I hope this holiday season finds you in good spirits and in good health! I've had such a blessed year – full of travel, being with friends, and making new friends. I was also saddened to say goodbye to one friend.
I visited with “Jeanie-baby,” my blind friend that I used to read to every week here in the Raleigh area, about once every three months this year. She moved to Washington, DC last October to live with her daughter and son-in-law. I’ve also been sending her a card every week on Monday, so it would arrive on Wednesday, which was the day we always visited when she lived here.
In spite of having a great relationship with her daughter, and living in a beautiful neighborhood (Chevy Chase area), she has been very lonely up there. She had developed such a great support system over the years in this area, and relished being able to live independently. Unfortunately her daughter and son-in-law work, and she is left alone a lot of the day. Her eyesight is really deteriorating now, which, understandably distresses her. Shortly, she will be going to Houston to spend the winter with a life-long friend, who has a husband, and are both retired. That will be good for her, as she’ll have company all day long there. Guess I’ll be flying to Houston for some visits! J
In January, I traveled, with a friend, to Aspen to ski for four days. Once we finally got up to Aspen, we had a great time! A snowstorm canceled all of the flights from Denver up to Aspen, which run hourly, and we ended up not able to get up there the day we flew out. So, though we lost one day of skiing, the three days we did ski were super. This was the first time I’ve gone skiing with someone who was of the same skill level as I was. In the past, I’ve been with Donna, who was just a novice, and then Rob, who also just learned to ski being with me. So with them, I spent at least half of my days on the “bunny slopes” skiing with them. This time, with my friend, Jay, we skied the hard slopes all day long. It was great fun, and great exercise. We started when the lifts open at 9:00 and skied until they closed at 4:00, stopping only for lunch. We were totally exhausted and ready for bed by 8:00PM each night! (I’m sure that had nothing to do with being 44 years old now, either!) J
I stayed busy this year as I continued my position of Secretary on the board of directors of a local nonprofit, participating in two book clubs, and being the Communications Coordinator for the IBM Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) Diversity Network Group. Also, in February of this year, I started taking line-dancing and two-stepping lessons in a local club. That has been so wonderful. I so love to dance, and now know 25-30 line dances, and just love doing it. We dance on Wednesday nights, and a new club that opened recently has started country and western night on Thursday nights. Yippee! Another night to dance!
In March, I took a weekend trip to Atlanta with a friend of mine. He owns some rental property there, and was flying back to rent it out to some new tenants. He asked me to go along, as he dances, and there’s a great C&W dancing club there called “Hoe Downs.” So he took care of his business, and we danced the weekend away. Great fun.
In April, I had the privilege of attending the 2002 IBM GLBT Leadership Conference in Armonk, New York (IBM Headquarters). IBM flew 150 high-potential gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees from all over the world to NY to train us in leadership skills. It was such a great, and empowering conference. 14 of the 17 “out” IBM executives were present, and it was just wonderful to meet people in person who I had talked to over the computer for a couple of years. We all left there feeling so valued, and re-energized about our work and about IBM. The conference was on Wednesday through Friday, and then several of us stayed in New York City, and partied for the weekend.
The next weekend, I flew back up to New York, into the city to meet a guy from London, also an IBMer, who I had been “chatting” with (on the computer) for about a year. His partner is in the theater in the West End in London, his played was moving from the West End and opening on Broadway, and they were here for two weeks for that! They had a great hotel room, right in the Manhattan theater district. I had been wanting to meet him, his name is Michael, for a while and thought, “it’s quicker and cheaper to go meet him in NY than in London!” So, I flew up there for the weekend, and had a great time! His partner, Nick, was such a nice guy, too! He took me back stage, and I got to watch the rehearsals, and watch him, do his trade, which he was excellent at. He is a lighting designer, and evidently, quite in demand. It’s amazing how lighting works, a lot of it is computerized now, and so it was very interesting to learn how it’s done. We had such a nice time together, that when I left, they both said, “You have got to come visit us in London!” Shortly after that we agreed on a good time to visit, December 4th – 10th, as on the 10th, Michael was turning 40, and they’d be having a big party out there!
