Mandy’s American Adventure by Private Railcar to the Queen Mary

Last summer (2015), I had occasion to travel to Chicago by train.  While there, an opportunity to ride a friend’s privately-owned railcar one way to Los Angeles presented itself.  Which after a few phone calls, morphed into reservations for two nights on the Queen Mary (retired British ocean liner), some time en femme, and reservations back to DC on the train.  How could I not take the chance to cross those items off my bucket list?

Amanda train trip

The trip west from Chicago to LA was in androgynous mode, as my femme side is not officially known to the folks on the car.  (They may surmise, but it’s not official.)  And I will protect their identity. However, from dinnertime on the day of arrival in LA to arrival back in Chicago about 4 days hence, it was Mandy’s time to shine.

Notable was my reception on arrival day in LA, with me in androgynous mode, as I was when on the private railcar.  Upon departing the train, and walking through LA Union Station, I was not eyed by all the passers-by.  Even out front, as I headed for the pick-up spot for my Blue Van, where a lot of folks were waiting for their rides, my androgynous mode didn’t attract much – if any – attention.

I quickly found my ride, and we were on our way.  There were no notable gender issues with this.  In fact, I don’t even remember the driver saying much more than “Thank You” for the tip.  LA’s proliferation of roads, intersections, and traffic made me happy that my original plan to rent a car had changed.  I believe I would have made it to the Queen Mary, but it would have been mega-stressful.  (Back to Union Station – debatable.  More on that later.)   Once there, parking would have been more expensive than planned, due to a festival going on in their parking lot.  Everything works out for the best…

Queen Mary

After getting checked into my room, (it had a porthole, which actually opened, and the reason the ship was retired was that it had heat, but no air conditioning)  I did a preliminary reconnaissance mission (still in androgynous mode), to get the “lay of the land.”   It’s easy to get turned around on a big ship like that, but I managed to avoid getting “hopelessly lost.”   Lunch was a candy bar, to save time…   I spotted the place to buy various tours of the ship, located the various shops, and ended up going to higher-up decks, where I stumbled upon the ship’s radio room.

When I arrived, two elderly docents were there, and they fawned all over me as a female, once they found out I was alone.  (Must have been a boring day.)  They seated me, and took my picture at the ship’s radio set (with my own camera), a nice gesture.    Even back in those days, there were a lot of electronic gadgets for the crew to deal with!  The time was getting late, and I figured I’d better get back to the room and let Mandy out of the suitcase for dinner.

Mandy hadn’t brought much feminine attire…my only selection was between a couple of skirts and three tops.  I hadn’t expected to be going to any fancy restaurants on the trip.   Being under-funded, and not dressed to the nines, I had to avoid the fancy (translation – expensive) eateries on board.  That first night, I hit the lounge for some refreshment and lounge food.    Though alone, it was fun to people-watch, and my skirt and blouse didn’t seem to attract any attention.

Mandy is not a night-owl, thus the night-time tours of the haunted areas of the ship didn’t excite me.  (Fortunately, I had not been assigned to one of the haunted staterooms, either.  No apparitions appeared…:-)

Printed room instructions cautioned that guests should be quiet, as walls were made only of thin metal.  This worked fine when the ship was under power, because of the noise and vibration from the engines and rushing water.  But moored to the dock, there was no “white noise.”  The instructions were right – you could hear doors closing half way up the hall, even if they weren’t slammed.  But, everyone was good, and the night was fairly quiet.

Next morning, Mandy awoke, and did her usual feminization routine.  Then it was off to breakfast, and to check into tours of the ship.   Breakfast was in one of the former seating areas off the main deck…a long, narrow restaurant with lots of windows and great views of Long Beach.  There weren’t many people eating…guess the prices were too high…everyone must have brought their candy bars!  Those eating, paid no attention to Mandy sitting alone.  And the waitstaff, while attentive, used no gendered forms of addresss.  (Bright side is, at least they didn’t insult me!)

There was only one massive instance of “Sir – Oh, excuse me – Ma’am” my entire trip, and it happened on board, on my second day at the QM (with me in a skirt, blouse pantyhose and flats, carrying my purse, etc.)  The perpetrator was a young lady peddling QM tours (some of which I actually chose to buy), who may have been uneducated in the proper etiquette for helping transgender folks.  Or, more likely, she could have had a personal “axe to grind” with the concept of a “guy in a dress” and was expressing her disapproval the only way she knew how, regardless of its extreme non-politically-correctness.

I decided to ignore the issue.   Pursuing it up the chain of command would not have improved my situation, and was likely to chew up precious (already too short) time there.  And it could have resulted in a management apology letter being mailed to the house – not necessarily a good thing in my case, since it could arrive before my return. (But rest assured, the incident was given some sunshine on an anonymous “how did we do” survey, post-visit.)

I took a couple of the on-board tours (way overpriced, but informative).  As such, I got into areas of the ship I hadn’t explored on my own…like the ship’s first class pool, meeting/banquet rooms and other sleeping decks (and sample first, second and third class staterooms), as well as the engine room.  Even though it meant another candy bar for lunch, due to time constraints.

That evening, since I hadn’t brought anything formal for Mandy to wear (and for what it’s worth, she doesn’t own anything formal), I ended up dining in the same restaurant as that morning.   Food was good, but fortunately, less over-priced than the fancy venues.

