Saturday, March 31, 2012

Week in Review - Laredo, Texas - A Study in Signs

When the icon for your room is a railroad crossing and your room is next to the elevator and they offer you earplugs at check-in, you might want to immediately check out and find another hotel.  I could hear the person above me using the bathroom.  After that, I ran the air conditioner fan non-stop.

This man stood right there and didn't move from that spot for an hour.  The woman sitting in the distance straight ahead ended up talking to me later when I moved next to her prior to boarding.  The next day, she was in my class.  Think, think, think...did I say anything unprofessional about my customer (a.k.a. her employer) in front of her?

I thought I might be lost when the decor of the classroom (in a corporate facility) looked like it belonged in a preschool.

The first good sign on this trip.  The customer provided a snack & drink cart and I LOVE BIG RED!  Sadly, it didn't love me back.

Maybe it wasn't the Big Red.  Maybe it was the heavy, fried, greasy food that was provided for lunch.  This was day 3 (that is Chicken Fried Steak although they called it something else), day 1 was Salisbury Steak (I don't eat red meat), I skipped lunch day 2 to check out this sign:

Where are the women that don't flush?  There must be some out there since these signs- and variations of the same - are everywhere I go.

In other bathroom news...Caution, stall door opens out.  Except when it opens IN.  And no, it didn't swing both ways, I checked.

I hung up my towels so I could help save the environment.

They took my towels anyway.  I think printing a PLASTIC sign encouraging me to save the environment if they are going to take the towels anyway defeats the purpose.  That's just my opinion.  This wasn't special to Laredo.  Housekeeping always takes my towels.

I wonder if they make exceptions on the $50 bill rule when a ticket is lost?  And what if I have an American credit card, do they take those?

I was questioned by TSA and U.S. Customs Agents over whether I - the girl that has a Texas Driver's License and NO passport - was a U.S. Citizens.  I am not sure what they expected me to say.  No?  What about the people in front of me who had Mexican passports?  What is the point of the question?  David says they probably are trained to read micro-expressions.  I don't need to be trained at all to realize two big black UNATTENDED suitcases sitting next to an airport are a no-no.  I think the TSA needs to stop pestering me and question this situation pronto.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Dear Laredo

March 28, 2012

Dear Laredo,

I owe you an apology.  I judged you before I knew you.  I declared you guilty by association.

I was taught this lesson once before.  Juan was a large, scary, do-ragged, scraggly bearded man I would have avoided on a dark street.  He would have given me the shirt off of his heavily tattooed back had I asked.  He proved to me that you cannot judge a book by its cover.

San Agustin de Laredo established 1755

But some lessons need repeating and I appreciate your willingness to remind me of one of my numerous failings.

I have found your streets generally clean, your shops and restaurants plentiful, your people lovely and engaging. 

General Ignacio Zaragoza - the father of Cinco de Mayo. A Mexican general, his army defeated Napoleon's troops on May 5, 1862. For those of you wondering why his statue stands in Texas? He was born in what is now Goliad, Texas.

In fact, if it weren’t for that little issue of another country looking over my shoulder, I could mistake you for the town I live in, or 100 other towns I have been to. 

Look, that's Mexico right there.  If I had a passport, I could walk over there.  I wouldn't, but I could.

Laredo, I find you significantly less armpitty than your neighbor down the way.  Even though you have some rough edges, who doesn’t?  Certainly my elbows get a little scabby at times.

Please don't park here (the owner of this car obviously didn't read the sign posted in the window).

So while I am ready to go home – let’s face it, I didn’t want to leave home to begin with – I won’t think of you un-fondly in the future.  Adios, Laredo.  I won’t miss you or be in a hurry to see you again, but if that should come to pass, I won’t be reduced to tears while packing my suitcase.

