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Three Week Odyssey

12:33, 12:34, 12:35pm and I punch the SWA check in button on my phone and get my boarding pass line number for the last leg of a three week odyssey of travel: Phoenix, Los Angeles and finally Pueblo, CO.  My trips punctuated with pockets of a day or two of home time to wash my laundry and fill my vitamin packs.

I am tired.

Usually this is a happy moment for me.  I have just 24 hours before heading toward home.  Today, while sneaking this little task below the table in a work related class, tears start coming.  Thank God, I have on a long sleeve jacket and can wipe my eyes before my neighbor sees me.

I have worked with this group of folks for 16 years as of a couple of weeks ago.  They are my work family and I am leaving the Federal fold.  All of us are scattered around the nation, however, as with all good friends, we just need to see each other and we pick up where we left off months and sometimes a year ago.  We laugh, discuss, complain, commiserate and simply enjoy our limited time together until work and individual responsibilities make us fly apart again.  We always look forward to our next adventure of being together.

This is my last person-to-person goodbye and I am surprised at how emotional I am at the thought of it.  I am good friends…even Facebook friends with a few, but I am closer to one person than I thought I could be with a work friend.

Jerry is from Texas.  Upon meeting, we hit it off right away.  He is a wonderful gentleman who loves to laugh and tell stories.  He is the voice of reason at work and has a wonderful outlook on life and work.  He has so many funny quotes and anecdotes, I can’t remember cause I am usually doubled over laughing.   Each one uttered under his breath or across a crowded bar was the perfect fit for the conversation leaving everyone in earshot rolling with laughter.  We are buds…classmates and that means…we always…always sit together.

Brian, Howard, Tammy, Carolyn, Beth and the list goes on.  We are all joined by a common bond of helping keep the public safe around the railroad crossings.  We all have a passion for our jobs and share it with each other.  We have each others backs in all types of situations.

My favorite part of this group, they are always willing for fun.  They are adventurous as me and willing to get out of the hotel and looking to explore anything we can.  Our after work haunts have involved visiting historical sites, having delicious and/or very bad meals, wandering around a town on long walks enjoying the view and each others company, having a drink at a bar Teddy Roosevelt used to hang at or eating local sketchy foods.  Texas is one of our favorite destinations because Jerry is such a history buff and can fill you in on all the back story.  He also knows the best BBQ joints in the state.  One time he packed 9 of us into his little work sedan just to go to lunch.

I have made the incredibly hard and excruciating painful decision to leave my group and my life’s work and start another chapter of LeeAnn.  I am retiring at the end of the year.  There I said it out loud and in public.

I have planned this for a few months and have been confiding in a few folks who rely on my work, but as the time draws close, it is time to shout it out to everyone.

I have worked since I was in high school.  My first job was making popcorn at Sears at the Hillsdale Mall in San Mateo. Yep, they had a candy counter too.   I left that smelly and greasy job to wrap presents at Macy’s.  Then after I finished secretarial school, I started with the Southern Pacific Railroad on January 28, 1974.  I was 19 years old.

I worked for SP at San Francisco’s Bayshore Yard mostly afternoons, so I took a baking job at a local café during the morning.  I have a lifetime love of baking. After turning out scones, bagels and loaves, I would then headed off to the railroad for my 3:59pm shift. I worked at a series of bakeries while working at SP in Watsonville near Santa Cruz.  I spent a few years away from the industry and then headed to Amtrak until I landed my job at FRA.

So, I will be a few weeks short of 43 years of working full time when I walk away.

I am scared.

Hello, Goodbye

As John Lennon and Paul McCartney once famously wrote…Hello, Goodbye!

London!  How can seven days go by so fast? Truly the old adage “time flies while you are having fun” has never been so true.

With grins as big as their faces…wheels up at LAX London bound 3:48PM on June 18.  Wheels down at Heathrow 940AM on June 19.  A UK Customs check and the girls have their very first international stamp in their passports.  Wow!

We get our driver…yes, the flat we rented provided a ride into town and we hit the M4 (freeway).  Crazy weaving around and through tiny city streets and lots of near misses…we reach 137 Gloucester Terrace, W2, London, ENGLAND!

