Sunday, April 30, 2017

On The Road Again - days 8 and 9

Arriving in LA only a little past the 5:35 AM schedule, I decided that I would wait till 9AM to pick up the rental car at the station.  Thus, I checked into the first class lounge at the train station. (No issues whatsoever.)   I hate traffic to begin with, and starting out for Santa Monica at 7 or 7:30 would almost certainly mean an extra long trip, in rush hour traffic.

There was no issue at the lounge, nor at the car rental counter.  My feminine outfit didn't matter - renting a car wearing a skirt, blouse, makeup and women’s jewelry was not an issue.  Obviously they had the info on my driver’s license, which shows the big “M.”   The female agent simply omitted any gender specific terms when talking to me.   And that was OK – at least I didn’t hear “Sir” – which could have confused adjacent customers.   Once I had the keys and the car, it still took me about 45 minutes to drive to Santa Monica.   And it’s not very far.

When I arrived at the motel, my room wasn’t ready yet (it never is…LOL) and they suggested coming back in a couple hours.  They were very friendly and sociable, and the gentleman I spoke with on the phone referred to me in the feminine gender.  It’s a good thing he didn’t remember referring to me as “Sir” when I made the reservation with him over the phone!

So off I went, to the Museum of Flying at the Santa Monica Airport.   It’s a great little facility, but what immediately catches your eye is the  “stuffed and mounted” DC-3, which dominates their front yard.  Can’t miss it!   And after all these years, I finally found out what the DC stands for in “DC-3.   The planes were made at the Douglas factory here in Santa Monica, and the C stands for Commercial..   Hence:  Douglas Commercial – 3.   (Yes, Virginia, there was a DC-1 model and DC-2, as well, in addition to 4, 5, 6  and so on.)

They had many other stuffed and mounted planes, artifacts and displays  - mostly inside.  When I finished there, it was back to the motel to check in.   And my room was ready.  And I was once again referred to in feminine terms.   I’m really beginning to like this!

After settling in, I took a walk to the beach (a block and a half from the motel) and followed the beachfront walk for a mile or more, hiking all the way to Venice Beach.   Weather was beautiful (sunny and low 70’s, with a gentle on-shore breeze), and though the beach was not crowded, there was still enough “cheesecake and beefcake” on the trail (skateboarding, bicycling and hiking) to please anyone.

And the fact that I was out and about, in the presence of kids and adults alike, with no issues whatsoever (yes, I was wearing sunglasses so I could watch when I felt like it) made this another wonderful experience.  It could become habit-forming.

I  expected to have dinner at a certain beachfront restaurant in Venice Beach, but there was a loud band out front, playing contemporary rock music, and I “couldn’t even hear myself think.”  But judging from the number of teens and twenty-somethings there, they enjoyed, and that’s what counts.  I walked on by.

So,, on the hike back to the motel, I stopped for early dinner at a seafood restaurant.  No gender-specific greetings there  : -(   I enjoy being out in public en femme, and going about my routine business.  But I’m still not comfortable being in a bar environment as a woman.   Alcohol,  loudmouthed people and TG's sometimes don’t mix well.  But the restaurant was family-oriented, and – surprise – probably 75 percent of the women were in skirts.  Plus, half of the girls in skirts were in some kind of heels.   No heels for me on this trip.  The amount of walking I’ve been doing (and luggage space or lack thereof) precluded bringing them.


Then I hiked back to the motel, "done in" from all the hiking.  

Starting  out very early (6AM to miss traffic), I checked out a decoration I’d noticed on the front of a CVS Pharmacy in Venice Beach as I drove back to the motel from the Museum of Flying.   It was unique enough that every tourist walking by was grabbing their iPhone or camera.   Don’t you agree?

After finishing up in Venice Beach, I headed for Santa Monica Pier and the “End of Route 66” sign.  Everyone had advised against parking on the pier as it was so expensive.  But that’s where the signs led me, and in reality, they seemed reasonable since they charged by the hour, not by the day.   My visit only cost $6, not too bad.   I’ve paid much more in big cities.

Remember the Eagles and their song “Hotel California?”  There is a hotel by that name - very close to the pier.  I don’t have any "inside info" about it, or any "inside knowledge" about a connection to the one in the song.   But it’s very nice, though eclectic, and has a surfing theme, as you can see from the pic.   I would have considered staying there except for the price (twice what I paid per night.)

This is a scan of the front of their room key...given to me by the desk clerk as a souvenir.

