Thursday, April 29, 2010

LOFT LIFE: I’m sorry I’m a woman

Until yesterday, I was feeling apologetic that I consciously plan to find some willing male to assist me in lifting my carryon into the overhead bin on every flight where my hubby does not accompany me.   
I’ve been congratulating myselon having learned from George Clooney (Up in the Air) how to pack, now putting my laptop into my rollaway. Though the quantity of clothing I can fit into my luggage has diminished, my lower back pain has also. I bragged about this reasoning to the last man who helped me, and as he lifted my twelve extra pounds of bag, he commented a bit sardonically, “George Clooney taught you this, huh,” as  even he, with his extra testosterone, noticed the weight.
The fact is, packing the laptop in the carryon has a few inconveniences, even beyond the extra weight: having to unzip my rollaway at security, remove the laptop to a tray, and then having to unzip the bag again to get the laptop back in while donning shoes, raincoat, purse, etc. before starting my trek to the gate--usually the farthest down the C or B terminal aisle. I do have to add, that I feel sorry, especially for businessmen, who have smartly dressed for their next high profile meeting, and now must remove all of the evidence of perfect wardrobe choices, to comply. It is humiliating for us all, but I think it hits some harder than others.
Once boarding, I must attempt to lift said rollaway into the overhead bin. My shoulders just won’t stretch that high without creaking and groaning, giving me a clear signal that this is not lifting I am made for.  
As I said, before yesterday, I did have guilt about this. I would eye the line, looking for a man with the same boarding number as I, friendly but not too friendly, if you know what I mean. I look for a fellow traveler because somewhere in my past travels, I learned that it is not the duty of the flight attendant to assist weaklings with any need concerning baggage.
But, yesterday, on my return flight to Connecticut from California, my whole perspective on this weakling thing changed when a male flight attendant (do they call themselves pursers these days? I just learned to stop saying steward and stewardess.) began scolding a young woman who couldn’t lift her bag.