Nella, the landlord, meets us and shows me how to work the kitchen appliances…while the girls find their room.  Keys secured we head out the door the explore our temporary new neighborhood and find some lunch.  Ha!  The Redan Pub is just the place.  Smooth cold beer for grandma, Diet Coke for grandpa and fish and chips for the girls.  Their plates perfect with large chips (French fries) and huge piece of fresh cod and “garden” style peas.  You can order them two ways Garden peas mean whole…Mushy means just that.

Off to Hyde Park for a stroll and hit our first art exhibit at the Serpentine Slacker Gallery.   Groceries next,   picking up bake them yourself pizzas and salad makings for dinner at home.  All of us are out like lights at 8pm.

Introduced the girls to some terms…one being NSD.  No Shit Deal.  We use that acronym when we have to be somewhere at a certain time.  I tried not to do this a lot on this trip, but there were a couple and Saturday morning was one of them.   We had prepaid-timed tickets to some very popular attractions.

We headed out on the Tube for Westminster Station.  Walking up the steep steps the opening reveals their first great sight of the day…Big Ben (OK, it is really Elizabeth Tower…but don’t go all Candlestick Park on me).  I just tell them to look straight up.  They squeal…sending some local contractors working across the street into a fit laughter.  We walk across the Thames on Westminster Bridge and they get photo bombed by a couple of cute joggers.  Photo op with a bagpipper!   London Eye, Thames River Cruise, Westminster Abbey, walking and walking and walking.  Took grandpa back to the flat for a nap and we head out for more groceries…about a four block walk.

Coming out of the Marks and Spencer grocery market laden down with several bags –a single rain drop hits my glasses, by the time we get across the street it is pouring. “London Rain!” we all shout to each other and pick up the pace, but by the time we got to the front door we were drenched.  Everyone still laughing specially grandpa who is warm and dry.  Girls giggling. Another early night!

Sunday, Father’s Day…what better way to celebrate than to take grandpa clothes shopping!  We find him a paper, coffee and a seat and we head out through Spittlefield’s Market and Brick Lane.  Find some cool finds. We take him for an  Italian lunch and visit the British Museum for mummies and the Rosetta Stone.   Tired now, carrying some serious souvenirs  and it is warm, so we taxi home in a classic black London cab and grandpa gets his afternoon nap.  The girls and I hit the perimeter fence of Hyde Park for the Sunday art sales, find Dim Sum for dinner and head back.  BBC Antiques Roadshow on the telly!

Monday, is the big day and it is raining, so we bundle up.

Yeah-Yeah-Yeah…we did the whole Beatle Abbey Road cross walk thing before breakfast since we have an NSD later.   Asked a workman which crossing it was since there were several.  Found it and photo ops completed.  Wrote on the Abbey Road Studio wall and we are good. Back on the tube.

To the Baker Street Station (I am in heaven) and getting ready for Madam Tussauds Wax Museum and we have tickets for 10AM.  Stop for a “full English” breakfast* for grandpa near the tube station. Get in a long queue and meet so many fake movie, music stars, royalty (dead and alive) and politicians from around the world…even the Dalai Lama.  Then the One Direction bleachers come into view.  Absolute pandemonium strikes.  Really you would have thought they were real the way these two giggled and screamed.  Photos secured from the professional photographer and phones.  OMG.  Then we head through and I get a photo op with waxy and not really close to looking like President Obama.  Pretty cool!  Then the girls got their photo with the original “boy band” the Beatles…just what we needed after the morning’s adventure.

On to the Sherlock Holmes Museum (it is my turn to get crazy!) The line was so long I just hit the gift shop and grandpa and the girls give me about 30 minutes of time to myself to explore.   Head off to Selfridges to-see-not-purchase some seriously expensive stuff.  Our power converter in the apartment was not working and grandpa is on the search for something to fix it. Our phone batteries are gone and we are nervous…since posting photos to Instragram and Facebook is now threatened.  We get into a pretty sketchy neighborhood on grandpa’s forced march, we close in our ranks until  we find the store and get the goods.  A late pub lunch and we head home early.  Tomorrow is a another NSD.

We tube over to Victoria Station and walk to find the Coach Station (bus).  Off to Stonehenge and Bath.   Our tour guide was a cutie and the girls noticed.  We were able to get very close to the stones at Stonehenge and the Roman Baths were lovely.  The girls were brave and ordered Steak, Mushroom and Ale pies with mashed potatoes at the local pub and gobbled them both down.   Long trip home on the bus and another tube trip back to Paddington Station.  We find an Italian restaurant on the way home. The waiter brings me a glass of wine right away…must of looked like I needed it!

