Saturday, July 29, 2017

Off on another train trip...

It's been a while since Mandy has been able to spend time "Out of the Suitcase" for a full week.  So when the opportunity came, I took advantage of the situation.

First thing I needed to do on the way out of town was pick up my thrift-shop-inexpensive-but-too-big jumper dress, which was being altered  by my favorite seamstress across the bay.  The alterations were apparently a success - it fits much better now.  The seamstress made sure I tried it on afterward, since alterations were significant.   And when she saw how it looked, she made sure I didn't take it off!  (It's not the first time for that, either!   Oh, for a penny, in for a pound...)

Before the nail salon...

Then I dropped in at a nail salon...on the inland side of the bay for obvious reasons...for a paint job on all 20 nails.  My nails all had bee recently filled, so it should have been an easy job for the nail tech to simply paint them.  But there was an obvious language issue.  After we got past the confusion that I didn't want the artificial nails I was wearing to be removed before she painted them (she didn't speak English well), everything was fine.

And the results were as follows:

I couldn't believe how wonderful they looked!   Another need accomplished.  And since I didn't bring any materials to remove the paint with me, I was going to show off 20 pretty nails for the entire trip, regardless of how I dressed.

After the tech finished my nails at the salon, in the interest of economy I hit a Subway to pick up some food before heading to the motel and get some sleep before my early morning departure.  When I checked in to my hotel the night before departure, hearing "Ma'am" was music to my ears!

Day 1 - enroute north:  Up early to catch a train for New York City, where I would lay over for a few hours and catch a train west.  Early that morning, after hearing "Thank you for choosing us as your choice of accommodations, Ma'am" to set the scene for the day, I drove to the rail station at BWI airport, on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, and a particularly convenient point of embarkation.  

I digress to  my similar trip  a couple of years ago.   Back then, I arranged a meet-up with Marian, one of my long-time blog readers.   We had a wonderful time, and the weather was good enough that two girls could do some local sightseeing, in addition to doing lunch at a local eatery.  

This time, due to Marian's busy schedule, Mandy met "Mario" (Marian's alter ego) at Penn Station (that's the one under Madison Square Garden.)  With outside air temperatures in the 90's, and the common realization that neither of us wanted to spend the rest of the day smelling like we just stepped out of the gym, we weren't particularly fond of the idea of local sightseeing.  So, we ate lunch at a traditionally-overpriced beanery in the station, and then retired to the Club Acela first class lounge.

Club Acela was very crowded, even though the AC in the lounge was having serious issues, requiring a large fan to keep the warm air moving.   Almost every seat was filled, but we found two seats together, and were able to sit and chat until (sadly) it was time for "Mario" to leave for his other appointments.    And shortly thereafter, the agent gathered those of us traveling west together to board our train...

Not sure when our next meet-up will be, however it's something we can plan for...and hopefully on a quieter, less-hot day!  (In the Big Apple - maybe less hot, but not never know what you're going to see.  Case in point, one very drunk - or high on something - girl being led around the station by her girlfriend, and a bevy of running, screaming people in the main concourse, which got attention from the local constabulary.   Never dull there.)

Before I forget, many thanks to Marian for the picture and very nice writeup in her blog!  If you haven't visited there, you can find it at She's a lovely person, and a great writer!

After departing Pennsylvania Station on the Lake Shore Limited, and emerging from the tunnels , I caught a glimpse of the construction status of the replacement for the old Tappan Zee Bridge (over the Hudson River), which is being built to relieve massive traffic issues on the old one.  If you look closely, you can see standing (not moving) traffic on the old span:

In the above picture, there is a red blur in the lower center.  Doesn't look like much, does it?  Perhaps  a stray reflection.? And it's my nail color - seen as a reflection in the window!  Some of the pictures I took had even better reflections...but those were deleted.  No point in having Mandy's wife inquiring about that....

Construction is coming right along.  Wonder what will happen to the old bridge?  Probably like so many others, it will be imploded!

Stay tuned for the next section!


Monday, July 24, 2017

Another fabulous day!

