Sunday, December 31, 2023

Florida-Bahamas Cruise 2023 - Day 5 - Miami, FL

 


Florida-Bahamas Cruise - Day 5 - Miami, FL - 12/13/23


The day started with the knowledge that half of it would be wasted by a CBP (Customs and Border Control) requirement that all passengers disembark the ship, then re embark after returning to US waters before a final stop in the US.  What I didn’t know was how poorly this procedure would be in Miami compared to what I’ve experienced in Portland, ME.  


But first….


The ship was about 2 hours late coming into Miami.  This gave me the time to watch the ship’s virtual portholes on the TV, seeing the port entry while I was getting ready for breakfast.  Since I didn’t expect that the dining room would be open as normally scheduled, I decided to get a quick bite at the buffet - and it was mobbed as usual.  At least, I was able to get a seat at the back of the ship and watch the ship’s final docking movements.


About an hour later, I went to the theater to await the call for people who would be staying on the ship this port day to temporarily leave the ship. And by 10:30 am, we were leaving the ship.  On the way out, we were handed disposable ponchos, as it was raining outside.  A few minutes later, I was off the ship trying to figure out how to get to the waiting area at which we’d be spending the next few hours.  Neither MSC nor Miami Terminal staff gave any of us any ideas of where to go and where to wait.  Luckily, I found the way back into the terminal, and received a ticket with a boarding group number.  You’d expect that this number would mean something, but it didn’t.  More on that later.  Finding an open seat, I struck up a conversation with the fellow next to me.  It was nice to be able to have a nice chat with someone after relative social isolation for the past few days.  After another hour, I made my way to the restroom, but decided not to relieve myself there.  When an attendant has to tell women not to pee on the floor or on the toilet seat, I knew that this was not a place I was willing to get some relief.  Instead, I decided to follow the crowd to another waiting area, and wait a little more.


After another 45 minutes or two, someone made an announcement to wait until one’s boarding group was called before moving to board the ship.  So I decided to take an open seat and wait for a while.  Then, the people who decided to stand in line started moving towards the ship’s embarkation ramp.  I asked, what group number are they up to, and I was told groups 3 and 4.  It made sense to sit down for a few minutes.  A few minutes later, I asked an attendant about boarding groups, and I found out that they didn’t even care.  All they were doing was managing the flow of people back onto the ship, taking boarding group tickets at random.  So, I figured it best to find someone who looked familiar and join them on the line.  (Given the confusion, why not do this?)  I finally made it back to the ship around 2:00 pm, hungry enough to deal with an overcrowded buffet again.


Once done with food, I decided to make my one call to RQS this trip.  Although it was too noisy for us to chat much, it felt good for us to chat again.  (I can’t wait to see her when I return.  But that’s another story.)  After that, it was back to my cabin to rest for a while. Before I took my nap, I noticed a small puncture on my breast form.  Considering that I don’t want it to leak, I figured that I should use medical adhesive tape (3M product - forgot the brand name) that I use to minimize my brow ridges.  Hopefully, this was the right idea, or I will need to buy a replacement from the Breast Form Store.  And then, I decided to get dressed up in a nice black dress, hosiery, and a pair of flats.  The idea behind this is to get a picture of me at my prettiest taken tonight.



Around 7:00 pm, I started to get dressed to impress.  No, it was not a gala night.  But I wanted to be a little dressy tonight.  So I put on a LBD, some earrings, stockings and a pair of flats in order to get some nice pictures taken.  From what I can tell, one photographer’s work won’t make the cut.  But I expect that one of the pictures taken on the glittery staircase will be a keeper. (Sadly, it wasn't) After my pictures were taken, I went to see the comic, Dave Konig, in the Carousel theater.  He had a completely different routine than when he was in the main theater.  Again, it took 20 minutes to make me laugh,  But not as hard as last night.


Once the comedy show ended, I walked down to the MDR.  Although the service was nice, one of the wait staff used the dreaded “S” word until I told him that I was transgender, still using my old legal identification.  Once I did this, he used the correct gender pronouns.  Like last night, I had a steak (similar cut to last night’s steak) but it wasn’t as good (in part, because it was covered in gravy.) At least, the octopus appetizer and the chocolate cake I had for dessert were as good as I expected from a MDR.


After dinner, I hung out a little listening to music before going to my room to take off the bra, stockings and other decidedly feminine garments I wore tonight.  I can’t wait until tomorrow night when I get to wear the LBD that I wore to restaurant week about a month and a half ago….


Saturday, December 30, 2023

Florida-Bahamas Cruise 2023 - Day 4 - Nassau, Bahamas

 


Florida-Bahamas Cruise - Day 4 - Nassau, Bahamas - 12/12/23

I woke up very early, and couldn’t get back to sleep. So, I started checking my email before starting my daytime routine, and was unsure about going to the dining room again for breakfast. So I dawdled and went to the buffet.

After breakfast, I bought a couple of cheap watches and found that one of them didn’t work. I’ll have to return it before the end of the day. (Where did I put that tiny receipt?) Getting back to the room, I found that the steward had made the bed - and I proceeded to take my nap. When I got up, I checked my email and social media, finding that someone posted about the cruise I’m taking. Seems like the cruise line’s app is now reporting that instead of the cruise line’s private island,
we’ll be in Miami tomorrow. No one knows what’s up yet.  As I left for lunch, the room steward handed me some papers - Miami is our next port due to weather conditions at the private island.  This meant, we will have to be processed by US Customs before doing anything else for the day. AARGH!