“If you can’t handle your bag, you should consider checking it,” he chastised, gruffly. His tone was truly a reprimand.
She lowered her chin, looked appropriately shamed, and sat down while he finished her job for her.
I was dumbfounded. Luckily, I had found my willing gentleman right before this event, so the attendent didn’t know to scold me as well.
I wonder if he realizes the ramifications of his suggestion: there is a $15 fee each way for checking the carryon-sized bag, and, only those not strong enough to lift 35 pounds above shoulder height should be, in his perspective, forced to this consideration--even though smart travelers fudge this by waiting until the gate to get told to check the bag, because usually there is no charge at this juncture. Still, this shouldn’t happen with true carry on luggage.
Does being a woman, or being too short mean paying baggage fees is a given? I mean, I have just invested another $60 in luggage to reduce the size of my carryon from 24” to 20” specifically to allow me to enter the gangplank, or whatever that airplane walkout thing is called, without being subjected to placing my largish carryon into the too narrow device they use to convince you that you cannot carry it on. Been there, done that. When my larger carryon had bulging pockets, the gate attendants shook fingers at me, insisting I place my bulging bag within the framework of that structure which showed anyone with a brain the right size for a carryon. That would be any size but the one you are carrying. Surely the overhead bin is NOT as small as this thing they have to prove the point. And, pulling it back out of that structure is even  harder, if you can’t manage lifting the bag in the first place.
Now I have the smaller bag, and don’t fill the pockets to bulging, even though I still place my laptop into the bag, making it too heavy to lift. Mostly, I have trouble with that lift height even without the laptop. I tried removing the Mac to see if that would help, and it didn’t, so I saw no reason to compromise my back and shoulders for the effort. I reasoned that on no flight would the same gentleman be helping me, so it wouldn’t have that, “there she goes again” factor. Also, no flight attendant would be the same to remember my continuous weakness. See, I felt guilt. I felt shame.
So, when this middle-aged flight attendant berated this young woman, something inside me flipped a switch.
“Wait a minute,” I thought. “Just because I am a woman, lacking testosterone, should not mean I cannot have a carryon, and should not mean that all of my trips will automatically cost at least $30 more than my male counterparts. That’s discrimination, is it not? And, in a climate where combating a flight attendant would be a stupid, if not treacherous thing to do, even when it has nothing to do with security or safety, no intelligent woman, which I consider myself to be, would dare question his dictate, which puts us women at a further disadvantage. I am by no stretch of imagination a feminist. But. This is wrong!
So, now, after this event, I don’t feel guilty. Now I feel enabled to start a movement. I can’t decide whether it should be a movement for gentleman volunteers to help weak women, or for weak women banding together to lift carryon luggage. Either would work. I am not quite sure how to muster either group. Should it be a letter to the airline? A letter to the editor? A letter to the president? (I mean, he seems to care so much about all the downtrodden and helpless, surely this would add to his roster of causes.) Or should I just continue to keep a low profile and conscript one nice man per trip leg to assist with the bag, lifting into and out of the overhead bin? 
I admit, it is taxing to continue to come up with the litany of fake impromptu requests. Because whether I feel guilty or not, it is really premeditated, and it is embarrassing. 
This all may become a non-issue if rumors that carryon bags will also engender a fee transpire. But, then, at least, the rules would be gender-fair.   
Would love your input.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Avoidance of the dreaded DMV visit had to end. After all, legally, our transfer from Illinois to Connecticut should have happened in 30 days. But, that didn’t take into consideration hotel life for 17 months, the not-sale of our IL home, and the continued “temporary living” status we enjoyed for most of 2008 and 2009. 
But it was time. So on our first 80 degree day in April, the air-conditioned DMV seemed like a good place to escape the heat. :) Right?
My first DMV line happily placed me next to older teens who knew a lot more than I about DMV lines. They must have noticed my old-lady lost look, and they took pity, telling me I really didn’t have to do this particular line, and could go directly to kiosk (GO)--although no mention was made about collecting any salary--and in fact, the kiosk wanted me to swipe a card, get my picture taken (not for the license--who knows for what!) and obtain a receipt which would allow me the joy of skipping over to the inching centipede--thousand-legger line on the other side of the building. This line was for those wishing a CT drivers license, update, driving or eye test, or replacement license. Thank you teenagers! The pre-kiosk line had only cost me an initial ten minutes, rather than an additional hour.
But, this was still an hour and a half until my turn at the desk where I had to show ID, an address with my name on it, and surrender my passport and Illinois license. Didn’t know I needed a proof of address. Raced to my car, tore off a cardboard box address label that thank God was still in my car, raced back to the desk and presented it. Noooooo. It was NOT a piece of mail. 
“Oh come on!" I mistakenly called it a UPS box, instead of the legitimate USPS. They sound so similar, and after calling on an officer of the law to accept this--which he would not as UPS, but okayed as USPS I heaved a "whew!!" I was in.
I sat back down in the eye-test waiting area and listened in on various conversations--parents and teens, new residents, disgruntled people who didn't think it was a good idea to waste April's first 80 degree day. 
My turn at the eye test. I was really stressing out the binoculars. We already know from my trip to Holyoke that I have challenges with my amblyopic situation. My testing officer was a dear man, about my age. Don’t these police people have crimes to solve? Never been to a DMV that used police officers for eye tests.
“Um. Can’t do the binocular thing,” I confessed. “Which eye would you like me to use first?” I think my innocence was a plus.
“Left eye, please,” he said. “Okay, then.”  Numbers, not letters--aced it. Then the dreaded right eye, which is yellowing, according to my optometrist, but not enough for cataract surgery yet. :( “I slipped on prescription sunglasses.) Aced this one too.
Then he said, “Which sign is closer?”
“Oh-oh,” said I. “Also a binocular question. I have no idea.”
“Try again,” he prodded, not able to process my dilemma.
“Um. Ok. But, they all look the same.”
He gave me one of the most tender looks I have ever seen, even outside of a DMV. Well I have actually never seen a kind look inside a DMV until this day.
“But, then how do you see which car is closer?” he asked, totally genuine, concerned for my welfare (which we all know is well-placed concern. See Finding My Way--scroll back).
“Well, I compensate,” I told him. “And, I don’t drive at night, and I don’t do Interstates, and I don’t put myself in situations where this might be a problem,” to which he gave me a look of incredulity but still kind. 
“I probably don’t see it as well as you do,” I offered, hoping ego-boosting (for him, not me) would help my case.
In the meantime, dear Jay decided this was a good time to check in, and my cell phone blared Santa Baby by Eartha. Now the sign at the desk clearly says no one can have a cell phone on. I forgot to turn mine off. Santa Baby played its whole theme because I wasn’t audacious enough to answer it, or even reach to turn it off.
The USPS approver walked through our eye test area, leaned in, and exclaimed, “You have just made my day. I love that song.”
I was so happy to have made someone’s day!! Christmas in April. Who knew? Santa Baby on a contraband cell phone!! At the DMV!
My officer was writing some things on his paper, winding up my test report, when he threw me another curve (which I could see).
“Were you using prescription glasses?”
“Um. Only on my right eye. I assure you, I use my left eye more. So pleeeeease don’t put ‘Needs correction’ on that paper. I haven’t had an accident that was my fault in 40 years of driving,” I said, hoping this too would comfort him. (After leaving the DMV, I realized I have been driving a tad longer than 40 years. Oh well. I didn't get the math genes. And, that made me sound younger.)
He sighed. I wasn’t sure what he wrote, so I pushed my luck.
“You aren’t writing glasses on that, right? Cause, really, I mostly use my left eye.” I don’t think that had been a sigh of relief, but rather of resignation. 
“No,” he said, shaking his head, and still that look of, “I hope she’ll be alright.”
I took my seat for another wait--this time the real picture. Only two hours and I was more than half way through--so I imagined.
It only took a half hour to get to the picture--and these people are nice.
“You’re way too nice to work at a DMV,” I said to my final desk gal. “How do you explain them letting you work here?”
“They let us drink,” she said straight-faced.
“Nice, and a sense of humor!” Unbelievable.
It took six tries to get my picture with the hopes my left eye wouldn’t turn in, as it does when I am tired. The two hour wait wore me down. I was tired. My left eye turned in. :(
“So I have to wait till the renewal for a new picture?" I asked. “2016?”
She smiled. She had tried. I couldn’t ask for portrait quality, even from this obviously caring soul after her six tries to get my eye right.
Oh well. Only a final half hour to request the procedure for me saving Jay from this two and a half hours of waiting, which another very nice desk person explained and gathered forms for.
Armed with power of attorney, registration forms for two cars, a motorcycle, and a temporary registration for getting the motorcycle from Massachusetts to Connecticut for its real registration, all that remained was getting insurance on the vehicles, and double-checking the list of must-haves: copies of Jay’s license, address proofs that matched each vehicle, and bank checks in the names of all participating registerees. Sounds easy, easy as pie, right? But, then it’s the DMV, which I have to say was not as odious a visit as I had anticipated, but still not the way I usually spend the first 80 degree day in April.