Out and about last week... I was taking my wife to an appointment on the other side of the bay.  Wearing white capris, a gray tunic blouse, white slide sandals, my necklace, cross- body purse, hairless arms and legs, long hair and shiny nails, I apparently looked like a girl.

While she was at her appointment, I dropped in at a bank I seldom visit (once or twice a year), to make a deposit.  Nothing special about that, right?   WRONG!  When I walked in, the greeter (I did not remember him at all) addressed me as Mrs. Sherman.  Oh my...I'm impressed.  And he showed me how to use their new machines...all the while addressing me as Mrs. Sherman.

Either:  I'm totally unforgettable and the greeter isn't ('cause I didn't remember him from last time); one of the other officers of the bank recognized me; or there is some kind of customer facial recognition software in play to assist, in case of robbery.  I will inquire about that with my next visit!

After that, I needed to deliver an X-ray picture,to be added to my file at my own dentist's office.  So I dropped in, and the traditional cast of characters behind the desk who know me, wasn't.  Everyone was a trainee that day.  Friendly, of course.  And needless to say, after I gave my name, they addressed me as female, without looking at my records.  I'm not complaining in the slightest...the others normally there would likely address me as "Sir," even if I showed up in a dress, heels, red nail 
polish and full makeup.   Fifteen-plus years at the same dentist, with most of the same people, can cause that effect.

I stopped at my usual pond on the way by, both to try to get a selfie and a pic of the ducks.  But there were too many people there already, and the pond was covered with algae. UGH.   Not a pretty sight.  So I settled for a pic of the ducks:  

Since I had recently uncovered an older jumper dress (which was too big, but I got it for less than $3 at a charity shop on senior day) in my wardrobe stash, I had already decided to stop at my seamstress from "back in the day" and have her make it wearable.  She was thrilled to see me after all this time, and we spent a few minutes catching up.   Then, she told me to put on my dress...

She pinned it up and we checked it in the mirror, it looked like it would be a successful alteration.  And, she's going to try to have it ready on the day I come into town to head out on my next train trip.  I'm excited!  I've been wearing skirts and tops for such a long time and am looking forward to finally be wearing a dress again!  It's been too long....

Then I stopped at a brand new charity shop - very large, very well stocked.  I found several things that I will go back and try on either the day leave or get back from my trip - and even found a super soft convertible sleeve v-neck blouse which I bought for Mom.  I told my wife to feel it - she did and liked it - and said that if I find one that fits me,  I'll buy it.  She didn't like the idea as it's undeniably feminine, but I told her I'd only wear it when we aren't going to be together.   I think that approach may have worked...MAYBE the beginning of a Mandy wardrobe - that she knows about.  I'll have to buy something first, and then time will tell.

Lastly, I stopped at my regular bank branch, to change some bigger denomination paper money into small bills for my trip.  They know I'm a guy, but I walked into a discussion among the female staff, about hair removal creams and whether they work.  They chatted back-and-forth for a couple minutes, then apologized to me for the non-business talk..."You never know what kind of discussion you'll hear!"

I chuckled and said "You may or may not have noticed, but I don't have much hair on my arms or legs...   There's a reason.   I had laser done a number of years ago, and epilating about once every 2-3 weeks does it for me."  Needless to say, as I was the only customer, the girls all had questions...took about 5 minutes to get them answered.  It's likely that I didn't convert anybody to laser, but I ended with "And you never know when one of your customers will join in your discussion, do you?"  We all got a chuckle out of it...and since the manager was part of it, there won't be any repercussion for the girls.  But I doubt they were expecting it...even from a guy who dresses like a girl.

I guess I sort of "outed" myself to the 4 girls.   But it was fun to see the looks on their faces.

Such a wonderful day...I love being a girl!


Monday, July 17, 2017

Quickie: One good thing? Or two?

Once back from vacation, life started to go on again...with its normal "unusual turn of events..."

When I arrived at the nursing home for the first time after the trip, I was told that Mom needs more clothes.   And they told me that in my absence, she enjoyed wearing the one dress that made it to her closet (at home she seldom wore dresses, and most were the wrong size, so they went to charity when we closed up the house.)    Not sure about their statement, but...

