Two Million Miler

Mtrainier2014I received a letter in the mail yesterday from an airline frequent flier program advising me that I have achieved “two million mile” status, or permanent Gold status, with that airline’s frequent flier program.

Hmmm… wasn’t expecting that. Nice perk, especially considering…
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Flying In Leather

Yesterday, I flew two flight segments to get home from my business trip. I was in three airports (departure, transfer, and arrival) for several hours of waiting time. There were hundreds of people who saw me while I was in lines to check in, going through security, waiting for planes, and waiting over an hour for luggage at baggage claim.

I was dressed for these flights in what I like to wear when I dress casually in cool weather: leather jeans, biker t-shirt, and comfortable boots.

What’s that? Leather jeans — you wore them in public!!! — in airports? What did people say or do?
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Wearing Leather and Boots on Airplanes

I was at a conference earlier this week, and traveled home as planned on October 31. Yeah, that also happens to be Halloween.

Earlier in the day, I appeared in my dress leather jeans, pink shirt, and black Lucchese goatskin dress cowboy boots when I gave a presentation before a large plenary meeting. I explained that I am a “breast cancer aware biker” and (most) members of the audience laughed politely.

I had to return the pink shirt to a friend from whom I borrowed it, so while I was changing, I thought perhaps I should change into a pair of regular denim jeans and boots that are easier to take off when going through security before I headed out for the airport right after the conference ended. But then… I had second thoughts.
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Traveling With Boots

I travel more now than I have been traveling in a while. Work-related trips have brought me to the U.S. West Coast three times in the last three months, and also to Puerto Rico. I anticipate more domestic travel in the coming months, including a trip to a U.S. Commonwealth way out in the Pacific.

As readers of this blog know, I choose to wear boots exclusively. I don’t own any shoes or sneakers or sandals. I have expressed my opinions before about those types of footwear. Sum it up as, “yuck.”

Recently, a close friend who has contributed a lot to this blog with comments and guest blog posts traveled for his work to Houston, Texas. He remarked about taking the trip on Facebook.

One of his Facebook friends asked him, “Sportin’ the boots?” to which he responded: “Not this time. Traveling with them has become such a pain these days.”

I replied also, saying, “oh my lands, what’s this world coming to?”

My friend, chagrined, admitted in a follow-up email that he was concerned about the amount of walking that he would have to do in the airport, which is why he chose not to wear (or bring?) boots with him.

Hmmm… well, buddy, I have some comments about this matter:

1. If the boots you currently own are uncomfortable to walk in, then you should consider getting gel insoles, which I wear in many of my cowboy boots that I wear when I travel. The insoles add a spring to my step, and make walking a pleasure.

2. Alternatively, perhaps, you should consider a different size for a new pair of boots? I have found that boots that fit me perfectly do not have adequate room to accommodate a gel insole. The insole in well-fitted boots causes the top of my foot to press against the inside top of the boot, and soon enough, the bones in my feet begin to hurt as they rub against the inside of the boot. I solved that problem by getting boots a half-size larger. The insole takes up the room so the boots do not slip when I walk, and the slightly larger size accommodates the room required for the insole. Plus, as an added bonus, I found that insole-supplied half-size larger cowboy boots give more toe room, so I can wear pointed-toe cowboy boots more comfortably, as well.

While my friend didn’t directly address concerns about hassles in going through airport security with boots, let me address those issues as well.

First of all, these days, everyone has to take off footwear, regardless if the footwear is a pair of boots or anything else: sneakers, shoes, etc. Therefore, don’t think that if you wear shoes or sneakers that you’ll be able to get through without having to take them off. (I have observed that in larger U.S. metropolitan airports, everyone has to take all footwear off. Perhaps one can get through wearing sneakers in smaller airports, but not in the big ones where the TSA staff are more formal and drone-like in enforcing “the rules.”)

Wearing boots at an airport is no big deal. One just pulls them off like any other footwear. Therefore, keep in mind that since you have to pull boots off while balancing at a table before the magnetometer, the boots should be easy to pull off, and not require untying laces or a helper to remove them for you (such as my situation if I were to wear tall motorcycle patrol boots).