The Homebody Voyager

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Seeing the Signs

Sometimes there are subtle signs that a trip might go wrong.  The first sign on this  trip is the destination – Laredo, Texas.  This is my first trip to Laredo but I have been to McAllen, another Texas/Mexico border town.  I hated it there.  It was hot and windy and ugly.  I don’t have high expectations for Laredo. 

Laredo, proud hometown of two boxers I have never heard of.  The airport consists of 4 gates, 1 restaurant that was completely empty when we arrived (outside of security) and 1 duty free shop (inside of security).

At the airport, I ask the woman next to me if she has been to Laredo before, and she confirms she has, she goes regularly for business.  I ask if she has any recommendations for sights or restaurants.  “Not really”, she says.  “I work with a hospital and we are told we should go directly from the hotel to the hospital and back again.  They recommend we don’t venture out alone.”

I feel concerned that the Department of Public Safety was forced to place a "Closed By DPS" sign on this elevator at DFW Airport.  

When I begin packing, I always check the extended weather outlook.  I made the mistake once of not doing this on a trip that took me from Chicago to Des Moines, Iowa to St. Cloud, Minnesota over a week.  In the winter.  One of my customers told me to bring my winter coat.  I said, “You are aware I live in Texas, right?”  The people in Minnesota took pity on me and accompanied me to buy snow boots during lunch (and yes, they were MEN’S boots).

I won't need snow boots on this trip.  I get fussy when the temperature gets over 80.  I guess it could be worse though, I could be here in August instead of March.

I still have those boots.  And two winter coats.  And a variety of other clothes for all possible situations.  And umbrellas in various sizes.  I brought one of those umbrellas with me.

But as I mentioned in my last post, even with safeguards in place and my experience as a traveler, I still forget things.  This time, two things.  I have no casual, comfortable clothes to wear while sitting around my hotel room, other than a nightgown or the clothes I wore on the plane, and I don’t have my cell phone charger.

Fortunately, there is a Best Buy next door.  I know this because it is the view from my hotel window.  I can also see there is a Target behind that so the necessary items can be acquired at some point. 

Some signs like these are subtle, but there are also actual signs that this trip might be headed in the wrong direction.

This sign is prominently displayed on the registration desk.  I can hear the wind howling outside my window right now.

There is another sign that pool is closed due to maintenance.  Of course I remembered to pack a swimsuit.

What I read on the plane:  Life is Short-Wear your Party Pants by Loretta LaRoche

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Trip Begins: Packing

This is when a trip begins for me.  Not when I arrive at my location or even when I go to the airport.  Today, the day before, the day I pack.  The day I start to stress out.

I am sure there are people who pack the day they leave but I can't be trusted to be one of them.  I can't remember everything I need 24 hours before.  Something will be forgotten.  Normally it's something easily acquired like a toothbrush.  As I have forgotten things over time, I changed my methods to eliminate some of the chance.  For example, I have a box with all of my toiletries and a duplicate set of my normal cosmetics that I can just keep in my suitcase.  It saves me trouble on the return trip too. I don't have to unpack to have contact lens solution and moisturizer.
This is the single best thing I have done since becoming a regular traveler. 

For similar reasons, I also carry a medicine kit that contains everything I might ever need:  Tylenol, Advil and Excedrin migraine, Dramamine (for motion sickness), various cough and cold remedies, Neosporin, band-aids, Rolaids, Imodium, melatonin (for insomnia), Biofreeze (for soreness) and Kleenex.  I restock this immediately, on the road if necessary. 

Even though some things are meant to stay in the suitcase when I get home I frequently find things that weren't meant to.  I found Wonder Woman tonight.  I bought her in Baltimore a month ago and thought I left her at my daughters.  Nope.  She was in the suitcase patiently waiting for me the whole time.

Sometimes though, even as many times as I have repeated the ritual of packing, I forget something big.  Something not as simple as a stop at a convenience store.  The worst one?  Hands down, Miami. 
My hotel was next door to the customer's office and I had been there before so I knew I had 2-3 restaurants in walking distance so I didn't rent a car.  At the hotel I unpack and notice something pretty significant missing.  No undergarments -none - other than the ones on my body at the time.  I am scheduled to be there 4 nights, 5 days.  Something has to be done.