As I noted in an earlier post, the buffet is open for lunch until 2:30 pm. Today, the buffet was relatively empty when I arrived, but there were no utensils to be found. I snagged the last set available in any of the usual places and proceeded to have a totally forgettable lunch. I’m not sure if this is always the case when it’s 20 minutes before closing, as the ship was performing a mandatory crew safety drill. This time, they were practicing (from what I could tell) what they needed to do if there was an accident/emergency that forced the ship to limp back to port. From what I could tell, a good number of the ship’s crew were participating in this exercise, as there were fewer staff than usual manning the public food and drink venues.


I gazed at the light show in the promenade before going to the theater to hear a performer doing show tunes. The singer was very good, but not up to the hype given to us by the cruise director. My next stop was at the cruise line’s steakhouse. The value of the meal was very good, but I’ve had better steaks on both NCL and Princess. (I’m not knocking the steaks on this ship. I’m noting that the head chefs on the other lines have better eyes for good beef being bought en masse.) I must note that the waiter didn’t get my wine order correct. I asked for a Merlot (which is on my plan) and not a Malbec (which is not), then in the end got a Zinfandel. It did go well with the steak, but I was not in the mood to delay my wine service any longer.


My next stop was to exchange the faulty watch, so I killed 45 minutes waiting for the stores to reopen. After a minute or two, I had a new, working wristwatch I could wear with gold jewelry. Then it was back to the theater to see a comedian (Dave Konig) do his act. For the first 20 minutes, he didn’t get much of a laugh from me. But when he started a bit about a fictional “Bronx Airlines”, he got me laughing. (Think of Mafia enforcers running an airline, and you’ll get the idea this gag is built on.) It was a nice way to end the evening.






Friday, December 29, 2023

Florida-Bahamas Cruise 2023 - Day 3 - Port Canaveral

 

Bahamas Cruise - Day 3 - Port Canaveral - 12/11/23

I had a good night’s sleep last night. How do I know this? I had a strange dream that was pleasant, but can no longer recall. And that’s just as well as I was woken by the alarm on my phone and made it in time to have breakfast in one of the ship’s restaurants. What a mistake that was!

Over the years, I have developed a preference for having my meals in a dining room over getting my meals from a buffet table. This ship, the MSC Meraviglia, has fixed dining hours for its restaurants. Dining room meals are scheduled as follows:
  1. Breakfast - One seating - 7:30 am to 9:00 am
  2. Lunch - One seating - 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm
  3. Dinner - Two seatings - 6:45 pm and 8:45 pm
If one doesn’t arrive within the breakfast and lunch hours, one has to go to the buffet for one’s meals. If one doesn’t arrive within 15 minutes of one’s scheduled dinner seating, one has to go to the buffet for this meal. My first night’s dinner seating was horrendous, because fixed seating on the first night takes a lot more time and effort from everyone involved. But the second night’s dinner was almost a pleasure, save that they assumed that I wanted red wine with dinner before I had the chance to choose my meals from the menu.

Today, I had the chance to try out this ship’s breakfast in the dining room. I wished I had gone to the buffet due to its so-called service.  It took almost 15 minutes to be seated when I arrived - MSC is not good at anything that resembles flexible service. A menu was hurriedly put in front of me, and my order was quickly taken. But that was it for the next 30 minutes. No water was delivered to my table, no one asked whether I wanted coffee (there wasn’t even a cup on the table if I wanted any), and no food arrived for 30 minutes. When the food arrived, I received white toast, instead of the rye toast I had ordered - without the expected butter and jam. It took even longer to get coffee, juice and water. To make things worse, they didn’t have OJ - even though it was on the menu. It took more time for food to arrive at my table than I took eating it. Next time, I’ll play it smart and go to the buffet….

I decided to take a mid morning nap, and got up in time to go to the buffet for lunch. Today, it was much less crowded, as many people decided to eat before leaving for their shore excursions when the ship docked - around 1:30 pm. Compared to yesterday, the ship seemed empty. And I was glad about this. About the one thing I didn’t like (and this is a very minor issue not under cruise line control) is that it has to charge state sales tax on all beverages consumed at the bar while in port.


While at lunch, I noticed that there was a ship infested with rodents next to us. Although there were rat guards on the lines securing the ship, I could easily tell that there was a pair of giant rodents onboard. And they even had names for these rodents - Mickey and Minnie.😊  Needless to say, even if one doesn’t like the “House of Mouse”, one has to respect it for what it does.

After a mid-afternoon nap, I decided to explore the ship a little before having the first of my 3 specialty dinners. Not much happens while on the ship on port days, so it was peaceful during the day at port. All of the stores were closed, and the main promenade was relatively empty. Around 6:30 pm, I walked over to the theater to watch the magic show. This show had a variety of magicians including illusionists, mentalists, and conjurers. It was an entertaining show, even if one has an idea of how things were done. With that being said, the entertainment was lacking, as the show was only 45 minutes long.

As the show let out, I was in a rush to visit the first of my 3 specialty restaurants - a Mexican joint called “Hola Tacos!” On the way there, I had to bypass a performance about to begin in the mid-ship promenade. Although I might have liked to see the performance, my stomach was telling me that tacos were needed. Once inside the restaurant, I was shown to my seat and placed my order. The food came out quickly. It was very good, and one could get an unlimited amount of it - I ate more than my fair share. Even if I had to pay the up charge to have a meal at this place outside of the dining plan I bought, $18 would have been a small price to pay for food this good.


At this point, I was done for the day. So I went back to my room to sleep. Before doing so, I had the chance to ask my room steward about the virtual porthole behind my bed, and he noted it was out of service. Just as well. It might have disturbed me in the morning.