Once the boots go through the magnetometer and you go through the x-ray, you should have boots that are as easy to pull back on as they were to take off. For me, I carry them to a seat, then sit down and put them on while I also put my laptop back in its case, retrieve my cell phone and pocket change and put it away, etc. I abhor the slogs who bunch up at the end of the magnetometer who try to put their shoes on right there and put their stuff away. That behavior causes the lines to slow down significantly. Just get your stuff and walk away (in socks) to a nearby seat and put yourself back together. Don’t make the rest of us behind you wait for you to get your act together and move on.

While addressing the issue of boots and travel, let me point out that if you will be in the air for more than a couple hours, take your boots off when you get seated on the plane (provided you have room enough to do that; some airlines make you pay a ransom for more leg room, and if you don’t pay the ransom and don’t have status to get you priority seating, you may not have enough room to do that.)

The reason why you should take your boots off is to allow blood to circulate in your legs and feet. As we age, we become subject to all sorts of maladies when the circulation slows down and blood flow becomes sluggish. You need to stretch your feet, circle them around at the ankles, bend forward and back, etc., several times an hour. Doing so will help several ways: 1) it prevents DVT (deep vein thrombosis), which can be deadly; 2) it helps your feet feel refreshed so your boots feel better when you put them back on your feet; 3) your feet won’t sweat in the boots, so your boots won’t get as stinky. My recommendation: take your boots off in flight. You will feel much better. And who knows? Maybe your seatmate is a secret Bootman and will notice and strike up a conversation about your boots with you. 🙂

Another thing about air travel: wear comfortable clothing. I shudder when I see men dressed in suits and ties on the plane. They look so damn uncomfortable. They worry about wrinkling their jacket, and make the rest of us wait while they carefully fold it and put it in the overhead bin. I know, I know, sometimes some men can’t avoid it — they go right to a meeting upon arrival, or they work for the airline which requires their employees to wear a suit when flying their airline. But most of us don’t have these situations. I usually wear a comfy pair of jeans (denim or leather) and a shirt with two pockets (helpful to carry ID and boarding passes, cell phone and glasses). Be comfortable when you fly, as most airlines these days make air travel cramped and uncomfortable.

In summary, I will forgive my friend for his transgression, for he knew not this advice (because he didn’t ask, yet. LOL!)

Life is short: wear boots!

Oh, You Must Be Gay

One more story about my recent trip and then I’ll move on to other topics.

Airport security screening has settled into an understandable routine, and is about the same in each airport through which I have traveled in about the past year. That’s a good thing, because the unpredictability about what one would be asked to do next — from placing no more than three ounces of liquids such as shampoo and toothpaste in a resealable plastic bag to taking off one’s footwear while going through the magnetometer (sometimes called a “metal detector“) — was frustrating to many.

Infrequent travelers still hold up the line, but signage and explanations that are ubiquitous in airports helps a lot. “1-2-3” directions (show ID and boarding pass, take out liquids and laptops, remove footwear and jackets) have pictographic directions that are easy for almost anyone to understand.

So there I am on a Monday morning, which is a time when airports are crowded with business travelers, waiting for the screening agent to look at my boarding pass and driver’s license. He is trying to be jovial and friendly, which is better than a surly attitude I have experienced sometimes.

I have learned that when dealing with officials in this capacity, it is better not to try to initiate conversation. A pleasant “hello” or “good morning” is enough. So in Phoenix I said, “Good morning!” and the agent smiled. Then he said, “well, it’s not a good morning if you saw the [football] game last night. Wasn’t it awful when [name of player] … [did something wrong]?”

I replied, “sorry, I didn’t see the game.” I thought that would change the direction of the conversation, but the screener continued, “well, when [name of player] … [did something wrong], I thought he should have [done something else] and the coach should have [done something about it or to him].”

I just shrugged. He continued to examine my driver’s license, even by pulling out a magnifying glass to look more closely at it. I guess they don’t see that many Maryland licenses in Arizona and he had to check the date to ensure the license was valid. Then he remarked, “What do you think about [name of player on the local football team]?”

I said, “I don’t know. I don’t follow this team.”

ooops…

“I guess you’re a [Baltimore football team] fan, being from Maryland.”

I replied, “umm… uhhh…” I just tried to mumble and not say much, hoping he would just give me back my driver’s license and scribble whatever he has to scribble on my boarding pass and let me go. This was taking much too long.

“Or do you watch the [team from Washington]?”

Finally, I said, “not really. I don’t watch football.”

Then he said, “oh, you must be gay, but you don’t look it.”