My view of the song (which I like) is that it’s more about the CA culture of the  60’s and 70's. Like extravagance, drugs, party till you die type thing.   (But your view might be different.)  Hmmm…they did party pretty late in Santa Monica the first night I was there.   The second night was more subdued…    While visiting the pier, I walked along the bluff, near the edge of downtown.   Very pretty view of the pier, the surf and the coastline. 

When   I finished at the Pier, I decided to drive north on the PCH.  (CA route 1, the Pacific Coast Highway.)  My wife and I drove the section from San Francisco to Santa Barbara a number of years ago, so this would partially fill in the gap.   My objective was the Missile Park at the Naval Air Station at Point Mugu in Ventura County.    It is to small US missiles (think Regulus, Poseidon and smaller) what the Museum of Flying was to aviation in general.   However, everything is outside, is identified, and there is no attendant, so it’s “walk around and look.”   But still very nice – it’s a worthwhile destination.

In my pictures from this trip, you'll notice that I appear to have only 3 skirt outfits with me.   That's basically correct.  I brought a fourth, but didn't wear it on account of laundry issues when returning home.   That will be corrected, along with several other things I'll talk about in my final segment of this travelog.

On the way back, I stopped at several beaches and overlooks.    As expected, the traffic was just awful.   When the two-lane road became four lane as I got closer to Santa Monica, I pulled into the right lane (I only go the speed limit and want folks to be able to pass me.)  

A young guy – probably in his daddy’s Ferrari (or some other noisy exotic sports car) - crept up beside me.  The driver checked me out, and hit the gas hard, squealing his tires and roaring ahead, then slowing down till I caught up again.  I was wearing sunglasses so he couldn’t tell I was looking at him as he looked my way, then roared ahead again, and this time kept going.   Was he flirting?   I suspect so.   We both knew there’s no way a Nissan Sentra could outrun a Ferrari – although in this case, it would have been a true “drag race...” – pun intended.

When I eventually got back to the motel and happily was able to park the car for the night (I hate traffic), I decided to walk back to Venice Beach to get takeout at one of the restaurants.    On the way back I noticed something new…a “barcycle.”  No, not a bicycle – this was a wagon with a bar in the center, with a driver/barkeeper to drive.  And pedals at each of the seats around the bar. to power it with alcohol!

I didn’t do much investigation, but it seems you can charter it for events.   And with the patrons providing the motive power, it doesn’t use any non-renewable energy!  Very curious….   Then it was back to the motel to pack for an early departure back to the train station….heading for my next destination.  

Gee, I hate to see that this extravaganza is winding down.   That closet door I kicked off its hinges this week was last seen floating away in the Pacific…

More to follow!



Thursday, April 27, 2017

On The Road Again - Days 6 - 7

At 3 AM I was up already up, preparing to get off the train, though my bags were mostly packed from the night before.   I was just anxious to get the show on the road.   

My outfit was ready, so I shaved and dressed and went down to the lobby to wait for the cab the bellman had ordered, to deliver me to the Amtrak station at 7AM.   It arrived in a timely manner, and there was very little interaction with the driver…and no “S” word.  When I got to the station, I went to the Magnolia sleeping car passenger waiting room.

An employee was there and let me in, identifying me from my ticket and former employer’s ID card (which doesn’t show age or gender), giving me the code to the electronic door lock (they have a problem with vagrants sneaking in.)  Another lady was already there, and we chatted a while.  Then I went out to take some pictures, and when I let myself back in, I heard clapping and “Good Girl! I knew you could do it!”   It’s the first time I’ve heard that phrase used to compliment me!  

Here is a picture of me in the Magnolia Room, taken by the lady...

And things kept getting better. 

A few minutes later, more folks came in, and chairs started filling up.  Then 4 young guys (20-somethings) with British accents came in and sat down across from me.   Feeling a bit better about my abilities to communicate like a woman, I asked them where they were from (vacationing from South Africa), and they started talking.  Just like guys do.   A few questions from me, kept them going.   Soon the only vacant seat left was next to me, because many of the rest were couples.   A woman came in and asked if the seat was available.  I assured her that it was, and she sat there, thanking me for the seat, and we chatted a few minutes, till it was time to board the train.  

Some of the folks I’d spoken with were in my car, others not.   But I was “Ma’am” or “Miss” when they greeted me as I passed by them, and in the dining car.  Obligingly, the dining car staff followed along and noted that I’m a woman.    They went out of their way to seat me at a table with other women.  This continued as the trip went on…two days and two nights.  

There was only one cranky old male “Grinch” who seemed to recognize my true gender.  Early on, when he passed me in the aisle, he said “Excuse me Sir – oh, Ma’am.  Sorry. )  An accident?    Naaahhh - intentional.   But for some reason, he changed his tune later in the trip and stuck with Ma’am.  Perhaps hearing it from others made him reconsider his analysis of me?  Naaahhhh.  Just trying to be polite….after initially being a butt-head.  Fortunately, his attitude didn’t prevail with others!   