One of my old dresses doesn't fit me as well as it should (too small), so I retrieved it from storage, took that in to the nursing home and they will label it for her.  Not only does that free up some storage space in my wardrobe hiding place, but if it fits her well enough, it could add an interesting twist to the old tale of "I wear Mom's hand-me-downs."  She will be wearing MY old dress!   And even if it doesn't fit her well, it can reside safely in her closet at the nursing home, labeled for her and safe from discovery.

But wait, there's more!

For some time, we've been getting "one per customer" reduced-price food offers from a restaurant in a nearby town.  It's a restaurant where in the past, staff has addressed us as two women whenever we stop in, and they always inquire "One check or two, ladies?"  I jokingly suggested to my wife that since they believe we're two women, when they offer a menu item we like, and it's convenient for us, we should go in and carry on the image, get two checks, then pay separately to take advantage of the offers.

Then came the truly shocking part:  my idea wasn't shot down.  It even got a chuckle.  No, we haven't done it yet, nor have we set a date to try it.  And let there be no doubt about my attire - no skirts.  (Capris are always fine.)  But the very fact that my lighthearted idea did not "die on the vine" with an abrupt "no way," is a good omen...

Finally, while I was retrieving my dress for Mom from storage, I came across a denim skort I'd bought "dirt cheap" a while back - because it needed repair for a small seam tear at one side pocket. (Yes, my skirts and skorts have more pockets than my capris, stirrups or shorts).  Thus, I've never worn it.   While I was out and about, I took it to the cleaners for (hopefully) minor repairs.    It should be a very practical addition to my wardrobe!  Especially in light of my upcoming July solo trip...

What really surprised me, though, was that the young (30something) female attendant at the cleaners couldn't find the inside of the outer denim layer, since it was covered with the internal fabric shorts.   She kept fumbling with the fabric and mumbling "What is all this?"  My response was:  "It's a skort, Ma'am.  Those are the shorts sewn inside the skirt.  They make it easy to 'not show everyone' my panties when I bend or sit."  No response from her, but she figured out how to reach the area she needed.  (I really didn't want to have to show her.)

Is it conceivable that a youngster could live such an insulated life that she doesn't know what a skort is?   She was wearing shorts, so if she only wears shorts and pants, I guess anything's possible.  Maybe she'll learn something about fashion, and try a skort - they look so nice!

That's all for now.


Monday, July 10, 2017

The rainy day

The other day, I was preparing to walk  into the nursing home where Mom lives...and it was raining.  Hard.

A lady parkeed next to me, and went to her trunk, unloading medical mechanical equipment, and put it on a cart to take inside.  I pushed my umbrella outside the car and opened it.  After grabbing my purse, I got out, and walked around the car to head for the door.  The lady pushing the equipment came around her car at that same moment.  I said to her:  "Would you like to share my umbrella?"  Her answer was, "Thank you, Ma'am, that is so nice of you."  And we walked to the door together, huddled under my umbrella.   She thanked me again as we parted ways...and it was a fun experience for me - a practical one for her.

The nursing home is breaking in a new receptionist...who has apparently decided that not only am I female, but my name is Connie.  It's not, well, not even close.   But I answer to just about anything!  So I guess if I ever decide to take a different female name at some point, it might as well be Connie.  I kind of like that name!

From the archives:

This is a view of the rails of Amtrak's Northeast Corridor receding into the distance, from the rear lounge of a private railcar I was privileged to ride, back in 2001.  (Hard to believe that was 16 years ago!) Memory serving me correctly, this was just outside Wilmington, DE.  But someone familiar with the skyline might be able to refresh my memory!

There was a bit of bumpiness...thus some blurring occurred.  I was glad I wasn't having to serve dinner on board!  But we were moving along at a pretty good clip.   Below shows the car's speedometer, pegged at its limit of a little over 100 mph! From experience, parts of the Corridor have much higher speed limits than that.  (And the car was old enough that 100 mph was faster than most trains ever went, back in the day!)