WHAT????

Instead of making a federal case out of it and filing a written complaint — the guy wasn’t really trying to be difficult as much as he was trying to make a very bad joke which, to him, was funny, I said this:

Yes, in fact I am gay. But tell me, do you think that all men who do not care for football are gay? Really? Is that what you believe? And what do gay men look like?”

His response was both amusing and telling. He stammered, then profusely apologized. He said that he was “just talking” and didn’t mean anything bad. He quickly gave me back my driver’s license and boarding pass, and escorted me personally to a magnetometer station that was just opening so I could go through first, ahead of others. He kept glancing around. I guess he was looking to see if other people overheard us and if he were going to get into trouble if I made a scene.

This happens from time to time. Straight people just don’t get it, and sometimes say really stupid things without thinking. It happens more often after straight guys have been drinking alcohol which loosens their tongue and clouds rational thinking, but I have had it happen on several occasions in the most unusual circumstances where alcohol isn’t involved (such as this situation.)

This guy works long hours and in a difficult job. I am sure that he gets his share of grief from various passengers who think nothing of yelling and screaming if they become upset. Rather than go nuts, I took a deep breath and calmly said:

Thanks for getting me to this line. And remember, everyone is different, and you can’t make assumptions that if a guy looks like me that he is a football fan and that all football fans are straight. I know a lot of gay guys who enjoy football. I don’t happen to be one of them, but it doesn’t mean that it’s fair that you can make broad generalizations like that. Be careful.

He meekly apologized again and returned to his station. I pulled out my liquids and laptop, pulled off my boots, and put these things and my carry-on bag on the belt, sent them through the x-ray, walked through the magnetometer, gathered my belongings, pulled my cowboy boots back on, reassembled my carry-on, and walked to a restaurant to have some breakfast.

I thought all was said and done when a man in a suit came up to me and asked if he could sit at my table. Sure… though it wasn’t crowded, but I was at a table for four all by myself. He sat down and introduced himself. He said that he worked for the federal agency that oversees the airport security screeners. He said that he observed what happened, and listened to what I said. He commended me for my patience and calm demeanor. He also said that he documented the incident and will follow up.

I told him that I didn’t want that screener to get into trouble. He said that training is offered to screeners on how to talk with passengers and how to respect differences and be tolerant of diversity. He said that he would refer that screener for more training. Well, okay… that’s fine.

Life is short: patience is a virtue.

Boots in Flight

This post is about some amusing things I heard at my home airport in Maryland, aboard my flight, and after arrival yesterday in Phoenix, Arizona, USA, where I am leading a major event for my work.

I traveled comfortably, in a pair of Wranglers and Nocona Rattlesnake cowboy boots.

Here goes:

Arriving at the airport whilst checking in

  • [Airline agent inquired]: Do you have luggage to check? Why?
    because I can’t travel without at least one change of boots each day for the five days I will be there. [I think she actually believed me, but I couldn’t tell]
  • [a guy taking off his wing-tipped dress shoes in front of me asked]: Do you have to take your boots off to go through security like I do?
    No; I enjoy being wanded, frisked, and delayed
  • [kid with Mom] Mommy, what are those things on his feet?
    Honey, those are boots
    Mommy, where’s he going?
    I don’t know
    Do you think he is going to ride a horse?
    I don’t know
    Mister, [looking at my boots then at me] Are you going to ride a horse in Texas?
    Kid, thanks for noticing the boots. No, I’m going to ride a horse in Arizona.
    Oh! Wow!

Aboard the plane

  • [Flight attendant said:] Nice cowboy boots!
    Why thank ya’, ma’am!
  • [Woman on aisle seat in my row exclaimed:] Those are some boots!
    No, there are only two
  • [Sneaker-wearing guy waiting for the toilet asked:] Don’t those things (pointing to my boots) get hot?
    No, but they look hot!

Upon arrival in Phoenix

  • [Good looking young guy who sees me at baggage claim says:] Man, those a really cool boots! I’ve always wanted a pair of boots like that. Where did you get them? I got them from a cousin who owned a boot store in Oklahoma. I have seen them on-line for a decent price at bootbarn.com. [He smiles and says that he will get himself a pair.]

Welcome to Arizona!