Also in April, my old girl friend from high school, Kathy, came and spent three days with me. She had lost her 16 year old son, in a tragic automobile accident in July of 2001, had received lots of support from her friends, and had decided in April to just get in her van and make a trip (from the San Antonio, Texas area) and visit all the people who had been such good support to her in the months since her loss. I was fortunate enough to be on her list. We spent time just talking about the enormity of the loss of a child, laughed a lot over memories of him that she shared with me, cried together over the terrible grief of it all, and hugged for comfort. She blessed me with the taste of an experience I will never have in my own life.
She came to watch me dance one night, as she happened to be here over a Wednesday. It was her first time in a gay bar. All of the guys were real nice to her, welcoming her, one bought her a drink, and she got out and did the two lessons they taught. About halfway through, she leaned over to me and said, “You know what? Something just occurred to me. All these men in here, and not one of them is interested in me!” I laughed and said, “I know exactly how you feel. That’s how I go through life. Most of the men I see on the street are not interested in me either!” J We had a fun night, and as she was leaving on Thursday, she said, “Thank you so much for taking me dancing. I had the best time there!”
In May of this year, I attended the high school graduation of my niece, Meagan. I was very proud as she walked across the stage. That month, I also saw “Dr. Covington” (my sister, Vivian!) off to the airport for her trip to Russia! What an incredible opportunity for her! I couldn’t wait for her to get back with her animated stories, and she didn’t disappoint! Also in May, I attended a “GenderPac” conference in Washington, DC. What an incredible experience that was. The GenderPac conference is about transgender issues, and this year, IBM became a “platinum level” corporate sponsor, which basically means they donated a lot of money towards putting it on. In return, they were given six free admissions to the conference, one of which I used. Of course, there were many transgendered people in attendance, but there were also many straight, gay, lesbian, and bisexual people there. Several corporations send their Human Resources staff (who are often straight) to the conference for educational reasons. It was very, very interesting. I thought being gay had its moments; it’s incredible some of the things transgendered people have endured, and more incredible, is the courage that most of them had to muster in their lives to walk with dignity and pride in who they had finally become.
In July, I flew to Portland, Oregon, to visit Jeff, a friend of mine. He was having a house-warming party, and to a lesser degree, celebrating his recent 25th birthday. This was his first house, and he hadn’t held many parties. He scheduled this party as an “Open House,” from 10:00AM to 10:00PM! Well, it was a long day! The first guest showed up right at 10:00AM, and the last four or five left at 11:00PM! He said, “Never again!” While there, I also spent almost a full day with one of my favorite people on earth, Rebecca, who moved to the west coast several years ago. She is such a bright and affirming human being. We had the best chats sitting first in a neighborhood Italian bakery near Jeff’s house, and later moving to a table out front of it for a while.
In August, I spent a week in Provincetown, at the tip of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. It was “carnival week” (equivalent to Mardi Gras in New Orleans) that week, so it was quite festive! I went with three friends, and we rented a condo for the week. Unfortunately, before we left one of the guys’ dad was put in the hospital with a prognosis of not living for very long at all. He was torn about whether he should go or not, as we had planned this trip back in February. Finally, at his mother’s insistence, he went with us. Half way through the week (on Wednesday), he got called home, and his father ended up dying that Saturday, which was the day the rest of us returned.
That weekend, once home, I was told that Adam had died over the weekend, and had been cremated. Oh, the shock. He contracted Hong Kong Flu, and died from kidney failure. And, it all happened in about four weeks. I hadn’t heard that he was in the hospital, or that he was sick at all. It was such a shock. So, that next Tuesday, after returning from vacation, I attended Steve’s dad’s funeral at 11:00AM, and then a memorial mass for Adam at 7:00PM. A sad day, indeed.
In September, I attended the 2002 Out & Equal Conference in Orlando. Out & Equal is an advocacy group for GLBT issues in the workplace. IBM also has a presence at that conference. It was held on the Disney property, in a beautiful resort called the Coronado Springs Resort. I’m telling you, Disney knows how to host a conference! It was so well done!