Thursday, December 28, 2023

Florida-Bahamas Cruise 2023 - Day 2 - Sea Day


Florida and Bahamas Cruise - Day 2 - Sea Day - 12/10/23

Last night, my CPAP mask frame failed. Unfortunately, I had used the headgear way too long, as the glue holding the hook-and-loop tabs failed. So I ended up Jerry Rigging a fix with adhesive tape, hoping it would last until I returned home on Saturday. Luckily, I fell asleep easy with this fix in place, although I had to be much more careful when wearing the CPAP mask. 

In the morning, I didn’t hear my alarm clock as the volume was set too low for me to hear it. Instead of going to the Main Dining room (MDR) for breakfast, I ended up at the buffet for a forgettable meal. Once back from breakfast, I took a little nap and watched some TV. By the time I was ready for lunch, it was 2:00, and the only thing open was the buffet. As a result, I ended up suffering the crowds to get a bite to eat. Once done, I decided to schedule my specialty dinner reservations then relax a little.  

 

While in my cabin, I chatted with RQS via Facebook Messenger. She told me that it is raining heavily in New York. That got me hoping that the work being done on our co-op’s retaining wall would be mostly completed by the time the rains started. As much as I've made her think that this is a terrible cruise, it’s not as bad as I’ve made it out to be. MSC is the F.W.Woolworth of cruise lines (5¢ and 10¢ deals - the origin of the phrase "Nickel and Dimeing"), and it shows. I’ve grown to appreciate lines with more personal service, and am willing to pay for it. MSC is a good value for people new to cruising, giving them the chance to encounter a variety of experiences that would help them find a cruise line and itineraries that best fit their desires. But I expect that many people will grow tired of this cruise line once they experience the service provided by other lines.

I’m giving MSC 7 days before I have a final opinion on this cruise and of the cruise line. If I could change one thing, I’d give my highest priority to making the dining experience more flexible, more attentive, and serve a higher quality of food. Having to wait standing in line for almost an hour to get seated at a fixed dining time, not having personal service, and having a meal where none of the food makes me say “Wow!” makes me want to choose another ship and cruise line.


While walking around the ship, I found that it is bigger inside than I first thought. The “main drag” of this ship is located on decks 6 and 7, and reminds me of Freemont Street in Vegas done with a Miami Beach vibe. A picture of the ceiling lights can give a better idea of what I mean by this, as there was a lot of activities going on in this area, and few places where one can get away for a quiet drink and to read a book.


One thing I noticed is that on cruise ships, cell phone times update themselves when in Airplane mode. That happened to me today, and I went to a theater an hour early. After checking with someone, I found that I made this dumb error - and proceeded to kill time in both the lounge reading a book and in the casino playing the slots. (The casino was eerily empty when I was there, only getting busier as the evening progressed.) During my stay in the casino, I added $4 to my bankroll before moving on to the theater for the cruise line’s musical tribute to Houdini. This show featured a cast dressed up as circus performers, including trapeze artists, strongmen, a gypsy, a harlequin and a magician. Was it worth the $5 I (would have) paid for it? To some people, yes. But not to me. So I was glad that they refunded the $5 because the full show couldn’t be performed. Although I sat through the show, I was glad it was over, so I could run down to the main dining room to eat.

Today’s dinner was much better than last night’s dinner. This time, they got much more right. Things were helped by people knowing where they would be seated. Tonight, it was a pleasure to eat there, although I would have liked to have waited to choose my wine, as I wouldn’t have had red wine with fish. Since red wine was poured, I ordered the Chicken Parmesan, and enjoyed the meal. I’m not sure if it is my American taste buds, but the cheese cake wasn’t as sweet as I expected. But that was only a minor complaint. After the end of my meal, the Maitre’D asked me about how I enjoyed the meal, and I noted some things based on yesterday’s experience. The conversation could have lasted longer, but I had a pressing need to return to my room for the evening - which I did.





Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Florida-Bahamas Cruise 2023 - Day 1 - Embarkation

 


Florida-Bahamas Cruise - Day 1 - Embarkation - 12/09/23


Today was a day where I had to get my act in gear and get out of the house in time to make a 9:37 train - and I almost didn’t make it.

But first….

Last night, I finally got everything packed (and maybe over-packed at the same time).  But I didn’t get to sleep until 3:00 am, so I knew that I’d need to nap a little as soon as I was able to board the cruise ship.

This morning, I awoke very early (around 6:00 am), and I knew that it was the Adrenalin (or some other stress related hormone) that caused me to wake up.  Instead of rushing to burn off that energy, I tried to relax for a while until the clock told me that I had to get up and get ready to go.

Around 9:00 am, I called the local taxi service to bring me to Croton-Harmon station, and the cab was a little late.  Then, it had to pick up an elderly passenger going to the same place at the same time.  So I barely made it in time to buy my ticket and get on the train - this time with all my bags intact. (The memories of my Chicago trip are still fresh in my mind.) 

 


Arriving in Manhattan around 10:45, I had a decision to make: Do I take the subway to South Ferry and try to make it to Pier 11 in time for an 11:30 ferry?  Or, do I take a cab to the pier?  The cab won out, as it would be a more direct, but expensive trip.  And this was a wise choice, as I made it to Pier 11 with 20 minutes to spare.


Now that I knew I’d make it to the Cruise Terminal in time, I could start thinking about what would come next.  Arriving at the Cruise Terminal a little before noon, I dropped off my big bag and started carrying both my CPAP bag and my weekender bag along the path through the terminal, then onto the ship, and finally to my cabin.  (Next time, I’ll use my rolling carry-on bag for this task.  Without a bag to rest the weekender bag on, I was very uncomfortable.)

