and headed directly for the oncoming traffic. Yeah, all of those years when I was young and dumb and used to love driving my car sideways in the dirt paid off that moment . . .
I eventually came to a stop in the left lane of the oncoming traffic on the other side of the highway with dust and grass billowing all around me. I had just enough presence of mind to pull my truck out of the traffic lane and onto the shoulder, and then I just sat there on the wrong side of the road, facing the wrong direction, for about five minutes with my leg shaking so bad I couldn't use the clutch. Finally, I got myself pulled together and got out and started a walk around my truck to see what damage had been caused. I was worried that I might have actually hit the car because it had happened so fast, and the drive through the medium was so rough, I honestly wasn't sure at that point. Speaking of the other car, I spun around to see if they were all right, but apparently he figured his job of trying to kill people was complete, and he had taken off without so much as an apology.

I was pulling clumps of grass out of my grill and my bumpers when a beautiful young woman came walking up to me and told me that she had seen the whole thing, and that the police were on the way.
"Oh my God, I can't believe you made it! Are you ok?!" She asked, a bit out of breath from her fast walk through the heat to get to me. I shakily assured her that I was pretty sure that I was fine, so she walked around my truck with me as I inspected it for damage.
"Either you are very lucky, or a very good driver!" She exclaimed. "I kept waiting for your truck to flip over! At that speed it wouldn't have taken much!"
I started laughing, probably as much from shock as anything else.
"Yeah, that was the benefit of a misspent youth of hot rodding cars down dirt roads!"

After I had finished giving my report to the police, the young ladies parting words to me as I was pulling out:
"You watch, your life is going to be different from here out. God saved you for a reason. . . "

So I got to thinking about this a few days later. When I was in my twenties, I got into lots of trouble doing stupid shit with cars, some of it fairly serious trouble at that, but the skills that I had learned and honed at that stage of my life had saved my life, and the lives of others, on multiple occasions in the years since. Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating doing reckless and stupid things in your car because the skills might pay off, but I do think that maybe I won't devote so much time to giving myself hell for the stupid things that I did in my past. I might well have been dead by now if it weren't for the skills that my stupidity has taught me.

The other thing that struck me, was to wonder if I hadn't saved my own life by having the truck serviced right before this drive? Would the truck have dealt so well with hitting the center divider at such a high rate of speed if the broken sway bar hadn't been found and fixed, and if the shocks hadn’t just been replaced?
Things that make you wonder.

So, now that my son is no longer stationed there, I suddenly have a service call to the Bremerton Wa area. I had had no idea that we had any customers in that area and so I was more than a little surprised when I got the call. I’ve gotta admit that I was kind of irritated too. This would have been awesome if it had occurred when my son and his family were stationed there, but I guess that's the way the ball bounces.

The day started off with the parking shuttle bus driver calling me "sir", then quickly apologizing and saying "ma'am". I just kind of laughed and told him not to worry about it, that I get that quite a lot. What the hell, clearly I’m confused about my gender so why shouldn't he be? Funny thing, I actually felt pretty all day but kept getting called sir anyway. Usually my “passing” improves when I feel good about myself, but not so much this day. With this being the West coast, I still had lots of people start up conversations with me, even though I apparently wasn’t passing in the least little bit.

Checking into the hotel, I had to kind of laugh as the young lady behind the counter informed me that there is no smoking in the hotel.
“And that includes smoking pot!” she added with a grin. I just kind of looked at her for a second.
“You really have to specifically tell people that around here?” I asked her.
“Sure! Pot is legal here, but some people seem to forget that ‘no smoking’ means pot too.”
“Yeah, I’m cool with it being legal and all, but I still can’t risk it myself. I’ve had to take too many drug tests for customers through the years and it might cost me my job.”
“I don’t use it either.” She assured me with a wink as she handed me my keys. Personally, I think she fibbed. . .

When it came time to head back home, I stopped into the hotels dining area to grab a cup of coffee for the hour and a half drive to the Seattle Tacoma airport. As I stood there putting sugar and cream into my cup, a gentleman about my own age stepped up beside me, grabbed a coffee cup, and started a conversation with me.
“How are you this morning?” he asked.
“I’m well thank you. How about yourself?”
“I’m doing pretty good. Just enjoying the beautiful weather here!”
“I know what you mean. It’s awesome here, isn’t it?” I agreed.
“It is! The sunshine is great! I came from Indiana, and it seems like it’s been raining non-stop there. Everyone talks about how it rains all of the time here, but I had to come all of the way to Washington just to get some sunshine.”
We both laughed about that for a moment.
“I hear you.” I told him. “I just left Indiana a few weeks ago myself after spending nine months there, and I’d have to agree with you – it seems like it rained the entire time that I was there.”
“Really? Where were you working while you were there?”
“I was down in Columbus working at Cummins.”
“I’ve done some work down there too.” He said.
“I’ll bet it was with Cummins.” I laughed. “That’s about all there is there I think.”
“No,” he disagreed. “I’ve done some work with Crane in that area.”
I don’t recall the name of the town, but he told me that he had been working at the US Navy’s largest US base that is apparently located in Indiana. I just looked at him for a second.
“You’re kidding right?” I asked. “You’re telling me that the Navy’s largest base is in Indiana?!”
“Yep, in the middle of a completely land locked state.” He assured me. “I think it used to be an Army base before the Navy took it over.”
“Well,” he said, kind of softly as we started to go our own ways, “you have a great day!”

I think that I am going to miss the west coast . Nice people there.

On the flight to Minneapolis where I was to catch my connecting flight, one of the flight attendants decided to totally out me. He was walking down the aisle with a PDA telling everyone what their connecting gates were. He got to my row.
“Huddle?” he asks everyone in my row. I raised my hand to identify myself.
Matthew Huddle?!” he asked, looking confused.
I continued to hold my hand up and started to wiggle my fingers to once again confirm, yes, that is me! The young man sitting next to me did an honest to God double take, looking at me, looking away, and then quickly looking back when I confirmed that my name was indeed “Matthew”. I bullshit you not, he visibly tried to move just a little further away from me in his seat. Well there is a mixed blessing. Here I’d been sure that I was not passing, but the way the young man next to me almost jumped when the flight attendant outted me, it was pretty obvious that he had had no idea. Talk about good news / bad news. For the record, Matthew Huddles gate was G12  . . .