We have another great meal after a long day…estimate 14 hours and the girls are such troopers still giggling and laughing until they fall asleep.

Wednesday and Thursday are make up what we didn’t see days…

Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Covent Garden, National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, more Hyde Park, feeding swans and geese (OK OK that was my thing only…but we got rid of the last of the bread in the flat) Prince Albert Memorial, Albert Hall, Natural History Museum,  Nando’s for lunch (where One Direction eats, unfortunately for the girls…no sightings) Victoria and Albert Museum and two special exhibits, and finally Harrods.  We catch a bus going the wrong direction and end up at the far end of town.  Tube home and more Italian food.

Time to get packing and the girls did a great job.

Friday our final NSD…out the door at 5AM for the train to Heathrow Terminal 5.  With rain threatening, but not appearing, I told the girls London is going to cry because we are leaving.  Caught the Heathrow Express and twenty minutes later we were in the airport paying for our last full English’s in American dollars.

Wheels up Heathrow at 11AM, Friday June 26.  However not too many smiles on this leg of the trip…not angry or mad…just sorry our bit of British fun is over.

Wheels down LAX 115PM, Friday June 26. Exhausted and very happy.

I am pretty sure Lonnie and I accomplished our mission on this trip.  We wanted to show the girls how to travel light, be a good/open to pretty much everything traveler, how to interact positively with all types of people, be a good American and help others know we are kind and nice people and so much more.  We did it by example not lecture. We had long discussions on tons of historical things as widely varied as how the Teddy Bear got its name, who Humphrey Bogart is to tomb robbers in ancient Egypt.  We covered situational awareness in big and small crowds, not to be afraid of pigeons…OK that did NOT work, and how to travel on public transport.  The girls discovered how much more you seen on foot than in a car.  Little corners of fun of statutes and red telephone boxes!  They are great travel companions and would love to get out there again!

I know they enjoyed our trip.  Maybe just not as much as grandpa and I did…but pretty close.

What a ride.

*Full English Breakfast: two eggs, sausage, bacon, baked beans, tomatoes, mushrooms and toast.

So Proud!

Hannah and Hailey are GREAT in so many ways.

First, we challenged them to carry-on luggage only and they accepted and exceeded. Now we have an extra couple of hours to explore London.

They are ready to roll and embracing the trip with open hearts and insane giggles!

What an opportunity for Lonnie and I. We are physically and financially able to give Hannah and Hailey a trip to London.

We explain it is our intention to wet their appetite for travel and tell them not “if” they come back it is “when” they come back. That is how we approach these trips…as Rick Steves says “travel like you will return.” We have a list of places to visit…but if a London breeze takes us in another direction…we will follow it.

Like most people my age…my grandparents were old when I was a teen. And if not old in age…they just didn’t do this kind of stuff. My Grandma Ethel didn’t have a driver’s license. Old School!!

My step-grandfather Al always promised me a pony. As most girls were promised in the late 1950s and 60s. Let’s just say no pony was never delivered. Anyway…I didn’t want a pony. He was a fun old man who promised me that if no one saw you eat food…the calories don’t count! We played cards and he taught me the words to every automobile commercial on television…”See the USA in a Chevrolet.”

Lonnie and I are just so fortunate to have the means to take these girls on a fun and educational trip.

These are not my biological grand-kids. I am a virgin grandmother. Never had children. I am blessed to be married to a wonderful man that has four and that equals grandchildren. Wow. Just too much fun. I love Lonnie and have embraced his kids as my own. Sometimes it works…and sometimes not. It is working on this trip.

I told the girls I am glad they didn’t have to wait until they were 35 to visit London like I did…and alone at that.

With having two safety managers as grandparents…we went over safety stuff…staying close, no walking alone, how to carry your purse…situational awareness. They were all over that and have been great in keeping us in ear and eye shot in some crazy crowded areas.

This trip is exceptional for us. We are traveling with two young girls and they see everything as bright and shiny. We have been to London twice and it is like a new city to us.

Other trips we have taken with folks our own age can sometimes be downers…if you happen to have a grump in the group. It is like walking with a sore toe or toothache… the pain is annoying and is intensified if bothered.