Reaching my cabin was an effort.  I had chosen a cabin at the far aft of the ship, and the rear elevators are best described as mid-ship elevators.  So I will likely be getting a fair amount of walking in on this cruise, as I’ve already put in 2.6 miles before 6:00 pm.  But I digress.  Once on the ship, I had to associate my room key with a credit card, so that onboard charges could be made. And this was a minor headache, as the process wasn’t as clear as it could have been.


When I finally made it to my cabin, I found that it was designed for two uses, both of them imperfectly.  The first was for a solo cabin, the way it was laid out when I arrived.  The closet doors wouldn’t open completely because the sofa bed was made up to be a bed for two, instead of for one, and I had to shift the bed a little so that I could hang my dresses in the closet.  The second was for an attached cabin, where one of the connecting doors would be opened so that people in the same party could pass through a doorway separating the two cabins. 


Unlike cabins I once inhabited on NCL ships, this tiny cabin on MSC is noisy, as loud neighbors were disturbing my rest on the first night.  Luckily, I was able to take a nap after the muster process.  But even the muster process was a mess.  First, I had to ask where the muster station was, then hoof it to the back of the ship on another floor then back to my room (requiring me to walk the length of the ship twice). Then the crew member scanning my cruise card/key had problems with his reader.  And after that, once I returned to my room, I had to make a call to register that I completed the muster process.  Finally, after all of this, I was able to take my nap.

While relaxing in my room, I turned on the TV.  Like the other cruise lines I’ve been on, they have a few live channels and some on-demand movies.  One problem - the connection to CNN, TCM, and other satellite channels can be flaky, and I missed the better part of a movie because of this.

As I believed that I was scheduled for late dining, I made my way to the assigned restaurant 15 minutes before seating time.  There, I found out that I had been scheduled for early dining.  AARGH!   Luckily, this wasn’t a problem, and the Maitre’D fixed my reservation slot.  Then I was told to wait on line.  Late dining starts between 8:45 pm and 9:00 pm.  But the doors to the restaurant didn’t open until 9:35 pm.  Dinner came even later.  If one likes “wedding mill” dining, this place wasn’t too bad.  But they couldn’t get my drink order right.  Again, I was lucky to have purchases the “Easy Plus” drink plan, as I got bottled water, a bottomless glass of Merlot, and a bottle of softly sparkling water when they couldn’t bring me either a Club Soda with Lemon (they brought a can of Sprite), or bring me a Diet Coke with some ice cubes in the glass.  Am I fussy?  Far from it.  But, like wedding mills, the waiters and bus staff do not have the ability to give specialized service.  Here is where I will give both NCL and Princess a strong edge over MSC - they know how to make people feel like they are in a restaurant instead of a catering hall.

Once done with dinner, it was time to go to bed.  It was a long day, and I want to be able to get up early enough for breakfast in the morning.



Tuesday, December 26, 2023

I'm back from my cruise - and will soon post about it.


I just got back from my cruise, and will post about it over the next few days in a diary format.  

Being apprehensive about using the MSC cruise line before my vacation, I approached it as both a learning experience and as an opportunity to spend 8 days interacting with the outside world solely (with an exception or two) as Marian.  And this experience didn't disappoint me, although some experiences on the ship did just that.  (I'll explain over the next few posts.)

As much as I wanted to give a solid "thumbs up" or solid "thumbs down" on this ship and MSC as a whole, I found myself unable to do this by the end of the cruise.  Instead, I found myself feeling that, with reservations, I would take a cruise on this ship again - but only with a limited set of itineraries. 

- - - - - -

For someone living in New York's Northern suburbs, transportation to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal as a solo traveler is a pain in the ***.  For me, when I do it again, I will try to choose as late an embarkation time as possible, but try to get there as early as possible.  Why, you might ask?  The answer comes with the weak links in transportation: The New York City Subway and The NYC Ferry system.  Although both are reliable in their own rights in weather that is not too cold, hot, windy, rainy, or snowy; add stressful weather, awkward connections between transit modes, and scheduling issues to the mix, and a 2 hour trip could take 4 hours.  For a solo traveler on a pension, this is a reasonable trade off, as I could spend only $42 (approx.) round trip between my house and the ship.  Yet, for a family of 4 (including 2 young children), it can make sense to spend $390 in gas, tolls, and parking to reach the same destination.  It all depends on a traveler's circumstances.

I suggest that anyone reading about the trip look for the things they like most or dislike most and comment about them.  I'll answer any questions you might have, so that others like me can travel the world the ways we want to....

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Christmas Eve - Hoping that you will have a Happy Holiday!

 


By now I have been back from my Bahamas cruise for about a week.  More on that cruise after the holiday....

- - - - - -

Tonight, RQS and I are getting dressed up and going to a fancy restaurant.  It'll be nice to get dressed to the nines with her, and enjoy an elegant dinner.  I know that RQS enjoys seeing me presenting as Mario, but she indulges me by accepting Marian as well.  At least, she will get to see Mario tomorrow, when we go to TCL for an Xmas dinner.

Since I don't have too much to say, I'll see you after the holiday and catch up on what has been happening in my life.

Saturday, December 23, 2023

One more night to go....

 


I got my Mani-Pedi, money from the bank, and I'm now almost done with packing for the cruise.  This will be the first cruise I've taken as Marian since my Hawaii trip.  And I'm looking forward to it.  Yet, I will likely NOT get off the ship, as none of the ports protect my right to go out as Marian.

So, why am I taking this cruise?

The answer is relatively simple.  I want to spend some time as Marian and try out a new cruise line at the same time.