Clearly this was the most enjoyable Amtrak rail voyage I’ve had so far – with the most social interaction that Mandy has ever experienced.  (Of course, not counting the private car trip to LA a couple years ago.  That stands alone, in its own right.)  There were compatible female table mates at every meal, and the ladies related to me as a woman., talking about things like how women get “talked down to” and so on.  Mandy was definitely experiencing a taste of “life as a woman.”   Other than the Grinch, there was no clue that anyone thought I was anything but what I appeared to be.   It was was a wonderful and very affirming experience.    I hope it continues as my trip unfolds.

And Mandy was the only woman in the 2 sleeping cars who was wearing a skirt.   Go figure.

I took the following picture of an interesting cloud formation at sunset on the first evening on the Sunset Limited:

Reality says it was actually a central Texas pop-up thundershower.  With today's world political situation, initially it appeared to be something a lot more sinister and devastating.    Thankfully that wasn’t the case.

And here is a picture taken by the car attendant, of me during a passenger stop in the little burg of Alpine, TX.


Then another by the car attendant, in Tucson, AZ.  He said he takes a lot of pix for people as souvenirs.  (I quietly wondered how many are trans folks?  We'll never know!)

Stand by...more to come!


Saturday, April 22, 2017

On the Road Again - Days 1, 2 and 3

On the road again….time for a little excursion.

With the possibility already mentioned that the new administration in DC may try to eliminate funding for Amtrak’s intercity trains, I decided to get out there and ride the rails, before it’s no longer possible.  

I charted out a “dream vacation” covering many of the western routes, planned some interesting layovers. And made my reservations…solo.  (My wife was invited, and she likes trains, but not this much.  So she opted out.)   Before you ask - yes, retirement makes things like this achievable.

As I get summaries of each segment written, I’ll publish them…let's start with this one!

Departure day finally arrived.  I headed for the train station at the airport in Baltimore, to catch a commuter train to Union Station in DC.  

For this part of the trip, I had to travel in "less feminine mode"…as the trains would be ones my wife uses to get to her sister’s place for their annual visit.   My attire was stirrup pants, pantyhose, flats, turtleneck tunic top, necklace, and purse.   And my nails were freshly done (in a light pink color).

On the commuter train, nobody - from the ticket office to the train - used any gender-specific forms of address for me.  In Union Station however,  I was universally addressed as female,  at least until I got on the Amtrak train…when as if by magic, the greetings reverted to “male.”   Both the train crew and sleeper/diner attendants.  I didn’t recognize the folks, but apparently they knew my real gender.   C’est la vie.

By the way:  in case nobody has seen them, at Union Station a shopkeeper is apparently making some money from selling “Hillary Clinton bobbleheads.”  I didn’t buy one (though probably it would be a decent investment as a collectible), but almost went in to ask why they weren’t selling “Donald Trump bobbleheads” too.  Maybe they were Hillary supporters...   There were a lot of customers in the store, and time didn’t permit waiting…

My  train departed on time for Chicago.  But after the last regular stop in Western Maryland, delays began.  Five minutes here, five minutes there, waiting for trains going in the other direction.  After “dinner in the diner,” the car attendant turned down my bed, and I hit the sack.   Though with all the stops, I didn’t sleep much.  In the railroad industry, and old adage says “late trains get later. “  And it sure did.   As far as I was concerned – the delay was no matter.  All it would do for me is shorten an uncomfortably long layover. 

Remember, I was dressed as I was yesterday, since I was still on "my wife's" train.  Once off the inbound train in Chicago,  folks I ran into at a restaurant and again at the lounge at Chicago Union Station, all interpreted me as female, despite my not wearing a skirt.  In fact, few women were wearing skirts. which surprised me.   With the temperature at 75 degrees at 11 AM, I thought skirts would be popular.  My mistake!

But I put the time in the Windy City (yes - it lived up to its name) to good use…by doing some interesting sightseeing right after arrival, and getting a few pictures.

Remember Kolchak - the Night Stalker - from an ancient horror series about paranormal activity on the Telly back in the 70's?   (Be careful...if you do, you're dating yourself!)  In the above picture, I finally got a good look at what I seem to recall was Darren McGaven's office!  (The one at track level on the Elevated - pictured above.  He could see into the trains and riders could see into his office.)

Above is on the south side of East Jackson, down by the intersection with South Michigan Ave.  It marks the end of Eastbound Route 66. 