Yes, I had a wonderful time on board the Queen Mary (and would gladly go back again), but the next morning, which dawned cloudy and cool (60 degrees) it was time to sing “The Party’s Over!”   Breakfast was once again in the same restaurant as dinner the previous night.  No issues with my attire, but still no gendered forms of address, either.  And no stares from the other guests

There was just enough time after breakfast to visit a couple of the on-board areas again, and get pictures.  Then it was time to pack up and check out, for the ride back to Union Station.   After having spent so much time in skirts, it just felt right to continue the adventure on my trip home.   And it showed me how much I’d really enjoy doing that each and every day!  (Though that’s not at all likely to happen.)

My return chariot (another Blue Van) arrived right on schedule, to carry me back to the station.  Its driver was polite, and he used no gendered forms of address for the few interactions we had.  However, my seat belt (back seat, and yes, he held the door for me) was very difficult to operate,. I needed his help to fasten it.   Yes, I admit to blushing quite red as I sat there in a skirt, blouse, pantyhose and flats, with my nylon-covered legs in plain view up to about 3 inches above my knees, and a man helping me to fasten my seat belt.  Yes, he did “check out them legs!”  Subsequently, though, he addressed me as “Ma’am.”

Once underway, the traffic (I think we were on the “10”) got seriously insane.  And I preferred that the driver pay attention to traffic, rather than worry about the right way to address me.  As it was, a Californian, crazily weaving in and out of lanes (this one must have been really loco, doing 15 mph over the speed limit in traffic, while weaving) nearly took off our right front fender in an abrupt and un-signaled lane change.   My driver’s quick reaction saved the day.   Blessedly, we soon were back in my bailiwick, the very art-deco Union Station, without any casualties. YAY!  (A big tip for the driver…”Thank you Ma’am” was his response.)

And before you ask, no, my short visit did absolutely nothing to convince me to relocate to SoCal!  Sorry, all you SoCal ladies!  That traffic would drive me to distraction…

My first stop in the Amtrak station was the Metropolitan Lounge for sleeping car passengers, to drop off my bags till train time.  The girls checked me in, saw my now-female given name on my ticket, and with my skirt, blouse and other cues, I was addressed as “Ma’am” the rest of my time there.  And as other passengers arrived, I was included in a couple of person-to-person discussions, as a woman.

I went for a walk around the neighborhood (it seemed relatively safe during the day…not sure about after 5PM).  First stop, the Avila Adobe, allegedly the oldest house in Los Angeles (built in 1818).  Typical southwestern adobe style, with a beautiful central courtyard.  Needless to say, Mandy couldn’t resist a picture!  (Plus, it was the only place I felt comfortable leaving my camera on a bench and walking away from it, with the self-timer taking my picture.  Couldn’t take a tripod, no room.)

Then I did some shopping in “Calle Olvera,”  the Olvera St. mall  – little shops and restaurants selling things with a Mexican theme – togs, toys, trinkets, and tacos – to pedestrians.  (Some of those pretty dresses were to die for, but I wonder if any would fit us plus-size girls?  Neat place.  If I ever get back solo, I’d love to end up with one of those dresses, but I literally had no room in my suitcase this time!

And though I long ago gave up people-watching for the purpose of determine my acceptance, in casual encounters I didn’t notice any folks doing obvious double-takes.  I was just another woman out shopping, enjoying the now 70+ degree afternoon weather in the city.

I walked a little farther to the Pico House, a former multi story hotel, long since disused, which was rehabbed as a historic building and the ground floor opened for special events, since my last visit to LA.  The docent of the art display there was firmly convinced I was female, and she recommended the fire house a few doors down the street, as they had a notable museum of old fire equipment.

Her suggestion was definitely a good one, except for the minor fact that the elderly male docent at the museum was firmly convinced I was male (despite my obviously feminine outfit), and acted accordingly, complete with the dreaded “S” word.  (Some days you get the bear, some days the bear gets you!)  Fortunately after our initial interaction, I was on my own to look around the place, and it wasn’t an ongoing issue.

Amanda train trip

Finally, back at the Metropolitan Lounge in the Amtrak station, boarding time came.   I used the service of a Red Cap.  (This could become habit forming!)  What woman wouldn’t want to?  Especially with bags as heavy as mine felt.  He addressed me in the correct (female) gender, but unlike other Red Caps, didn’t put the bags on board the sleeper for me.  He left that to my car attendant, who told the first 3 people he boarded (men) that their bags were over the weight limit, thus they were on their o.

Needless to say, I began to worry…mine were already close to the weight limit when I left home, and I had condensed my collapsible third bag into the other two before leaving the Queen Mary.  “This yours, Miss?”  “Yes, Sir.”  And he heaved it on to the car, then stowed it in the luggage rack.  I guess it’s an accepted fact that women don’t travel light!

Before the train departed, I took my camera outside and asked if the car attendant would take a picture of me by the car.   He smiled and said something to the effect of “For you, sweetheart, I sure would.  Give me a big smile now!”   And the picture is included…

Mandy boarding train in Chicago

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Had a fabulous trip home…no issues whatsoever on the train.  On the morning of arrival in Chicago, it was time to put Mandy back in the suitcase and go into androgynous mode…my wife and I ride Chicago trains quite often, and we know many of the sleeper attendants.   No way Mandy can ever ride there…

In summary, I just wish occasions like this would happen a bit more frequently…they’re so uplifting and validating.  Unfortunately, I’m just not sure when the next one will be!

 

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