Traveling with Dirty Engineer Boots

Photo of my boots courtesy of Bamaboy

I flew home from Alabama yesterday. I decided to wear the Chippewa Engineer Boots that I “played” in during my visit with Bamaboy. Because it was so blasted hot, even though the boots got a bit wet, they dried quickly. The dust created a fine “dirty” patina on the boots, which attracted some attention.

One of the staff at the hotel asked me as I was leaving, “do you work construction?” She was obviously staring at my boots. I just smiled and said, “yeah, sometimes.”

When I got to the airport, Bama came by to give me something I had forgotten and left in his truck (I swear, if my head weren’t screwed on, it would fall off.) He also noticed the boots and gave me a compliment. LOL!

As I went through airport security, two ramp agents also were going through behind me. They both watched me take off my 17″ Chippewa Engineers, put them in a plastic tray and send them through the x-ray. On the other end, I sat down to put them on. They both sat next to me to tie their work boots and each said, “nice boots!” These are the non-steel toe variety, which are light on the feet and feel great.

As I walked down the hall, a shoe-shine guy looked at my boots and said, “I can clean those up for you! Have a seat.” I politely declined by saying, “Man, I like ’em this way!”

I wandered down to the gate, and caught up on the news on the TV. An older gentleman sat down next to me. He looked at my boots, then at me, and said, “do you ride a bike?” We talked for a while about motorcycle riding. Turns out he was a motorcycle racing team member back in the day. I enjoyed our conversation — initiated by the boots.

I boarded the small regional jet, and actually slept all the way to Charlotte. The connection was quick; no waiting. I read a book on the way home to BWI. While I was waiting for the parking shuttle at my home airport, a guy walked up to me and said, “man, those boots are cool! What kind are they?” I had a short but pleasant chat.

Dirty boots seem to get a lot of attention. It’s what guys wear!

See the full gallery of photos from our visit on my website, here.

Life is short: wear your boots!

Bizzare Airports and Airline Incidents

On Saturday, I had flights from Kansas City to Charlotte, then from there to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, which is my preferred airport in the DC area. I was on USScareways, which once upon a time was a great airline to fly (not any more)… but I digress.

What they call an international airport in Kansas City qualifies, technically, since there is one non-stop a day to Toronto, Canada. But otherwise, this cheesy third-rate airport is outclassed by all the rest. Oh well, it’s small, easy to use, and not well-traveled so there are not crowds or long lines anywhere.

What was plain old dumb to me at this airport is that while I went through full screening by a metal detector and my luggage went through an x-ray — which was observed by four people no less — when it came time to load the plane, the gate agent said, “some of you will be asked to go through a ‘random’ additional screening.”

Their idea of “random” is, “we’re done with this one, who’s next in line?” Of course, I became “the lucky winner.” The kid who wanded me was probably all of 18. His partner was an older woman whose chatty nature, trying to calm my annoyance, even made me more annoyed. The best way to deal with such a situation is to smile and speak only when spoken to, even though what I wanted to say was something along the lines of “how many terrorist have you caught playing these games?” But I didn’t… however, I strongly suspect that they do this for no real reason. They haven’t caught anyone carrying anything onto an airplane that shouldn’t be carried — because he has already gone through the magnetometer, stupid! Arrggghhh… gimme a break.

I finally get on the blasted plane, and of course, all the overhead storage is taken by people who laughed as they walked past me onto the plane. I had to stick my bag way in the back, and then wait for everyone to get off the plane to retrieve it when we landed. But that was not really a problem, this time. I had a 1:20 layover, so I had a margin to accommodate a delay this time.

But wait, there’s more! At Charlotte, a large, spacious, first-class modern airport, I was people-watching. I rolled my eyes at two women who were wearing surgical masks. They’re afraid of catching the flu that’s making the hyper-scare news right now. What they really don’t understand is that masks keep your germs to you — not prevent you from breathing in viruses sneezed by other people. But don’t try to explain science to believers of media hype.

But wait! There’s even more! My flight to BWI was late to be boarded because of all things, a passenger on the previous flight got stuck in the aft bathroom and they had to break the door to get him out. Don’t ask me how that happened. And thank goodness Charlotte is a hub for USAir, so they had mechanics available who could fix or replace the bathroom door.

In all my millions of airline miles traveled, that was the most bizzare reason for an airline delay I have ever heard.

Oh well, I made it home to the arms of my man. That’s what’s most important.

Life is short: keep smiling, despite annoyances.