I explained mindfulness and that we will take each opportunity to experience it and not look ahead while doing something fun. This is really working. From a cool museum exhibit to watching Londoners on a Friday afternoon walking their dogs in the park. It is all part of the adventure.

Nothing seems to bother these girls, they just keep on asking questions, giggling, and making Grandpa and I feel like we are their age. You can’t be young again…there is no fountain of youth…but traveling with 14 and 16 year olds will brighten your world and make your old eyes see everything new.

#hhinlondon

Seven Days To Go!

We are off again, so kitties are pissed off again.

On June 18 we will board British Air to London Heathrow. SWEET!!

Taking our granddaughters Hannah and Hailey. We are beyond excited.

We have a cool flat on Gloucester Terrace within walking distance to Paddington Station, Hyde Park, and a lot of fun places to eat and shop.

We have some of our adventures planned and purchased. London Eye and River Thames Cruise, Stonehenge and Bath day trip. But, most of the time we will go with the flow pointing in the direction of the many museums, shopping opportunities and other stuff we want to do.

Checking out Big Ben in a rain shower…

Walking on famous dead people at Westminster Abbey…

Fish and Chips

Nips and Peeps

Mashed peas with mint (ok so not that!)

So, stay tuned!!

Posting photos on Instagram: leeanndickson

#HHinLondon

Cheery Oh and all that rot!

Ps. After three prior visits, I will take time to do my Sherlock Holmes walk all by myself.

Vegas Baby

Las Vegas has a couple of nicknames which come to mind: Lost Wages and Sin City.  I refer to it as Shit Hole.  Anyway, since it is part of my work territory and I don’t go there very often, I just suck it up, stay in a non-casino property and lay low.

If you are a person born there or call the place home forgive me. This is not personal against you or its citizens. The people that live and work there are pretty nice. It is the venomous visitors…the nomads of naughtiness who bring the plague. The city marketing folks give blessings to get shit faced, screw around, and generally misbehave…remember “What happens in Vegas…Stays in Vegas.” Its like you are on vacation from your manners. Right. B.S.

I am sure when Benjamin-don’t call me Bugsy-Siegel envisioned the place, it was going to be great.  When The Rat Pack was alive they swung and crooned in 110 degree heat and the place was beyond cool. However, the Vegas of today is just nasty. The place is full of forced flashiness, forced falseness, and sadly forced fun.

Its only redeeming value is the plethora of Elvis impersonators…I just love those guys and they come in so many sizes, shapes and ages. The phenomenon is truly amazing. :)

What seems like millions of constantly flashing digital billboards litter the trash strewn streets. They tempt you with everything from Pot Doctors, sex shops, lots of magicians with bright white teeth to Jesus Saves.  Cars/trucks inch through tremendous thoroughfares going nowhere. Really, driving or just being in Las Vegas is a huge drag.

It is loud. From every corner, building, room, hall, elevator, etc., music is blaring.  The Hofbrauhaus Las Vegas, which shared the parking lot with the Hyatt Place (where I stay), had Jimmy Buffett’sChanges in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes screaming from the porch…I just don’t get the connection. Guess a rousing polka wouldn’t draw in the hangover wannabes.

Cars honking, drivers cursing, tires screeching, music blasting from cars, drunks on the street yelling…you get the picture/headache. Along with the sounds from the airport and Nellis Air Force Base there is no escaping the din of this dirty town.

Along with the complete hassle of being there, it is really-no nearly-impossible to get in and out.

Not to fear, I have found a secret. Fly in and out in the very early morning. I don’t mean 9AM…that is too late.  With the hangover reputation…not a lot of people are ready to be at a SWA gate for a 7:25AM departure.  However, I was and so were about forty other brave souls just trying to get out-of-town. Sweet, nearly empty plane!

On this dark morning there was a buzz in C Terminal-Gate 21. An infamous celebrity was flying SWA to Sacramento. I will not reveal his name. He is an accused abuser of women and drugs. He once bit part of an ear off an opponent in a sporting (not very sporting I should say!) event.

Oh well, this is getting long…anyway, there was no celebrity gushing like you normally see on TV.  No paparazzi. Just some fellow travelers who recognized him and slowed their pace long enough to catch a glimpse…like you do when you pass a car wreck on the side of the road.

He had a handler.  Now that guy looked like he could take you down. The famous one was small and frail in his stretchy Wrangler-old-man jeans and white tennis shoes. He seemed as faded as his face tattoo.