In October, a wonderful guy I met back in April, Robert, took me to the beach in Wilmington, NC for the weekend. It was great to be at the beach at that time of year, and was even warm enough to go in the water, which we did. We had a great time body surfing, and just relaxing. It was just what I needed as I turned 45. Geez! J
At the end of October, I was sent on a three-week business trip to Los Angeles. IBM acquired a company in Irvine, CA, about 40 miles south of LA, and I was going to help the one technical writer the company had re-write the product manuals to reference IBM (instead of their old company name), and to develop information about the new function we added to the product to make it work with other IBM products. The three-week trip ended up being extended to four weeks. It was a long time to be away from home, but I had a great time there. I had never been to LA before, and took advantage of being there to visit the surrounding areas. I two-stepped and line danced in a lot of clubs there. Everything they say about the traffic out there is true, though. I went into LA (from Irvine) a couple of nights, and it took me two hours to go 40 miles. Ridiculous!
During my second week there, my friend, Steve, flew out to spend a few days with me. Steve is the one who had to cut his Provincetown vacation short to go home for his dad. He had been looking for a “cheap” vacation to make up for his lost time. Since he’d have a free place to stay (with me), and be able to use my rental car during the day while I was at work, it was the perfect solution for him! He arrived Wednesday evening, and traveled around during the day Thursday and Friday while I worked.
On Friday, we checked out of the long-term hotel I was staying in and traveled about 90 miles south to San Diego, where we spent Friday night. We went out to a restaurant and dance club on Friday night. On Saturday, we couldn’t resist being 20 minutes from the border of Mexico, and went down to Tijuana. We parked at “the last USA exit,” and took a bus into downtown Tijuana. We walked around there taking some pictures, and taking in the sights. Then we stopped in “Hard Rock Café Tijuana,” and had a snack. While walking around, we took the most ridiculous tacky tourist picture sitting in a cart being pulled by a donkey painted like a zebra, with a bright, multi-colored scarf thrown over our shoulder, and a huge sombrero on! It turned out quite funny!
After returning to “the States,” we stopped in Old Town San Diego, and walked around there. It was a neat little place, being restored to the way it was in the mid 1800s. The most interesting thing, especially to Steve since he is an elementary school teacher, was the “little red schoolhouse” there. After about an hour or so there, we hopped back in the car, and headed up to Hollywood. We spent the night in a great hotel in West Hollywood, called Le Parc Suites. It was a beautiful room. We had dinner out, and went to a club later on. We had breakfast Sunday morning up at the rooftop pool and sauna. There were tables, with canopies set up over each of them, up there.
We checked out at 11 and headed down to Hollywood, where we were doing the tourist thing for the day. He had never been to that area before either. As we walked to where we were to meet for our three tours, we passed a movie being filmed, and saw the “walk of the stars.” We did three tours: “the Hollywood sign tour” (one hour), “the Hollywood tour” (famous buildings and landmarks, one hour), and the “Beverly Hills tour” (homes of the stars, two hours). It was totally touristy, but we had a blast. It reminded me of the first time I went to New York City; everything you see and every street you travel are famous.
Steve left on Monday morning, and I returned back to Irvine, where I stayed for two more weeks. I ended up coming home on Saturday, November 23, the weekend right before Thanksgiving. I went home for Thanksgiving on Wednesday, shared Thanksgiving dinner with my sister Vivian and her husband Jeff, Mom and Dad, my brother Michael’s kids, Meagan and Michael, and had a little visiting time with the kids’ parents, Lisa, and her husband Doug. My mom, as usual, put on a great spread, and my dad passed up on the opening of hunting season this year, and joined us too! It was a very nice time.
The next Wednesday, the fourth of December, I was scheduled to leave for my trip to London for my friend Michael’s 40th birthday. Since the time I booked the trip, Michael had decided that what he wanted to do for his birthday was go to Paris for the weekend! So, he and his partner, arranged for 17 of us (Me, Nick, Michael, and 14 of Michael’s closest friends!) were to take the Eurostar (fast train under the English Channel) from London to Paris, spend Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights in Paris, and return to London on Monday! And they paid for it all! It was quite amazing. It was such an inexpensive trip for me, as I used frequent flier miles to fly free to London!