Right now, I'm almost packed and ready to go.  I still have to find things such as a lanyard, and water shoes.  But that's about it.  Given the weather that's going to be coming up the coast, I expect that I must be prepared for anything.  One thing I'm sure of is that we're not going North or East.  South is the only practical direction at this time of year.

- - - - - -

Regardless of how well this new cruise line performs, I don't think I'll be a regular customer for their cruises.  This line sails out of New York and Florida (for the most part) for its North American routes, and I've seen enough of the Caribbean to last a lifetime.  If anything, I want to explore sites on the West Coast, something this line doesn't do yet.

The more I vacation as Marian, the less I want to go out as Mario.  Sooner or later, I'll have to do something about my legal ID to make it easier to travel as Marian.  Yes, I've said this before, and I'll say it again. It is very important to me that I be able to travel in any presentation that I see fit to be in.  This is one of the times I "sorta" wish that I still had FCP as a traveling partner.  She'd back me up if I were to go through a port with Mario's ID and got hassled by the local authorities.  But that chapter in my life is in the past, and we no longer are in contact.

- - - - - -

So, instead of making a long post, I'll get back to packing.....



Friday, December 22, 2023

Getting things done at the last moment

 

One more day to go before my cruise, and I figure that I've left too much undone.  Last minute bill paying has yet to be done, and I have yet to visit a nail salon for a Mani-Pedi.  Tomorrow will be the last day that I'll have the chance to take care of these things, so I'd better have a game plan set up to make sure that all of my tasks are completed on time.

This afternoon, I had a couple of tasks to take care of, and only dealt with one of them.  And that was taking a duplicate Amazon delivery to the UPS store for a return credit.  (See previous post for more information.)  The other task, left undone was to go to the nail salon for a Mani-Pedi.  That, along with getting some cash for the cruise and doing some last minute packing must be done as early as possible, as I'll need to be fully rested before an early morning trip to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal.

Once done with UPS, I went home and took a nap.  I had forgotten about the chicken in the refrigerator, and ended up stopping at Mickey D's on my way to Game Night.  Although I was late, they made way for me to join in a game, and I did well for a change.  But I was there for one reason - to give two kids their Xmas presents.  And both loved what I bought.  The hostess then brought out a gift for me - a nice bracelet with phosphorescent beads.  Although a little small, I was able to wear it - and may do so on my upcoming cruise.

On the way home, I chatted with RQS.  We're still making our arrangements for next weekend, as we're going to a concert that Sunday night.  Then, the next weekend will be the holiday - and I can't wait to get dressed to the nines with her again....

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Packing for another cruise - again.

 

Yes, I will soon be on another cruise, and I'll be taking pictures - of the ship.  It's not that I don't want to get off the ship.  Instead, it's because there's nothing new for me to see at the ports when I leave the ship.

- - - - - -

Today, I took care of some business for the co-op, and then attended our monthly business meeting.  Ever since we got our new site representative, things have been running well.  Instead of our meetings running 4-5 hours with the old site manager, they now run 90 minutes or so and are almost a pleasure to attend.  When someone commented about a mistake this new fellow made, I noted that this would be the price we pay to train this person to do the job in the way we want the job done.

Once the co-op board meeting was done, I proceeded to do a couple of loads of laundry before the cruise.  I figure that I'll need clean sheets for when I get back, as well as clean clothes I can take with me on the cruise.  And yet, I still have to pack the fancy dress I want to wear, along with the shoes I'll be wearing with it on gala nights.  It'll be nice to gussy myself up again, as its been a while since I've felt pretty - being stuck in Mario mode for too long can be hard to bear at times.

- - - - - -

Do I think I'll be wearing everything I bring on the cruise?  No.  But I have the room in the suitcase, so why not bring a few things so that I have a few options when I'm on the ship.  While cruising, I hope that the have the "Inch of Gold" chains on sale, as I need to pick up some 24" gold and silver chains to use with some of the pendants I have bought recently.

Even if this cruise is not up to my standards, I think I'll have a good time.  Keep your fingers crossed for me....

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Holiday Planning - a quick post

 

Holiday Season is here.  And this year, my plans were not as simple as they might have been in years past.  My niece and nephew will not be coming to New York this year, and this means that my brother will not be doing anything special for the holiday.  RQS has no family to visit, leaving my family and friends as her options for people with whom to share the holiday.  This meant that I had something special for us to do together, and find someone who was also alone on the holiday.

Our original plans were for RQS to come up to Croton, and we would find a nice place to eat on Christmas day.  However, most of the places we looked at were offering Christmas Eve dining, but not Christmas Day dining.  So we regrouped.  Instead of being in Croton, I'd go down to Queens and we'd have a special dinner in NYC, specifically a high-class Chinese restaurant. (We joked that we were becoming "Honorary Jews" for the day, as it is a custom for many Jews to eat Chinese food on this holiday.)  Though we had found such a restaurant, our plans changed again.  TCL had no place to be on Xmas, as she couldn't make plans early enough to afford visiting one of her offspring for the holiday.  So, RQS and I agreed to have a fancy Christmas Eve dinner at a local restaurant (with me presenting as Marian - I can't wait to get dressed up for this), and then visit TCL for a Chinese dinner on Christmas (with me presenting as Mario).

When will I get to see my brother?  Who knows?  But I expect that it may be after my next visit to RQS's place in Queens.....


Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Seeing work finally getting done

 

Several years ago, a former co-op board member reported that the retaining wall behind her building had failed, and that it needed repair.  We were in the middle of a financial crisis, as we were digging out from a heavy debt load and would have higher priorities until we refinanced the complex. This board member has since left the co-op, selling off al of her shares, and no longer has any interest in the complex.  However, the issue of the retaining wall remained.