So I ask, without saying what it is I am missing.  I ask the ladies in my training class. 
Me:  Is there a store nearby, like a WalMart or Target or a mall, that is close enough I can walk there this afternoon?

Them:  (They glance around at each other, passing looks and don't answer immediately.)
Lady in Front Row (LFR):  Yes, but I would not go there if I was you.

Me:  Why?  Is it too far, maybe I could get a cab?
LFR:  No, it is about two blocks.  KMart.  But I don't think it is a good idea for you to go.

Me:  (By now I can tell by the way she is looking at me she has more to say but doesn't quite know how.  I should mention, I am the only white person in the room.  A light comes on in my head.)  Is it because I'm white?
LFR:  (With a look of utter relief) Yes!

Me:  Okay, well,  I appreciate your advice but I have to go.
And go I did.  One of the topics of my class is discrimination which is ironic because I was also warned there were homeless people between my hotel and the store.  It was a busy street in broad daylight so I wasn't worried.  No one bothered me and I arrived safely at the store. The lady in the front row was right.  I am the only white person there.  I received more than a few stares - none aggressive - more of a concerned nature that I was obviously lost.

I still own the items I purchased and think of them as my "Miami things".  This still doesn't stop me from forgetting.  Recently, I drove to Houston and after arriving knew before the zipper was even all the way open on my suitcase that there were no work appropriate pants in my bag.  I have a car this time but it is nearly 10 pm.  I am supposed to be at my client's location at 9 am the next morning.  I tried to think of a plausible, less embarrassing lie as to why I would need to be late but in the end, decided the truth was best.  The man I met was very understanding and had good laugh at my expense. And a good story to share with his family over dinner that night.
But there is one thing I am very careful to never forget.  Shoes.

You may remember from earlier posts that I claim to, on occasion, wear manly shoes.  This isn't because I particularly like them but because sometimes, it is necessary.  I wear a women's 12 (a men's 10 - 10 1/2).  I go to a lot of small towns and there is no way in a place like Waynesboro, Mississippi where the closest hotel is 30 miles away and physically attached to a Waffle House that I am going to find size 12 shoes.  So I pack them first.

This invitation was spammed to me by  They claimed they would create a custom shoe wardrobe just for me.  There is only one problem...

Sometimes people think I am exaggerating the issue of my size.  Needing "Tall" sizes, never wearing long sleeve shirts, the problem with finding shoes.  Some of the ladies at my office were in a circle discussing their shoes when I walked in.  "I am wearing these because they are the exact color of my cardigan".  "Well I wore these because they bring out the flecks of gold in my eyes."  They look up when I come in.  They look at my shoes.  I look at my shoes.  I say, "I am wearing these because them make them in my size."  The party broke up after that.

This was in my room at the Fairmont Hotel in Washington D.C.  If you forget your workout gear they will provide it for you.  Assuming you aren't a freak of nature.

So the rule is, the shoes go in first.  I take the suitcase down and immediately put my shoes - the pair I will wear for work - in or on the suitcase right away.

I can breathe easier now.

This allows me to sleep at night.  At least between sessions of checking to make sure I have my driver's license and my debit and credit cards.  Even though I have been home all day. And verified they were present this morning. And again when doing my laundry.  And right after dinner. 

Yes, they're in there....Yes, I'm sure... Excuse me, I have to go check on something.

Friday, March 23, 2012

First Will and Testament

David and I have never written a will.  This is completely unacceptable at our age, I know.  We own a house.  We had three children.  But the truth is we never got around to it.  It never seemed particularly important. 