I was supposed to arrive on Thursday morning (it’s an overnight direct flight on American Airlines from Raleigh to London), but the weather gods had another plan in store. That very afternoon I was to leave, an incredible ice storm moved into the area. Everything closed down. Almost all flights from our airport were canceled. However, I finally got to the airport, which was no small feat, and my flight was still on. We got on the plane, and sat on it, at the gate for four hours, before they finally canceled the flight! I was rescheduled on the same flight the next night, Thursday.
So, I ended up arriving in London at 9:00AM (there were delays again on Thursday), I took the train from Gatwick Airport to Victoria Station where Michael and Nick live. I walked back to their flat, took a shower, and then hopped in a cab with them to go to the Waterloo train station, where we were to meet the other 14 guys, and catch the Eurostar to Paris. They were a great bunch of “blokes” (all British), and boy could those boys drink! We drank 8-10 bottles of champagne on the two-hour ride to Paris. We had canapés coming out the whazoo! Smoked Salmon, four varieties of little sandwiches, chocolates, peanuts, and pastries – everything you could imagine. We had so much food we started offering some to the other people in our car. We managed to drink all the champagne ourselves though. J Five of us played cards, and I learned a new card game called “Chicago.” It was lots of fun.
The first night in Paris was spent hopping from bar to bar and having “pints,” and other drinks. Eventually, some of us decided to have more than a “liquid dinner.” J Saturday was our only meal at which all 17 of us ate together. It was Michael’s “birthday lunch,” and he had chosen this place that translated into “The Meeting Place of Truck Drivers.” It was an out-of-the-way place, but it had great food, and more important to that crowd, great drinks! J Our bill for lunch was $1200.00! The proprietors of the place loved us! They opened two complimentary bottles of champagne after we paid our bill to thank us for patronizing their establishment.
I spent Sunday sightseeing by myself. The last time I was in Paris was in 1987 with Donna and both sets of our parents! I revisited L’Arc de Triomphe, La Tour Eiffel, Notre-Dame, and visited for the first time, L’Opera. I was so impressed by the Opera House; it was just stunning.
We returned to London on Monday, and “the blokes” took me to see their “local hangout” (pub!), where we proceeded to, you guessed it, drink! J I flew back to the States on Tuesday. I’m ready to spend some time at home now, well, at least until mid-January, when I go skiing again in Aspen!
As I said, I’ve had a blessed year. Lots of traveling (which I love), spent many happy times with friends, and made several new friends. I also experienced some loss, in fact, in addition to Adam and my friend Steve’s dad, Rob lost his father quite unexpectedly this past Saturday. The blessing in disguise there was seeing his family again at the viewing and funeral. We all shared how much we’ve missed each other.
My wish this holiday season and this coming year is that everyone lives their life to its fullest, and share as many happy moments as they can with friends and loved ones. That’s what I intend to do!
I had a 3:00 meeting with Nathan Grooms to sign the transfer of my Quick & Reilly brokerage account to American Express. We had some laughs, as we always seem to do -- especially when he went to write his "stock tip" on my October-November Q&R Statement!
I stopped by Wal-mart and Comp-USA looking for holiday printer paper, without luck. I found the nicest "opalescent paper" at the Factory Card Outlet store. It was $3.99 a pack, and I bought 10 packs, but it's beautiful! I also bought a package of 40 foil-trimmed cards.
Once home, I started storing copies of my letter customized to the first few recipients, so I'd be ready to start printing when I got back from Oasis.
Went to Oasis for 7:00 for two-stepping and line-dancing lessons. Only Mike, Andre, Steve, Tom, a guy named Scott, I believe, and Adam, of course, were there. We reviewed two line dances we've been learning in the last two weeks. Later, Tom taught us a few advanced two-stepping moves, which was great. I really like the way he teaches. I learned with Adam, which should help us dance better together in the future.
Later a group of three guys came, who I've never seen before. Once was named Walter, and we danced a couple of two-step dances together, and it was great. I lead. One of the other guys' name was Larry, and I gave him a two-step "lesson" out on the dance floor. He was nice, and caught on by the end. Seemed to really enjoy it.
I left there with directions from Andre on asking Vivian for contact information for his colleagues/friends back at Saratov University (or the Teacher Training Institute there). E-mailed that to Vivian when I got home, and called her. She's going to fix him up.
Started printing my letters, and continued until 5:45AM! Whew!