Although we refinanced the co-op a year or two ago, gaining the funds to pay for this project, we hadn't been able to start it due to issues I am not at liberty to cover here.  This delay caused the repair work being done on the retaining wall to become a higher priority for us, and we were able to break through the log jam to solicit bids, approve a contractor and get work started.  A couple of weeks ago, we saw the delivery of materials needed to start work on this project.  I'd bet that the people whose parking spots were affected by the delivery of this material had their complaints, but I think they were also glad to see that work would finally be getting done on this project.  

- - - - - -

Getting this work done was one of my highest priorities, as I know what happens when infrastructure maintenance is deferred.  Too long of a delay will cause things to fall apart, causing repairs (or replacements) to become even more expensive.  Yes, I have been a voice for spending more money when many of the people in my complex (like myself) are living on fixed incomes.

Sooner or later, everyone has to take care of some form of deferred maintenance - to one's property, or to one's health.  I guess it's now the season the season to do this....

Monday, December 18, 2023

The effort to verify that a communication was legitimate.

 

As most of my readers know, I am of that age where I can start collecting Social Security benefits.  However, the path between applying for Social Security and collecting one's first benefits is fraught with risk.  In my case, it was verifying that a phone call and email came from the Social Security Administration (SSA) and nt from a scammer.

While I was on my recent Bermuda Cruise, I received both a phone call and an email from a person claiming to be from SSA, saying that I should call his office before December 7th in regard to my benefits.  Well, something seemed fishy, but I couldn't put a handle on it.  So I decided to wait until I returned from the cruise to start looking at things.

When I returned from my cruise, I decided to try and find out whether the communications I had received were legitimate.  First, I decided to check communications on the ssa.gov secure website, but I found nothing.  This didn't give me a good feeling.  Next, I looked at the email to see if the sender's address was spoofed in some way - and there was no evidence of whether this came from SSA or not, as the sender had a "do not reply" return address.  Things were not looking good to say the least.  But something said that I had to do more research.

A few days later, I decided to call the number I had received, and find out what might be going on.  The announcement on the line said SSA, so I dialed the extension.  A person answered, and wanted my SS number before proceeding any further - something I would not give.  After a minute, the fellow gave me the number of the Peekskill office (which I could verify) to call and verify his number.  The next day, I called a different SSA number (1-800-772-1213) to get information.  Although it took 45 minutes to reach a human, I was finally able to verify that the original communication was legitimate.  What a relief.  Now to contact this fellow, finally knowing he was a legitimate contact.

 

 

PS: I spoke with the man today, and the reason for his call was that I could collect survivor benefits on my late wife's account for 4 months, then switch over to collecting benefits on my account when I'm 66 1/2.  It's a nice way to get an extra $2,700 pre-tax.  It's too bad that I didn't file to collect as a survivor on my late wife's account a year ago.  It'd have been nice to have an extra $10k+ in my bank.  But then, why be greedy?  I'm treating this as one of the last things my late wife can give me.  And, like 27 years ago, I am treating myself to a cruise with this money....


Sunday, December 17, 2023

????????

I didn't know what to write about when I started this entry.  Do I write about what went on in my life this weekend?  Do I write some commentary about what is going on in the world? Or, do I choose a topic at random and pontificate on it?  After a full day of thought, I had few ideas, so here goes....

1. I recently received a call from an old friend.  Although we both had said that if we reached the age of 60 without a partner, that we'd consider having a relationship.  As readers of this blog know, I am very happy with RQS as a partner, as we are alike in so many ways.  And I consider myself lucky that we didn't get together, as she is a train wreck of a person.

This friend knows I am transgender, and talked about a conspiracy to take children who question their sexual identity and treat them as either trans or gay/lesbian.  Although there may be some people who have this as an agenda, most trans people (and most schools) would never consider doing this.  At most, we'd want to have the child see a qualified psychotherapist for evaluation before anything else is done.

Our conversation morphed into talking about "Welfare Cheats", as if there was a moral problem with most of the people collecting social benefits.  She then started to think with her feelings and not her mind when she said that we should put unskilled people to work babysitting working folks' kids.  I countered with a single question: Would she want someone who us unvetted, unskilled, and otherwise unsuited to babysit children to be responsible for her child's welfare in any way?  The last thing I'd want to see is a person prone to violence in charge of my child.  Yes, people who have this philosophy will often backtrack and make exceptions for the flaws in their plans.  But in the end, they do not have well thought out positions.

2. RQS and I were looking for a place to have a fancy dinner on Christmas day.  It's amazing how few fine dining places are open on Christmas vs. Thanksgiving.  So I joked with my friend Vicki that RQS and I will become honorary Jews for Xmas and eat Chinese!  Vicki chuckled.....   She knew why Jews tend to go to Chinese places on Xmas - "Safe Treyf!"  (i.e. Non kosher food that is tasty, that doesn't look like the forbidden food it is.)

3. This morning, I received a call from UPS to ask me about a claim I filed regarding an item they claimed was delivered, but did not show up at my door until the following day.  As I was getting home (and prepared to make a return phone call to UPS), I met the UPS delivery guy in the hallway.  We chatted for a minute, and I explained what happened.  He confirmed my suspicion that UPS often uses USPS for last mile service (claiming the item has been delivered to my door when it wasn't) and that holiday season extra hires often do not know the routes and deliver goods to the wrong addresses. I was willing to confirm what happened on paper, and he said that I did the right thing.

4. I'm still trying to think of what to get RQS for a surprise Xmas gift.  She already knows the "big" item she is getting.  But I want to surprise her with something else.  (Any ideas?)