The above sign on the South side of Adams Street beckons the way West on Route 66!   Note the Sears Tower (now Willis Tower) peeking up over the top of the sign!

Once back in the station, waiting in the lounge for departure to New Orleans,  I found out that there had been some demonstrations near the Trump Tower that day- those supporting Trump clashing with those who don't support him.   That's all I would have needed - to accidentally step into the middle of something like that.  Fortunately I don't know where it is, nor do I care...but I certainly will be careful in the future!

At train time, I used the services of a redcap again, which saved walking out to the train.  Both my bags and I got a lift, along with several other passengers and their belongings.  I guess I'm not the only one who doesn't travel light.  And I was correctly addressed by the folks present.

My train left the station, and then stopped dead in its tracks.  A lift bridge in front of it was stuck, and they couldn't get a good estimate of how long it might be until it would be fixed.   So they disconnected the diesel engines, drove them around the train and put them on the other end, and devised an alternate route to get us out of the station and headed south.  (By the time we arrived in New Orleans, we were almost 2 hours late. ) 

On this train, the young car attendant initially interpreted me as a guy, using the dreaded "S" word.   But as several passengers addressed me as a lady, his tune changed.  And after returning from the diner (where the staff addressed me as a guy), he had started to address me more appropriately.   Not sure what made him decide to do that, but whatever the motivation, he did the right thing.  Even though I wasn't in a skirt.   And it remained that way for the rest of the trip.   (Which - along with getting me off the train first) ultimately earned him a tip...

Sleeping was tough that night, due to the rough ride.  Tracks belong to the freight railroad (in this case Canadian National), and though repairs have been forthcoming, it's a lot of track to fix.  It appears they've done quite a bit, but there's more to be done, that's for sure.

I've never been to Jackson in Mississippi before, and probably won't be again.  But my new friend the car attendant got a pic of me on the platform there.   It felt as though it was well over 80 degrees, and upon returning to my room,  I shed the long pants for shorts, and the turtleneck for a tunic blouse.   

By the time the train arrived in New Orleans, it was still warm, but had clouded over, and tropical late afternoon storms moved through.  It was still raining as we skirted Lake Pontchartrain, and it had been a long night and day.  The cabbie, who identified me as "sir" got me right to the hotel, where the  desk clerk promptly used appropriate female greetings.  As did the bellman.

Once in my room,  the skirts came out and would be my attire until Chicago on the trip home.  For the present, shorts/pants were relegated to my suitcase.   A fabulous beginning to a wonderful trip.   

And now the fun begins...stay tuned.



Friday, April 21, 2017

On The Road Again...days 4 and 5

My first day in NOLA (as it is occasionally known) began with a morning walk to the Canal Street trolley line to buy a day pass.  Needless to say, I didn’t wear a bifurcated bottom!  My hotel was only a few blocks away, and this was my first skirted day in quite a while.  It was a real a confidence builder, as I was “just another woman walking in the city.” 

I passed a “sign of the times” on the way, a disused and inoperative – but nicely decorated -  pay phone.  Even the handset is gone!  Everyone carries a cell phone nowadays,  right?  So pay phones are like buggy whips and flat irons…just hope you never get stuck in an emergency with a dead phone battery.

When I found the day pass automat  machine, of course it was broken.  So I asked a man standing near there (who looked like he might know something) where to get a pass now?   He addressed me as “Ma’am” and pointed up the block to the Walgreens Pharmacy.   I guess if you need "anything", Walgreens can help.

While waiting for a van tour of the area, I took a stroll along the Mississippi on the beautiful Riverwalk.   It was a clear, sunny morning, with hints of mist on the water.  It made for some very surreal sights, that one can typically see only early in the day.   There were a lot of women out for morning walks or runs, and the walkers always smiled and said “good morning” as they approached.   Very friendly women…

Finally I got back to the hotel, to await pickup for the van tour.    Hotel staff continued to address me as “Ma’am.”  As did the driver when the van finally arrived.

It was a very interesting and complete tour of the area, including the places flooded by Hurricane Katrina.  Because it was in a van, it could go places a tour bus wouldn't fit...   Following is a picture at a business which survived the epic inundation – with a line painted on the wall to show how high the water reached at that location.

While many homes in the 9th Ward have been restored or rebuilt, there are unfortunately too many which have not.  Still bearing FEMA markings from the rescue effort, they are dangerous eyesores in the community.  

After my wonderful tour, I walked (and trolley’d) around town for a while, grabbing a quick reflective picture in a store window.   It’s an inspirational message, to say the least.   “We are what we see.”  And I saw a lady!   I was treated as one at the restaurant I chose for dinner.  (The turtle soup and Louisiana fried shrimp were fabulous, indeed.)   

