Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Every journey begins with but a single step...

...and unfortunately this journey (which was originally destined to be an 18-day venture across the country by train, in connection with a convention) has morphed into an out-and-back visit to the west coast, for only the convention.  And extensive time built into it for Mandy evaporated as well.

Such is life...and the perils of caring for an elderly parent.

Unfortunately, time issues during the trip have prevented me from writing and posting these blogs in a timely manner...I do apologize.   And since I'm just beginning to write, additional chapters will be a bit slow in coming...

Checking into the motel near BWI airport (with a female clerk), I was seen as a woman, and only female forms of address were used...I was in androgynous mode but with makeup, lipstick and jewelry.  

Mandy took the opportunity to make a brief appearance in Baltimore the night before catching my "early morning train."  Here are a couple of pictures taken at the former Baltimore and Annapolis railroad passenger station in Linthicum, MD.  While the tracks are still used (and in good condition)  as part of the light rail system in Baltimore, they carry no freight trains, and this station has reverted to private use.  (New light rail stations have been built nearby, as parking is almost non-existent here.)

I was obviously standing on a public street, and had to manipulate the self timer on my camera to be able to take them.  That required a clear road for at least 20 or 30 seconds, and meant I had to wait by the side of the road till traffic waned for each picture.  Several truck drivers honked and waved at me...I'll take that as a compliment.

Needless to say, with the beautiful weather, Mandy wanted to visit a restaurant with a fabulous view of the Inner Harbor.  That restaurant is the Rusty Scupper, and as you can see, sunset adds an extra touch to the skyline.  It's something "not to be missed."  If you're ever in Baltimore, be sure to try it.  The food is generally expensive, and only "average" in quality, but the first-class view obviously compensates for it!  (And yes, you CAN eat a sandwich there for about $25 per person including a soft drink and tip.)

Staff at the restaurant used feminine forms of address for me, and a different server delivered my meal (perhaps in response to questions back in the kitchen about my gender?)  But, those doubts apparently ended when I paid the bill with my credit card showing my "now feminine" first name...they used the appropriate forms of address as I left!

The view from my table...and similar views from every window in the joint.  It truly is spectacular.

The next morning, I caught an early train for DC to begin my trip.  The Conductor didn't use any form of address when I got on.  He may have been confused between the manifest (Mr.) and my appearance (Ms.) and decided to take the safe route.  I rolled my bags on board from a high-level platform, with no problem.  When the train arrived at Union Station in DC, there was a low-level platform and I was going to have to take my bags down the railcar steps, one at a time.  Notice that I said "was."   A nice young man on the train offered to help me with one of my bags, and I appreciated that offer...he was wonderful.  "Thank you so much, sir!"  And he replied "You're welcome, Ma'am, any time!"

So I was only dealing with one bag now...   But, the Conductor had deboarded already, and he said "Let me help you, Miss" and took the bag out of my hand as I started down the steps...   What a treat - to be able to walk off the train unencumbered!   I never argue the assistance!  (And was pleasantly surprised to hear "Miss!)

More to follow...

Thursday, January 22, 2015

First leg of the journey west...

Since I was a sleeping car passenger, I was able to use Amtrak's Club Acela to wait for my train.  There one can have a soft drink or snack, on Amtrak.   It makes for a more pleasant experience than sitting with coach passengers out in the regular waiting area.  

As I walked through Union Station, I noted a serious lack of folks doing window shopping…though at the early hour of the morning, that’s all one could do.  Stores weren’t open…and unless you are there early, as I was, it’s a sight not often seen!

When I checked in at Club Acela, I was identified as female, helped no doubt by my androgynous outfit, light makeup, purse and jewelry.  And due to my once again “packing like a woman” with two very full suitcases, that female persona was frequently noted during the entire trip.  Including by the Red Cap, whose services I used to reach my departing train, which left from a lower level track.  Better that a big, strong man handle my bags and stow them in the sleeping car compartment, than try it myself…

Below is a picture from the lounge…naturally with me standing next to the snack table.