5. Now that my ears are pierced, I'm finding that I want to buy coordinated sets of earrings and necklaces w. pendant.  However, I'm finding that I end up doubling much of the expense, as I need to buy a longer chain for the pendant, so that it hits at the right place on my neck.

6. Every time I think of my upcoming cruise, I find that I missed something I should be packing. Today, I figured that I should pack a swimsuit, as I'll be in the Bahamas, and might want to take a dip in the hot tub. Will I end up doing this?  I'm not sure, as I don't want to wear my new falsies into the hot tub.  But I don't want to bring my older, ill fitting pool-safe falsies to stuff in my swimsuit's cups.

I could go on and on with my thoughts.  But I figure that my readers might be interested in the random thoughts going through my head these days.

 


 

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Spending a musical weekend in Westchester

 



 
Last weekend, RQS and I spent a musical together.   Specifically, our main events were all musical in nature.  First, it was the Women's Chorus of Westchester on Friday night, followed by Postmodern Jukebox on Saturday night.  And in both cases, I was able to spend the full day as Marian!

But first....

Although RQS is comfortable with me presenting as Marian, the choice of which mode I'd be in for the day was already bade for me by attending this concert.  Many people from the Yonkers Game Night group were there to hear one of our members sing as part of the chorus.  So, after a futile attempt to straighten up the apartment before RQS arrived, I got showered and dressed early, as RQS was taking an early train up to Croton.

After RQS arrived, we had a hard decision to make - what do we want to eat?  We decided to eat out, and had a pleasant, but forgettable meal at a local Mexican restaurant.  Though the place was comfortable and quiet, the food missed the mark.  It wasn't bad, but it wasn't good enough to remember well.  (In fact, it took me a minute or two to remember this meal.)  And then we killed a little time before going to the church where the concert was being held.

It took a while for us to find a parking spot in downtown Ossining, but we did find one "close" to the church.  Too bad that it was a walk uphill that exhausted RQS a little.  (I can't say that I wasn't feeling a little winded myself on the hill.)  When we arrived at the church, I had to use Mario's name for the tickets - but that wasn't much of an issue, as most people don't give much of a damn about things around here if people are acting nicely.  Once seated, the rest of our crew came, and we were invited over for New Year's Eve with the gang.  Then, the concert started.

I can't say much about how good or bad these ladies sounded.  They did some of the obligatory seasonal music, such as "The Song of the Bells".  Yet I was a little miffed when the mistress of ceremonies announced "Silver Bells" as if it was a hit sung by Bing Crosby.  (Crosby did "White Christmas" while Bob Hope did the famous version of "Silver Bells" after Crosby turned it into a minor hit - another example of how Hope was getting screwed by Crosby in films.  But I digress.)  Shortly afterward came an original piece (or, so I think) regarding the Holiday Roller Coaster of Food.  Too bad that someone doesn't record this song - it would make a good addition to the Christmas canon of songs.  Towards the end of the night was a song that proclaimed the chorus's solidarity with Israel - which I could accept, given that Hanukkah would soon be here.

- - - - - -

The next day, we lazed around until it was time to go to see Postmodern Jukebox in Peekskill.  I can't say too much about the songs sung at this performance, as I didn't recognize half of them.  But I did recognize their version of "It's all about the Bass" and loved this version of the tune.  What I will say is that all of the vocalists had great sets of pipes, and that I would gladly see them again - especially if they were singing more of the classic standards.
 
Why didn't I say more about PMJ?  Well, by the time we got there, I was ready to take a nap and could barely stay conscious enough to enjoy the show.  And that I did.
 

Friday, December 15, 2023

I'll be going on another cruise soon - this time as Marian!

 


By the time you read this, I'll have already packed for my cruise. It's a simple 7-day run from NYC to the Bahamas via Port Canaveral.


I'm not much of a fan of visiting Port Canaveral, as it is only a restocking stop for the ship gussied up as a place worth visiting.  If one wants to go to Orlando's theme parks, one has to take an overpriced shuttle to reach them AND pay for a 1-day pass which will only be used for less than half of a day.

Given the relative cheap price for me to take a solo cruise, I figure that I'd try out MSC as a cruise line.  Even if I like this cruise, I don't intend on cruising on the line that often, as they do not yet have any West Coast / Alaska cruises which would make it worthwhile to use them for special vacations.  Yes, I could have tried them out for our Norway cruise next year.  But I didn't want to risk having a bad cruise with RQS taking money out of her savings account to finance her trip.

- - - - - -

I've been told that MSC's basic drink package works on their private island.  This means that I'll be able to have a beer or two while there and not worry about getting nicked when back on the ship.  (Some cruise lines' private islands do not honor the onboard drink package when on some of their private islands.)  Since I don't drink much, this is not much of an issue for me.  But it might be for some of my readers.

For those who cruise often, MSC is an outlier in the way it does things.  For example, it doesn't attach your credit card information to your cruise card account before embarkation.  Instead, it requires that the cruiser to register his/her card shortly after embarkation.  To make things worse, since the line is headquartered in Switzerland, one should bring a credit card that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees, as one might get nicked extra service charges on every shipboard debit made to one's account.  (The big 3 "American" cruise lines all use American banks. so one doesn't have to worry about these fees when one is onboard the ship.)

I'll miss RQS on this cruise.  But it'll be nice to travel as Marian again, and will be even nicer to see her when I get back to NYC....


Thursday, December 14, 2023

Sometimes, Amazon gets it wrong.