I actually needed my umbrella again that day, as another afternoon tropical shower passed through the area while I walked back to the hotel.    It’s amazing to me that so many folks (women in particular, since we carry purses) don’t bring umbrellas.  I dislike walking in the rain without one…so when traveling, I always take one.

The next morning I trolley’d to the old US Mint on the upper end of the Riverside Line.   Not being a numismatist, I didn’t realize there had been a mint in NOLA.  Of course that closed well before my time (1909).  It was apparently the only mint to have served both under the Union and the Confederacy.

For those of us who like to eat, a famous place called Café du Monde makes fabulous beignets (pronounced Ben-Yays), a tasty French pastry.  I can’t speak from experience – the line was so long it was taking an hour to be served, and I refused to wait.  But EVERYONE was there…they had lots of time.  I didn't.   (And I attracted no attention…the crowds were building and everyone was marching to the tune of their own drummer.)  And in any interaction, I was presumed to be a woman.

While in the vicinity, I stopped by the Cathedral-Basillica of St. Louis, King of France, on Pere Antoine Alley, and noticed that the door was open for visiting.   Between the Cathedral and the square in front, it’s both spectacular and gorgeous.  

In the afternoon, I used the free shuttle from Canal Street to  Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World…”where every day is Mardi Gras!”   They offer tours of the “factory” where Mardi Gras floats and figurines (for the annual parade) are stored during the year, and built/rebuilt for the following year.  

And on the shuttle bus back to Canal St., being the fourth to board, I already had a seat.  As women came  aboard, they were looking for available seats.   One by one, the few men there were all standing up and giving their seats to the ladies.  Fortunately, I was one of the ladies – and once alI the men had been chivalrous, even the boarding ladies got to stand.  I got to keep my seat - one of the rewards of being a woman!

To end my day of sightseeing and allow time to pack for the next day’s train (women always overpack, right?)  I decided to have a late lunch/early dinner and partake of the daily jazz brunch at the famous establishment “Court of Two Sisters” on Royal Street.  I got there well before it closed, and enjoyed a number of Southern specialties – catfish, crawdaddies and the like.  My gender wasn’t an issue.  I was treated as a female customer – though my appetite wasn’t particularly petite.

The three-story building that now houses this famous restaurant was once home to five governors, two state Supreme Court justice, a future justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and a future President of the United States. But beyond this, The Court of Two Sisters is celebrated for two things: 1) its old-world courtyard (the biggest in the city) with original gas lights and flowing fountains, and 2) its phenomenal, daily jazz brunch, with a strolling trio playing real New Orleans jazz seven days a week.   A delicious ending to a great visit in the Big Easy!

But the best part was spending both days in skirts, and being treated as the lady I am.  By everyone.  For these two days, I did not hear the dreaded “S” word, nor did I even hear “non-gender-specific” greetings.  I was a lady, and did not notice or experience any issues…even though I thought my deep voice might be one.  It wasn’t.  Nor was the minimal makeup I wore…probably because most women appeared to be wearing none at all due to the heat.

In the next chapter I’ll cover days 6 – 8.  Stay tuned!



Monday, April 3, 2017

Stuck in a rut...

Things have been unbelievably quiet on the gender front.  A fully-dressed Mandy hasn't been out of the suitcase at all recently (well, other than a 15 minute try-on session) to sort out a few things for a possible upcoming solo trip.   If it happens, hopefully Mandy will get some girl time.   There will be more about that later...

The realization hit last week, that the antique car will be turning 50 this June.   With  only about 135,000 miles on it, for a car that old, it's almost "low mileage."   And we may have a little birthday party...I may take a cupcake out to Mom at the nursing home, and give her a short ride.   It's been a long time since she's been out in it.

I found out about a few more little things which need done before our long trip in the car in a couple months, since I can't remember having them done recently.  And I wanted the mechanic to take a close look at a couple new issues.  So, I scheduled another trip to the shop.   And it's a good thing I did...while searching for one of the issues, my mechanic found an unknown problem, rather serious, but inexpensive to fix, which he corrected.   Those guys are good!   (If you can't do the work yourself, a good mechanic is essential.)

The solo extravaganza I mentioned above remains "in the wind" as of the date of this post.   It should provide plenty of things to talk about.  But for now, I leave you with this picture from the archives...

This is a winter sunset picture from January 2008, of the picturesque double lift bridge in Duluth, MN, with a lake freighter exiting the harbor under the bridge's raised twin spans.  The outside air temperature was at minus 17 degrees Fahrenheit, and the wind chill was at minus 34 degrees.  Brisk, to say the least!

Till next time,