My journey to Chicago was uneventful – in fact, quite routine.  I did not attempt to use a female voice while socializing at dinner, but still was identified as female by the wait staff in the dining car.  Of course, nothing was said by my table-mates, who probably wondered but said nothing.   

In the middle of the night I woke up, just in time to get the following night picture of the Cincinnati skyline.  Very pretty town.

I spotted three passengers in the sleeping car on this train, who were attending the same conference.  But none of them appeared to notice me.   Thus, my decision to “not” travel en femme was justly confirmed.  Had I been in a dress, there's a very good chance that all most likely would have spotted my dress (I would have been the only woman in the sleeper in a jumper and turtleneck - or any dress, for that matter, except a pair of Amish women, traveling in their long dresses and caps) and then recognized me.  That would not have been a good thing at this stage of my dressing.

Since the train was late, my layover in Chicago was shorter than expected.  I went into the First Class Lounge (there’s one in Chicago) and stowed my bags for a short time, while I walked around the old familiar Chicago Union Station - been there many times.  The desk clerk who checked me in, and the Red Cap in the baggage storage area both addressed me as "Ma'am." Both on the way in, and the way out - they were consistent.  

Before long, I was on the train west…

More to follow!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

A watched pot never boils...

While waiting for the tech's report on my model locomotive, I managed to snap a couple pictures of my pedicure.  As promised, here are the pictures.  The color doesn't stand out very well, but they are noticeably pink.  This is a nice color for the summer, as well...

Visible in this picture is the black house dress I was wearing...

Here the pink shows up a bit better...

Last evening, I got a call from the tech.  He had trouble getting the diesel with the power mechanism apart.  But once he did, he found the battery - yes, these expensive diesels have batteries inside - was dead.  (I had the same problem with the carbody, and that's why I hadn't already changed the battery.) 
There is an adapter kit to install a capacitor instead, and eliminate the need to replace the battery every 4 to 6 years.   It only adds $10 to the repair bill...a no-brainer.   And he will check to see if the hobby shop has the needed parts in stock to supply me with a new digital system, since repair work on the existing system is only warranted for 30 days, vs 1 year for new.  Thus, replacing it is a no-brainer as well.

And at last, "the pot finally boiled." 

As you may know, the eastern US has been in the snow-freeze mode the past few days.  Not a lot of accumulation (under an inch) but lots of cold.  My train set was to be finished and delivered back to the shop on Monday or Tuesday.  Well, the weather fixed that.  It was delivered today (Thursday.)  Right now plans are to go pick it up tomorrow, and also the digital parts needed to restore service.   But those won't be able to be installed until after I get back from my little "girlcation" later this month.

Friday I was able to go pick up the repaired engine, and replacement digital parts that will (eventually) let trains run again.  But that's a project for next month.  This month is already fully "occupied" by my upcoming trip.   And this time, the tech was not there, there was no line of customers, and there was no "your husband" issue.  I was simply "Ma'am."  That's easy to handle!

On the way to Baltimore, I passed by the construction site I've photographed many times before, for the new gas station and convenience store.   Demolition is now complete, and they are moving forward to completely clear the rubble.  Attached is a picture of Friday's status.  Adios Holly's!

Till next time, be safe!


Sunday, January 4, 2015

Too much of nothing...

With sincere apologies to Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul & Mary...   This WAS going to be titled "part 2", but I've heard "too much of nothing."  Hence the unusual title....

Sorry about the erroneous initial post, and subsequent deletion.   I was just beginning to pen something here, and "operator failure" happened...I hit Publish, not save.  Sorry!

I've been contemplating the options for getting my model railroad back into operation, while waiting for the tech to call about my diesel set.   I can picture sending in the digital control system parts for repair, and getting them back 3 or 4 months later, only to find additional problems with them that need repair.  Given that the system is probably 5 or 6 years old (though sparingly used) and only the repairs would be warranted, not additional problems, it may be best to just replace it.  (Reminds me of old, dead computers...)  That way the digital control system will be factory-warranted, and at least get me a year of service before worrying about further failures.   That's my current thought process... 