A woman approached and asked for a photo and was rebuffed by the handler. The famous one didn’t even look up from his reading. Then a young dad brought his young son ( 7 or 8) over with cute mo-hawked styled hair. Famous one nodded to handler, smiled and leaned in for a quick snap and then back to his magazine.  Really, I get it: famous one was a legendary boxer. However with what is known of his criminal background, who would want a kid near him? Yeah, yeah get off your soap box.  I know about his boxing foundation. OK!

Then some old couple just walked up and the old coot sat down next to him for a photo op without saying a word, just leaned in. It was like famous one was a plastic Ronald McDonald on a bench.  Before the handler could shoo them off…the wife secured the photo and the ancient pair shuffled off. I got nothin’ for this guy…but that was beyond rude!

Our plane was at the gate and was empty. The handler kept going up and asking if they could board. Guess famous one was bored. Anyway, the gate folks put him off until we all boarded…although he must have been Business Class since they let him on first.  I did not see the Blue (in need of assistance) boarding sleeve.

Now, I have seen celebrities and other famous people on planes before. Some I can name…but you wouldn’t know them (Eartha Kitt and Cliff Robertson-see I told you so) and some I know their faces, but have no idea why.  They always sit mid-cabin in a window seat and usually behind a book or magazine.

Not this guy, although he was somewhat aloof in the terminal, he sat in the first row on the aisle and made eye contact with each of us passing looking for another coveted aisle seat for ourselves.

He didn’t make a move until we landed. Although I (Big 60 in just a few days) was five rows back and handled a bag…I still passed him in the jet way…just as he coughed and didn’t cover his mouth. YIKES! First thing I did when I got home: scheduled my flu shot!

There is really no moral to this story. Just what happened to me today and that is what this blog is about.

I feel sorry for those that are so up there and then drop so low.  Maybe it is good to be happy with the middle and just go with that. We may not soar in the stratosphere but, it’s better than a lot of folks have it.

Terminal Terminal

No matter how abundant and great the art is about, there are a lot of varied and fun installations, the airport is a tiresome place.

It is, for me, dreary. I dread driving toward it. My car jockeys off the I5 and onto the exit and I creep along into the parking garage.  I wind up the ramp and cruse through the lanes looking for a yawning opening that will accommodate my Ford Escape.  I park a lot at the airport, so my first action upon turning off the key is to make a note of my lane number.

My tired black Atlantic roller bag drags behind me as un-anxious as I am to enter Terminal B.  But, we trudge along the cement deck, through the automatic glass doors that part as we approach.

The swath of industrial beige/brown carpet leads to the tram.  We, my fellow passengers, and I herd into the tiny tinny car and again doors automatically work.  Just as the faceless announcer warns…the train jolts to a start and we all sway and catch a poll or window sill to remain upright.

I stare at the tarmac over people’s shoulders. Never making eye contact.

Doors part allowing us to exit and we march into a roped off queue. I scramble to free my driver’s license from my wallet and marry it to my boarding pass. I align them correctly so the TSA agent will have an easier time reading them.  Again, I stare slightly to the right or left past faces awaiting my turn in line to prove who I am.

I wrestle off my jacket, slip off my shoes and hoist my belongings onto the automated belt that will x-ray my life. The bottom of my bare feet are cold against the slick tile floor.  My shoulders feel the breeze of the human x-ray as it swirls around me.

Shoes and jacket back in place and travel essentials accounted for…I see the upside down tree with light bulb leaves hovering over the departure gate sign. OK.

One and one-half hours to get to my gate and the mixed smells of roasted meats, burritos, pizza, coffee, donuts and perfume mixed together attack my nose.  I pay for a bottle of cold water and head toward my gate with my book.

The restroom is on the left.  My trusty valise and I struggle to get through the metal door and into the slim stall so I can pee.

All types of beauty products  being applied at the mirror accompany the women peering and primping in to the wall long mirror over the sinks. I wash my hands in tepid water and the sweet flowery soap smell is nasty.  A wave in front of a blinking red sensor spits out six inches of rough brown paper towel.

I snuggle into a genuine Naugahyde chair, park my bag and open my water and my latest only-have-time-to-read-at-the-airport novel trying not to hear anyone speaking around me.

No plane attached to the expanded walkway yet, so I listen for the roar of the jet engine that will soon arrive to take me away from home again.