I never really thought it would matter what happened to my stuff when I was gone.  It is just stuff after all.  Stuff can be replaced.  Stuff can be bought.  Stuff can be thrown away.  There is stuff in this house that David and I don't even know we own.  How important could it be?
But suddenly, right before our trip to Baltimore earlier this month, David called me and said he was going to purchase Quicken's Willmaker that day at lunch.  It was on sale for half price so no time like the present!  We could fill it out at home and voila, it would be done.  Finally.  At least we don't need to decide who takes the kids anymore.

Notice I said "who takes the kids", not "who gets the kids".  A subtle but necessary distinction.

Nearly a month later and the box is still sitting on my desk unopened and uninstalled. 

The back of the box says "Complete documents at your own pace".  At this pace we will need the upgrade: Willmaker Plus 2037.  And yes, I see that my calendar on the wall is behind.

So as I prepare to head off on my next trip, I make a my few of my wishes known here because as David likes to say, "you never can tell".  We know what goes on in the world today.  We watch Criminal Minds.

I am sure this is completely legally binding so to those listed here...don't get any ideas.
To my dad:  My genealogy research.  Be sure David gets you the 2 PowerPoint presentations off my computer: "How to Know if Your Cousin is a First Cousin" and "What to do if Your Dad is also your Half Uncle".  These explain the hierarchy of cousins and how to know if someone is "removed".  (Hint:  This doesn't have anything to do with divorce.)  I further request that you pass this down to Aaron in your will.

Here's an exerpt from one of the slideshows so you can confirm he gave you the right one.  Feel free to click the picutre for a larger image.

To my mom:  My "Advice from a Tree" print.  You bought this for me the weekend we spent exploring my favorite city together (and getting lost on Embarcadero..."I'm not walking up that hill").  This is still one of my favorite things, the trip and the print.

Purchased at Muir Woods oustide of San Francisco.  If you are ever in the area, I highly recommend it.

To my kids:  You are of course entitled to the stuff you didn't take with you when you left home.  Also, feel free to take the things you gave me or made me over the years.  I have a lot of it in the house.  And some more in the garage.  And probably some in the attic.
He was always my favorite.  Calm down girls, I am talking about Chicken, not your brother.

To my niece Ashley:  My Nemo car antennae ball.

I know you don't have a car yet but as you can see, he makes a good wireless router antennea ball too.

To my sister-in-law Cathy:  My art supplies and fabric.  This should keep you out of the craft and fabric stores for at least a month.  Okay, a week.

This is just SOME of the fabric I have but compared to some stashes I have seen, I am a total amateur.

To my brother Aaron:  Nothing.  You should be used to this by now.  Hang in there, the genealogy will all be yours someday.

To David:  Obviously everything I have is already yours and you can do with what I leave behind as you please.  I would like you to keep the Festivus pole Ashley made and celebrate it in my honor.  You know I never was a big fan of "Hallmark" holidays.  Be sure you get together and remind them all that, "I've got a lot of problems with you people!"

A Festivus for the rest of us.  Ashely and Blake, you start The Feats of Strength.

To the world:  I leave you David.  He will be here without me and I am not sure he will know how to behave with all of that freedom.  The movie collection might grow so large you will have to nominate him for an episode of TLC's Hoarders: Buried Alive. 

I couldn't get an exact count because The Movie Database is not up to date.  The current estimate is around 950.  As you can see, there is room to expand if he takes over the grandbaby's toy overflow area.

And someone take him out for a meal now and then.  A person can't survive on frozen pizza, spicy pork rinds, and spaghettios forever.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

My First Stalking Attempt

I stalked a woman at a church last night.  Actually I stalked a couple of different women, at different times.  Before I go on I want to take you back a couple of years so you will understand why I was compelled to stalk anyone at all.

After 20 years of marriage, David and I participated in the Newlywed Game.  The board game.  A family event where four couples are rounded up.  Three of us are around 20 years of various levels of wedded bliss; one couple has been married less than a year (which didn't turn out to be the advantage you would think, they didn't win).
First question:  Which of your wife's friends do you think is the most attractive?  My husband blurts out:  What if your wife doesn't have any friends?