Today, Amazon reported the above item as being delivered to my door.  One problem.  Although I can see that it was delivered to a building in my complex by the color of the paint and the style of the floor, it was not delivered to my apartment.  Instead, it went to someone in another doorway.  Amazon's last mile delivery service screwed up again!

- - - - - -

One of the first things I've learned to hate lately are the "Last Mile Delivery Services", subcontractors who take products from a corporate warehouse and deliver then to the final recipient.  Unlike UPS and FedEx, Last Mile services usually bid to deliver packages on a route and do not build up the institutional knowledge needed to make complex deliveries correctly.  For example, a woman I noted as being a "Queen Bee" (not in a negative sense) lived in a place where Google Maps could not generate accurate delivery instructions.  She usually had to tell people how to find her place using an alternate address not legally associated with her house on a cul-de-sac.  My case was much simpler.  I live in a complex with 31 apartment buildings with 4 entrances each, and the last mile service delivered my perishable packages to both the wrong floor, the wrong doorway, and the wrong building.  I severed the relationship with the firm shipping my perishables, as their subcontractors could only correctly deliver things to me less than 30% of the time. A woman I know in Queens, NY has had similar problems as her goods were sometimes delivered to the wrong building in her densely populated area.

A few years ago, Amazon started to set up its network of last mile delivery subcontractors, even providing the financing for the delivery trucks needed to set up their businesses.  All of these trucks would carry the Amazon brand, and would only service one customer - Amazon. Over the past few years, it seems like there was a consolidation among these subcontractors, as a friend from the Texas meetup group (not mentioned in this blog) got a job with one of these subcontractors and has her routes strictly managed by Amazon.  I expect something similar occurs in the NYC metropolitan area.  And here lies the problem.

You'll note that in the picture above, the Amazon subcontractor has taken a picture of the door to show that the package has been delivered.  Yet, I can determine by the doormat that the item I ordered was delivered to the wrong doorway, as my doormat is patterned differently.  Sadly, Amazon does not make it easy to tell them exactly what went wrong, as this would be useful information to hold the last mile delivery service to account.  

- - - - - -

Will I buy things through Amazon again?  Yes.  We have few choices, now that the department stores are dying off.  Most things I want to buy do not sell in a high enough volume to be carried by a local store.  But they do sell enough for Amazon to warehouse in regional centers, then delivered to the customer by Amazon's complex logistics network.  Hopefully, next time, Amazon will get it right.

 

 

PS: The UPS Deliveries were delivered the next day via USPS, and the mis-delivered Amazon package made it to my door as well.  Now, I have to return the extra package....

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Travel planning for next year and beyond

 

There are several trips that I want to take next year, and only one of them have been booked so far.

  1. Norwegian Fjords Cruise (Booked)
  2. California Coastal Cruise from LA (an excuse to visit my uncle)
  3. San Francisco Long Weekend (an excuse to arrange a "Girls' Trip")
  4. Bermuda Cruise (we didn't have the chance to explore enough)
  5. DC or Philadelphia Long Weekend

Of these, the Norwegian Fjords Cruise is a must, as some of the most scenic fjords will be closed off to cruise ships beginning in 2025.  However, there are more trips that I want to take, and I see them taking place in 2025 and beyond.  Hopefully, an increasing number of these trips will be as Marian, as this is the identity in which I prefer to live.  But to do so, I will need to alter my legal identity to be more in sync with my gender presentation.  I figure that I have time to do this, as my passport has another 4 years on it.

- - - - - -

One of these days, I'd like to take a cross country car trip while I'm still physically able to do so.  Of course, that will mean that I must buy a car with a lot of life left on it - something I don't have today.  One of my friends from Texas does a few road trips during the year and finds interesting places to visit.  But, this requires planning, as one will need to schedule overnight stays carefully, so that unexpected detours/delays do not add to much to the expenses incurred during the trip.  Unfortunately, I would not be able to do this trip as Marian (save for being in the Northeast, Chicagoland, and the West Coast.  There is too much prejudice against transgender people in the "Red States" for me to risk being my authentic self in these regions.\

Eventually, I plan to make it back both to Hawaii and to Alaska, this time with RQS.  There are things I didn't get the chance to do the first time around that I want to do on my next time to these places.  For example, I'd like to visit the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, as well as visit Juneau and to see the Mendenhall Glacier.  (I also want to visit Miss Dolly's when I visit Ketchikan again, but I digress.)  Yet, I can always say similar things about the cities and states I've visited, as I want to see the Money Museum at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, and have a bite to eat at the Hog's Breath Inn in Carmel, CA.

- - - - - -

Soon, I'll have to do some research to find out how much trouble I'd have traveling around the British Isles as Marian.  I'm told that it shouldn't be too difficult.  But I'm not so sure of that, as I'm fat, even for an American.  I still want to blend in, not stand out, when presenting as Marian.  Ideally, when we return from Great Britain, I'd be able to sail home on the Queen Mary 2 and be decked out in my feminine finest on formal nights.

Yet, I now have to worry about RQS's ability to travel.  She is 4 years older than I am, and I have to account for that in my plans.  When we make our travel plans, we'll have to plan to take trips with the more demanding physical activities sooner than later, as we might not be able to walk far in our old age. This last trip gave us an idea of what things will be like when one of us is unable to walk far.  And there is no way to prevent the natural deterioration of our bodies - only ways to slow down the declines in our abilities.

- - - - - -

Given that I seriously started to travel relatively late in my life, I have to build up as many experiences as I can, while able to do so.  I'd hate to find myself at the age of 90 and not having those experiences that would give the next quarter century of my life some meaning.


An early dinner with a friend

  Last night, I mentioned to Pat that I wish I could have been born a cisgender female who looked like this when younger.  If I were younger...