It was a fun ride!

Friday, July 7, 2017

Heading home...

All too soon it was time to leave...     After saying goodbye (always sad to leave a 1.75 year old baby who is just beginning to speak) we headed east.

This time, the traffic was much lighter than our trip west.   Well, until the road construction on (you guessed it) I-81.   As we usually do, we jumped off the interstate for the back roads.  Which led us to the picturesque little town of Emory, VA.   (Home of Emory and Henry College, a small - 1000 student -  institution nestled in the hollers of rural Virginia.)  

It's a really beautiful campus, but you'd definitely need a car there.   The town is "not much."  (Sorry, Emory.)  If you can't get it in the "Mercantile" you can't get it in town.   Drive to the next town....

Then, of course it was off to the train station...which no longer is used as a train station, since there are no passenger trains.   It's on the fringe of campus, but probably used to be an important mode of transportation for students - and what little town there was.

Not one, but two tractors...busily doing whatever the farmers do in the fields...takes teamwork to avoid what in the rail industry is known as a "cornfield meet" - where two trains are on one track, headed in opposite directions and directly toward each other....

Here's an abandoned factory in Chilhowie, VA.   Just waiting for the call back to service, which probably will never come.   

According to the "visitvirginiamountains" website,   "The Town of Chilhowie is located at exit 35 on I-81. Chilhowie, a Cherokee word meaning “valley of many deer,” was adopted as the town’s name when the town incorporated in 1913. During its stagecoach days the community was known simply as Town House. After the railroad was built in 1856 the town was referred to as Greever’s Switch, a reference to the name of the first Station Master and to the mechanical switch that allowed freight cars to be moved to a side track for loading and unloading of freight.

The first industry in Chilhowie is credited to Minter Jackson. In 1879 he built the Pottery Shop. His business was the forerunner to the Virginia Paving and Sewer Pipe Company, built by George Palmer in 1890. These small businesses paved the way for various manufacturing and agricultural enterprises which have contributed to the town’s growth over the years. Pottery, brick, lumber, textile, fertilizer, equipment and furniture manufacturing companies have all operated successfully in Chilhowie.

The clay used in Chilhowie Brick, a brand of kiln-fired brick, was popular nearly one hundred years ago. The removal of the clay lowered and flattened the slope of the land immediately south of Old Stage Road. The bricks were extremely popular and they have even been found lining the streets of Paris, France."

However, a slightly different viewpoint is shown in the LA Times article "A town traded away" from April 19 of 2002.   

"Chilhowie has lived through several cycles of industrial boom and bust. Situated in the Great Valley of the Appalachians, near the point where Virginia bumps up against North Carolina and Tennessee, its first big employer was Virginia Paving & Sewer Pipe Co., which shipped its bricks "from Lynchburg to London" until its vein of clay ran out in 1910. Chilhowie Lumber Co. had its run too, supplying logs to build the Panama Canal before bankruptcy intervened.

It was not until the early 1970s that Chilhowie began to transform itself into a thriving industrial town. Local entrepreneurs enticed makers of furniture, clothing and other goods to set up shop along Route 11. Before long, Chilhowie was attracting workers from as far away as Kentucky.

The industrial boom transformed more than just the landscape. "We went from one breadwinner in the home to the ladies going to work in the sewing factories," said Tom Bishop, who operates a home supply store, a scrap metal business and a wood framing plant in Chilhowie. With the extra income, families could afford bigger houses, better cars and other middle-class amenities.

The good times kept rolling through most of the '70s, '80s and early '90s. Then Chilhowie's world turned upside-down.

In 1994, Congress approved the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada. U.S. apparel makers soon found themselves fighting for their lives. Some cut back domestic production; some set up plants in Mexico, where factory workers get only a fraction of the wages paid to Americans.

"To be competitive, you had to go south," said Larry Gibbs, who has managed Spring Ford Industries' knitting mill in Chilhowie since 1988. "I've seen the whole industry go away. It was all based on cost."