At that time, the only people I socialize with are a coworker and my chiropractor.  When I say socialize, I use that term loosely.  My coworker and I sometimes take a long lunch when I am at the office.  My chiropractor and I sometimes walk in the neighborhood, she lives in my subdivision.  A few years later, my sister-in-law and I find that we have a lot in common but our schedules don't always align and she lives 30 miles away.
So back to last night.  The Dallas Museum of Art hosted the author Sarah Vowell at a church in downtown Dallas.  Hanging around the foyer doing my favorite thing - people watching - I had a thought.  What if there is another woman here, around my age, alone, that I could strike up a conversation with?  She would find me totally engaging and we would become BFFs and do everything together.

Scanning the group I find pickings are slim.  Most of the people here aren't alone.  I see one woman who appears to be alone but she is wearing fishnet stockings and is furiously typing on her phone so I eliminate her immediately.  I see another woman, maybe a little younger than me but apparently alone.  I walk closer to her but she doesn't make eye contact.  I stand nearby trying to seem un-stalker like.  Maybe 10 minutes go by and I decide that if she will look up I will ask if she has read any of the author's books.  It isn't to be though, a man walks up and they kiss.  Eliminated.
I would never stalk anyone in here.  I have some boundaries.

I decide to try one more time and find another woman alone.  She is tall like me, red hair, about my age.  I go over planning to use the same strategy on her but before I get the chance, they open the sanctuary for seating.  Okay, new plan.  Try to sit by her.  During the 30 minute wait, I will find an opportunity to talk to her.
I follow her down the aisle and she sits on the first seat in the pew which would force me to go past her to sit in the same pew.  A woman runs up, "You can't sit there, it's RESERVED", and it was (more on that another day).  I back up and move in the pew to the left and say OUT LOUD, "You can sit here", like I'm Jenny sitting on the bus in the movie Forrest Gump.  She doesn't.  She sits in the pew behind me.  Humiliation.

Under no circumstances were we allowed to sit here.

So my stalking is over for the night.  As I casually observe her out of the corner of my eye I realize it wouldn't have worked out anyway.  She is wearing ugly blue nail polish that is badly chipped.  And, the kiss of death, a scarf.  I don't know why this fad bugs me but it does.  A scarf isn't a necklace!  We aren't outside!  How are you not burning up in here?  I am fanning myself with the program.

The man next to me chats with me a little but we can't be friends.  He has 2 1/2 year old twins and a wife and David might not understand my picking up some random man to be friends with, even if it is at a museum event.  Also, his answer to my question, "Have you read any of the author's books?" concerns me a little.  He turns and his eyes get huge,  "Is that a requirement to be here?"  It's hard to tell if he's being sarcastic or not.
Just as the author comes out, man shows up and sits next to the woman I was stalking.  He kisses her.  My efforts were, once again, wasted.

The author, on the left, and the moderator.  The author also provided the voice of Violet in the movie "The Incredibles".  Her books have been described as "funny history" and no, I haven't read any of them.  Yet.

I might give up stalking but haven't completely decided yet.  If you are a woman between 30-60 (I am terrible at guessing age) attending an event alone and scarfless and you see a tall woman wearing manly shoes lurking nearby, it might be me.  Don't be afraid.  We could be friends.

See?  I look like a totally normal person.  Photo by Chris Woods.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Ghost of Weekends Past

While visiting Weatherford over the weekend, I had the idea to drive past the house where my grandparents lived near the Brazos River.  I haven't seen the place in around 20 years but I trusted my GPS and my memory to help me find the way.

We spent a lot of weekends there with my extended family - aunts, uncles, cousins, and eventually, my own children.  It was a meeting place.
That's my mom in the bikini and my dad on the far the tube socks.