One thing is certain...without something being done, trains won't run!  Here are a couple more pix...from better days, when my layout was in operation:

Meanwhile, Saturday was a nasty day here, weather-wise.  What girl doesn't like getting a pedicure on a gloomy day?  That was my task and it was nicely accomplished, once again in pink.  There were no comments from my wife on the first I don't expect any this time, either!

Hopefully I'll have more info on the train situation for the next post...and a pedicure picture as well!



Friday, January 2, 2015

At the hobby shop...

Hope you all had a good New Year Celebration!

In case I didn't mention it earlier, one of my hobbies is model trains...

Unfortunately, my layout is not as detailed and easily watched as those of some of the other girls here.  Nor is it in HO scale...   It's O scale, digital remote control, and it's on a platform suspended 16" from the ceiling.  Thus it doesn't need to be super detailed, as up-close observation requires a ladder.  However, you can see the the train running from most seats in the living room.

Views from a ladder are below...

That presumes it's operating.  Which it's not.

Over the phone, the manufacturer's customer service rep gave me some tasks to accomplish, none of which helped the issue.  So, my wife and I took the smaller engine, a road-switcher,  to a repair shop to have it looked over...   The staff and customers there interpreted me as female.  (An old-fashioned hobby shop seems to be a bastion of testosterone-producers - even more so than an auto repair shop.)   Men - middle-age and older - went out of their way to hold the door for both of us, said "good morning, ladies" and used only the proper female forms of address.  It was fun...and we both were surprised at the general male lack of observation skills, as I wasn't looking any more - or less - feminine than usual that day.  

When my switch engine was ready for pick up , I went in alone, carrying a huge box containing my other diesel locomotive - an A-B-A streamlined E-6 locomotive set.  Very safely packed for transport, but bulky.  Once again, men bent over backwards to hold the door, used the proper female forms of address, and moved me to the head of the line, even though I declined.

This turned out to be a bit problematic later...

Those of us standing in line had to wait for someone to serve us, and in addition to dropping off the loco, I had to pick up the finished one.  But as it turned out, who was there, talking to each of the customers?  That's right, none other than the technician, who had called me!  At last he was finished with the customer ahead of me, whom he'd been talking to since my arrival...   And though we had talked on the phone the night before, my voice apparently didn't sound familiar, as he started "I was talking to your husband last night...."

Hmmm.  In astronaut-speak: "Houston, we have a problem."  I didn't really think it wise to "out myself" right then and there, and say "I AM the husband."  It might just tick off the nice folks in line, who had insisted I go first, and refused to take no for an answer when I tried to defer.   So I laughed and said  "Oh, you actually talked to me last night - I know about the problems."   That eliminated having to specify whether I was the husband or the wife.  And it worked fine...I only heard "your husband" once after that.

However, when I got the switcher home, it still wasn't running.

So I called my friend the tech back, and discussed it with him...not actually saying whether I was the husband - or the wife.  Didn't need to.  But it turns out that the train problem is almost certainly not the engine(s).  Because the switcher doesn't run after being tuned up and tested, the problem must be in the digital system which tells the engine what to do.   He will check out  my 3-unit locomotive and make sure it runs right, but I'll need to take in the digital control box for repair.  If he can't make it work, it will need to go to the manufacturer for repairs, normally a 4-month lead time.  

So I played around with the lame digital control system after the call, pressing buttons as per the instructions I found on line, and the switch engine abruptly started to run - fitfully, with no horn, bell or other features, but at least it proved the engine works fine.  That seems to have narrowed the scope of the problem down to the digital control unit.

This is an ongoing saga, with more to come....the streamlined diesel should be done some time next week.  Stay tuned.