Four years ago, Gibbs kept 450 workers busy assembling millions of T-shirts for the likes of Reebok International Ltd. and J.C. Penney Co. But Spring Ford announced last month that foreign competition was forcing it to go out of business. Today, Gibbs will lay off his 50 remaining workers.

One by one, Chilhowie's biggest employers have shut their doors. Tultex Corp. closed its 200-worker sweatshirt factory in 1998. The Buster Brown plant, where 300 people assembled children's clothes, followed in 1999. Three months ago, Natalie Knitting Mills shuttered its 350-worker sweater factory. Other mills were shutting down too. Spring Ford was the latest to fall."

The town lives on...but not well.   It's showing definite signs of wear, and there is no end in sight.  Weeds continue to grow in abandoned employee parking lots...  Yes, folks, history is being recorded...every day.  Even today.  Despite the political turmoil in DC.  And it's where you find it.   We look for history in all our travels.  And obviously, so did that reporter from the LA Times!

On a quiet note after our visit to Chilhowie, we headed home, and had an uneventful balance of the drive.    Now we wait to go again...which will happen, later this year.


Sunday, July 2, 2017

Time out for Vacation

My wife and I went on a little (?) visit to our son's place in TN.    Two weeks "down south",  and a bunch of quality time with the baby...a nice break for everyone!

Needless to say, the vacation itself was in "less feminine mode."  Shorts, women's tees, clogs and the usual other cues like hair, purse and nails.  (No pantyhose...much too hot outside.)   And I won't have much to say about our exact "comings and goings," other than:  once again I commented to my wife that I hadn't heard too many miss-identifications.   Once again reminded me that she had heard "Ma'am" references frequently, thus I was being seen as a woman most of the time.   (Well, nothing wrong with least in my humble opinion!)  

Enroute south, we drove on I-81.  The drive was uneventful, except for the amount of traffic.  That may have been simply vacationers, but the number of trucks seemed higher than normal.  Everyone must have been rushing deliveries to make sure they were home for the 4th of July holiday.

As usual, we made a few stops on the way.  First one was a quick detour into Wytheville, VA.  We had seen info about an old-time gas station and museum on the grounds of the local historical society, and wanted to get a look at it.    So we detoured into town and came across it.    I parked the car on a nearby street to walk over and get some pictures.  Unfortunately, the neighborhood watchdog wasn't happy with me, and began barking furiously.  Fortunately he was on a long chain, and while he made lots of noise, wasn't anything to be reckoned with.

Anyone ever heard of the Great Lakes to Florida Highway?  (Route 21?)  Neither had we!

Don't we all wish the price of gas was still under 18 cents per gallon?   A fill up for $3?  Nice.

According to the Town of Wytheville website and others, the Great Lakes to Florida Highway Museum offers visitors a chance to look back at the days when the highway (Route 21) was the main north-south route from Ohio to Florida.   This gas station, which began as Texaco, was built in 1926 by H. R. Umberger.  About 1934, the station changed to Esso.  Candy and other snacks were added in the 1940's.  By the '50's, when the road was rerouted through Wytheville, bypassing the station, gas was phased out and it became a small grocery store.  Once I-77 opened, the business was basically finished.

It's hard to believe that this narrow then-country, now residential, road was once the main route south to Florida!  That speaks volumes about the amount of traffic, then versus now.

From the Unusual Names department, there is an airport along the interstate, and a sign for the nearby town:

Usually there is info about towns on the internet.  Not so much for Groseclose.  On Google Maps it appears that this one is "a wide spot in the road."  There are two towns by that name, one in Wythe County, one in Smyth County.   There used to be passenger train service to the one in Wythe County.   And the name is a family name...reportedly a Groseclose was instrumental in forming the Future Farmers of Virginia, and this went national, eventually becoming the Future Farmers of America.

So, as always, History is where you find it.

A sunset view, from outside our son's place!

During our visit, we did some local sightseeing, and happened to be in a nearby town when an excursion train came around the bend and stopped...lots of excitement, and at no extra cost!

We had a great time, and all too soon it was time to leave...