Dad is filming grandpa taking a picture.  Mom is seated 2nd from the left in the yellow and orange top.
That's me on the far right in the pink sweater trying to talk to my oldest child.
Grandpa owned an old scooter that we were allowed to drive around the community. 
My brother Aaron driving me and my oldest child around the yard.  We are probably going about 5 mph.  I think the scooter maxed out at 20-25 mph.

There were often disagreements between the girls (me and a cousin) and the boys (my two brothers and a cousin) over who would get the scooter.  Then the negotiations began over who would drive.  Once when I was driving I took a turn too fast.  I lost control, went through a ditch and hit a tree (after my cousin jumped off the back).  Unfortunately I did this in plain sight of my grandparent's back porch to an audience that included my parents.  Burned my leg on the pipes too.

Grandpa and my mom, probably 1981 - 82

The house was just a regular house, not that different from their old one to me, not that we spent much time inside the house.  If we weren't at the community pool or park, hot rodding the streets on the scooter, or fishing on the dock, they had a big lot beside their house where a lot of touch football games were fought and won and lost.  We used Black Cat firecrackers to blow up bull nettle and sometimes other things when our parents weren't looking.  There was always someone in the garden or on the porch talking and making homemade Butterfinger ice cream.

That's grandpa coming out of the workshop.

Driving out of Weatherford to find the house, the way seemed unfamiliar but I attributed that to the fact that I rarely drove in those days.  Part of the time I was too young to drive but later I was always with my parents or my boyfriend/ husband.  Then suddenly something is familiar, a four way stop and a store.  It isn't the exact store that is in my memory but it seems positioned right.  After that it was easy, across the Brazos River and the community is right there.

A painted sign at the entrance reads, "Rio Brazos A Restricted Community".

My dad and brothers on the bridge.  At one time, the only way to get to grandma and grandpa's house was to drive across this bridge.  It was terrifying to me.  And is probably why I am not in this picture.

The pool is closed for the winter but the park is nearly identical to the way I remember it.  Some of the equipment looks as if it has not been maintained at all in the years we have been gone.  It is a nice day but there is no one in the park.  I go down to look at the dock we fished off of but it is completely gone. 

My brother Aaron caught a fish. We used cane poles to fish for perch and used worms or raw shrimp as bait.

I thought coming here might make me a little nostalgic but instead, it makes me depressed.  I drive down the main road reading the street signs to find the right street but none of them are familiar.  I stop at one turn that seems the right distance but again, I don't recognize the street name.  Fortunately these aren't long streets.  When my grandparents lived here there were only 2 houses on their side and, if my memory is correct, 1 on the other.  I look down the way.  I turn right and there it is.  I am not prepared.

If there were not cars in the driveway I would assume the house was abandoned.  There is a fence between the driveway and the front yard that wasn't there before but otherwise the main difference is the condition of the property, which is terrible.  It was always very neat and clean when grandma and grandpa lived here.  Not anymore.

You would never know by looking at it now that there was ever a bountiful garden and fruit trees, kids playing football in the yard, a family gathered on the back porch for a cookout.  There are large limbs down on the lawn and several piles of limbs and brush that seem to have been there quite a while. 
The house across the street has a huge limb on the roof and it also looks abandoned except for 2 boats in a carport.  The whole community looks bad to me.  I am wondering about the Restricted Community sign...what exactly are they restricting?  Definitely not trash and disrepair.

I was so sad after this that I drove straight to my parent's house to see my dad.  Maybe he and I will sit on the porch and make homemade Butterfinger ice cream like we used to and reminise about all the fun times everyone had when grandma and grandpa lived "at the river".  Or maybe not.  He didn't have any Butterfingers.
I know one thing for certain, I will never go by the house at the lake again.  The house my grandparents lived in exists only in my memory now and I will remember it only the way it was: cared for.  The way all of us were when we were there together.

Grandpa, Grandma and my mom